Weight loss is a common goal that, despite its popularity, is often mired in controversy and frustration. Many people seeking to lose weight start off wanting to know how much they can expect to lose within weeks, months, or years. After all, with a commitment to diet and exercise comes potential sacrifice, structure, and new habit formation.
It’s reasonable to wonder what to expect in return for your hard work. As a personal trainer and nutrition coach, I hear this question on repeat from clients hoping for their weight loss efforts to pay off.
So, to determine how much weight you can lose in a month, we turned to experts, including registered dietitians, a certified strength and conditioning specialist, and a medical doctor with expertise in sustainable weight loss.
How Much Weight You Can Lose in a Month
You want a simple answer, but this isn’t possible when it comes to weight loss. That’s because how much weight you can lose in a month depends on many individual factors, including your starting weight and body composition, sex, age, current eating and exercise patterns, lifestyle habits, and more.
“Safe weight loss is completely contingent on how much fat you have to lose,” says Jeremy Kring, MS, CSCS. “As a rule of thumb, safe weight loss ranges between two and nine pounds per month.”
Losing a certain amount of weight on the scale is also different from losing body fat. For instance, when you lose weight, you often lose muscle, too, which is not ideal. You can preserve your muscle mass while losing weight if you eat fewer calories, get enough protein (but not too much), and increase physical activity, according to research published in Advances in Nutrition.
You may end up with slower weight loss, but you’ll lose more fat and less muscle, which is essential because muscle helps your body burn more calories.
“Typically, a person can lose about 0.5 to 1% of their body weight per week, which is 2–4% per month, without losing muscle mass; however, this should be done while still eating ample protein, slightly fewer calories, and exercising to keep your muscles from breaking down,” explains Bridget MacDonald, RDN, LDN, and expert for Welcyon.
Fast Weight Loss Is Not Sustainable Weight Loss
It’s also not a good idea to try and lose a lot of weight quickly, especially with a restrictive diet that significantly limits calories or certain food groups, like carbs or fats, according to Dr. Adarsh Gupta, director at Valley Forge Weight Management Center. “Rapid weight loss via reduced-calorie intake triggers the process of metabolic adaptation in the brain and body,” he explains.
Research suggests that people who lose a significant amount of weight from caloric restriction can have a reduction in thyroid hormones and leptin, a hormone that can suppress or stimulate appetite and helps regulate your body weight. This metabolic adaptation makes losing more weight challenging and may even drive some to regain the weight lost.
Diets like keto, extended intermittent fasting, and very low calories may be appealing because they have a lot of popularity and media surrounding them, but they may be too restrictive to work long term. Plus, they could damage your health.
“Complete fasting [three or more consecutive days with no food] can damage your metabolism, and you can’t maintain this lifestyle for your whole life, so you can [end up gaining] more weight than you lose,” says Katherine Gomez, a registered dietitian and medical reviewer for Psyche Mag.
So while you may lose more weight quickly following very restrictive diets, you’ll likely gain the weight back due to metabolic adaptations creating out-of-whack hormones and muscle loss. “Very low-calorie diets are not sustainable, so when you start eating more again, your metabolism is slow and will store the energy you’re taking in as fat rather than using it as fuel,” says MacDonald.
It’s a survival tactic that worked for our hunter-gatherer ancestors for whom food was often scarce, but it’s far from ideal in our world where most of us can access food easily.
Dr. Gupta says that people on very low-calorie and keto diets end up experiencing increased hunger due to the hormone ghrelin, which increases when dieting. At the same time, the hormones that help you feel full decrease, leaving you hungrier and less satisfied even after you return to your regular eating habits.
It’s best to stick to habits you can maintain long-term if you want your weight loss efforts to last.
Gomez stresses that if you don’t eat enough, you could end up malnourished and experience muscle loss, reduced metabolism, gallstones, and other complications.
How to Support Weight Loss the Healthy Way
For myself and my clients, I’ve learned that creating sustainable habits that focus on overall health and wellbeing results in natural weight loss that lasts without all the restrictions.
The experts I spoke to agree. “Slow and steady weight loss with an emphasis on building healthy lifestyle habits results in sustainable weight loss,” says Dr. Gupta. This requires a long-term approach to weight management.
“This is what I emphasize in my practice: building healthy habits through a personalized approach. Each individual has unique habits, lifestyle, work routine, and eating preferences, and therefore the behavioral changes have to be personalized to each individual for sustainable results,” he explains.
Kring puts it this way: “If you’re going to engage in a nutritional strategy, you should ask yourself if you can do this long term. If the answer is no, your weight loss won’t be long-term either.”
What You Can Do to Lose Weight and Keep it Off
To lose weight and keep it off, build sustainable habits that you can maintain for the long term. Here are some tactical tips from the experts:
Make small changes to your current diet: MacDonald recommends switching soda for sparkling water and lightly salted almonds instead of chips, for example.
Eat more fruits and veggies: Focus on adding fiber-filled, nutrient-rich foods rather than cutting out foods you love. Add volume with fruits and vegetables and eat smaller amounts of your other faves. MacDonald and Gomez recommend adding salads, cut-up fresh veggies, and fresh fruits to every meal and snack.
Include protein and fiber in meals and snacks: Protein and fiber are filling and take longer to break down, helping you stay full. Protein also helps you build and preserve muscle, which is vital for maintaining weight loss.
Incorporate exercise: “If someone is striving to lose weight through diet alone, they can certainly be effective doing it, but it won’t create a firmer body. They’ll lose fat, but without exercise, they will also lose lean tissue,” says Kring. Plus, exercise helps boost metabolism and can stave off hunger.
Don’t ban foods: Gomez recommends still enjoying any foods you love, just in moderation. Banning foods can feel too restrictive and lead to binging or giving up.
Prioritize minimally processed foods: “Focus on whole foods that are low in sugar and minimally processed,” says MacDonald. She also recommends cooking more at home and limiting meals out to help with this.
Combine strength training and cardio: Cardio is often touted as the best for weight loss, but this isn’t the case. Kring recommends combining both in your plan. “Resistance training will maintain the lean tissue,” he says.
Manage portion sizes: “One lifestyle change that is crucial is learning and executing proper portion sizes and learning how to read labels,” says Kring. Package sizes and portion sizes often differ. Learning what an actual portion is and sticking to reasonable sizes is helpful for healthy weight loss.
Try tracking your food for a while: “This can be cumbersome, but the benefits go beyond ensuring you’re not overeating. As you log your foods, you’ll begin learning the nutritional facts of that particular food,” suggests Kring. You don’t have to do this forever, but it can be helpful to understand how certain foods fuel you and how they make you feel. “This will help with food selection in terms of calories, macros, and other nutrients,” says Kring. If you’re still trying to figure out how to start or want expert-led help, support, and encouragement, consider hiring a personal trainer who can provide the best strategies for you.