Most experts agree that a safe, sustainable amount of weight to lose in a given week is between one and two pounds, but that doesn’t necessarily translate to eight pounds a month. You don’t want to end up setting unhealthy expectations for yourself that are going to result in you not only sabotaging your weight-loss goals, but also may cause damage to your body.
So how much weight is actually healthy—and realistic—to lose in one month and what isn’t? We had experts weigh in on healthy weight loss goals to ensure you keep it off for good, the right way.
What’s the best way to lose weight throughout the month?
When you first start a weight loss regimen, you will likely lose more than the expert-recommended pound or two a week. But this doesn’t necessarily mean you’re losing fat, and this isn’t something that is necessarily going to keep happening.
“Usually, if you are just starting out on a weight loss journey, simple changes in nutrition like reducing sodium intake and cutting out processed foods and added sugars will allow your body to let go of water retention,” says Jennifer Fiddler, M.A., CPPC. “That alone can make a significant difference in the weight on the scale. The longer you’re in the game and the lower your overall body fat percentage, the slower the progress will be.”
Dr. Carissa Alinat, who runs a weight loss clinic in Florida, notes that some of her patients lose anywhere from five to ten pounds on the first week of their low-carb, low-calorie protocol. But this is not something to aspire to each week of the month.
“That’s a lot and is fine at first, but it sometimes isn’t safe to lose that every week,” she says. “After that first week, I recommend a weight loss of up to two pounds per week.”
But even that can sometimes be too lofty a goal—especially if you are a chronic dieter and therefore have a slower metabolism. If you’re adding exercise to your weight loss regimen (which you definitely should!) this can also result in lower losses or even gains on the scale.
As Fiddler explains, every weight loss journey will have its share of plateaus.
“That’s totally normal and part of the game,” she says. “Success isn’t a linear process.”
Summer Yule, MS, RDN, notes that focusing on “non-scale victories” (e.g. fitting into a pair of pants that used to be a bit too tight, making smart eating choices without thinking, or lifting heavier weights at the gym) is the ideal way to keep your motivation during a plateau. In addition to specific weight loss goals, she recommends setting what she terms “SMART” goals: specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely.
“Setting a goal to walk for 30 minutes three times a week is far more likely to be attainable than making your goal losing 2 pounds by the end of the week,” she says. “It’s perfectly fine to have a general ‘goal’ number in mind that you’d like to lose, but SMART goals should revolve around lifestyle behaviors. Weight loss is not a behavior.”
RELATED: Learn how to fire up your metabolism and lose weight the smart way.
How do you break free of a plateau?
If you find yourself hitting a plateau, that usually means it’s time to change things up.
“As you eat less, your metabolism adjusts and becomes more efficient,” says Rachel MacPherson, certified personal trainer (ACE), weight loss health coach, and writer at Radical Strength. “This means that your body will perform functions with less energy expenditure, burning less total calories than it did before.”
She suggests boosting your metabolism by adding activity to your weight loss regimen rather than trying to further restrict calories. But if you’re putting weight back on or have hit a plateau you can’t break free of as the month goes on, you might be a victim of what Alinat calls “diet sneak.”
“This is when you feel like you are in control, so you stop paying attention,” she says. “You start eating the wrong foods, more calories, and the weight loss starts to slow down, stops, or reverses.”
But this is no reason to get discouraged.
“Unless you’re a movie star being paid to sleep, eat, train, and repeat—expect that life will happen,” says James Shapiro, NYC-based independent trainer.
Instead, take stock of your goals and your efforts, and make a few small changes to ensure you’re still working towards your objective.
“I have a little hack I like to recommend for when you’re within 20 pounds of your ‘goal weight,’ says Vince Massara, Owner of Your Fitness Radar. “Rather than calculate your caloric intake based on your current weight and reducing calories, I look at what the maintenance calorie amount would be if I was at my goal weight. It may take you longer to get to that weight, but once you do, you won’t have to change much of your lifestyle at all.”
So how much weight should you lose in a month?
There really isn’t a set, magical number as to how much weight you should lose each month, as that varies from person to person. For Emily McLaughlin, in-house certified fitness trainer and nutrition expert at 8fit, though, a good attitude is the key ingredient to sustainable weight loss over the long term.
“It’s important to always check back with your why,” she says. “Why did you start on this journey in the first place?”
Remembering your original goals and motivations is the key to remaining committed and keeping weight off for good.