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How to Lose 20 Pounds With Simple Lifestyle Changes

No more saying the diet starts tomorrow. Today is the day that you start your weight loss journey! But don't worry — it’s not the day the diet starts. Let’s be real: Diets are no fun, and science shows they don't work. Instead, we’ll show you how to lose 20 pounds by making healthy lifestyle changes.

Diets are temporary and painful — you’re putting yourself into a state of maximum deprivation. Lifestyle changes are more subtle. They build on each other over time, and they’re designed to last a lifetime — so that once you’ve lost those 20 pounds they'll stay gone.

So, here's the advice you need to reach your weight loss goals. This is how to lose 20 pounds — and how not to lose it.

How to Lose 20 Pounds: Dos and Don'ts

We know you’re here to figure out what to do to lose those 20 pounds, but for a healthy weight loss program, it’s just as important to know how to identify unhealthy weight loss strategies. 

These dos and don'ts will help you lose weight in a healthy way.

DON’T Try to Drop Weight Fast

Sauna belt gif

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a healthy rate of weight loss is one pound to two pounds per week, regardless of the full amount of weight you want to lose.

Trying to lose too much body weight too quickly can have a variety of health consequences. Any diet plan designed to make you drop pounds pronto can:

  • Slow your metabolism

  • Decrease muscle mass

  • Deprive you of essential nutrients

So, mark your calendars! 📆 With this thinking, the target date to reach your goal weight would be 20 weeks from today — 20 pounds in 20 weeks.

DO Start With Small Lifestyle Changes

How to lose 20 pounds: Lisa Kudrow saying "start small"

By making small lifestyle changes, you can slowly shift unhealthy eating habits to healthy eating habits. Small habits are the key to reaching our goals (weight loss or otherwise) because once we turn something into a habit, we start to do it automatically. So, once you change your habits, healthy eating won’t even feel like work.

Start by looking at your current eating patterns. Do you have a routine that you can change a little bit to incorporate a healthier or lower calorie food?

For example, if you like to get caramel iced lattes from your favorite coffee shop, can you change to plain lattes (reducing your sugar intake) or to iced coffee (reducing your milk intake)? These swaps allow you to incorporate a comparatively low-calorie or low-fat option that doesn’t feel like a diet food, so you can have your coffee and drink it too! ☕️

If you like to eat something sweet after dinner, can you switch from junk food, like cake, cookies, or ice cream, to a favorite fruit or a square of dark chocolate? If you often snack on salty, processed foods at your desk, can you change to a healthy, whole food?

Choose one habit to focus on at a time. Once you’ve successfully swapped it out for a healthier habit, you can move on to another habit or find an additional way to make the original habit even healthier. For example, if you switched from caramel iced lattes to iced coffee, your next goal might be to use less sugar in your iced coffee.

DON’T Follow Fad Diets

Police officer saying, "It's a fad."

Fad diets include any diet plans that promise quick weight loss. (You've already learned these are often bad for us or don't work, so you probably weren’t going to fall for them anyway 😏). Most fad diets require you to do one of the following:

  • Drastically limit your daily calorie intake

  • Limit one or more food groups (like fat or carbohydrates)

  • Eat an excessive amount of one food group (like a very high-protein diet or a diet that requires you to get 50% of your calories from healthy fats)

  • Eat a single food multiple times per day (like grapefruit three times per day or a single soup recipe for lunch and dinner)

  • Use liquid meal replacements

  • Buy a product in order to successfully complete the diet (like a how-to guide or a specific protein bar)

  • Do a detox, cleanse, or fast

These diets are often based on limited or dubious scientific evidence, and they are extremely hard to maintain over long periods of time. That's why they often lead to a cycle of weight loss followed by weight gain followed by more fad dieting.

According to Oklahoma State University, fad diets can lead to:

  • Lower self esteem

  • Lower body satisfaction

  • Higher risk of developing eating disorders

  • Higher risk of heart disease

  • Lower levels of bone health

  • Higher risk of infertility

These are in addition to the risks of quick weight loss that we already stated above.

Some popular fad diets from the past few years have included the paleo diet, the keto diet, and intermittent fasting. Basically, if it’s all over social media, and everyone you know is talking about it, it’s probably a fad diet.

DO Incorporate Healthy Eating and Exercise

How to lose 20 pounds: Man doing a sit-up to eat a pretzel

Any physical activity — whether it’s cardio or strength training — can help you lose weight when it’s paired with a healthy diet. While your calorie intake will likely be the biggest factor in your weight loss plan, increased physical activity can help you burn more calories and create a calorie deficit that helps you lose weight. According to the CDC, regular physical activity is also essential to maintain your weight loss.

An effective weight lossexercise routine should include a combination of aerobic exercise and strength or resistance training. We like high-intensity interval training or HIIT workouts because they combine aerobic and resistance training into a single workout. HIIT also increases fat burning and builds lean muscle.

But, the best weight loss workout plan for you should include exercises that you enjoy. If you've yet to encounter an exercise that you enjoy, a weight loss trainer can help you find your fitness bliss.

DON’T Reduce Your Water Intake

Cat trying to drink water from a glass

We’ve all heard the term “water weight." Some athletes (especially wrestlers) try to lose weight before competitions by cutting back on their water intake and sweating out their existing water weight.

While spending a day in a sauna or hot yoga class can lead to a quick drop on the scale, this isn’t real fat loss. Plus, it can lead to dehydration, dizziness, headaches, rapid heart rate, and fainting.

Drinking water, on the other hand, can actually help you lose weight in a healthy way. According to John Hopkins University, water can increase feelings of fullness or satiety.

People who drink a glass or two of water before a meal actually eat less during the meal than people who don’t. And drinking water can help support your metabolism, improve your performance during workouts, and even increase your fitness motivation. (One healthy choice leads to another!)

So, if you want to lose weight, drink more water — not less.

DO Get Eight Hours of Sleep

How to lose 20 pounds: Cat waking up Audrey Hepburn

We all think about diet and exercise when we think about weight loss, but sleep is just as important. Sleep deprivation can lead to higher blood sugar, more metabolic issues, and higher levels of obesity, according to the Sleep Foundation. Aim to get 7-9 hours of sleep each night to keep your metabolism on track.

DON’T Deprive Yourself

Woman ready to eat

Overly restrictive diets can actually make you want to eat more, according to the New York Times. When you deprive yourself of all the foods you’re craving, it creates a deprivation mindset. Cut out carbohydrates, and you’ll suddenly start noticing carbs everywhere you turn.

Instead of forbidding one of your favorite foods, try setting simpler boundaries. If you eat two scoops of ice cream every night, try eating one scoop instead. If you love white bread, pasta, and rice, try swapping whole grain bread, whole grain pasta, or brown rice. You can even mix white rice or pasta with a little bit of the whole grain stuff until you get used to the healthier option.

DO Incorporate a Little Psychology

How to lose 20 pounds: Tan France doing positive self talk

Bet you didn't think you'd be playing mind games with yourself, but there are some simple (and positive!) ways you can use psychology to reduce your caloric intake and help you reach your goal weight.

You can also use psychology by engaging in positive self-talk. When you use positive self-talk, you don’t beat yourself up over small mistakes. This makes you feel more successful in your goals. And when we feel successful, we’re more likely to continue.

So, instead of telling yourself, “I ate french fries at lunch, and that was bad,” focus on the positives, telling yourself, “I chose fish over red meat. I’m making healthy choices.” Be your own cheerleader, and you’ll always want yourself to win.

DON’T Meal Plan While Hungry

Kristen Bell shopping for chips in "The Good Place"

Friends don’t let friends grocery shop while hungry. If you’re feeling famished right before a grocery run or before you make an important meal time decision (like should I cook or order takeout), stop. Eat an apple, a handful of blueberries and walnuts, or a similar whole food.

DO Get Help When You Need It

How to lose 20 pounds: Woman smiling with "Help me" mug

Humans are social creatures because we can do more together. When you enlist the help and support of others, you’re more likely to reach your goals. 

So, tell your friends and family about your 20-pounds-down goal weight. And work with a dietitian or an online nutritionist and personal trainer to get personalized advice and discover the fitness buddy you always wanted.

An online nutrition coach will check in regularly, help you make changes when something isn’t working, and hold you accountable so you’re more motivated to reach your goal.

20 Pounds Down

Erin from "The Office" cheering

Your weight loss journey starts today. You can lose 20 pounds in the next 20 weeks by making simple lifestyle changes — dieting not required (and not recommended!). Pick one eating habit that you think can be healthier. Then, make a small change to that habit. You don’t have to give up your afternoon snack or morning latte. You can simply change them out for a healthier or lighter option.

Once you’ve improved one habit, move onto the next one. You’ll start a snowball effect that can lead to decreased body fat and a healthier bodyweight for the long term. Don’t forget to incorporate more physical activity and a full night’s sleep into your day, and always use positive self-talk to keep yourself motivated.

We know you can do this! If you need extra help, we have online fitness and nutrition coaches who can design the right healthy eating habits and fun exercise routines for you. Plus, they’ll check in regularly, help you stay motivated, and suggest changes when something isn’t working for you. Get started for as little as $3 per day.