How to Lose Three Pounds a Week Counting Calories

Weight loss can be a numbers game.
Weight loss can be a numbers game. (Image: aberheide/iStock/Getty Images)

A healthy weight-loss diet usually involves losing no more than 1 to 2 pounds per week. This tends to be a realistic goal because it can be accomplished with diet and exercise changes that aren't too extreme. However, it is possible to lose 3 pounds per week if you exercise more or are more careful about what you eat. Check with your doctor before beginning any weight-loss diet.

Number of Calories

To lose 1 pound, you need to burn 3,500 calories more than you eat. This means to lose 3 pounds per week, you need to create a 1,500-calorie deficit each day by eating less, exercising more or a combination. Eating too few calories can slow your metabolism, so the American College of Sports Medicine recommends women don't eat less than 1,200 calories per day and men don't eat less than 1,800 calories per day. This means to lose 3 pounds per week, most people need to exercise as well as cut calories.

Feeling Full on Fewer Calories

Certain types of diets can make it easier to cut calories without feeling overly hungry. For example, a low-energy-density diet allows you to eat a larger amount of food without eating too many calories. You simply eat more of the foods that have fewer calories per gram, such as nonstarchy vegetables, fruits, broth-based soups and whole grains, while eating less of foods that are high in fat or sugar.

Eating more lean-protein foods or high-fiber foods may also help you feel full, according to a review article published in Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition & Metabolic Care in November 2014.

Calorie-Cutting Strategies

Keeping a food diary for a few days can help you find ways to cut calories that you can live with for the long term. Adding more active pursuits can help as well. An hour of brisk walking or biking burns between 370 and 460 calories. Adding both cardio and weight-training exercises makes it more likely you'll lose a higher percentage of fat and less of the muscle you want to maintain.

Consider limiting foods associated with weight gain, including processed foods that contain a lot of sugar, fat, starch or refined grains; alcohol; and sweetened beverages. The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign recommends not cutting your intake of fruits, vegetables or protein, as these help you meet your nutrient needs during weight loss.

Safety Considerations

Diets with less than 1,100 calories per day have health risks, including a potential for causing heart arrhythmias, confusion, fatigue, dizziness, hair loss and gallstones. Most of the weight loss in the beginning of these types of diets is water weight, not fat, so it will come back once you begin eating normally again. The University of Maryland Medical Center recommends avoiding over-the-counter diet products, as these haven't been proven to help with weight loss, and some of the ingredients can cause serious side effects.

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