For many women, aiming to lose 15 pounds is a reasonable place to start on if you have a goal of losing weight. But that doesn’t mean you can or should achieve that goal overnight. How to lose 15 pounds safely and sustainably requires thoughtful, strategic tweaks to your nutrition, fitness, and lifestyle regimens.
The speed at which you can *safely* lose 15 pounds depends on a few factors, like your current weight, activity, diet, and lifestyle. It also depends on what percentage of your overall body weight that 15 pounds adds up to. “It is usually reasonable to consider a 5 to 7 percent weight loss over a period of six months,” says Marcio Griebeler, MD, endocrinologist and director of Cleveland Clinic’s Obesity and Medical Weight Loss Center.
Meet the experts:
Marcio Griebeler, MD, is an endocrinologist and director of Cleveland Clinic’s Obesity and Medical Weight Loss Center.
Amanda Baker Lemein, MS, RD, LDN is a registered dietitian and a member of the Women’s Health advisory board.
David Tepattaporn is a NASM-certified personal trainer.
How long does it take to lose 15 pounds?
“The safest and most sustainable timeline to lose about 15 pounds would be about two to four months,” says Jonathan Valdez, RDN, owner of Genki Nutrition and spokesperson for New York State Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “This obviously depends on your current weight, body composition, and other factors, but for most people losing 1 to 2 pounds per week will be the safest and most manageable goal.”
However, it’s difficult to quantify a time for weight loss (sorry!). “A lot of people want to lose weight fast, but we also need to realize that most of the time people gain weight slowly over time,” says Dr. Griebeler. That weight shift over time will change your body’s weight “set point,” and your body will work to keep your new higher weight.
“The overall goal is then to reset the set point to a new level that will be sustainable over time,” explains Dr. Griebeler. “This timeline and fluctuation may be different for different people, as each body reacts differently to exercise and food consumption. There is no one-size-fits-all [solution].”
Why Experts Don’t Recommend Trying To Lose 15 Pounds In A Month
Ask any expert and the first thing they’ll tell you is that it’s neither safe nor sustainable to lose this much weight in such a short time period.
The timeline is not as important as it is to achieve sustainable lifestyle changes, says Dr. Griebeler. “With very aggressive diets, you are only causing caloric restriction and very soon your body will fight back to reclaim that weight loss.” So while it is possible, losing 15 pounds in one month is not recommended.
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If your goal is to lose 15 pounds, here are 18 practical tips from weight-loss experts, and real women who did it on their own terms.
1. Plan your meals in advance.
It’s simple: Planning your meals (and even prepping them ahead of time) can help prevent you from letting your hunger dictate what meal or snack you grab.
“People who plan meals in advance usually will make better choices and be less hungry,” says Dr. Griebeler. “When you are in a rush and you haven’t planned your meals, you may not make the right decision when it comes to preparing and eating a healthy meal.”
2. Limit your alcohol intake.
The current Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend limiting yourself to one serving of alcohol or less per day, if you drink (and they note that some people, like those who might be pregnant or take certain medications, shouldn’t drink at all). “That will be 12 ounces of regular beer, which is usually about 5 percent alcohol, 5 ounces of wine, which is typically about 12 percent alcohol, or 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits, which is about 40 percent alcohol,” notes Valdez.
3. Try to better understand your eating patterns.
Ask yourself this question: Why do you eat at a certain time, or during a certain situation? Some people get caught up in emotional eating, notes Dr. Griebeler. “If you identify these patterns, you may find better solutions instead of eating certain foods,” he says. “Sometimes going for a walk may be a better solution than opening the fridge.”
Journaling or keeping a food log (even in your phone or using a voice-note app) can be helpful to track and identify eating patterns, and the reasons for eating. You can also get more of a sense of what times a day you’re actually hungry, versus just eating because your mind is programmed to do so.
4. Make a list of things that you love to do daily to keep your spirits and motivation up.
It may sound cheesy, but having a list of the activities, hobbies, people, and pastimes that help you get by during tough times can keep you focused and consistent. “Overconsumption could deepen negative thoughts as well and cycle you into eating high-fat, sugary, and/or unhealthy foods,” says Valdez.
5. Prioritize stress management.
Easier said than done? Definitely. But, “people usually don’t give enough attention or importance to stress,” says Dr. Griebeler. “Stress changes your hormonal levels and makes weight loss more difficult, and stress is also associated with emotional eating.”
Talking to friends, practicing a hobby, and having your own time to take care of yourself are all crucial for managing stress. (This is why having that handy list is so clutch!)
6. Find healthier, lower-calorie alternatives to the foods you enjoy.
You’re almost guaranteed to be able to find lower-calorie or more nutritious recipes for your favorite indulgences at the grocery store or online nowadays, says Valdez. “This will allow you to continue having the foods you enjoy consistently on your journey to get healthier. You can have your protein cheesecake and eat it too!”
Evelyn M. says that it wasn’t until she dialed back on simple carbs and replaced them with complex ones that she started seeing a reduction in belly fat. “A big part was learning to eat complex carbs instead of simple carbs (think sweet potatoes instead of bread), and limit my carbs to a half-cup serving,” she says, adding that she doesn’t feel deprived of her favorite foods, like popcorn or tortilla chips, because she eats a serving every few days.
“I’ve also learned to make healthier versions of my favorite carb-heavy treats,” Evelyn adds. “For instance, I’m a huge chocolate fan, so I have a recipe for homemade brownies that uses yogurt and coconut flour. I’m down 15 pounds and feel amazing.”
7. Incorporate portion control hacks into your routine.
Katie Huffman had tried countless diets to no avail. Then one day a fitness instructor at her gym suggested she try portion control and really pay attention to what she was eating.
“I followed a program called the 21 Day Fix that had me eating more veggies, lean meats, and fruit, and fewer carbs, fats, and processed foods. But the key to my success was learning what one serving of something really is,” Huffman says. “For instance, I’ve always considered myself a sugar addict and the thought of cutting it out was awful. So instead of cutting it out, I put a small amount of candy in a ramekin dish, about one-third cup, and would only allow myself that much per day. That way I still got a little but didn’t overdo it.”
Huffman also started exercising more. “Within six weeks, I lost 15 pounds.”
8. Get enough sleep.
Eight hours of sleep is pretty much a weight-loss nonnegotiable, reminds Dr. Griebeler. “Lack of sleep can cause hormonal changes that will make it very difficult to lose weight,” says Dr. Griebeler. In addition, proper sleep can help you avoid cravings for sugary, high-fat foods.
Adds Valdez, “make a plan to sleep more, avoid electronics one to two hours before sleeping, and avoid caffeine eight hours prior to the goal time you want to be sleeping at.” Valdez notes that sleep is essential for recovery, especially after a workout. Oh, and if you’re sleep deprived, you may be less likely to end up exercising—which doesn’t help your weight-loss efforts.
9. Invest in nutrition education if you can.
“Everybody reacts differently to different types of dieting. Is there a nutrition plan you tried in the past that was helpful? If that is the case, you may respond well to a specific diet that can be part of your weight-loss plan,” says Dr. Griebeler. “Invest in nutrition education to better understand what you are eating and how it affects your weight. Registered dietitians are great resources to learn more about nutrition.”
Of course, not everyone has the ability to work with a dietitian. But there are a lot of credible, free online nutrition resources from academic institutions and medical organizations to review before deciding what weight-loss methods make sense for you.
10. Consider counting macros.
“My husband started tracking how many grams of protein, carbohydrates, and fats he ate—and his weight loss [results] made me decide to try it,” says Lia Flynn. She adjusts her macros each week based on her progress and what she feels like her body needs nutrient-wise.
“It hasn’t been difficult to track what I eat, but it has been tricky to hit all my macronutrient goals every day,” Flynn says. “I eat plenty of carbs and fat, but the protein is always a bit difficult. I’ve been going for more than 10 weeks and have lost 10 pounds.”
11. Try intermittent fasting.
Stephania Schirru wanted to lose a few pounds but wasn’t on board with dieting. She also traveled a lot, so she knew that whatever she did to lose weight needed to be compatible with her lifestyle.
“My sister told me about intermittent fasting last year and I trusted her advice. It sounded pretty simple: All I had to do was keep 14 to 16 hours between my last meal of the day and my first meal the following day,” Schirru explains. “I have never been a big breakfast person anyway.”
In the morning she might drink water and a cup of coffee and then just have lunch and dinner as usual. “I’ve been amazed at how great I feel. It didn’t take me long to adjust, I don’t even feel hungry until lunch time,” she says. “Intermittent fasting taught me to only eat when I’m hungry—not out of boredom or habit. I also eat less overall.”
Within a month Schirru started to see a difference in her body.
12. Try new recipes.
“Experiment with new recipes and ingredients, as it prevents boredom of eating and develops your cooking skills,” says Valdez. “In addition, while in the kitchen, you control the amount of calories you want and the type of lean protein, fats, fruits, veggies, and healthful carbs you want to add and is overall healthier than take-out.” Noted!
13. Get your cardio.
“Aim for at least 150 minutes per week of moderately intense exercise—brisk walking, vacuuming, tennis doubles—or 75 minutes of intense exercise, like hiking, jogging, [or] tennis singles,” Valdez says. ICYMI, this guidance matches up with the American Heart Association’s physical activity recs. But remember: The AHA also advises doing two days of muscle-strengthening activities every week. With that in mind…
14. Don’t neglect resistance training.
A combination of aerobic (running, walking, biking) and resistance training is ideal—as opposed to only focusing on one or the other.
“When you are doing aerobic exercise, you are burning calories,” says Dr. Griebeler. “When you are doing resistance training, you are building muscle. When you build muscle, you need more calories to feed that muscle. It is a win-win situation.”
If a workout doesn’t feel complete to you without a bit of cardio, you can also opt for 15 to 30 minutes of cardio either at the beginning or end of your [strength] session, adds David Tepattaporn, a NASM-certified personal trainer.
“You want total body training that incorporates compound movements,” Tepattaporn explains. Some of his most recommended moves include squats with overhead presses, deadlifts to alternating rows, and dumbbell presses with glute bridges.
15. Avoid sugary beverages.
Avoid drinks like sodas and juice with added sugars, and replace them with lower-calorie versions and/or water, says Valdez. “Sugary beverages have been linked to weight gain, and they are not filling [or] nutritious.”
Katrina Plyler couldn’t agree more. She always loved running and CrossFit, but despite being active, she found her weight creeping up over the years. “Then my gym decided to do a Whole30 challenge and I thought it could be my chance to kick my unhealthy eating habits and lose the extra pounds,” Plyler says.
“At first it was miserable, and all I could think about was how badly I wanted a Coke,” she says. “I began to rationalize the reasons I [needed] and deserved one—I’d had such a rough day at work! But before I could press the button on the soda machine, I got angry with myself and decided I could make it through one more day without a soda.”
Eventually, avoiding sugary soda became a habit of Plyler’s—and it paid off. She found that when she cut out soda, she also naturally cut out junk food like chips and ice cream and drank more water. “It sounds so simple, but it really works.”
16. Find an accountability partner.
Find a partner, whether it’s a family member or friend, who has similar goals to you so you can work together, says Valdez. “Keeping each other accountable can be very helpful in staying on track with your goals. You can also be active together and share recipes and other ideas.”
17. If your diet and exercise changes *really* don’t seem to be working, talk to your doctor.
Christa Hammond remembers gaining about 20 pounds out of nowhere several years ago, and she felt “awful,” she says. “After six months of suffering and being unable to lose weight no matter what I tried, I finally decided to get a check-up.”
Hammond’s mother had problems with her thyroid and suggested her daughter get it checked. It turned out she had Hashimoto’s disease, which causes inflammation in the thyroid and leads to an inability for the gland to produce enough hormones.
It took Hammond “a year and a half of treatment, patience, and trying to treat my body right,” she says, but she lost 15-plus pounds. “Although I lost less than a pound a month, it’s worth it because I feel so much better!”
18. Avoid restrictive diets.
It’s also important that you’re not eating too few calories a day.
“Without sufficient calories, or energy, the body will not be able to function properly, which could affect anything from concentration or other cognitive conditions to digestive issues or long term impacts on metabolism,” explains WH advisory board member and nutritionist Amanda Baker Lemein, RD, LDN.
Not to mention that eating too little can lead to a negative relationship with food or disordered eating. “The best way to maintain a healthful weight loss is to avoid extreme restriction and instead find an eating pattern that you enjoy, full of nutritious foods without restrictive food rules,” she adds.
In general, women need at least 1,200 calories per day to function properly, but the exact number that you need depends on factors like your age, activity level, and even quality of sleep, WH has reported. If you want to better understand your safe and healthy calorie deficit for weight loss, you can talk to your doc or nutritionist.