Learn about healthy weight loss, how much weight you can expect to lose in one week, and how much weight you should expect to lose on popular weight loss plans.
If you’ve made weight loss a goal, a natural next question is how much weight can I lose? The answer: it depends.
So many different factors come into play with weight loss, so there’s really no way to predict exactly how much weight you will or can lose. However, there is an amount that’s healthy, sustainable, and more likely to support long-term changes if weight loss is a health priority for you.
In this article, you’ll learn what defines healthy weight loss, how much weight you can reasonably expect to lose with various plans, and finally, how to set a realistic weight loss goal that sets you up for success.
To start, let’s differentiate between weight loss and healthy weight loss. Healthy weight loss means it’s good for your body, optimizes your metabolism instead of harms it, and is much more likely to be maintained.
Generally, healthy average weight loss per week translates to losing no more than two pounds a week.
On the other hand, unhealthy weight loss is associated with over-restriction. It can lead to greater initial weight loss but comes with risks like muscle loss (as you will learn about below), and doesn't always give you the tools that help you make behavior changes that lead to long-lasting results.
Gradual weight loss may not be as popular because most of us are looking for instant gratification. We want to see the pounds drop quickly. But as the fable with the tortoise tells us, slow and steady wins the race.
Here are some of the reasons why:
<ul role="list"><li>Fast weight loss means you are more likely to lose muscle mass<sup>1</sup> in addition to fat or water weight, which is precisely what you don’t want. Muscle supports your resting metabolic rate, or the number of calories you burn at rest. Plus, water weight isn’t the same as fat loss, so even if the scale says you’ve lost five pounds in two days, it’s just as likely to come right back on.</li><li>Unhealthy weight loss stemming from diets based on deprivation can lead to nutrient deficiencies<sup>2</sup>. Cutting calories too low puts you at risk of not getting enough of the necessary vitamins and minerals you need simply because you aren’t eating enough.</li><li>The recommendations for healthy weight loss are based on successful weight loss maintenance science. Most people can lose weight, but the trick is keeping it off. Research suggests that only one to three percent of people who lose weight actually maintain that weight loss<sup>3</sup>.</li><li>Losing weight too quickly can lead to physiological hormone adjustments that make it that much harder for you to lose weight. Weight loss can induce significant changes in the hormones that promote or inhibit appetite.</li></ul>
Some research suggests that as you lose weight, especially with calorie restriction, the body adjusts by increasing hormones that make you feel more hungry<sup>4</sup> while suppressing those that support satiety.
Read more: Learn more about why counting calories can be a flawed approach to weight loss
As hinted in the intro, one of the reasons it’s nearly impossible to predict the exact amount of weight a person will lose is because it’s reliant on so many factors. We are all made differently, but here are some of the most significant common factors that affect weight loss:
Starting with the most obvious predictor of weight loss—what you eat. You’ve likely heard the saying that 80 percent of weight loss is diet. While this is an oversimplification, diet is indeed fundamental for weight loss. Simply cutting calories doesn’t always work for weight loss, but if you overeat<sup>5</sup> consistently, it will make it challenging.
The balance of the types of nutrients you eat is equally important. A 2,000-calorie diet rich in fiber, protein, healthy fats, and complex carbohydrates is going to have a very different impact on your hormones, blood sugar, and metabolism than 2,000 calories from pastries, candy, pizza, and fast food. Quantity and quality matter when it comes to weight loss.
Chronic stress can make it harder to lose weight and even lead to weight gain. Cortisol<sup>6</sup>, the primary stress hormone, can impact blood sugar and metabolism and increase appetite and sugar cravings.
Sleeping may be as important as exercise when it comes to weight loss. Sleep deprivation can interfere with hunger<sup>7</sup> and satiety hormones and increase cortisol production. It can also increase your cravings for processed carbs and sugar.
The complexity of hormones can have a significant impact on weight. For example, insulin, a hormone secreted in response to elevated blood sugar, is associated with weight gain<sup>8</sup> when found in higher-than-normal amounts.
Sedentary lifestyles<sup>9</sup> are linked to obesity. Plus, increased muscle mass helps support metabolism to keep you burning calories all day long.
Genetics aren’t your fate, but they do come into play. Research has found that certain genetic traits can influence hunger<sup>10</sup> and how you metabolize the nutrients in your food.
The bugs in your gut, collectively called your microbiome, can influence how you process your food and even how many calories you take in. Certain species of bacteria<sup>11</sup> are also associated with an increased risk of weight gain.
Read more: Is there a gut health and weight loss connection?
With all of the above in mind, these differences can help explain why there is no single correct answer for the best diet for weight loss. There will always be studies pointing toward the success of one diet or another. But there is no denying that the best diet is the one that you can maintain and continue as a regular part of your lifestyle.
A group of researchers compared multiple diet plans<sup>12</sup> and found that all diets—from vegan to low carb to low fat—led to some degree of weight loss. The study concluded that the best diet recommendation is the one that “a patient will adhere to.”
While individual responses do make a difference, here is what the research says about some of the most popular weight loss plans:
WW (Weight Watchers) is a program that assigns points to foods, with healthier choices worth fewer points. In this way, people have flexibility about what they eat as long as they stay below a certain number of points each day.
The company<sup>13</sup> suggests that most people have an average weight loss per week of 1 to 2 pounds. A review of commercial weight-loss plans<sup>14</sup> found that WW produced slightly more weight loss (2.4 percent) than the control group after a year.
Noom is a weight loss and fitness app that advertises a different approach to weight loss through healthy behavior changes, although it still gives users a calorie goal and labels foods as “green” or “red.”
While there aren’t studies available on weekly weight loss, the app suggests it promotes sustainable habits. One study did find that 77.9 percent of users who used Noom reported some sort of weight loss<sup>15</sup> over an average of around nine months.
Signos isn’t a diet plan like the others but instead uses information from your body via a continuous glucose monitor (CGM) to provide personalized guidance for healthy habits. Using a CGM lets you see how your body responds to food, exercise, sleep, stress, emotions, and everything else you deal with daily.
As a result of healthier eating, exercise, and lifestyle changes, Signos members have lost weight, improved energy levels, reported better sleep and stress management, shown improved HbA1c blood test results, and showed changed glucose response to foods (that originally spiked them) after using the program long term.
While some people swear by the ketogenic (keto) diet, studies suggest that there really isn’t a huge difference between keto and controls<sup>16</sup>. The keto diet is a very low-carb pattern that only allows 50 grams or fewer carbs each day to promote a state of ketosis, where the body uses fat instead of glucose (sugar) for energy.
Average weight loss in a week may look like more for keto because the drop in carbohydrates leads to a significant loss of water weight. When carbs are stored in your body as glycogen, they require water. Water is eliminated as the body uses all the stored carbs in the early weeks of keto.
However, weight loss<sup>17</sup> averages out over time with other diets. It is also hard for some people to maintain keto, given how restrictive it is.
Another popular way of eating, intermittent fasting, pairs windows of eating with fasting. There are many ways to do it, but one of the most popular schedules is the 16:8, where you fast for 16 hours and eat normally during an eight-hour window. For example, if you stop eating at 7 p.m., you’d refrain from eating until 11 a.m. the next day.
One systematic review found that the average weight loss for people following intermittent fasting<sup>18</sup> was 7–11 pounds over 10 weeks, approximately a pound a week. But once again, studies also suggest that although intermittent fasting can support weight loss<sup>19</sup>, it’s not necessarily better for weight loss than other ways of eating,
The Mediterranean diet pattern is less about caloric intake and more about the types of foods you eat. It promotes healthy fat, fiber from fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, and lean proteins while minimizing processed foods.
In research, the Mediterranean diet is promoted for longevity, cardiovascular protection, and brain health<sup>20</sup>. But what about weight loss?
Once again, it depends on if it’s a diet you can adhere to. A systematic review found that the Mediterranean diet was equally effective as other diet patterns<sup>21</sup>, although it was superior to low-fat diets long term.
Knowing that weight loss is individualized, setting a healthy weight loss goal can help you narrow down what steps you can take to make a change. Here are three steps to get started:
Instead, tell yourself, “My goal is to lose 10 pounds over the next three months.” Smaller goals feel much more doable, and remember that 0.5–2 pounds a week is recommended. Science tells us that even losing five percent of your original weight<sup>22</sup> can lead to significant health benefits.
Weight loss is a complex subject, and there’s no one right way to do it for each of us. If you are working on weight loss, chances are you’ve been tempted by a click-bait internet ad promising quick results. That ad won’t tell you that a restrictive diet may help you lose a few pounds fast, but it won’t last and could even adversely affect your metabolism.
Instead, shift your thinking to slow, sustainable—but successful—weight loss. Aim for an average weight loss per week of no more than two pounds. Find a plan that feels sustainable for your lifestyle and stick with it by setting realistic goals that will add up over time.