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Published: June 8, 2024

How Long Does It Take to Lose Weight?

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Weight loss is a different process for everyone. The rate at which you see results ultimately boils down to your bio-individual makeup and lifestyle – such as age, sex, activity levels, and environment – and your basal metabolic rate (BMR), the rate at which you burn calories while at rest. Bio-individuality means that each of us thrives on different diets and living different lifestyles, so there’s no singular plan that will ensure you lose a certain amount of weight in a given time. When it comes to weight loss, figuring out what works best for you and your body will be the key to maximizing results.

When does weight loss become noticeable?

Perhaps you’ve been wanting to lose a couple of excess pounds, and you’re finally starting to reach your goals on the scale! You may notice that your jeans fit differently after the first week or two of your efforts, but chances are that it will take a bit longer for others to notice the difference in your weight.

A healthy rate of weight loss can range anywhere from half a pound to two pounds per week. This can be achieved by eating more intentionally (not eating out of boredom or to avoid certain emotions), crowding out (eating larger quantities of whole, unprocessed foods to make less room for empty-calorie foods), and committing to a healthier lifestyle overall. You may have heard the phrase, “Slow and steady wins the race.” This certainly applies when it comes to losing weight and keeping it off. Rapid weight loss can actually cause you to lose lean muscle mass in the process.

For an obese (body mass index [BMI] of 30 or higher) or overweight (BMI of 25–29) person, the rate of weight loss per week might be more than the one-to-two-pound range, and they may be able to shed the first 15–20 pounds at a more rapid pace once they start making healthy lifestyle changes that work for them. Experts suggest not losing more than 1% of your total weight in a week, which means a person with a starting weight of 300 pounds could safely lose three pounds in a given week.

If your friends or family don’t notice your weight loss right away, don’t get discouraged! Take notice of how you feel after shedding those excess pounds, such as having more energy for physical activity, sleeping more soundly, or feeling less fatigued going up and down stairs. 

What it takes to lose weight

You’ve been eating more fruits and vegetables and taking the stairs more often, but what does it actually take to lose weight? Your body experiences weight loss when you’re in a calorie deficit, meaning you’re burning more calories than you consume. Your body naturally burns calories throughout the day (which depends on your BMR), whether you’re lounging on the couch or getting in a difficult workout.

You can boost your BMR by:

  • Eating a good amount of protein
  • Eating foods rich in iron
  • Lifting weights to increase lean muscle mass (which helps burn fat more quickly!)
  • Getting a good night’s sleep

One pound of fat is approximately 3,500 calories, so in theory, if you hit a deficit of 500 calories each day, you can expect to lose about a pound in a week. However, it gets a bit more complicated when you add in other variables, such as the type and duration of physical activity you’re doing, as well as hormone fluctuation, such as the hormones that regulate appetite. In a recent study, researchers sought to answer the question, “How much exercise do we need to lose weight?” They found that due to our body’s evolutionary response to calorie deficit, our appetite regulation shifts to consume some of those lost calories despite our physical activity efforts.

In general, it’s recommended that you do not skip meals to meet your calorie deficit as this can actually slow down your metabolism. If you’re eating fewer than 1,000 calories a day, your body will go into starvation mode, where all systems in the body slow down to conserve energy. Fewer meals may also cause you to miss getting essential vitamins and minerals, like iron, potassium, and vitamins A, B, D, and E.

We’d recommend meeting with a nutritionist or dietitian before setting out to count your calories at every meal and physical activity. They can help you develop an individualized diet plan that fits your goals as well as your bio-chemistry. To implement your weight-loss plan with accountability and support, a Health Coach is a great resource.

Factors that affect weight loss

No matter how intently you follow a particular diet plan or workout regimen, there are certain factors beyond your control that play a role in how quickly (or slowly) you lose weight:

     1.  Sex

The presence of biological sex organs that determine your assigned sex at birth plays a role in your metabolic rate and body composition. Women tend to have more body fat and less muscle mass than men of a similar size do. A woman’s BMR is an average of 5%–10% lower than men, which can make it more difficult for women to lose weight.

     2.  Age

As you age, you tend to lose muscle mass and experience a decrease in BMR. Older adults also tend to have a decrease in energy expenditure, so strength training in particular can preserve muscle mass and make it more metabolically active.

     3.  Height

Your height can determine the distribution of fat in your body as well as your BMR. A taller person typically has a greater percentage of lean muscle mass, boosting their BMR in comparison to a shorter person of the same weight.

As for the factors that are within your control, sustainable weight loss only happens when you make sustainable lifestyle changes. This means you shouldn’t feel like you’re punishing yourself! Find the healthy food options you enjoy, the workouts that get you excited, and the social activities that nurture your health as a whole.

Some key areas you can control that affect your rate of weight loss include:

     1.  Diet

The foundations of a healthy diet include quality proteins, healthy fats, complex carbohydrates, fruits and vegetables, and adequate hydration! Choose functional foods that are both delicious and provide nutritional value. This could look like antioxidant-rich turmeric and coconut oatmeal or a salmon dinner with a side salad of collard greens and fresh pomegranate seeds. Filling your plate with high-fiber and nutrient-dense foods will steady your blood sugar, a key factor when it comes to sustainable weight loss, and keep your digestive system running smoothly to prevent bloating and discomfort.

     2.  Physical Activity

Finding a workout regimen you love and look forward to is a key component of sustainable weight loss. Breaking a sweat each day will get your blood flowing, rev up your metabolism, and help you sleep more easily at night, too! Weight training, in particular, can help you build lean muscle mass – boosting your BMR.

Spice up your workout routine to keep your motivation high, such as trying out different kinds of exercise (think boxing, cycling, or rollerblading), trying a new online instructor, or putting together an upbeat music playlist. Better yet – enlist a friend or accountability buddy to join you in exercise, even if it’s virtually! It can be easier to keep up with a workout routine if you know someone else is counting on you to show up.

     3.  Sleep

The time you spend sleeping (and the quality of that sleep!) is essential for proper cognitive function, maintaining your energy levels, and even hormone regulation! Ever feel like you snack more after a restless night of sleep? Your body does indeed crave more food than you need when it’s lacking adequate rest. That’s because of an increase in ghrelin, the hunger hormone, and a decrease in leptin, the satiety hormone, as a result of poor sleep.

Sleep provides your brain the opportunity to “clean up” after a day’s work – done by the glymphatic system – and allows brain activity to slow and muscles a chance to relax. In fact, if you miss reaching slow-wave sleep, the deep state of rest that comes after rapid eye movement, your metabolic rate may decrease.

Experts recommend getting 7–9 hours of sleep each night; this is a good place to start when thinking about sustainable lifestyle changes that can help you reach your long-term weight-loss goals.

     4.  Environment

Where you spend most of your time can have a major impact on your well-being, so be sure to create a space that promotes health! This could look like leaving a water pitcher out as a reminder to stay hydrated, cleaning and organizing your fridge to make home cooking easier, posting positive affirmations throughout your home, or leaving healthy snacks, like fresh fruit, on the counter. These environmental changes can promote behavior change, which in turn can promote weight loss.

A long-term mind-set is key.

Instead of focusing on the amount of time it may take to reach your end goal, try to think of your weight-loss journey as a long-term investment on your health! Achieving weight loss will not be as simple as it seems on paper, and that’s okay – no one’s health journey is “linear” nor will anyone’s journey look or feel the same. Reframing your mind-set to have a positive outlook on the long-term benefits of weight loss can look like:

  • “I will feel so fulfilled being able to run around the backyard with my kids or grandkids without being out of breath.”
  • “I am so grateful for improving my health to show up as a better partner, parent, friend, employee, and community member.”
  • “I will create confidence in myself to achieve my goals, which can extend to all other areas of my life and health.”

Taking each day as it comes, from remembering to pack a healthy snack for moments you’re on the go to practicing more self-care, will make a big difference on the road to your weight-loss goal. 

Ready to learn how making not just physical changes but changes in all areas of health can impact your holistic health and happiness? Check out our Curriculum Guide today to learn how an IIN education can play a pivotal role in your health journey.


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