Healthy Weight Loss: How Fast Is It Safe to Lose Weight?

healthy weight loss

Ask most people how quickly they want to lose weight and they’ll probably tell you the faster the better. Faster isn’t always better. On the other hand, there’s a growing consensus that losing weight quickly isn’t necessarily bad as long as you’re eating a healthy diet.

Fast weight loss IS a problem if you’re cutting your calorie intake back too much or using unhealthy techniques to lose weight. Contrary to popular belief, some research shows faster weight loss may actually be better as long as it’s a product of healthy lifestyle changes, exercise and smarter dietary choices.

How Fast Should You Lose Weight?

Faster weight loss isn’t inherently bad. According to a study carried out at the University of Florida, losing weight quickly after starting a weight loss program increases the chance of being a “successful loser” by making you feel more motivated. Who doesn’t feel good when they see results quickly?

Where problems arise is when you cut back on calories so much that you slow your metabolism or put yourself at risk for nutritional deficiencies. Any time you cut your calorie intake below 1200 calories a day, you risk slowing down your metabolism. That works against you when you’re trying to lose pounds and inches.

Excessive calorie restriction also causes hormones that control your appetite to get out of whack and you feel hungrier. We recommend reducing your calorie intake by no more than 500 calories a day and burn additional calories through exercise.

Healthy Weight Loss and Exercise

Why is exercise such an important part of the healthy weight loss equation? We hear it all the time – I don’t have time to exercise or I hate to exercise. Believe me – we don’t look forward to it all the time either.

Why can’t you just cut back on calories if you dislike exercising? When you lose weight through diet alone, you also lose muscle mass. Exercise helps to preserve lean muscle tissue and gives you a healthier, more attractive body composition. Plus, it helps you break through weight loss plateaus where your body adapts to a lower calorie eating plan and you stop losing.

Just as importantly, exercise makes it easier to MAINTAIN your weight loss once you’ve reached your weight loss goal. In fact, research shows people who are successful at maintaining their goal weight once they reach it engage in 30 to 60 minutes of exercise daily.

Here are the grim statistics. Less than 10% of people who lose greater than 10% of their body weight are able to maintain it long term. Exercise gives you an edge when it comes to maintaining a lower weight.

The Bottom Line?

We want to dispel the myth that losing weight quickly decreases the likelihood of achieving your weight goal. Research doesn’t support that. The most important thing to remember is healthy weight loss involves positive lifestyle changes – eliminating processed food and soft drinks, cutting back on sugar AND exercise.

Yes, you can lose weight without exercise but you’ll have problems maintaining it. Exercise, including resistance training, preserves lean muscle and lean muscle is more metabolically active than fat. Therefore, you’ll burn more calories at rest and when you exercise when you have more lean body mass.

If you’re trying to lose weight, don’t cut your calories back by more than 500 calories a day and burn at least 200 additional calories a day through exercise. Resistance training and aerobic exercise are both important for maintaining the weight once you lose it .


The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. “Long-term weight-loss maintenance: a meta-analysis of US studies” (2009)

Kristie Leong M.D.

Dr. Kristie Leong and Dr. Apollo Leong are physicians helping you to lead a healthy lifestyle by sharing nutrition and fitness tips and keeping you abreast of the latest health news.