What does it ACTUALLY take to lose 20 pounds?


At the time of writing this it’s late March, which means the majority of people who made a health-related New Year’s Resolution have fallen off the wagon. One of our Core Values is honesty. As a coaching staff, we’ve taken a hard stance against the misinformation in the fitness industry. There is no “perfect workout”, supplement, ab routine, diet plan, or superfood that will unlock the secret to weight loss. I’ve opted for “losing 20 pounds” as our case study because it is the most often-cited exercise goal I’ve heard from people first starting an exercise routine. So, let’s examine what that will actually take. Honestly.

Simply put, you can lose 20 pounds in several months by eating fewer calories than you do now and exercising vigorously for three to five hours per week using resistance training, interval training, and cardio training. Simple enough, right? So why, then, does everyone who sets out to lose 20 pounds not succeed? Because the truth in weight loss – and pretty much anything you wish to achieve – is that the process is incredibly simple (eat less, move more), but undoubtedly difficult.

This is your litmus test – if your weight loss solution involves a complex “system” or “plan” with anything short of complete sacrifice and lifestyle modification on your part – it probably won’t work. Let’s examine what it actually takes to lose 20 pounds.

How can we help?

Before you continue, I’d like to throw out an offer: Come in, meet with a coach, and receive a complimentary Body Composition Scan. No pressure. No sales. We’re here to help you navigate the confusing, frustrating world of weight loss.

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Diet

Eating less seems simple enough. But, truth is, a healthy diet permeates more of your daily habits than you might think. Here are a few examples:

  • Buy, prepare, pack, and eat raw vegetables at every meal
  • Eat food that you prepared for each meal
  • Spend time every week doing meal preparation
  • Men – drink 5 or less alcoholic drinks per week. Women – 3 or less
  • Minimize or eliminate sweets – especially around the office or when you’ve had a “hard day”

Exercise

Move 3-5 hours a week. Simple enough. Why is it so rare that people actually stick to it? There are plenty of factors that contribute to non-exercise – schedule, not knowing what to do, difficulty forming a habit, losing interest, and budget. Here are some examples of what it actually will take to stick to an exercise routine:

  • Chances are, you’ll need to hire a coach or trainer. Most access (“globo-gym”) facilities are set up to where less than 5% of people paying a membership actually go. Read: You probably won’t either.
  • You’ll need to wake up early. Meaning, the first number on your alarm clock will probably be a 5.
  • You’ll need to pack a gym bag everyday. If you go home before the gym, you probably won’t make it to the gym.
  • Childcare – you’ll need to make arrangements.
  • Be proactive – block out your workout time in your schedule. Leaving it up to chance means it won’t happen.

Consistency

Underpinning every truth in weight loss is consistency. Using our 20 pound example, you can expect to lose this weight in five months. Four if you’re incredibly diligent. Two if you plan to gain 30 pounds back (read: crash diet and over-exercising). When was the last time you stuck to something for five months? Truth is, most folks can maintain for 3 weeks.

There will be sacrifice. You will need to plan. You will need to adjust pretty much every part of your day. Your likelihood of success goes up with someone in your corner. Find a trainer, a coach, friend, or significant other. Behavior change happens in the context of relationship. Losing weight is behavior change FIRST, diet and exercise second.

Here for you.

Did you know most people who lose 20 pounds end up gaining it back? Here’s a promise: we’ll never promote a fad diet or exercise plan that is unsustainable or unhealthy. Our goal is to help you feel your best for a lifetime.

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10 Replies to “What does it ACTUALLY take to lose 20 pounds?”

  1. I was searching for months online and watching videos, reading forums, but nothing seems to help me.
    I like to lose 30 pounds in a month but it seems impossible for me. Trying so hard but cant see results.

    I found some books online but they can’t help me. Like your post, i see results now.

    1. Thanks for reading, Monica! Your frustrations are understandable and very common. The issue is that weight loss that occurs that rapidly is typically not FAT loss. Losing 20 pounds in 20 days or 30 pounds in 30 days makes for a flashy headline, but the “weight” lost is largely muscle and water. At the end of the crash diet, your metabolism is slower than when you started which is why you’ll generally gain MORE weight after the “diet” is over. To understand the difference between WEIGHT loss and FAT loss, here’s a good resource: https://crossfitmemorialhill.com/ditch-the-scale-body-composition-testing-at-the-hill/

  2. Losing 20 lbs in 2 months isn’t that rare. That doesn’t mean you’ll gain it all back. An over weight person who starts a good diet and workout regimen will probably probably drop 10 lbs inside of 3 weeks just from that change alone. Of course weight loss is not linear but those first 20 lbs are the easy ones. Stop writing about weight loss. You don’t know what you’re talking about.

    1. Thanks for reading and for the comment, Mike. You are correct on all fronts: weight loss is NOT linear, yes you CAN lose 10 pounds in 3 weeks, and the first 20 ARE the easiest.

      Where you may be misguided: Weight loss is not inherently non-linear biologically. It is non-linear because behavior modification is non-linear (the point of this article is that behavior change trumps everything).

      You CAN lose 10 pounds in 3 weeks. It is almost certainly NOT 10 pounds of body fat (some simple math will show this at the end).

      The first 20 are the easiest because new habits are easy to start, but difficult to maintain.

      WEIGHT loss vs. Fat Loss. Weight can be water, muscle, fat, hair, or a body part. But let’s say your weight loss goal is to improve your health. In that case fat loss has the highest correlation to improved health markers.

      What does it take to lose 1 pound of fat? To lose a single pound of body fat you must create a 3,500 calorie deficit. Let’s use your example of losing 10 pounds of fat in 3 weeks.

      10 pounds of fat = 35,000 calorie deficit
      3 weeks = 21 days
      35,000 calories/21 days = 1,666 calorie deficit per day.

      In order to achieve your claim of 10 pounds in 3 weeks, here are some potential scenarios:

      1. Go from a 2,000 calorie diet to a 334 calorie diet
      2. Run for 2.5-3.5 hours per day @ a 12 minute mile pace (calories burned depends upon size, but this is a typical range)
      3. Combination of the two: reduce calories by 1,000 (eat 1,000 per day) AND run for 1 hour @ a 12 minute mile pace.

      It is clear that none of the above scenarios is safe, sustainable, or advisable. We advocate for science when it comes to health. Fat Loss and Weight Loss are two ENTIRELY DIFFERENT THINGS. And I will heed your advice to never write about WEIGHT loss. It is anti-scientific and irresponsible to do so. I will continue, however, to spread the message of body composition change done in a healthy, sustainable manner.

    2. Matt,

      I encourage you to continue to write about this topic. In my opinion, you are a subject matter expert and I found your content to be insightful and accurate. Just because you are conveying information that people may find difficult to accept, doesnt mean you should stop sharing useful information with individuals like myself who appreciate the articulate manner in which you present this important data.

  3. Hey! I don’t know if you’ll see this or not but 30 pounds in a month would be a little unhealthy. I lost 30 pounds 2 years ago and what helped a lot what small things… Like leaving cast at home while I commuted from school to work so I wouldn’t stop and buy on the go chips (approx: 500 cal) I didn’t drink more water ut I heard this is helpful too. I always joined a team and club to hold me accountable for exercise. Calorie counting and using smaller spoons, plates, and eating slower helped me feel full with less food. I was 152-155 and went down to 118-122… Depending on how active I was and such… Hope this helps

    1. Hey Camilla,

      Absolutely we see this! Thanks for your response and congratulations on finding something that works for you. It can be really confusing and frustrating to find weight loss strategies that work and are sustainable. Nice work!

    2. How long did it take you to get down to 118- or 122 because that’s exactly my starting wieght and my ending weight goal. I’m just curious 🙂

    1. Thanks for the question, Alexandra.

      tl;dr: Technically, yes, it is possible to lose 40 pounds in 2 months. Will it stay off? No. Will it be mainly water weigtht? Yes.

      However, there are two key things you should consider when you think about 40 “pounds”

      1. What type of “pounds” do you want to lose? For example, wrestlers and body builders will “cut” weight to qualify for a certain weight division in competition or leading up to a show. They will cut weight very quickly; often times up to 10 pounds the day before an event. This weight is primarily water. Losing water weight will make you *appear* leaner for a day or two but, ultimately, your body will either become severely dehydrated or return to a normal level of hydration. Many fad diets and crash diets show rapid weight loss. This weight is largely water.

      2. How do you lose fat? When most people talk about losing weight they’re actually talking about losing body fat. Losing body fat is pretty straightforward and simple, but it certainly is not easy. Whether your goal is to look better, feel better, have a better immune system, or have more energy — losing fat, NOT weight — is the thing that will get you there.

      As I mentioned, losing fat is simple but not easy.

      1 pound of fat = 3,500 calories

      For each pound of fat you lose, you must create a 3,500 calorie deficit (reduction).

      There are 3 ways to create a calorie deficit and you should do all 3 for the quickest results:
      1. Eat less calories
      2. Burn more calories through cardio and HIIT exercise
      3. Increase your metabolism by lifting weights

      For 1: Most people can reduce their current calorie intake significantly (~400-500kcal) by simply eating a big handful of vegetables at every meal. They fill you up with a bunch of fiber, making it difficult to overeat at meals.

      For 2: Find something safe for your cardio – biking, hiking, elliptical, etc. You want to breath moderately for 20-30 minutes 2-3 times/week. Find a gym and try a HIIT class if you’re bored on the elliptical. Avoid running at first since it has the highest injury rate of any exercise.

      For 3: Find a trainer or a class setting where you’re moving some heavier weights around. This will build up your lean muscles and increase your metabolism while you’re resting and even sleeping. You’ll be burning “free” calories all day & night just by increasing your lean body mass.

      By doing all 3 of the above you can expect to lose 1-2 pounds of fat per week. By following this protocol you’ll be certain that the weight you’re losing is fat, not water. You’ll also be confident that this “weight” (fat) will stay off.

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