JSYK, Losing 5 Actual Pounds in a Week Isn’t a Thing—But Here’s What Is

Kara Cuzzone, Jessica Toscano, Amy Marturana Winderl
·14 min read
JSYK, Losing 5 Actual Pounds in a Week Isn’t a Thing—But Here’s What Is

Our goal is to publish weight loss content with integrity, science-backed reporting, and insight on what you can realistically accomplish while attempting to lose weight in a healthy way. We feel it’s important for you to know that the biological connection between health and excess weight isn’t straightforward—and your BMI or the number on the scale is not a solid measure of health. Read more about the ways diets and diet culture can impact your physical and mental health.

Let’s just get this out of the way: It’s basically impossible to lose five actual pounds of body fat in a week. (If the scale changes, it’s because you mostly lost water weight, which you’ll gain right back with a salty meal.) Trying to lose this much this quickly is dangerous and pretty much ensures you won’t reach your weight loss goals at all.

“The whole thing is based on the idea of restriction, which is just so detrimental to health,” says Danielle Marks Williamson, RDN, founder of Diets by Dani. What’s so bad about it? Well, let me count the ways, friend.

Under eating prevents you from getting important vitamins and nutrients that keep your body functioning properly, Williamson says. It can throw your blood sugar out of whack and leave you feeling sluggish and unable to concentrate. Dieting can literally make it hard to think straight.

But, Williamson says, the mental health implications are arguably even more dangerous. “Restriction leads to crashing, which leads to gaining more weight and always chasing something that’s unattainable.” With rapid weight loss, you set out to reach an unattainable goal, restrict, inevitably overeat, and gain weight back. It’s a really good way to feel like a failure.

“Crash dieting has never been proven to be sustainable, and if it were the diet industry would be out of business,” Williamson notes.

So then, what is realistic? “Losing anywhere between half a pound to two pounds per week is likely possible when it comes to healthy weight loss,” says Brigitte Zeitlin, MPH, RD, a women’s health coach and founder of BZ Nutrition. “What healthy weight loss means is sustainable weight loss. You lose it in a way that you’ll be able to maintain it long-term.”

That means making small and practical tweaks to your lifestyle—ones that you can and will keep up—that help you lose weight slowly and safely. “Instead of setting a goal to lose a specific number of pounds in a week, try to change weekly habits,” Williamson recommends.

Even if you decide to take a long-term approach, start by being honest with yourself about why you want to lose weight in the first place. And if that reason is to fit into fatphobic ideals of what a body should look like, think about why that matters to you—and if it should.

Also, remember that losing weight is not a magic bullet for happiness, Williamson says. “Before setting weight loss goals, ask yourself, ‘How will my life be different without these 10 pounds?’ Are you still in a toxic relationship or a job you hate? Those things won’t simply go away once you lose weight.”

All that said, there are some lifestyle changes you can make to help lose weight in a healthy and effective way. Here’s what experts recommend.

1. Focus on eating quality foods, not counting calories.

Yup, that means don’t bother doing the math. Instead, put your attention toward incorporating more fruits, veggies, protein sources, and whole grains into your diet, says Wendy Leonard, RD, founder of Rhode Island Nutrition Therapy. Ya know, foods with lots of nutrients and vitamins.

If you focus on the quality of food, there’s a good chance you’ll eat more nutrient-dense options that leave you satiated, adds Lauren Sullivan, a registered dietitian with Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Human Nutrition. This can translate to naturally eating fewer calories without having to overthink it.

Counting calories can take the enjoyment out of eating, Zeitlin says. It can also lead to an unhealthy obsession with staying under a certain calorie count or working out just to burn calories. Thinking of food as food and not a math problem can solve those issues.

Want some more specific suggestions? Loneke Blackman Carr, PhD, RD, assistant professor of community and public health nutrition at the University of Connecticut recommends checking out the Dietary Guidelines for Americans to learn how to build a balanced, nutrient-rich plate.

2. Don’t skip meals.

Ignoring your hunger is never a good idea since your body functions best when you eat at regular intervals during the day, says Alicia Romano, RD, a clinical registered dietitian at the Frances Stern Nutrition Center at Tufts Medical Center in Boston, Massachusetts. Doing so helps to control your blood sugar so you can avoid the spike and crash that comes with eating a big meal on an empty stomach.

Eating regularly also keeps you energized and less likely to snack on sweet stuff throughout the day, Zeitlin says. “Feeling sluggish and blah triggers you to look for convenient grab-and-go food options.” To be clear: These foods aren’t “bad foods,” and you don’t need to avoid snacks or packaged goods to lose weight. Zeitlin notes that you should eat this (and any type of food) mindfully and when you actually want it, not because your body is deprived and craving energy.

Zeitlin recommends eating every three to four hours throughout the day. Whether that’s a snack or meal, it’s just about putting some type of energy into your body.

Eating more often is also good for keeping your metabolism running efficiently. “Your metabolism is the engine for your entire body. If it’s gone too long without food, it starts to slow down to make sure it has enough gas left for essential things to run properly. Weight loss is not essential,” Zeitlin explains. When you eat regularly and don’t leave your metabolism wondering when it’s going to be refueled next, it’ll run consistently.

3. Eat fruits and veggies with every meal.

Yes, your mom was right (again). Fruits and vegetables are good for you, and we all probably need to eat more of them.

Vegetables—especially non-starchy vegetables like spinach, asparagus and celery—provide a ton of nutrients and fiber, explains Leonard. Fiber slows the digestion process and optimizes fullness and nutrient intake at mealtime, so eating it at every meal can help you feel satiated longer after eating, Romano adds.

Eating a diet rich in fruits and veggies has also been proven to boost health in other ways, with studies finding protective benefits against heart disease and type 2 diabetes, Williamson says.

So how much are we talkin’? “Half your plate should be fruits and vegetables,” Williamson says. The rest should be a quarter protein and a quarter whole grains. Of course, this isn’t a hard-and-fast rule, but roughly dividing your plate into these proportions can help you make sure you’re eating nutrient-rich plants at every meal.

4. Keep a food journal.

If the idea of jotting down everything you eat in a day makes you feel guilty or anxious, skip this entirely. That said, people who track what they eat (as in foods not calories) tend to be more successful in losing weight because it raises awareness about what they’re noshing on, says Elizabeth Mayer-Davis, PhD, a registered dietitian and chair of the Department of Nutrition at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. In fact, a series of studies published in the Journal of Personalized Medicine suggest that those using apps to monitor their diet and activity were more likely to experience an increase in weight loss.

Zeitlin recommends keeping a food journal where you write down what you eat at each meal and snack and when. That way, you can look back and learn if you’re really eating as many veggies as you think you are or if you’re eating regularly or accidentally skipping meals on busy days.

You can also try a photo food journal app like Ate Food Journal, Leonard suggests. She notes that people tend to like this approach better because opening an app and snapping a quick pic is way less tedious than writing down every little detail about your meals throughout the day. And it’s just as effective.

5. Rethink your drinks.

You don’t need to cut out alcohol to lose weight, and having a Coke isn’t going to doom your weight loss goals. But it is a good idea to be aware of what you’re consuming and know that your drinks may be a bigger source of calories than you realize—and maybe even something you wouldn’t really miss all that much if you swapped for water or seltzer and lime.

Leonard recommends eliminating or drastically reducing how much booze you drink for a couple of weeks to see how you feel. The experience could make you think about changing up your drinking habits if you notice an improvement in your quality of life with less imbibing.

6. Prioritize protein and whole grains.

We already talked about fruits and veggies, but we want to sing the praises of protein and whole grains too.

Protein is an important macronutrient that our bodies need to function properly. It’s a good source of energy, and it takes a minute for our bodies to digest it, which means it provides a steady source of energy.

When paired with carbohydrates, which are notoriously quick to digest, everything moves a little slower—which makes us feel satiated and keeps us full for longer. Also, if you’re exercising, protein is going to be even more important to help rebuild your muscles and keep you moving and getting stronger.

Whole grains are superstars because they’re a great source of fiber. Like protein, fiber slows the rate at which your body digests carbs so you feel full for longer and maintain steadier blood sugar levels, one reason why research consistently links fiber intake to weight loss. That means fibrous whole grain bread tends to be a better choice than white bread and also explains why fruits, which contain fiber and valuable vitamins in addition to sugar, beat straight-up candy every time.

7. Drink more water.

The best sub for sweet or boozy drinks? Plain ol’ H2O. Staying hydrated can actually help you feel less bloated and full and just keep your body running like a well-oiled machine.

“Water helps to flush things out and fight bloat,” Zeitlin says. On the flip side, being dehydrated can prompt your body to hold onto water for dear life, making you feel bloated and uncomfortable.

Drinking water can also help you get more in tune with your hunger cues. “Our bodies tend to feel hungry when we’re actually thirsty, so when you’re not drinking enough water throughout the day, you might think you’re hungry and reach for extra snacks when really you just want a glass of water,” Zeitlin explains. If you know you’re a hydration queen, you’ll know a hunger pang means you’re actually hungry and need to eat.

Zeitlin recommends drinking regular water and adding lemon or frozen berries if you crave something with more flavor.

8. Keep eating the foods you love.

You absolutely should not deprive yourself of the foods you love to lose weight. In fact, continuing to eat your faves can help you reach your goals.

“The more you deprive yourself of the foods you love, the more you will obsess over them and the more likely you are to overeat and binge on them,” Zeitlin says. If you give yourself permission to keep eating your favorites, you can satisfy your cravings without overeating. If you’re focusing on eating nutrient-rich, good-for-you foods the majority of the time, that cookie or doughnut or ice-cream sundae is not going to stop you from losing weight. Also, enjoying what you consume is healthy too.

9. Ignore the scale.

The truth is, it’s really not the best way to measure progress. “If you get on a scale every single day for a whole week, it’s going to show you a different number every day,” Zeitlin says. There are a lot of things that can influence how much you weigh—like how much water your body is holding onto. Eating a lot of sodium, not sleeping enough, and exercise can all impact water retention and change the number on the scale. It’s just not a good indicator of your actual body weight.

10. Find ways to manage your stress.

Stress eating is a very normal reaction to *waves hands* All This. So don’t beat yourself up over it. Instead, try finding other strategies to manage stress.

Maybe for you that’s working out, writing in a journal, meditating, getting 20 minutes of fresh air every day, or even getting a manicure or taking a bubble bath. Find things that help you de-stress and make them part of your routine, Zeitlin says.

Leonard recommends actually writing a list (notes app counts!) of things you can do in the moment when you’re stressed. It might include some of the above or taking some deep breaths or calling a friend. The next time you feel a stress-fueled craving coming on, you can refer back to it and try one of those alternatives first, she says.

11. Make sure you’re getting good quality sleep.

Getting enough sleep is essential for regulating our hormones, and when we’re not getting enough it can disrupt the balance of the “hunger hormones” ghrelin and leptin, Williamson explains. “Both play critical roles in our daily food intake. If those levels are off, it can lead to more body fat storage over time.”

Lack of sleep can also lead to more sugar cravings. “The body knows sugar is an influx of quick energy, and when it doesn’t get enough sleep, it’s looking for the quickest boost of energy it can get,” Zeitlin says.

Also, if you don’t get enough sleep, it’s going to be way harder to find the energy to work out and prepare healthy meals, says Blackman Carr, PhD, RD.

Most people need eight to nine hours of sleep a night to feel rested and ready to take on the day, says Leonard, but do whatever feels right for you. Yup, this tip means no more scrolling through TikTok till 3 a.m., sorry!

12. Move more.

Exercise is not punishment. You don’t have to be miserable when you do it. In fact, the most important thing when it comes to exercising for health and weight loss is to find exercise you actually enjoy, Williamson says. Consider this permission to stop forcing yourself to run or do burpees if you hate that.

Exercise can be any type of movement—walking or dancing absolutely counts. Basically, just get moving however you can. When you engage in physical activity you enjoy, you’ll want to do more of it. And it’s good for much more than weight control. Exercise is great for your heart, mental health, and overall well-being.

Moderate exercise, like brisk walking or yoga, has also been shown to help with managing appetite, says Leonard. She recommends doing some type of moderate physical activity for 30 to 45 minutes a few times a week. And don’t be afraid to start with less and work your way up—simply moving more is a great goal to get started if exercise isn’t already a part of your routine.

Speaking of simply moving more, Blackman Carr recommends taking quick breaks from work or school throughout the day (as you’re able) to stand up or even take a few steps around the room. As a little bit of incentive, you could turn them into social media breaks and use that standing time to check your phone, she suggests. Even better if you can head outside for some sunshine and fresh air for a few minutes while you’re at it.

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