There are a number of ways to cut calories and drop pounds fast, but not all methods for quick weight loss are safe, sustainable, or even painless. A lot of “crash diets” come with side effects including ravenous hunger and short-lived results.
But don't lose hope just yet. It is possible to speed up your fat loss efforts without having to sacrifice your well-being in the process. Here are ten ways to help you cut calories and achieve better, and longer-lasting results.
How Fast Can You Lose Weight?
Weight management boils down to calorie control, and the lower you cut your calories, the more pounds you can lose quickly. So understanding how many calories you need to eat a day to lose weight is the first step.
In fact, without a calorie deficit, you won't get very far since it is the only known, proven method for fat loss. No matter what the latest fad diet is claiming!
There is also a difference between weight loss and fat loss, especially when you are looking at a short window of time.
Weight loss includes anything that causes the number on the scale to go down and can include muscle loss and more commonly, water loss.
Fat loss, on the other hand, takes a little bit more time and consistency.
How fast fat loss occurs can vary from one person to the next, depending on your individual metabolism, muscle mass, fitness level, starting weight, and genetics.
How many calories are needed to lose weight quickly?
Start by figuring out how many calories you burn a day. This is your daily caloric amount needed to maintain your current weight.
You can find this using a nutrition app or online calculator:
You can then calculate your weight loss calorie needs using a percentage cut - aiming to eat 20 to 30% fewer calories than you need to maintain.
For example, if you need to eat 2,000 calories a day to maintain your weight, a 20% cut would put you at 1600 calories a day (2,000 x 80%) and a 30% cut would have you around 1,400 daily calories (2,000 x 70%).
A 20% cut would promote quick weight loss, and a 30% cut represents a more aggressive approach. It isn't really recommended to go below a 30% cut.
How long does it take to lose 20 pounds?
Once you have an idea of how many calories you need to eat to lose weight, you can figure out how much weight you should be losing each week. In order to lose one pound of fat you need to cut about 3,500 calories from your diet.
Since cutting 3,500 calories in a day or two is not realistic or even possible for most people, it is best to spread out your calorie deficit throughout the week. You can cut 3,500 calories by decreasing your calorie intake each day or increasing the number of calories you burn through physical activity.
In other words, in order to lose one pound per week, you will need to cut 500 calories per day from either food, exercise, or both combined. And for two pounds lost per week, you would need to cut 1,000 calories a day.
Depending on your current weight and calorie needs, a loss of 0.5 to 2 pounds per week represents a healthy rate of reduction in weight for most people. But some people can lose weight faster.
If you lose 2-pounds a week, this means you can aim to lose 20 pounds in 10 weeks or in two and a half months.
What happens when you crash diet?
Oftentimes, quick weight loss goes hand in hand with crash dieting, but this isn't always the best solution. “Crash diets” are typically extremely low-calorie diets that require drastic measures - like eliminating multiple food groups, drinking only juice or soup for weeks, or fasting for multiple days to cut out as many calories as possible.
Very low-calorie diets (VLCDs) are also used as treatment against obesity in some medical centers, but these programs are supervised by trained physicians, and are not necessarily the right approach for everyone (48).
But starving yourself only works for a little while. And even if you are successful in sticking to an extreme diet, you may end up gaining it all back once you go off it. T
his is mainly because short-term diets can promote a lot of water loss (not just fat loss). In addition, depending on how long these diets persist, they can do a number on your hunger-regulating hormones, mental state, and potentially your metabolism. Crash diets can also be dangerous for certain individuals.
Some of the main issues associated with eating too few calories include:
You get really hangry
Losing weight, in general, can affect your hunger, fullness hormones causing you to feel more hungry, even after you’ve stopped dieting. While going a little hungry can be helpful for weight reduction, being extremely hungry can be downright painful. If you can get past the constant hunger pains, you may also find that crash dieting is making you obsessed with food. Your body is so hungry that food becomes all you think about (1).
Being hungry all the time is bad enough, but very-low-calorie diets can cause you to be in a terrible mood as well. Calories, especially carbs, play a major role in regulating your emotions, and being so hungry that you are angry is a real thing. Carbohydrates are linked to self-control - which is why we cannot control our temper when we have low blood sugar, and get hangry.
You get skinny fat
If you aren't getting enough protein, and are not strength training regularly, extremely restrictive diets may cause you to start burning more lean muscle for energy instead of fat (2). Why does this matter? You are losing precious muscle mass - which is key for keeping your metabolism intact and improving your overall quality of life.
In addition, reduced lean muscle mass increases your overall body fat percentage, even though the number on the scale is decreasing.
Muscle is denser than fat, which can make you look leaner overall. Once you reach your desired weight, you may not feel as fit and toned as you would if you lost more fat and maintained your lean mass throughout the process.
In order to decrease your body fat and get toned, you would have to gain muscle mass, essentially gain the weight back, and try to lean out by burning fat.
It is pretty counter-intuitive to drop pounds from losing muscle weight just to try and gain back more muscle weight in the end.
Your workouts suck
Without the proper fuel, you might find that exercising is extremely difficult or darn near impossible. This matters because physical activity is one way to help increase your calorie burn. In addition, strength training is key to maintaining your precious lean mass while cutting.
Not to mention, trying to train on low energy can lead to light-hotheadedness and possible injury if you aren't careful.
Your nutrition suffers
The thing is, your body isn't a calculator. And while it needs a daily dose of energy to keep surviving, it also needs proper nutrition to function properly. It is nearly impossible to get all the nutrients your body needs on a very low-calorie diet, even if you're eating only healthy food.
Minor deficiencies can create serious complications. Very low-calorie diets have been linked to heart problems, dehydration, mental confusion, and decreased immune function (3). And starving yourself over longer periods of time can lead to heart attacks, impaired liver and kidney function, seizures, and death (4,5,6).
It slows down your metabolism
Restrictive diets have been thought to negatively impact your metabolism temporarily by slowing down your natural calorie burn and messing with your ability to resume a normal maintenance diet once you stop dieting (7,8,9,10). Even though this phenomenon is typically short-lived, it becomes more of a concern if you are constantly jumping from one diet to the next.
Not sure where to start? Use the quiz below for help!
10 Quick weight loss tips that actually work
Cutting calories will help you lose body fat, but there are some additional steps you can take to make the process feel a little more bearable and improve your chances for success. Knowing where to focus your efforts and being consistent with your goals is the key to a speedy transformation, and if you pick up a few good habits along the way the results might just stick around!
To help you fine-tune your goals, here are 10 simple steps to help you master calorie control and get quicker and less painful results:
1. Track your food intake
Controlling your calorie intake is the quickest and most proven method for weight management. Not to mention, it is pretty difficult to know how many calories you are eating each day if you aren’t tracking your food intake. It is the easiest way to hold yourself accountable and give yourself a daily confirmation that you are sticking to your diet.
Plus, studies suggest that those who track their intake may lose up to twice as much weight as those that don't (11).
Download a calorie tracking app on your phone and get familiar with portion sizes. Be as accurate as possible when logging every bite and sip of food - including cheat days, alcohol, and slips ups!
2. Eat more protein
Add more lean meats, low-fat dairy, and plant-based proteins to your meals!
While the total amount of food you eat is the most important consideration for fat loss, when it comes to the type of food, protein may have an edge over other macros.
High protein diets are thought to help protect your muscle mass, even in a calorie deficit (12). Protein may also help curb your appetite and unhealthy food cravings (13,14). Moreover, your body burns more calories metabolizing protein compared to fat and carbs, it is the least likely of all the macros to be stored as body fat.
It's no wonder high protein diets continue to be positively associated with increased fat loss and better body composition (15,16,17,18).
While cutting calories, aim to get roughly one gram of protein per pound of body weight to grab the full benefits of this super macro.
Pssst... want to conquer steps 1 and 2 with one simple method? Opt for a macro-friendly tracking app that automatically counts calories and protein at the same time - helping you simplify your goals and achieve results even faster.
3. Strength train
Lifting weights or incorporating some type of strength training will not only help increase your calorie burn but can also help you maintain more precious lean muscle mass while you are losing fat, helping you feel leaner and fitter in the long run (18,19,20).
Having more muscle slightly increases your energy expenditure, tipping the energy balance equation in the favor of losing weight. Additionally, because a higher lean mass typically means a higher daily calorie need (aka you can eat more food and still lose weight), more muscle mass might make it easier for you to maintain your results (21).
Some research even implies that with adequate resistance training and protein intake, you may be able to gain muscle mass while losing body fat at the same time, improving overall body composition, even while on a diet (22,23).
Consider ramping up your sweat routine with HIIT training a few times a week:
Try this HIIT workout from International Sports Sciences Association:
20-Minute HIIT Workout
- Plank Hip Extensions - 10 reps each leg
- Walking Lunges - 10 reps each leg
- Jumping Jacks - 30 seconds
- High Knees - 30 seconds
Complete each exercise for 30 seconds and then recover for 15 seconds. To decrease the difficulty, try resting for 30 seconds. To increase the difficulty, increase the work time to 45 seconds.
- Kettlebell Clean and Press
- Tire Flip to Burpee
- Kettlebell Thruster
- Mountain Climbers
- Med Ball Jump Squat
- Battle Rope Waves
- Lat Stretch - 30 seconds
- Single-Leg Hamstring Stretch - 30 seconds each leg
- Hamstring Foam Roll - 20 seconds
Find a strength training program you enjoy and incorporate body weight or weighted exercises at least twice a week while dieting.
4. Drink more water
Replace beverages loaded with added sugar and alcohol with water as an easy way to cut extra calories and support weight management. Water is calorie-free and supports metabolism, nutrient absorption, and digestion.
In addition, drinking water may help fill your stomach and reduce your appetite. Some research suggests that drinking a glass of water before meals can help you naturally eat less food (24,25). And in one study those who drank 2 cups (~16 ounces) of water before eating, lost 44% more weight in three months, compared to those who didn’t drink any water (26).
5. Eat more vegetables
Veggies, especially low-carb, non-starchy vegetables (basically all vegetables except peas, corn, and potatoes), tend to be super low in calories and high in nutrition, making them a perfect food for dieters 27,28,29).
Because of their high water content, loading up on this food group can help keep you satisfied and cut calories without having to sacrifice portion sizes. Two cups of veggies have roughly ~50 to 60 calories compared to two cups of pasta or rice which have nearly eight times that amount (400 to 500 calories total).
Veggies also tend to be a source of quality fiber in the diet that may help draw water into your gut and increase feelings of satiety (29,30,31).
In addition, some studies suggest eating more nutrient-dense foods like fruits and vegetables could help calm your appetite and food cravings, making sticking to a calorie-controlled diet even easier (32).
To cut calories without having to cut back on portion size, aim to make half of your meals non-starchy veggies.
6. Practice mindful eating
Anyone who has successfully gone through a change in their life knows that mindset is everything. Having the right mindset can help to increase your motivation, keep your willpower strong, and make the entire process much more enjoyable.
When it comes to dieting, practicing mindfulness is one way to focus your mind on a more positive relationship with food. Research suggests that eating more mindfully may help you naturally cut calories by establishing more fine-tunes hunger-fullness cues, calming your food cravings, and helping you enjoy your food more (33,34,35).
Mindful eating is really just the practice of slowing down and eating with more intention - taking your time to taste your food and enjoy it. This is why its no wonder eating more slowly is associated with improved weight loss (36,37).
Slowing down will not only help you pay more attention to what you are putting in your mouth but will give you the opportunity to get to know when you are satisfied and can stop eating. In one study, those who took longer to eat - 30 minutes vs. 5 minutes - had reduced feelings of hunger and increased feelings of fullness, regardless of their calorie intake and hormonal responses to the food (38).
Try not to inhale your food. Take your time to enjoy meals by slowing down between each bite and concentrating on the flavors.
7. Get plenty of sleep
Lack of sleep does not directly cause weight gain, but studies suggest that those who have poor sleep habits tend to weigh more and struggle with losing body fat (39,40). This is because sleep is important for regulating your mood, appetite, and energy levels, all of which influence the food decisions you make each day. In addition, sleep’s impact on certain hormones and nutrient use may cause you to store more body fat (41).
Make your rest a priority and dedicate time each night to getting some rest. Remove distractions, like your TV, phone, or pets, and find a dark, quiet place to lie down. Use earplugs or sleep masks if needed. This will help ensure you are at your best and have the energy and willpower to stick to your diet and workout regimen.
Aim to get at least seven hours of quality, uninterrupted sleep each night.
8. Establish routines
The more systematized you can make dieting, the less room there is for error. Not to mention, making your cut feel more routine can alleviate a lot of the stress that comes along with trying to figure out healthy meals that fit your calorie goals.
The easiest way to do this is through weekly meal prep or aiming to eat similar foods each day, around the same times. Studies suggest that making your eating routine more mundane and including less variety, may cause you to eat fewer calories overall (42). While this method may not be ideal for long-term nutrition, it could be the habit you need to stick to your diet until you reach your health goals.
Learn to meal prep and get more strategic with your weekly intake by eating similar meals around the same time each day.
9. Increase your workout intensity
Any type of exercise or movement, in general, can increase your daily calorie burn, but a recent analysis of multiple studies suggests that high-intensity interval training may strengthen your ability to burn body fat - as much as 28% more than moderate-intensity training (43). This is mainly due to the after-burn effects from increased metabolism that continues well after high-intensity training.
Additionally, interval training tends to mean short, more efficient workouts - meaning more results with less time in the gym. Plus these workouts are typically scalable to your own pace and fitness level, making them accessible to almost everyone.
Consider ramping up your sweat routine with HIIT training a few times a week.
10. Manage stress
Similar to lack of sleep, chronic stress levels can do a number on your willpower and ability to stick to a diet. Considering your mindset is a major component of any successful change, it's no surprise that many studies associate poorly managed stress with poor weight management (44,45,46). Stress not only messes with your mental well-being but also affects certain hormone levels involved in appetite control and nutrient storage and utilization. This is why stress can lead to increased hunger, cravings, and body fat storage. (Learn how to stop stress eating)
However, the presence of stress alone does not automatically mean negative things for your body weight. Stress is highly dependent on the person and how you as an individual respond to stressful situations. This means you can control things more than you think. By working on how you handle change and stress, you might actually be able to produce more positive effects from this psychological response - making you feel more determined and empowered and less overwhelmed and run down (47).
If stress is holding you back, try some of the following ideas to channel it in a more positive way:
- Try Yoga
- Learn to meditate
- Talk to someone
- Keep a stress journal
- Get more sleep
- Get more organized
- Cut back on alcohol and caffeine
Bonus: Your ultimate weight loss Ebook
To get even better at controlling your calories and improving your nutrition intake, consider turning to the experts.
Download this FREE Ultimate Weight Loss and Healthy Living Strategy Guide! It's packed with everything from food lists to science-backed tactics for shedding pounds, curbing cravings, and more.