How Long Does It Take to Lose Weight?

by Marixie Ann Obsioma, MT, undergrad MD on November 27, 2019
Last updated on May 23, 2021

When you look at the covers of fast-selling magazines, you will realize how almost all of them are graced with a title discussing one topic in common – weight loss. Be it about one celebrity’s journey to fitness, some tips to achieve your goal faster, or product recommendations that can help speed things up for you, anything that tackles the topic of weight loss entices the general population. 

picture of a woman holding her oversized jeans

Even as you check your Facebook and Instagram, articles or products related to weight loss are always there lurking on your feeds. This should be no surprise as a lot of Instagram models or influencers’ claim-to-fame is their ability to help you reach the best version of yourself by losing weight. 

A study showed that four in ten adults have made attempts to shed some pounds at one point in time over the last five years (1).  These days, a lot of people have become more health-conscious, not only for the purpose of looking good, but also to live a longer, fuller, and healthier life.

But one person’s weight loss journey is incomparable. You can’t assume that just because your friend successfully removed excess pounds in two months’ time after following a specific diet and exercise plan, you will experience the same results, too. Your journey is unique just as your body is unique.

How Does Weight Loss Begin?

Once you start burning more calories than what you are consuming or you start eating less from the number of calories you burn, you will start noticing the difference in your scale. By simply increasing energy expenditure in comparison to intake, you can start your weight loss program right away (2). If you happened to take the opposite route by eating more than what you are burning daily, weight gain is sure to happen.

So, how do you do just that? It’s basically eating less and burning more. It sounds simple, right? If it is that simple, why is it hard to lose weight?  Well, not really. There are numerous factors involved in determining one’s body weight. The idea of negative calorie intake is just a way to get your body started. It is a general idea, but not the whole truth. 

To help you realize how long it takes to lose weight, there are some things you need to familiarize yourself with.

Calorie Counting 101

Calorie counting is easy, but this method is never enough to experience considerable weight loss. Some people are not too keen on monitoring their caloric intake. It can be intimidating if you do not know how to get started, but there is a way to simplify things.

  1. Determine how many calories you need to consume in a day. You need to base it on your current weight and ensure that your daily consumption will not cause any weight gain.
  2. To do this, you simply multiply your weight by 15. This determines the number of calories in a pound of body weight for someone who is moderately active. 
  3. To lose weight, you must make sure that your daily intake is below the resulting number, which is your maintenance calories.
  4. Losing one to two pounds a week is a rate most experts agree on. You must ensure that your food intake is about 500 to 1000 calories less than the resulting number (3).

Now, the reason why this alone can’t do the job is that controlling body weight is a multifaceted challenge. Your diet is just one part of a very challenging equation. Energy compensation may be prevented by considering energy density, glycemic index, and macro-nutrients (4).

Calorie Expenditure: Explained

Calorie expenditure is not all too simple as it seems. It is made of three major components. 

  1. Resting metabolic rate (RMR) pertains to the number of calories the body requires to perform normal body functions, like blood pumping and regular breathing.
  2. Thermic effect of activity (TEA) refers to the calories that you burn during a period of exercise and non-exercise activity (NEAT). A period of exercise is when you are working out at the gym, running, or swimming while non-exercise activities cover chores, yard work, and the like.
  3. Thermic effect of food (TEF) is all about the calories that you need to digest, metabolize, and absorb the food that you take in (5).

You can easily maintain your weight if you spend the same number of calories that you consume. But to achieve weight loss, you must try to create a negative balance by consuming less and increasing your activity. Once the body recognizes this change and you maintain your pace, you can get to where you want, body-wise.

What Determines Your Body Weight?

Generally speaking, there are different factors that determine one’s body weight. Unfortunately, people have no control over a few of these factors, such as genetic makeup, developmental determinants, age, and gender, to name a few. Other factors that can determine the body weight is well within your control. These are physical activities, social factors, environmental factors, and of course, diet (6). Below are explanations of how some of these factors can affect your weight loss progress.


Men have less fat-to-muscle ratio than women. This factor is a big determinant of one’s ability to lose weight. Because women have a greater ratio than men, they have 5 to 10% lower resting metabolic rate in contrast to men of the same height (7). Women, when at rest, generally burn about 10% fewer calories than men. So, in this case, men have a tendency to lose weight faster than women. 


Body composition is affected by aging. The change is manifested by an increase in fat mass and a decrease in muscle mass. Lower RMR results from this particular change and several other factors including the decline in caloric needs of major organs (8). People over 70 years of age have 20 to 25% lower RMR compared to younger individuals. This will make it more difficult to lose weight as you age.


Having not enough rest is a commonly overlooked factor on why someone is not losing as much weight as expected, despite all the dieting efforts. In one study, it showed that a person who sleeps only 5.5 hours every night for two weeks have lost 60% of lean body mass and 55 % less body fat compared to those who slept 8.5 hours a night (9).

Other External and Internal Factors

Medications like antipsychotics, insulin, epilepsy, and steroid hormones can cause you to gain some weight. Some may cause you to retain water or even cause you to put on additional fat due to the mechanisms of action of the drugs (10).

Certain medical conditions can also hinder weight loss. Depression can cause excessive weight loss for some, but for others, it can go the other way. Hypothyroidism can slow down weight loss and even leads to weight gain.

Genetic components are associated with weight loss and there is even a study about how it has an effect on diet. For the past few years, a lot of research related to genetics showed some human genome variants that can determine how the body regulates weight gain. Others have proven interactions between dietary factors and genetics interaction in cases of obesity, and weight loss and its maintenance (11).

From these factors, you will have an idea of how much effort you need to put in to see some results.

A lot of weight loss programs have been sworn effective by experts and satisfied patrons alike, so it is easy to get confused when picking a suitable one for you.

One study on the comparison of weight loss diets showed that reduced calorie diets have resulted in weight loss no matter which macro-nutrient is focused on (12). Another study aiming to prove the safety of a keto diet showed that this particular plan served as a natural weight reduction therapy for patients who are obese. Furthermore, there are many physiological changes such as a significant increase in high-density lipoprotein (HDL) level and a noticeable decrease in low-density lipoprotein (LDL) level, total cholesterol level, and triglycerides of those who participated in the study (13). Other low carb diets seem to have an effect over energy expenditure. High fat and low glycemic load diet have resulted in significant weight loss than just restricting caloric intake and constant exercise (14).

Even though diet seemed to be very influential in today’s society, diet restrictions can be taxing for a lot of people. A vast majority find it hard to stick to them, thus weight loss effects do not last as long as expected (15).

One study mentioned that in some cases, focusing on the nature of food has certain advantages (4). Another study backs this up as it cited how healthful eating without limiting the variations showed health benefits and disease prevention. It also showed consistency with the important components of distinct dietary approaches (16). Ensuring that your diet only include minimally processed foods and choosing more natural ones can give you the nourishment and body weight you desire.

Both meal replacement and manipulation of macronutrient composition do not show any positive effect on maintaining weight (17). To make sure that the lost weight remains off, there should be a combined effort of healthy food choices, dietary pattern changes, and lifestyle behavior adjustments (18).

How Much Weight Loss is Healthy?

The thing is, even with just a 5 to 10% reduction of your overall weight, you can enjoy a list of benefits such as blood pressure, blood sugar, and blood cholesterol improvements (19). Hopefully, these results will push you to keep going. 

However, people who are starting their weight loss journey can be so impatient. Losing a pound or two steadily every week will get you there (19). Anything more drastic is quite unhealthy and can exhaust your body with the changes. Never resort to starvation to boost your efforts. Rapid weight loss can cause an imbalance on your hunger hormones. Many studies suggest that this is a risk factor for a possible weight regain in the future (20).

Tips to Ensure That You’ll Shed 1-2 Pounds Off Weekly

Three simple steps to make sure that you will stay consistent on your journey.

1. Observe Your Diet

What are you doing wrong? You may have read that focusing 80% of your energy on proper dieting and the remaining 20 on working out is the way to go (21). Also, work out how much protein, carb, and fat intake you should take in a day to accommodate weight loss, not to sustain your current weight.

Most people say that the hardest part is the reduction of carbs in their normal diet. To bear with this, try to incorporate your carbs only during dinner. This will help you relax at the end of the day. The change is a bit agitating, which will help you sleep better.

2. Have A Good Time During Your Workouts

Resistance training has shown to improve glucose tolerance, develop lean body mass, and increase strength (22). Mixing your usual training with other types of exercise can be beneficial for your overall health, especially if these are some activities that you also enjoy.

3. Combat Stress

Your level of stress can be a challenge to your weight loss program. Stress can release hormones that can stimulate fat cell production. If you suffer from chronic stress, it will also have an effect on the loss of the circadian glucocorticoid oscillation which leads to weight gain (23). Find time to relax by doing yoga, taking up a hobby, or consider taking supplements that can reduce your anxiety levels.

Key Takeaway

There is no one answer to the question, “how long does it take to lose weight?” It depends upon numerous factors, some are controllable while others are not. But despite this, you can do a lot of things to make your weight loss program a success. Finding a diet that works for you, exercising regularly, and reducing stress are sure ways to reach your goal whatever age or gender you may be. 


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