If you're trying to lose weight fast it's easy to fall into the trap of fad diets and so called "quick fixes" that you read about online. The truth is, for a weight loss plan to really work, and by that we mean help you to not only lose weight but also keep it off, you need more than a quick fix.
Losing weight is hard, there's no getting around that. One of the difficulties is knowing how to go about it, and the honest answer is that different approaches work best for different people.
Some people thrive on the challenge of intermittent fasting – which we'll discuss in more detail later – but on the whole the best way to lose weight quickly, and maintain that weight loss, is to follow a steady, manageable plan.
By that, we mean don’t deny yourself all the foods you enjoy and workout every day if after two weeks you'll tire of feeling hungry and unsatisfied and give up.
Instead we recommend that most people slow the pace a little and following a series of tips relating to both diet and exercise to help you lose weight fast, and more importantly, well.
So, what is the best way to lose weight fast?
1. Achieve a consistent calorie deficit
Essentially, losing weight comes down to achieving a consistent calorie deficit. That is, you need to burn more calories than you consume.
If you eat 2,500 calories in a day – the recommended daily amount for a man, although of course this amount can vary wildly depending on your height, weight and frame – and burn 3,000, you are in a calorie deficit.
If, however, you burn 3,000 but have consumed 3,500, you’re not in a calorie deficit, even though you've probably been working out to have burned that much energy. The fastest way to lose weight is by improving your diet and upping your exercise game to achieve a calorie deficit.
We'll give you our top tips of tracking your calorie input and output shortly, but first let's get you burning that belly fat.
2. Decrease calorie input through diet changes
A common pitfall that many people experience when trying to lose weight is that as they start exercising more, they feel like they need to eat more to keep their energy levels up and consequently fail to see results.
Instead, we recommend adapting your diet to get the most out of your calories.
All foods have different energy densities. Foods like fruits, vegetables and whole grains have low energy density, which means you will get fuller faster when eating these than you would high energy density foods.
Nutritionist Jenna Hope explains: “Proteins and healthy fats promote more stable blood glucose levels, keeping you fuller across a time period and less likely to crave sugar or over eat,” and so these are the kinds of foods you should get the majority of your calories from.
Consuming the same amount of calories as you are now (or fewer if possible), but getting more nutritional value from them will help you feel fuller for longer and lose weight more quickly as a result.
3. Don't cut out all of any single food group
This doesn’t mean you have to completely refuse yourself certain foods, though.
Spoon Guru nutritionist Isabel Butler (MSc, ANutr) recommends that “the best way to reduce weight and maintain the weight loss is by simply eating a balanced and healthy diet, without refusing yourself particular foods… If you do cut out foods, you need to make sure your diet is still balanced and you are getting the nutrients your body needs from other sources.”
For example, unless you're training to become a weightlifter, there's nothing wrong with carbs per se, but the biggest food culprit when it comes to hindering weight loss is the simple carbohydrate.
Compared to complex carbs like beans, whole grains and vegetables, which break down and release energy slowly, thereby keeping you full and energised, simple carbs such as sugar and starchy foods which break down into sugars – such as pasta and spuds – give you a shorter boost of energy, then leave you wanting more.
The likelihood is that the more simple carbs you eat, the more you’ll end up eating overall, harming the balance of your calorie deficit.
One easy trick if you're a pasta fan is to swap out white pasta for the wonderfully named courgetti (spaghetti made from spiralizing courgette). You’ll hardly notice the difference when you’re eating it, but you’ll be fuller for longer despite consuming fewer calories. When you consume fewer calories, your body can go to your fat reserves for energy, rather than just burning off the food you’ve eaten.
- Here are the best spiralizers you can buy to spruce up your carb cooking
4. Increase calorie output through exercise
Even if you're eating healthily, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to lose weight quickly without additional exercise, whether that's running, gym, crossfit, team sports, cycling or any of the other myriad activities available.
What's more, working out will make you look and feel better and in our view, once you start looking and feeling better, it gets a lot easier to find the will power needed to improve your diet.
When it comes to choosing what type of exercise you do, the most important thing is that it's something you will stick to. Don't force yourself to run if chances are you'll be walking ten minutes in.
5. Focus on weight training over cardio
There are two main types of exercise: cardio training and weight – or resistance –training.
Both burn calories, the difference is that whilst cardio burns a lot of calories upfront, weight training continues to to burn calories post workout.
This is because weight training builds muscle, and muscle burns more than fat as you carry out day-to-day tasks. In short, the greater your muscle:fat ratio, the more calories you burn even when you are standing still.
Another thing in the favour of weight training is that it is easy to do at home with minimal equipment, such as a pair of dumbbells or a kettle bell.
That's not to say cardio fitness can't be done at home, or that you need an imposingly large exercise bike or treadmill to do it. There are many other ways to get your heart rate up, from balls to ropes.
What's great about all of these bits of kit is that they are simple to use, and they can be used for everything from a fairly gentle workout to a full-on cardio thrash (thereby getting both your aerobic and anaerobic exercise in).
In terms of skill, the most important thing to know is that your body position is important with bells, balls and ropes. You can find longer guides to this online, but the key is not to slouch.
6. Vary the intensity of your workouts
As well doing both cardio and weight training, if you want to lose weight it’s also important to vary the intensity with which you exercise.
In any given week, and within any given workout, you should exercise both aerobically (a little out of breath but not gasping) and anaerobically (going flat out, like when running for a bus).
Aerobic exercise needs oxygen to give muscles energy and generally requires moderate exertion. Examples include gentler running, cycling and swimming.
It’s a crucial part of losing weight quickly because it uses both sugar and fat as its energy source, but to burn fat you need to do it for long enough that you’ve burned through your sugar stores first.
Anaerobic exercise, on the other hand, primarily uses sugar as its fuel. This doesn’t mean that it’s not good for weight loss, though. Anaerobic exercise helps build muscle, and as we explained above, this will help you burn calories even when you’re resting. Anaerobic exercises are generally high intensity, for example sprinting and weight lifting.
A running watch or fitness tracker will help you to know what intensity exercise you're doing. As they either have built-in heart-rate trackers or pair with ones you strap to your chest, they can show you how hard you're working out and let you know when you need to push it harder.
Speaking of high-intensity, high intensity interval training (or HIIT) is one of the best exercises to do if you want to lose weight fast. It combines cardio and strength training, and works through bursts of intense exercise followed by short rests.
This works so well because it keeps your heart pumping for a prolonged period of time. It marries the intensity of the most full-on cardio workout, but can be done in a short space of time, and should be sustainable if done right.
7. Track your input vs. output using a sophisticated running watch
One of the most difficult and disheartening things about trying to lose weight is feeling like you’re not making any progress.
It’s important to decide how you want to measure your success and keep track consistently, understanding that you will see daily fluctuations due to things like digestive contents and water retention.
Running watches are the easiest way to track your progress, remain motivated and keep weight off. Depending how fancy you go, you can track pretty much any metric that works for you, certainly way beyond whether you’ve achieved your 10,000 steps. Whether it’s weight, BMI, resting heart rate, calories burned or activity level, the best running watch will track it all.
Many wearables branded as fitness trackers also have a stab at these more advanced metrics nowadays, but we'd always recommend a watch over a band. One final note on fitness trackers: while walking 10,000 steps per day has undoubted health benefits, especially for those who were previously sedentary, it will not help you lose weight.
Another way to keep track of your progress is the old fashioned method of weighing yourself. The great thing about modern bathroom scales is they don't just tell you your weight; they also let you know your body fat percentage.
This is a much, much better metric to track than weight alone. If you're working out while dieting you can easily put on weight, even when running a calorie deficit, just because muscle is heavier than fat.
Now, although the calculations of body fat percentage scales produce are based on sound science, accuracy can vary. The key thing to note is that if the overall trend is going down, you're doing well.
8. Drink plenty of water
Okay, drinking water will not make you lose weight, but replacing sugary drinks like fizzy soft drinks or sugared tea/coffee with water can help. Few of us consider what we drink as contributing to our daily calorie count, meaning we often consume more than we think, and record.
Keep a reusable water bottle with you at all times and restrict what else you drink. This can feel like a hard habit to break at first, but is surprisingly easy to maintain once you have a zero calorie drink to hand 24/7.
Hydration also brings a range of health benefits, and can help you feel more full by the time you get to meals, so you eat less.
9. Consider a food substitute
If you're really serious about losing weight quickly, one interesting approach to calorie counting is to use a powdered food substitute such as Huel.
This is not marketed as a dietary aid, but an interesting side effect of the way it replaces 'real' food, as eaten by normal people, is that it makes calorie counting extremely easy. It's highly nutritious, so with the right application it makes the maths of maintaining a calorie deficit much easier.
On the other hand, it is kind of gloopy, and your friends will stop inviting you to lunch.
Our final tip is to stress that you need to give your body time to lose weight. You can lose weight faster by using the right gear and having the right knowledge and attitude, but you'll likely need to redefine what 'fast' means to you.
Everyone from the NHS to massive guys doing online powerlifting programmes recommend that you aim to lose no more than 2 lbs (1kg) per week. Anymore than that and you risk burning out and giving up.
So take it easy. Don't expect immediate extreme results, but do expect that you'll see results fairly soon after beginning to focus on exercise and diet.
We promise that if you throw yourself into cardio, weight training and healthy eating, you will see your body and wellbeing improving, and the numbers moving in the right direction.