How Long Does it Take to Lose 20 Pounds? The Math Behind the Mystery

how long does it take to lose 20 poundsWhen it comes to weight loss, there just seems to be something magical about the number 20, doesn’t there?  It’s a nice round number, it represents at least a jeans size or two (depending on height, etc.), and while it’s more challenging than 10 pounds, it’s not as daunting as the big five O.  But how long will it take for you to get there?  As with everything in this world, the answer is “It depends”. As you have probably noticed by now, there are a large number of companies out there willing to sell you something that should make those 20 pounds go quickly and quietly.  Since you are already here researching, I probably don’t need to tell you that you shouldn’t trust those promises.  The way to lose weight is to burn more calories than you take in.  It is a simple solution, but an incredibly difficult one to stick to – hence all the gimmick sales pitches.  If it were easy, everyone would have done it by now, right?  There are absolutely a few tips and tricks you can use to help you on your way.  Let’s take a look at a few slow and steady methods for weight loss success. For a 21-day to success program, check out this fitness course on mastering your mind and will to lose that excess weight.

Step 1: Assess Yourself

Have you ever noticed how on every workout video, gym membership and diet pill package, there is a note urging you to see your doctor first?  That is because it is always a good idea.  Are you healthy enough for the type of exercise you were considering?  If not, what does your doctor recommend instead?  We can’t all go from the couch to boot camp in a day.  Other than those concerns, does your doctor have any recommendations as far as diet goes?  Any restrictions regarding sodium intake, etc?  Find these out first, so you know you are on your way to doing this right. Second, take a good, honest look at your lifestyle.  How active are you, really?  There is no good to come of fudging the numbers here, and nobody is checking on them anyway.  If you are sedentary, then own up.  It is important to be realistic about your starting point, or else you will be running to catch up all the time.  Likewise, if your job does require you to be fairly active, it is equally important that you get an accurate assessment of that activity level.  While your goal is weight loss, you still need to eat enough to support your activity level, or else risk exhaustion.  Honesty is best here, no matter the circumstances.

Step 2: Do The Math

You have a little math homework to do now.  Your basal metabolic rate (BMR) refers to the number of calories it takes to support you for one day.  No matter what you are doing, you are burning calories, so it is important to get familiar with this number.  In order to do that, there is a formula to follow. For Women: 655 + (4.35 x your current weight in pounds) + (4.7 x your height in inches) minus (4.7 x your current age in years) For Men: 66 + (6.23 x your weight in pounds) + (12.7 x your height in inches) minus (6.8 x your age in years) Now, to add in a little more algebra for you, the next step is to assign a number to your daily activity level, as determined in step 1.

  • Sedentary (little or no exercise) = 1.2
  • Light exercise (approx. 2 or 3 days per week) = 1.375
  • Moderate exercise (approx. 3 to 5 days per week) = 1.55
  • Heavy exercise (6 to 7 days per week) = 1.725
  • Very heavy exercise (intense workouts every day) = 1.9

Now multiply your BMR by your activity level.  The answer you get is called your Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE).  Seems like a lot, huh?  That’s good news, actually.  It means those ultra restrictive diets are not in your future. What you want to do from here is create a small deficit between your TDEE, and what you actually take in.  Depending on your numbers, that could be something like 200 – 500 calories.  This will allow you to achieve a steady weight loss, at an appropriate rate.  Remember, too fast, and your body may think you are starving and therefore hold onto extra fat.  Tempting as it can be to want to cut more calories than you need to, don’t.  You will be less likely to “cheat” if you feel full, and more likely to stick with it.

Step 3: Plan Your Meals, Track Your Calories

If you are new to calorie tracking, it might feel overwhelming at first.  Try to stick with it, and be as honest as you possibly can about serving sizes.  After a few weeks, you probably won’t even have to count anymore, because you will be so familiar with the foods you eat, and their caloric values. It is important to count your calories though.  This is the only way to make sure you are falling somewhere in that appropriate calorie deficit, and not too far above or below it.  There are smartphone apps and weight loss websites which take some of the math responsibility off of you.  Otherwise, a trusty pen and paper will work just as well.  You’ll become a whiz at reading nutrition labels, and able to make smarter choices in no time.  (10 potato chips for 150 calories, or a lean turkey breast over a green salad?) Planning ahead is important too.  Making sure you have a house stocked with healthy foods, and preparing easy snacks and meals ahead of time is a surefire way to help you reach for the healthy stuff, and not blow all your calories on something not as filling.

Step 4: Exercise

When figuring out your TDEE above, you might have had a moment where you thought “Wait.  Wouldn’t this number be different on days when I work out vs. the days I don’t?”, and you are absolutely right.  On the days you work out more, you should eat more.  Not as a “treat”, but because your body needs that fuel. If you are new to exercise, you may feel confused about where and how to start.  Udemy has a super popular class called “The Science of Exercise” taught by wellness coach, Chris Cutter.  In the class, a lot of focus is placed on those beginning exercise for the first time, or after taking a long break, because this is the time where you are most likely to give up.  Sticking with a program has huge benefits that stretch beyond weight loss.  You will grow stronger, you will burn fat faster, you will have more energy, and be in a better mood too. Tired of your own excuses? Get fit, the no-bull way.

Step 5: Be Patient

Yes, I realize we made it all the way down to the end of the blog before actually answering the question in the title.  The reason is because it all depends on what you do with steps 1 through 4.  You have probably heard the statistic that one pound = 3500 calories.  Using that logic, with a calorie deficit of 500 per day, it would take 7 days to lose one pound. Any nutritionist will tell you that’s not the be all and end all of weight loss.  For instance, if you begin walking, and drinking more water your first week, you might see a loss of as much as 6 or 7 pounds right away, due to water weight.  The answer then, has a lot to do with you as an individual, and with your lifestyle.  There are plans out there promising that you’ll drop it in a month, but knowing what you know now, does that sound safe or healthy?  Stick with the plan, give it a month and see where you are then.  Maybe you didn’t lose the full 20 pounds, but I’ll bet you feel great anyway.