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Lose Weight: How Long Does It Take to Lose Weight?

Embarking on a weight loss journey involves considering factors like age, gender, and your starting point. How long it takes you to lose weight? Significantly depends on the balance between calories in and calories out.

Whether you’re gearing up for a special event or aiming to boost overall well-being, weight loss is a common pursuit.

To set realistic expectations, understanding a healthy weight loss rate is crucial. So, how long does it take to lose weight? This article guides you through the factors, offering easy-to-understand insights for a well-informed approach to your fitness goals.

1. How Weight Loss Occurs

Weight loss happens when you consistently eat fewer calories than you burn daily. Conversely, Weight gain occurs when you consistently surpass your daily calorie expenditure. All foods and drinks with calories contribute to your overall intake. The calorie burn, known as energy expenditure, involves three main components:

fat boy and girl trying to lose weight

Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR): Calories are necessary for fundamental functions like breathing.

Thermic Effect of Food (TEF): Calories burned during digestion, absorption, and metabolism of food.

Thermic Effect of Activity (TEA): During exercise, burn calories, including non-exercise activities like fidgeting

If calorie intake matches expenditure, weight remains constant. To lose weight, create a negative calorie balance by eating less or increasing physical activity.

In summary, weight loss occurs when you consistently consume fewer calories than you burn daily.

2. Factors Affecting Weight Loss

Various factors, some beyond your control, shape the pace of weight loss.

2.1 Gender

Your gender plays a significant role in the dynamics of weight loss. The fat-to-muscle ratio is a key factor influencing your ability to shed pounds.

Women typically have a higher fat-to-muscle ratio than men, resulting in a 5–10% lower Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR) for women of the same height. Essentially, this means that women burn 5–10% fewer calories than men while at rest. Consequently, men often experience quicker weight loss than women on an equal-calorie diet.

An illustrative 8-week study involving over 2,000 participants on an 800-calorie diet revealed that men lost 16% more weight than women. The relative weight loss was 11.8% for men compared to 10.3% for women.

While men may tend to lose weight more rapidly than women, it’s important to note that the study didn’t delve into gender-based differences in the ability to sustain weight loss.

Understanding the impact of gender on weight loss provides valuable insights for tailoring effective strategies based on individual needs.

2.2 Age

As you age, your body changes. Fat mass increases, and muscle mass decreases. This, coupled with declining calorie needs in major organs, leads to a lower Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR).

Notably, adults over 70 may have RMRs 20–25% lower than younger adults.

This decline in RMR complicates weight loss efforts with age.

2.3 Starting Point

Your initial body mass and composition impact the pace of your weight loss journey. It’s crucial to note that different absolute weight losses (in pounds) can correspond to the same relative (%) weight loss in different individuals.

Understanding this complexity, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Body Weight Planner serves as a valuable guide. It factors in your initial weight, age, sex, and caloric intake and expenditure to provide personalized insights into potential weight loss.

For instance, a heavier person may lose double the weight of a lighter individual, but the percentage of body weight lost may be equal. This emphasizes the individualized nature of weight loss. As an illustration, someone weighing 300 pounds (136 kg) might lose 10 pounds (4.5 kg) in two weeks by reducing daily calorie intake and increasing physical activity.

2.4 Calorie Deficit

Creating a negative calorie balance is essential for weight loss, and the extent of this deficit determines the pace of your progress.

For instance, a daily reduction of 500 calories for 8 weeks generally leads to more significant weight loss than a 200-calorie decrease.

However, steering clear of an overly substantial calorie deficit is crucial. Not only is it unsustainable, but it also poses risks of nutrient deficiencies and potential muscle loss rather than fat loss. Balancing the calorie deficit is key to achieving sustainable and healthy weight loss.

2.5 Sleep

Sleep is a critical but often overlooked factor in weight loss.

Chronic sleep loss can significantly impede weight loss progress. Even a single night of sleep deprivation increases cravings for high-calorie, nutrient-poor foods.

In a 2-week study, those sleeping 5.5 hours lost 55% less body fat and gained 60% more lean body mass than those sleeping 8.5 hours nightly. Chronic sleep deprivation is linked to various health issues, including type 2 diabetes, obesity, heart disease, and certain cancers. Prioritizing sufficient sleep supports your weight loss journey and overall well-being.

2.6 Other Factors

Several factors influence your weight loss rate:

Medications: Certain medications, like antidepressants, may promote weight gain or hinder weight loss.

Medical Conditions: Illnesses such as depression or hypothyroidism can impede weight loss and encourage weight gain.

Family History and Genes: Genetic factors influence weight loss, particularly in individuals with a family history of overweight or obesity.

Yo-yo Dieting: Losing and regaining weight in a yo-yo pattern can make subsequent weight loss attempts more challenging, partly due to decreases in Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR).

In summary, age, gender, and sleep are just a few factors influencing weight loss. Others include medical conditions, genetics, and the use of specific medications. Understanding these factors is crucial for tailoring effective and sustainable weight loss strategies.

3. Best Diet for Weight Loss

Weight loss diets abound, each promising rapid results and confusing. Yet, studies reveal there’s no universal solution, emphasizing the need for individualized approaches.

For instance, while low-carb diets like keto may lead to initial weight loss, long-term differences are minimal. The key lies in maintaining a healthy, reduced-calorie eating pattern.

Prolonged very low-calorie diets often fail many. To enhance success, moderately reduce calorie intake, tailor your diet to your preferences, or seek guidance from a registered dietitian.

Combining diet with exercise, incorporating both aerobic and resistance training, maximizes fat loss and minimizes muscle loss.

Choosing whole foods over highly processed ones, such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, healthy fats, and proteins, further supports weight loss and overall health.

In summary, achieving success with a weight loss diet involves individualizing your approach based on preferences and health status, emphasizing the importance of adherence for lasting results.

4. Safe Rates of Weight Loss

While speedy weight loss might be tempting, it’s crucial to prioritize safety over speed.

Rapid weight loss can pose risks like

  • gallstones
  • dehydration
  • headaches
  • irritability
  • fatigue
  • constipation
  • hair loss
  • muscle loss

Experts recommend a moderate approach, aiming for 1–3 pounds (0.45–1.36 kg) per week, approximately 1% of your body weight. It’s essential to understand that weight loss is not always consistent; some weeks may see more progress than others.

Maintaining a food diary and regular self-monitoring, including weighing yourself, can aid in tracking progress and staying on course. Research indicates that these techniques enhance success in both weight loss and maintenance.

In summary, opting for a moderate and sustainable pace in weight loss, around 1–3 pounds per week, ensures not only effectiveness but also safety and long-term success.

The Bottom Line

To lose weight, consume fewer calories than you burn.

Various factors influence your rate of weight loss, encompassing gender, age, starting weight, sleep, and the extent of your calorie deficit.

For a safe and sustainable approach, target a weight loss of 1–3 pounds (0.45–1.36 kg) per week to reach your goals effectively.


1. How long does it take to really start losing weight?

The timeline for noticeable weight loss differs based on factors like metabolism, starting weight, and lifestyle choices. Initial changes may emerge within the first few weeks of adopting a healthy diet and exercise routine. While sustainable weight loss is typically 1-2 pounds per week, individual experiences may vary, with some achieving quicker results initially.

2. How long does it take to lose belly fat?

Targeting belly fat depends on factors like body composition and genetics. Combining cardiovascular exercises, strength training, and a balanced diet aids in belly fat loss. Visible changes may take weeks to months, emphasizing the importance of consistent healthy habits for lasting results.

3. How long does it take to lose 20 pounds?

Achieving a 20-pound weight loss is realistic, but the duration varies based on factors such as starting weight, diet, and exercise intensity. Generally, a safe and sustainable rate is 1-2 pounds per week, making the timeframe around 10 to 20 weeks, depending on individual factors and commitment to a healthy lifestyle.

4. Which body part loses fat first?

The order in which the body loses fat can vary among individuals, and there’s no universally consistent pattern. However, it’s common for fat loss to occur first in areas where there is more adipose tissue, such as the face, arms, and legs. Abdominal fat, including belly fat, is often among the last areas to show significant changes. Consistent exercise and a balanced diet can contribute to overall fat loss throughout the body.

5. What are the first signs of losing weight?

The initial signs of weight loss can vary, but some indicators include:

Increased energy levels: As your body adjusts to a healthier lifestyle, you may experience a boost in energy.
Changes in clothing fit: Clothes may feel looser as your body composition changes.
Improved mood: Regular exercise and a balanced diet can positively impact mental well-being.
Enhanced physical performance: You may notice increased stamina and improved fitness levels.
Decreased water retention: Some initial weight loss may be attributed to reduced water retention, leading to a slimmer appearance.

It’s important to note that these signs can vary among individuals, and long-term, sustainable weight loss involves a combination of healthy habits over time.

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