If you are trying to manage your weight, the chances are that patience is not a factor high on your priority list to help you achieve your goal.
It is perfectly normal to wish for immediate results and to hope for the most weight loss in the shortest amount of time.
However, did you know that rapid weight loss not only takes an incredible amount of diet and physical activity efforts but is also unhealthier and less sustainable for you in the long run?
Is there a threshold number for the amount of weight that is safe to lose without your goals becoming too rapid or ambitious? What are the risks associated with rapid weight loss, and how much weight is a healthy target amount to lose in a month?
Able is here to answer these questions and more, to help you feel good about yourself and lead a well-balanced lifestyle while you venture on your weight loss journey.
If you lose weight too fast, you end up putting yourself at risk for health complications and setting yourself up for major frustration in the future.
The truth is that even if you see favorable results immediately, the faster you lose weight in the short term, the more likely you are to end up regaining this weight in the future — even more quickly.
Additionally, rapid weight loss often indicates that you are losing more water weight or, worse, muscle tissue, than you are fat. During rapid weight loss, your body recognizes that you are at risk for calorie deprivation and thus protects its fat stores as if in survival mode.
Your body stores your fat and begins to break down your muscle tissue for energy instead.
The calorie cuts that contribute to rapid loss of weight result in many associated health risks, including malnourishment, vitamin and mineral deficiencies, a lower metabolic rate at rest, and even dehydration.
Rapid weight loss does have a caloric threshold that you should be careful not to drop below. If you identify as a female, you should not eat fewer than 1,200 calories a day, and if you identify as a male, you should not eat fewer than 1,800 calories each day.
There is a special circumstance where rapid weight loss is okay for a short period of time. This is if your weight puts you at risk for cardiovascular disease.
Likely, your doctor will recommend rapid weight loss to you to mitigate conditions such as hypertension, hypercholesterolemia, and diabetes, all of which put you at high risk for cardiovascular disease.
In this case, rapid weight loss may be safe to work towards in order to avoid developing other serious health problems.
You should not start a rapid weight loss plan without checking with your doctor first, however, and your doctor should supervise your progress throughout your entire journey.
Note that most rapid weight loss plans only involve goals to quickly lose weight for the initial part of the plan, and then transition into a more gradual weight loss plan once you become closer to your target weight goal.
When it comes to weight loss, functional medicine practitioners recommend a gradual, steady approach. Here are some key functional medicine guidelines for safe weight loss:
- Aim to lose 1-2 pounds per week
- Focus on lifestyle changes like diet, exercise, sleep, and stress management
- Choose a high-nutrient, anti-inflammatory diet full of vegetables, fruits, lean proteins, and healthy fats
- Eat foods in this order for blood sugar balancing: fiber first (non-starchy veggies), good fats, protein, and save your carbs for last
- Start with finishing dinner by 7pm and not eating again until 7am the next day (12 hour window)
- Minimize intake of processed foods, added sugar, and refined carbohydrates
- Engage in regular physical activity like walking, strength training, or yoga (especially after meals to help balance blood sugar)
- Get 7-9 hours of quality sleep per night
- Manage stress levels through meditation, deep breathing, or journaling
- Consider supplements like probiotics, omega-3s, and vitamin D3
Based on the functional medicine guidelines above, most experts say it's realistic and safe to lose around 4-8 pounds in a month. This equates to about 1-2 pounds per week. Losing weight any faster than this typically involves overly restrictive dieting or exercise regimens that aren't sustainable.
According to functional medicine practitioner Dr. Mark Hyman, very low calorie diets can backfire because they put your body into “starvation mode”, which slows down your metabolism. Diets below 1200 calories per day are not recommended unless supervised by a doctor.
Losing more than 3 pounds per week consistently can also increase your risk for gallstones, muscle loss, and nutritional deficiencies (5). So functional medicine experts caution against any "rapid weight loss" programs.
Be patient with yourself and celebrate small successes along the way. With a functional medicine approach focused on whole body health, you can lose weight safely and sustainably.
Losing around 1-2 pounds per week, or 4-8 pounds in a month, is a safe and sustainable rate for most people. This allows you to lose weight while still providing your body with essential nutrients. Quick fixes rarely lead to long-term success. Focus instead on whole foods, active living, stress relief, and other lifestyle factors that influence your overall health and weight.
Hyman, M. How Much Weight Should You Lose per Week? https://drhyman.com/blog/2016/02/12/how-much-weight-should-you-lose-per-week/
Smith, Y. Is It Bad to Lose Weight Too Quickly? https://www.everydayhealth.com/weight/guide/lose-it/is-it-bad-to-lose-weight-too-quickly/
CDC. Losing Weight. https://www.cdc.gov/healthyweight/losing_weight/index.html
Geracioti, L. When You Lose Weight Faster Than Expected. https://www.webmd.com/diet/obesity/features/lose-weight-fast-how-safe#1
Caspero, A. How to Lose Weight Well, from a Dietitian’s Perspective. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/how-to-lose-weight-as-fast-as-possible#TOC_TITLE_HDR_4