Here’s a simple way to estimate how long it will take to lose 20 pounds using a strategy that avoids stalling out.
Start researching how to lose weight and it might feel like you’ve just entered a Ph.D program.
But it isn’t as complicated as some make it seem.
It doesn’t have to feel overwhelming.
I’m going to break this down so you have a plan for how to start.
You need to string together enough days where there is a gap between the amount of calories, you consume and the total amount of calories that your body burns.
The burn needs to be the higher number.
And the difference between them can’t be too big or too many days (200-500 calories per day).
This gap is usually called a calorie deficit.
If you wear a gadget you can get a good estimate of what your total calorie burn.
If you don’t wear a gadget, you can do an internet search for a calculator that will give you a general idea of how many calories your body burns in a full 24-hour day.
If you’re going to do this intuitively without tracking everything, think of it this way – if the amount of food you’re eating is keeping your weight stable, that’s your maintenance amount of food. It’s balanced.
To lose weight, you need to tip that balance a little bit, so that the burn is a little higher than the food intake.
But remember, your body adapts.
Doing this slowly is better.
It’s better to eat as much as possible while still being in a calorie deficit.
Also – you need to have increased protein to keep your muscle mass when in a calorie deficit.
Using smaller calorie deficits means you’re eating a little more and you’ll get more nutrients from food.
More food also means you’ll have less hunger, and if you have less hunger, you’re more likely to sustain this for the string of days that you need to do this to lose the weight you want to lose.
Losing fat slower also gives your skin time to adjust to your shrinking body.
The myth out there is that a pound of fat is 3500 calories, but in reality, it is somewhere between 2800 and 3700.
So saying that a pound of fat is 3500 calories is used as a rough estimate.
If someone has 20 lbs to lose, that means we want to take 20 lbs times that 3,500 calories, which is 70,000 calories.
This is a rough estimate but it’s not a bad estimate. Wouldn’t you expect to lose some weight if you burned and extra 70,000 calories?
So, in stretch of time where almost all the days are strung together in consecutive order, you need to create a deficit of about 70,000 calories.
If you’re maintaining your weight at 2,000 calories and you drop three hundred in food and add 200 in activity that is a 500-calorie gap.
If you were a machine, you could do that for what is 70000 /500 = 140 days and you would see a weight loss of around 20 lb.
But you’re not a machine and your body is going to do what is engineered to do – keep you alive during a famine (even if its self-imposed).
That’s why it’s not going to work doing all the days together without any breaks.
You’ll need to do a refeed every so often to keep things from stalling.
So for hypothetical person who needs to lose 20 lbs, those hundred and forty days might really be two weeks in a deficit and then have a refeed day.
Repeat that – two weeks on, refeed day – until weight loss stalls again.
Then maybe you need to do 10 days in a defict, then a refeed day.
As time goes on, as you start to be leaner and are becoming a smaller person, you’ll notice that your weight loss slows down.
Then you may need to do a refeed every week – 6 days on, 1 day at maintenance.
But remember, you’re not a weight-loss machine, you’re a person.
In the beginning, you might lose weight quickly. but it’s going to slow down.
The body adapts.
Months into this process, maybe your motivation level to keep going will be high because you’ve seen some success, but at some point, progress will stall and refeeds won’t help. That’s when you need a full diet break.
If you have more to lose than than you can lose slowly in 5 to 6 months, you may need to do this in phases so that you keep your metabolism from adapting to the lower-calorie amount.
During your diet break, bring your food up a little bit and you maintain your new lower weight for a few months, even if it’s not your goal weight.
It doesn’t mean you’re quitting.
It means you’re maintaining your new weight, which is a skill in itself.
After a diet break, start again, repeat the process.
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Hi! I'm Tammy! I was a busy, stressed, and unhealthy teacher until I decided to take control of my health. I did not become an athlete until I was in my 50's!
I earned personal training and fitness nutrition certifications, then retired from teaching to dedicate my work life to fitness education for other busy women over 40.
My results are obviously not typical because most people don't train to compete as a bodybuilder.
But I believe everyone can make positive changes with healthy habits! Each of us has a unique combination of strengths and challenges that need to be considered to customize a program that will work for us. Science-based principles, flexibility, and consistency make all the difference.