Losing weight steadily rather than rapidly may help you maintain weight loss. Changes to your eating plan, exercise plan, and eating habits can help you lose weight safely.
Losing weight can be challenging regardless of whether you’re looking to lose 5 pounds or 20.
Not only does it require diet and lifestyle changes, but it can also take some patience.
Fortunately, using a mix of proven strategies can simplify and expedite healthy weight loss at a steady rate.
Setting expectations: Losing weight safely
Losing weight safely typically involves losing 1-2 pounds per week.
This would allow you to lose 20 pounds within about 5 months at 1 pound per week or 2 1/2 months at about 2 pounds per week. Once lost, you can often maintain your new weight with exercise and a nutritious diet.
Losing weight safely has additional benefits. People who lose weight slowly and steadily may be more likely to maintain their weight loss.
Here are the 10 best ways to quickly and safely drop 20 pounds.
1. Count calories
For some, counting calories may be an effective way to start losing weight.
If you are interested in counting calories, here’s how it works. Weight loss occurs when you use more calories than you take in, either by reducing your intake or increasing your physical activity.
While cutting calories alone is generally not considered a sustainable way to lose weight, counting calories can be an effective weight-loss tool when paired with other diet and lifestyle modifications.
Keeping track of your calorie intake can increase your awareness of what you’re putting on your plate, giving you the knowledge you need to help you make healthier choices.
You may find that using an app is helpful for both keeping track of calories and recording what you are eating.
But, if you are predisposed to eating disorders, there may be a risk that counting calories can lead to worsening symptoms. This may include over-restrictive dieting and a preoccupation with food. If you fear you may develop an eating disorder or have experienced them in the past, you may want to avoid counting calories altogether.
A 2021 study found that using an app like MyFitnessPal did not increase the risk of college-age women developing mental health disorders or eating disorders when they previously did not have signs of risk.
Though more research is needed, using an app may be a safe, effective method of counting calories for those looking to lose 20 pounds as quickly as safely possible.
Summary: When paired with other diet and lifestyle changes, counting calories may help you make healthier choices to increase weight loss. However, if you have risk factors for or have had an eating disorder in the past, you should consider other weight loss methods.
2. Drink more water
Upping your water intake may help support your weight loss efforts, particularly when swapping calorie-containing beverages for water.
However, according to a 2019 meta-analysis, many studies highlight the benefits of drinking more water for weight loss. However, the authors found that these included low- to moderate-quality studies with limited to no follow-up, which calls into question the reliability of their results.
As a result, the authors of the analysis do not fully support using water intake as a weight loss tool. Additional research on its effectiveness is needed.
A more recent study published in 2021 looked at how adding additional water to the diet of a population of Mediterranean seniors affected their body weight.
The researchers found a positive association between increasing water intake and weight loss and maintenance. They swapped some alcoholic and energy-containing drinks that participants typically consumed with water.
You may also find that drinking water with meals can help you feel fuller, reducing your appetite and intake.
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Summary: Drinking water instead of other beverages may help you with your weight loss goals. Studies indicate it may help you reduce weight, particularly if you replace high-calorie drinks with water.
3. Increase your protein intake
Including more protein-rich foods may help you lose 20 pounds safely and effectively.
According to a 2020 study, a high-protein diet can help lose weight for at least 6 to 12 months. Researchers note a lack of long-term studies on the effect of protein on weight loss.
The study’s authors note that protein may help by altering your hormone levels and other metabolic processes so you can feel fuller for longer. It can also help increase the energy you use, which can help contribute to weight loss.
Lean meats, seafood, poultry, legumes, eggs, nuts, and seeds are a few healthy sources of protein that you can easily add to your diet.
Summary: Studies have shown that protein may promote feelings of fullness by reducing calorie intake, which can help contribute to weight loss.
4. Reduce your refined carb consumption
Decreasing your intake of refined carbs may be another helpful strategy to support healthy and quick weight loss.
The manufacturing process strips refined carbs of their fiber content, resulting in a final product with a higher glycemic index. Foods higher on the glycemic index rapidly increase your blood sugar levels. A crash tends to follow the spike, which can lead to increased hunger and consumption of more food.
Over the years, several studies have supported using a low glycemic index diet for weight loss. An older study from 2014 showed that a low-glycemic, low-energy diet helped to control glucose metabolism and aid in weight loss.
A more recent study from 2021 noted that combining a diet containing lower glycemic index foods with a high protein intake diet may be an effective way to lose weight.
However, not everyone agrees with the effects of foods with a high-glycemic index. According to a 2021 review of studies, researchers noted that very little evidence supports the conclusion that low-glycemic foods are superior to high-glycemic foods for weight loss.
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However, it may be essential to note that the Grain Foods Foundation and subsidiaries contributed financially to and wrote the first draft of the noted study. The authors added notes on each draft and signed off on the final manuscript.
If you are interested in cutting out refined carbs, to get started, try swapping out refined grains in the pasta, bread, cereals, and pre-packaged products for whole-grain alternatives such as barley, quinoa, brown rice, or whole wheat.
Summary: Refined carbs can increase hunger sooner than whole grains, which may contribute to weight gain.
5. Start lifting weights
Resistance training is a type of exercise that involves working against a force to increase muscle strength and endurance. It includes exercises like:
- free weights
- exercise machines
- exercises that use your body weight, like push-ups or pull-ups
Resistance training has several benefits. When it comes to weight loss, a 2021 study noted that resistance training helps to prevent the loss of lean muscle mass as you lose weight.
In a 2018 study, researchers looked at the effect on weight loss of resistance training only, diet changes only, and resistance training plus dietary changes.
While all showed positive results for weight loss, researchers found that resting metabolism increased slightly with resistance training, and participants added the leanest muscle with resistance training and no dietary changes. The resistance training plus dietary changes group had the best weight loss results.
You can try out a gym membership or take a resistance training class to get started. Or you can use weights or resistance bands if you have them. You can also practice bodyweight exercises at home without equipment. This includes exercises like:
For added safety, try starting off slow and consider talking with a personal trainer about a good starting point.
You may also want to check with a doctor before changing your exercise routine, especially if you have any health conditions. They may recommend modifications or a specific starting point.
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Summary: Resistance training may help preserve lean muscle mass, increase resting metabolism slightly, and help you with your weight loss goals. Before starting a new routine, you should consider talking with a doctor or personal trainer.
6. Eat more fiber
Fiber is an essential nutrient for gut health, overall health, and, potentially, weight loss goals.
There are two main types of fiber: soluble and insoluble. Both provide potential health benefits to you, and most foods that contain one also contain the other.
Insoluble fiber provides the bulk of your stool, but according to a 2016 study, soluble fiber plays a significant role in your metabolism.
Soluble fiber may help keep you feeling fuller for longer.
In a 2019 study, researchers found that consuming dietary fiber may help people with obesity better adhere to their eating plans. This helped to promote better weight loss in their test groups.
Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and seeds are all excellent fiber sources integral to a varied, nutritious diet.
Summary: Fiber may help you feel full for longer, keep your gut bacteria healthy, and help you reach your weight loss goals.
7. Follow a sleep schedule
While there’s no doubt that switching up your diet and exercise routine are the two important steps to losing 20 pounds quickly and safely, the amount you sleep you get may also play a role.
In a 2022 trial, researchers looked at sleep’s effect on energy levels and weight loss. They concluded that improving sleep hygiene has a positive effect on preventing obesity and supporting weight loss.
Just as getting enough sleep can set you up for success, sleep deprivation may also cause weight gain.
Some tips to improve your sleep hygiene include:
- getting 7 to 8 hours of sleep each night
- practicing a calming bedtime ritual before bed, such as reading or taking a relaxing shower
- going to bed and waking up at the same time each day, even on weekends
- limiting screen time before bed
- minimizing your intake of caffeine and large meals before bed
- reducing sources of light and noise
- keeping the room where you sleep at a cool temperature
Summary: Getting enough sleep and improving sleep quality may support weight loss. You can take several steps to improve your sleep hygiene by making the environment cool, limiting light sources, and reducing noise as much as possible.
8. Set reasonable goals and stay accountable
If you are looking to lose weight, it can help to begin with a reasonable goal that can be accomplished safely and maintained.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that people looking to lose weight should adopt healthy eating patterns and engage in regular physical activity and stress management rather than adopting a specific diet.
While this may include eating varied and nutritious meals, it may also include adopting behavioral practices, such as only eating when you’re hungry, eating more slowly, and not skipping meals.
You may also need to ensure your goal is reasonable.
Losing 20 pounds in one month is unsafe and unsustainable. But losing between 4 and 8 pounds this month and matching it the next month may be more reasonable. Setting smaller goals may help you achieve your long-term goal of losing 20 or more pounds.
Finally, to help yourself stay accountable, you may track your fitness progress. You can do this by recording your fitness length or weights lifted. Some people may weigh themselves on a monthly or weekly basis. But you should use caution when weighing yourself if you are predisposed to eating disorders.
Note that weight loss does not take body composition into account. If you lose fat while gaining lean muscle mass, you may not see a big difference on the scale, but your body composition may still be changing.
Another great way to stay accountable is to include a family member or friend on your journey. An exercise buddy may help keep you motivated in other ways.
Summary: Setting realistic goals and staying accountable may help your weight loss. As an added bonus, exercise can be a new way to connect with friends or family.
9. Add cardio to your routine
Cardio, also known as aerobic exercise, is a form of physical activity that increases your heart rate and helps strengthen your heart and lungs.
What’s more, it increases the calories your body burns to aid fat and weight loss.
The CDC recommends people get at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise each week or at least 75 minutes of high-intensity workouts.
Some easy and enjoyable cardio workouts that can support both weight loss and overall health may include:
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- jumping rope
Summary: Cardio or aerobic exercise can improve your overall health and help you lose weight.
10. Eat slowly and mindfully
Mindfulness is a practice that involves becoming more aware of your thoughts and feelings while also shifting your focus to the present moment.
Eating slowly and practicing mindfulness can help increase weight loss and decrease excess food intake while allowing you to savor your food. While the purpose of mindful eating is not to lose weight, this practice may result in weight loss.
Mindfulness involves self-acceptance and connecting more with what you eat.
It can help retrain your brain to appreciate food and avoid judging it based on calories or restrictions. Instead, you can focus on the benefits of healthy food and savor the food you are currently eating. This way, you do not focus on cutting out foods.
Try minimizing distractions while eating, chewing your food more thoroughly, and drinking water to help yourself slow down and enjoy.
Eating more slowly may also contribute to weight loss.
Summary: Taking the time to appreciate your meals and slowing down may help with weight loss and reaching your goals.
Though losing 20 pounds can seem challenging, you can do it safely by changing your eating pattern, exercise routine, and other eating practices. It may help to break this larger goal into smaller goals that can be accomplished safely, such as losing 1-2 pounds per week.
People who lose weight more rapidly than this are unlikely to maintain their weight loss over time and are more likely to engage in disordered eating behaviors.
Before starting any new exercise routines, it is a good idea to speak with a doctor, especially if you have any health conditions. They can also help guide you on ways to start exercising safely.
With patience and determination, it’s possible to lose weight safely to help you reach your weight loss goals in less time.