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Weight Loss

How Long Does It Really Take To Lose 20 Pounds? Here’s What We Know

The truth about weight loss.


When it comes to weight loss, there is a lot of information out there — and not all of it’s good. The truth is that weight loss goals are personal, and the rate at which one loses weight depends on factors that range from calorie intake and exercise routine, to hydration, genetics, and sleep schedule. If you’re looking to lose a specific amount of weight — even if your friends are trying to do the same — your body weight management and weight loss plan will be unique to you. No weight loss journey is the same. 

What won’t be unique to you are the myriad benefits that maintaining a healthy weight yields, two of the most significant being reduced risk of heart disease and diabetes. And that’s to say nothing of the overall wellness benefits of losing weight, which include physical markers like good balance, resiliency, and strength, and mental health markers like optimism and contentedness.  

Of course, the thing we all want to know is how long losing the weight will actually take. Here, we’ve settled on an arbitrary 20 pounds, and assessed the time, given proper diet and exercise, it would really take to healthfully shed them. The answer may surprise you.

How long does it take to lose 20 pounds? 

Let’s start with an idea we touched on above; specifically, that each of us is different, which makes it hard to answer the question, “How long does it take to lose 20 pounds?” with a specific number. The amount of time it takes to lose 20 pounds will vary depending on food intake and eating habits, exercise routine and activity level, and a whole lot more. That said, there are a few things you can expect on your weight loss journey. 

The Timeline Explained

When it comes to losing weight, the first thing to understand is daily calorie intake. A single pound is the equivalent of 3,500 calories. In order to lose one pound a week, you would need to alter your food intake such that you consume 500 fewer calories per day. Doing this would result in losing one pound a week, which would mean losing 20 pounds would take 20 weeks. One pound a week equals 20 pounds of loss over 20 weeks, or five months. (The recommended weight loss for individuals over the course of a single week is between half a pound and two pounds – the latter being the very extreme end of weekly weight loss.) 

Staying within the recommended calorie deficit range will help to ensure that you stay safe and healthy on your weight loss journey. It will also help to reduce the odds of weight gain recurring the minute you increase your calorie intake — as it often happens with crash diets. That said, looking at weight less strictly through the reduced calorie lens is myopic. There are other variables to consider, with activity level chief among them.

Current Activity Levels

There are many reasons to develop and stick to an exercise routine. Among the most significant are weight loss, weight management, and overall wellness. Increasing your physical activity levels boosts your metabolic rate, which yields more efficient weight loss. Activities like aerobic and cardio exercises improve stamina, while lifting weights improves strength and increases muscle mass. Changing or upgrading your current activity levels is the key to losing weight, especially if you’re looking to lose a significant amount of weight.  

A Healthy Diet

The number of calories, carbohydrates, fats, and protein you consume is a key aspect of weight loss. Create a diet plan with healthy alternatives to your favorite foods so you don’t feel deprived, and switch to fresh and healthy whole foods, like whole grains, fruits, and veggies.

Your eating habits affect your overall health, and they have an enormous impact on the amount of weight you will lose. Simple changes, like swapping brown rice for white rice, can make a big difference, and help to ensure you get the nutrients you need while on your low-calorie diet. Consider working with a nutritionist or dietitian to create a meal plan composed of healthy foods you love. Satiety reduces cravings, thus helping you to meet your weight loss goals. 

Key, too, is drinking water throughout the day. This has two critical benefits: It keeps us hydrated — we’re often dehydrated without realizing it — and it helps us feel full. If you’re worried about water weight, fear not — drinking more water won’t affect that.

Listening to Your Body

During the weight loss process, it’s especially important to listen to your body. While healthy weight loss can help to protect your heart, thus reducing the risk of chronic conditions, you know your body better than anyone. If you notice that you’re exercising too often for comfort or that the lifestyle changes you’re making feel unsustainable, don’t be afraid to adjust or take a pause until you figure out a new plan. Fat loss is supposed to help you feel good and live a long and healthy life, not harm your muscles or damage your mental health. Be sure to listen to your body throughout your weight loss journey, and make necessary changes as needed.


In recent years, a wealth of information about genetics and weight loss has emerged. While we don’t yet fully understand the impact of our DNA on how our bodies hold onto weight, what we can say for sure is that every body is different. If you notice that friends or colleagues are having an easier time losing weight or gaining lean muscles, it may be due to factors beyond your control. Certainly, diet and exercise are important, but your genetics also play a role. Remember that you’re on the journey that’s right for your body and its needs — and that includes acknowledging the effects of your genetics. 

Getting Enough Sleep

Another factor affecting weight loss is sleep. Getting enough sleep allows your body to properly digest and metabolize food and nutrients. Conversely, not getting enough sleep can affect the balance of hormones in your body — which can make you crave sugar-rich foods or foods with low nutritional value. While waking up early to work out can be extremely beneficial for your body, make sure it’s not at the expense of a good night’s sleep. 

Considering Fad Diets Carefully

Fad diets have been around for a long time: intermittent fasting, keto, Whole 30, low-cal meal plans — the list goes on and on. But few of these popular diets are healthy and sustainable for weight loss. They may indeed spark rapid weight loss, but the weight generally returns when you return to your regular eating habits. Additionally, the more extreme crash diets can have lasting negative effects on your health and wellness, even beyond the health implications of obesity and chronic conditions.

Consult with a doctor or nutritionist before making extreme changes to your lifestyle and weight management plan, and carefully research both the methodology and the science behind any diet you’re considering.

20 Pounds Lighter

Losing 20 pounds is a big accomplishment that can help you feel stronger, faster, and fitter, as well as reduce the appearance of body fat and belly fat. If losing 20 pounds is on your list of weight loss goals, establishing the weight loss plan that’s right for you will define your success or failure.

That’s because the unspoken truth is that losing 20 pounds takes time. A plan designed to sustain your weight loss over time without feeling deprived or frustrated by your progress is the only one that will work. It begins with a change in food intake, such that you have a moderate calorie deficit each day, and includes regular physical activity. It also takes into account factors like genetics and the impact of medications or recent lifestyle changes like giving birth. Trust the journey, anticipate setbacks, and give yourself grace. 

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