Generally, this isn’t the time of year that most people are watching their weight, because if they were, they’d probably be watching it go up. But you’d be surprised. It’s not unusual for people to call me in a panic mid-December, realizing they’ve got a big New Year’s eve event coming up, and wondering what they can realistically accomplish in a couple weeks. Of course, this comes up at other times of the year, too. An upcoming wedding, a cruise or a graduation, all can spark the question: How much can I lose in a couple of weeks?
Let me start by saying that there’s no simple answer that applies to everyone. For one thing, a lot depends on a person’s starting weight. The larger a person is, the more calories it takes for them to slim down maintain their weight. So, heavier people can cut their usual calorie intake back quite a bit, and they will usually lose more weight in two weeks than a smaller person will.
It really does all come down to calories. One way or another, you’ve got to tip the balance so that you use up more calories than you take in over a period of time in order to see that scale budge. The bigger the gap between the two, the faster you’ll lose.
A pound of fat represents about 3500 stored calories, so if you were to burn up 500 of those stored calories every day for a week, you should lose about a pound of fat. You could eat 500 calories fewer than you need, or you could burn up an extra 500 calories from exercise to make that happen.
- You need to both cut calories and exercise. If you simply cut calories, you run the risk of cutting back too far, so you won’t have the energy to exercise and it’s harder to meet nutrient needs when your calories are too restricted.
- Relying solely on exercise to lead to weight loss is tough, too. It takes a lot of activity, like an hour of uninterrupted swimming to burn 500 calories.
- Focus on the foods that provide the most nutrition with the fewest calories, like vegetables, fruits and very lean proteins like fish and shellfish, poultry breast, egg whites, fat-free dairy products (yogurt, cottage cheese, milk) and protein powders.
- Make sure to include protein at every meal; it will help keep you satisfied from meal to meal.
- It’s okay to cut back on grains for a week or two. You should be getting enough carbohydrates from fruits and veggies to fuel your exercise. After a couple of weeks, though, add back a serving or two of healthy whole grains.
Careful calorie counting is key, though. One approach I often recommend for a jump start is to use meal replacements, like a protein shake made according to a specific recipe, or a healthy frozen dinner twice a day with a third healthy meal. Then, fill in with fruits and vegetables for snacks. This takes the guesswork out of calorie counting, so you’re more likely to see results.
Credit to Susan Bowerman, M.S., RD, CSSD, CSOWM, FAND