How Fast Should You Lose Weight?
You may have heard you should only lose one or two pounds a week. But what about people who claim to have lost weight much more quickly? Is there a healthy amount for a particular time frame? How quickly can you safely lose weight?
Where You Lose Weight
If you start a healthy weight loss program, you might wonder where weight loss will happen first. Will your tummy slim down first or will weight loss show in your chest or on your thighs?
The answer will vary from person to person. At the beginning of your program, many dieters experience lost water weight. You’re likely to notice your belly getting a little smaller. But water loss is different than fat loss.
Fat loss will happen at a very gradual rate all over your body. Some dieters notice it in the bust first, and others in their hips and thighs. While you can tighten and tone different areas of your body with exercise, you cannot spot reduce—or choose one area of your body where you want fat loss to occur.
Rapid Weight Loss
Is losing five pounds a week unhealthy? The answer to how quickly to lose weight can vary from person to person. It can also depend on where you are in the weight loss process.
In some extreme situations, dieters can lose ten or even 20 pounds per week. But if you’re seeing rapid weight loss on television reality shows or in online ads, you need to understand it is usually unrealistic to expect those same results.
The people on many reality shows and those who lose weight for advertisements go to extraordinary measures to lose a lot of weight in a limited amount of time. And they are sometimes paid for their efforts. The circumstances that you see on television are often not the same circumstances one deals with in real life.
In addition, the people on some of those television shows are monitored by physicians. They exercise under the supervision of trainers (for up to eight hours per day) and they follow a very strict, calorie-controlled diet. They also live with cameras following them around to record every nibble and treat.
As you may have seen in media headlines, these extreme weight-loss efforts are usually not sustainable for an extended period of time. Many weight loss show contestants regain the weight after they return home to their normal lives.
Effective Quick Weight Loss
Of course, not everything you see on television is likely to fail. Many widely accepted commercial weight loss programs have adopted new diet plans that encourage fast weight loss in the early stages.
And there are some diets like Atkins and the South Beach Diet that have quick weight loss programmed into the early phases of the eating plans. Some people on these plans lose up to 14 pounds in two weeks.
So, do quick weight loss diets work? Many times they do. But the short-term fast weight loss is followed by a transition to a long-term maintenance plan for slower and more reasonable weight loss. So, after the introductory phases, weight loss usually tapers to about one to two pounds per week.
Another type of quick weight loss program is a very low-calorie diet (VLCD) supervised by a physician. Doctors will occasionally put a patient on a liquid diet of 800 calories per day to prepare the patient for surgery or for other medical reasons.
Very low-calorie weight loss programs are not safe for everyone and should only be followed under medical supervision.
Finally, those who have had weight-loss surgery, such as gastric bypass or lap-band surgery, often experience weight loss at a much higher rate than one or two pounds per week, but eventually their rate of loss will slow down too.
Dubious Diet Fads
So, which quick weight loss diet programs don’t work? The ones that promise the greatest results. These are the diets that claim you can lose 20 pounds in a week or 10 pounds in three days.
When you hear about your friends losing weight quickly on the latest diet plan, they are probably following one of these fad diets. Much of what is lost in those few weeks of a fad diet is water weight. That means that very little body fat has been lost. Fad diets can also result in the loss of lean muscle, something that you need more of, not less, to maintain a healthy weight.
Additionally, losing and regaining weight quickly (known as weight-cycling) can lead to increased risk of certain health problems, including gallstones.
Weight loss during a fad diet or any other extreme weight-loss method almost always returns, along with a few extras.
Losing Weight at a Healthy Rate
Weight loss at a rate of one to two pounds per week is most often recommended. Why? Because experts have found that rate to be realistic and attainable for most dieters.
The changes required for weight loss at a faster rate are not sustainable and are almost always unhealthy. So how fast should you lose weight? As quickly as your body will allow with a healthy diet and exercise program.
If you’re unsure of a weight loss pill or product that you see on television, ask your healthcare provider. Your doctor is often the best source of information about what is best for your health.
editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
National Heart Lung and Blood Institute. Guidelines on Overweight and Obesity: Electronic Textbook. Weight Loss. Target Levels for Weight Loss. Bethesda, Md.: National Heart Lung and Blood Institute 2020
Gudzune KA, Doshi RS, Mehta AK, et al. Efficacy of commercial weight-loss programs: an updated systematic review [published correction appears in Ann Intern Med. 2015 May 19;162(10):739-40]. Ann Intern Med. 2015;162(7):501–512. doi:10.7326/M14-2238
Peos JJ, Norton LE, Helms ER, Galpin AJ, Fournier P. Intermittent Dieting: Theoretical Considerations for the Athlete. Sports (Basel). 2019;7(1):22. doi:10.3390/sports7010022
Johansson K, Neovius M, Hemmingsson E. Effects of anti-obesity drugs, diet, and exercise on weight-loss maintenance after a very-low-calorie diet or low-calorie diet: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Am J Clin Nutr. 2014;99(1):14–23. doi:10.3945/ajcn.113.070052
Hall KD, Kahan S. Maintenance of Lost Weight and Long-Term Management of Obesity. Med Clin North Am. 2018;102(1):183–197. doi:10.1016/j.mcna.2017.08.012
Melby CL, Paris HL, Sayer RD, Bell C, Hill JO. Increasing Energy Flux to Maintain Diet-Induced Weight Loss. Nutrients. 2019;11(10):2533. doi:10.3390/nu11102533
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Healthy Weight. Losing Weight. What is healthy weight loss?. Updated February 4, 2020.