What’s a Realistic Way to Lose 20 Pounds?

There are many advertised weight loss methods, but they all have the same principle: lower you calories and increase your calorie expenditure (exercise). If anything promises weight loss while not doing this, it probably won’t work or won’t last.

Weight loss that lasts may not be considered easy, as weight loss takes some changes in routine, thinking and behaviors. Consistency is key for long term success, and someone needs to put in the effort even when they don’t want to. Here are some straight forward steps when looking to lose 20, or any number, of pounds.

Cut out empty calories

In order to lose 20 pounds, cut out calories by eliminating the empty calories from your diet. Empty calories provide calories but no or little other nutrition, hence the word empty. Examples of empty calories include: candy, sweetened beverages, baked goods or processed red meats.

Empty calorie foods that are high in sugar can also cause a big blood sugar spike. Whenever blood sugar levels go up, insulin is released from the pancreas. Insulin brings glucose into the body cells so they can use it for energy or storage.

Insulin also promotes fat storage. So, eating foods high in sugar and calories that promote a strong insulin release may also increase storing fat. Obviously when wanting to lose weight you want the opposite.

A huge spike in insulin lowers blood sugar levels dramatically, and this can also send a signal to the brain that it’s time to eat again. This is why a meal made mostly of sugar or refined grains, like white flour, won’t keep you satisfied very long.

Eating mostly empty calorie foods can increase risk for weight gain and/or type 2 diabetes. In order for health and weight loss, the diet should be composed of nutrient dense foods.

Eat nutrient dense

Unlike empty calories, nutrient dense foods are low in calories and provide a lot of nutritional value, like fiber, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, for they number of calories they provide. Examples of nutrient dense foods include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins and healthy fats (avocados, olive oil and nuts).

Nutrient dense foods fill you up and leave you satisfied because you can eat a large quantity of them without concern of eating a lot of calories. Most nutrient dense foods are high in fiber, and fiber can help steady blood glucose levels. Having steady blood glucose levels, instead of huge glucose and insulin spikes, is beneficial for weight loss.

Balanced meals

Another focus for weight loss is eating balanced meals. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends ½ of the plate at meal times should be made of fruits and vegetables. The other half should be made of whole grains, protein and a dairy/calcium source.

For meal times or snacks, focus on pairing a fiber source (whole grains, fruits, veggies) with a lean protein (meat, beans, soy, and dairy) with healthy fats (olive oil, nuts, avocado).

Portion size

Drastically reducing your calorie amount can leave you hungry, miserable and focusing too much on food. By eating nutrient dense foods and balanced meals, you are able to eat high volume of food for a low number of calories and high level of nutrients.

Another way to gradually shave off calories, without starving, is by eating about 20% smaller portions. Research led by Dr. Brian Wansink from Cornell University suggests the brain doesn’t recognize if we cut 20% of food intake, but will notice something more.

What does this practically mean? Take just a little smaller portion than you normally would. Don’t automatically go back up for seconds. Eat off of smaller plates so your portion size looks bigger. This practice is doable for long term weight loss, instead of trying to do a fad diet that lasts a week or two. See also: How to control portion sizes

Bump up the exercise

Wherever your baseline level exercise is, from nothing to working out already, you need to bump up your exercise if you want weight loss. Add strength training to your exercise program, ideally 2-3 times per week, to keep lean mass up during weight loss.

If you’re not exercising already, try doing 30 minutes of exercise 3-5 days a week. As this gets easier, bump up your exercise time. Exercise not only increases calorie burn, but it can also increase fat use as a fuel compared to not exercising.

Lose 20 pounds and keep it off

Keep in mind exercise needs to be a constant part of your daily life if you want to lose 20 pounds and keep it off. Find activities you enjoy doing- walking, hiking, dancing, soccer, biking, etc. to have as part of your lifestyle.

Find ways you can get in extra steps or movement throughout the day. Some examples are:

  • When watching tv, do squats, lunges or abdominal exercises during the commercial breaks
  • Take walk or stair breaks every hour or two at work
  • Enjoy an evening walk after dinner

Losing 20 pounds means you need to burn approximately 70,000 calories, as it is estimated 3,500 are roughly in a pound of fat (see also: How many calories to lose weight). That means it will take long term commitment and dedication, but it is possible!