A focused strategy will help you reach your weight-loss goal. Counting calories and getting active will help.
Medically reviewed by Lindsey Marcellin, MD, MPH
Search online and you’ll find dozens of Web sites promising to tell you exactly how to lose 20 pounds (or more), often with hyped-up claims of speedy success, like losing the weight in 30 days or “just six weeks!” The reality is that losing 20 pounds is an achievable goal if you apply proven strategies, such as counting calories. This approach may take a bit longer than those miracle diets, but it will actually work and help you develop healthy habits to keep the weight off, and even lose more, if that’s your goal.
Lose 20 Pounds: Why Counting Calories Matters
“Having a realistic weight goal makes good sense,” says dietitian Jenna Anding, PhD, RD, of the department of nutrition and food science in the Texas A&M System at College Station. “Eliminating 500 calories a day can help promote a one-pound-per-week weight loss. Increasing physical activity can also help promote weight loss.”
In order for counting calories to work, you will have to do a little math (it’s okay to cheat and use a calculator). If you want to lose 1 pound a week (it is safe to lose up to 2 pounds a week or 1 percent of your body weight, if you weigh more than 200 pounds), that means you need to cut out or burn through exercise about 500 calories a day. But remember not to eat less than 1,200 calories daily, so that your body doesn’t retreat into starvation mode. A reduction of at least 500 calories a day means you could lose a pound every week or 20 pounds in about five months.
Lose 20 Pounds: Successful Strategies
Here are four diet truths to help you achieve your goals:
- Cutting out sweet drinks is non-negotiable. Sweet tea, soda, and flavored and sweetened milks, waters, and coffees all have to go. Drink plain water, low-fat milk, and sugar-free drinks instead. A study of 810 adults between 25 and 79 years old showed that after 18 months, those who cut out sweet drinks had greater weight loss than those who cut down on food calories. One possible reason: While your body lets you know when it is full of food, there is no way for your body to tell you when you’ve maxed out on liquid calories.
- Physical activity helps counting calories. Being physically active burns calories while it improves your overall health. Aim for 30 minutes a day most days of the week. A brisk 30- to 45-minute walk burns 100 to 200 calories. If you can burn 200 calories through exercise, you only have to cut out 300 calories in food or drink to reach your daily calorie-cutting goal.
- Strategically eating less drops weight. A study of 811 overweight people who participated in four popular diets found that whether diets were low-fat, high-protein, or a combination didn’t matter — weight-loss success depends on cutting out calories. In fact, you can continue to eat filling portions if you simply replace high-calorie foods with low-calorie foods that contain a lot of water, such as fruits and vegetables. A study of 97 obese women who ate either a low-fat diet or a low-fat diet with additional fruits and vegetables found that those who emphasized fruits and veggies lost up to five pounds more.
- Journaling leads to success. Counting calories is easier if you write down (or type in) what you eat, including serving sizes and details such as condiments you may have added. “Research has shown that exercise and journaling really make a difference in long-term weight management,” says Gail Curtis, assistant professor at Wake Forest University Health Sciences in Winston-Salem, N.C. A detailed journal will help you identify your successes and pinpoint where you can cut additional calories or replace high-calorie foods with low-calorie ones.