One of the most common questions I get asked is, “How long will it take me to lose weight and get the results I want?”
The answer is: how long is a piece of string? It depends on the individual and the methods used to reach your goal. Many people can lose weight very fast but these methods are NOT healthy and often not sustainable. When it comes to weight loss, slow and steady wins the race.
If you want to lose weight in a healthy way and keep it off long term (and I’m sure you do), the best way to do it is the slowest way.
There are no overnight fixes or “get fit quick” schemes around here. But it’s important to know this from the beginning.
There’s nothing worse than getting crushed or demotivated because you feel like everything you’re doing isn’t “working”, so set yourself up for success with realistic expectations.
Here’s the kind of results you can expect from a weight loss program that is honestly good for your health.
Factors that affect how fast you’ll lose weight
I know, so unfair.
Men just lose fat a lot faster than women for many reasons.
We have more oestrogen: Oestrogen causes us to store fat more readily so we can grow human beings in our bellies (i.e. get pregnant and support a growing foetus).
We have a higher fat to muscle ratio: Men have a higher muscle to fat ratio than women. Muscle burns calories just being on your body, so the more of it you have, the faster your resting metabolism i.e. the more calories you burn just sitting around doing nothing. Because our fat to muscle ratio is generally higher, we don’t typically burn nearly as many calories a day as men.
We have a lower exercise tolerance: Men are biologically hardwired to be able to withstand higher intensity workouts than women. This means that working out at the same level of intensity can be more difficult for us.
As we get older, our metabolism decreases, because our organs don’t need as many calories just to keep working.
We also become more predisposed to storing fat as we age, and muscle loss (or sarcopenia) also starts kicking in around our mid-30s.
As muscle mass decreases, our metabolism also decreases. (This is why weight training is SO important.)
Other Factors Impacting How Fast You’ll Lose Weight
There are a bunch of other factors impacting how fast you’ll lose weight, including:
Your fitness level
Your starting weight
Daily activity levels outside the gym
... and I go into ALL of them in more depth -->HERE<--, so make sure to check that article out next.
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The Number One Thing Affecting How Fast You’ll Lose Weight: A Calorie Deficit
The most critical contributor to how fast you’ll lose weight, scientifically speaking, is whether you’re in a caloric deficit.
Pretty much everything you eat/drink (aside from water) has calories.
Calories are just units of energy that your body uses as fuel.
If your body gets more calories than it can use, it stores them as fat (which is your body’s break-glass-in-case-of-emergency energy storage).
If you eat fewer calories than you burn, your body will start breaking down fat (and sometimes muscle stores) for energy, and you will lose weight.
If you eat as many calories as you burn, your body’s weight will stay the same (though composition can change ... we’ll talk more about this later).
How many calories your individual body burns in a day is very tricky to calculate and everybody’s needs are different.
It depends on this little formula:
RMR + TEF + TEA + NEAT = Daily caloric needs
Resting metabolic rate (RMR) = The number of calories your body needs to basically keep existing, even if all you do is just lay around in bed all day. Your brain, organs, heart, blood, stomach, muscles, fat stores and reproductive system ALL need calories just to keep working ... even if you do ZERO activity. RMR varies from person to person – here’s a handy calculator to work out yours.
Thermic Effect of Food (TEF): Your body needs energy just to digest and metabolise the food you eat and so ... you guessed it ... it burns calories. This number can be quite high – about 10% of the calories you eat for most foods, although protein can be even higher – between 20-35%.
Thermic Effect of Activity (TEA): These are the calories you burn during exercise – your morning run, your afternoon yoga class, or a sweaty gym session. During exercise you burn calories at a higher level, which is why it’s such an important part of a weight loss journey.
Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT): This is technically part of your TEA but I’ve separated it for simplicity. NEAT is all the calories you burn during non-exercise physical activity e.g. housework, gardening, and walking (which is where step trackers come into it).
The bigger the consistent deficit between what you eat and what you burn, the faster you’ll lose weight.
But don’t just start doing weird shit like living on a single apple a day, and here’s why.
Losing weight FAST should not be the goal, because doing so is very unhealthy and unsustainable.
Restricting calories too severely causes nutritional deficiencies, crushes your metabolism (which is the opposite of what you want if you’re trying to lose weight), saps your energy and fucks with your hormones. But it can also have a detrimental effect on weight loss.
Studies have shown the faster you lose weight, the more likely you are to gain it right back again.
For sustainable weight loss, the opposite is true: the slower you lose weight, the more likely you are to stay at your goal weight long term.
Fast weight loss is usually associated with muscle loss, rather than fat loss.
As you lose weight, you want to preserve (and even build) as much lean muscle mass as possible, because this won’t just give you a lean and toned appearance, but muscle also burns calories just being on your body.
Remember how we talked about men being able to eat truckloads and not gain weight because of their higher muscle to fat ratio?
To a lesser degree, you can create the same effect by building lean muscle mass and increasing your muscle to fat ratio.
This will boost your metabolism and helps maintain weight loss.
But when you restrict calories too heavily, your body starts chewing on muscle instead of fat for fuel (because your body thinks it’s starving and muscle is a more readily available fuel source).
Now it’s very hard to build muscle AND lose fat at the same time. It can definitely be done (and that’s a whole other blog post), but it’s tricky.
BUT you can make sure that you lose as little muscle mass as possible by eating enough food, which will also fuel your workouts, give you energy for the day, regulate sleep, hormones and mood and just help you feel better in general.
If you’re not sure how many calories you need to eat, I highly recommend talking to a certified nutritionist or dietician to make sure you’re eating the right amount for your goals.
How much weight can I expect to lose each week?
In a moderate deficit, a healthy rate of weight loss looks like about 1-2 lb, or 0.5 – 1 kg per week.
At this rate of weight loss, you’re:
more likely to keep it off long term
less likely to be heavily restricting food or excessively exercising
less likely to put your body in “starvation mode” and cause an imbalance in hunger hormones (which will just make you hangry and overeat all the time)
less likely to mess up your metabolism
less likely to be losing muscle as well as fat.
I know this seems snail’s pace slow but it is just SO much better in the long run.
No feeling hungry all the time
No binge eating late at night
No spending hours in the gym
No restricting every morsel that goes in your mouth
No hormone imbalances
No messed up sleep
No hair falling out
No lack of energy
Trust me. When it comes to weight loss, slow and steady DEFINITELY wins the race.
And the best part is, you’re more likely to stay fit and healthy for the long haul.
With these guidelines, if your goal is to lose, say, 10 kg, you can expect to achieve this in between 10 and 20 weeks, or a little shy of 3-6 months, depending on how much of a deficit you create.
And even still, this depends on whether you’re building lean muscle mass, which can impact your scale weight (but means you’re losing more fat and not precious muscle).
Here’s why that’s a good thing.
Why weight loss isn’t really the goal anyway ... and what to focus on instead
When most people say they want to lose weight, what they really mean is that they want to lose excess body fat.
Weight loss occurs when you’re in a calorie deficit, so your body starts breaking down other tissues in your body (like fat – and yes, muscle if you’re not careful) for energy.
When you’re in a calorie deficit, your body goes looking for energy.
It will first turn to carbs (glucose), but if there’s not enough of that lying around, it will start breaking down glycogen, which is stored in the liver or muscles.
If you’re drastically restricting calories (no bueno, remember) or carbs, guess where your body’s going to get that energy?
(Now, yes, some diets like keto “train your body to burn fat first” but ... yeah I don’t want to go into it. Let’s save that for another time.)
And as we’ve talked about, the goal is to build (or at least maintain existing) lean muscle mass, because this is going to keep our metabolism high, help us burn more calories, give us that toned, lean look, and keep us feeling strong.
When we just focus on losing “weight” what can end up happening is losing size without changing your shape.
You’ll be physically smaller, but your body shape or “squishy look” won’t change dramatically.
This is what’s known as “skinny fat” (which is ... honestly just the most problematic term and I can’t with it, but that’s for another day too).
But when you build lean muscle mass, or at least do your best to preserve existing muscle mass while losing fat, you’re more likely to get the results you’re after.
This comes from:
Not restricting calories too heavily
Losing weight gradually
Eating the right amount of protein
Allowing your muscles plenty of time to recover after workouts
Getting lots of sleep
Doing a blend of cardio and resistance training at a challenging but sustainable level
When you’re losing fat instead of muscle, it’s better to not focus on the weight on the scale, because it probably won’t go through fast dramatic changes, and may even go up from time to time.
Instead, look at other ways to measure your progress like:
How much energy and strength you have to get through your day
How well your favourite clothes fit
How your workouts themselves are progressing
Your body measurements
Because muscle is denser than fat, a pound of muscle takes up less space in the body than the same amount of fat.
If you notice that your body measurements are shrinking, but your weight is only reducing slowly, it’s likely that you’re on the right track!
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The question “how long will it take me to lose weight” isn’t a simple one to answer! A lot of factors (some of which are outside your control) will determine how fast it happens.
But remember: if you want to make positive changes for the long haul, slow and steady wins the race! If you want these changes to stick –and I’m guessing you do – forget dangerous, overnight, crash diets and focus instead on staying in a small to moderate caloric deficit as you make healthy lifestyle changes.
Simple lifestyle changes toward a healthier, fitter you will have you feeling better instantly, even if it takes a while for your weight to shift!
And P.S. – If you want to get your hands on a free bundle of resources that will help you develop a healthy, fit lifestyle for life, click the button below or VISIT HERE to join the Fit Family. Let’s do this together!
♥♥ Got a burning fitness question you want answered? Share it with me in the comments below, and I'll answer it in an upcoming blog post! ♥♥
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