Let’s just say you’ve got a wedding in 3 months and you want to fit into a lovely dress that, right now, is too small for you. Can you do it? Exactly how much weight can you lose in 3 months?
Well, many experts, including the UK’s National Health Service (NHS), say that losing 1 to 2 lbs per week is the safe pace to lose weight. This means you can harmlessly lose as much as 24 lbs (11 kg) in 3 months. Maybe a bit more if you’re holding on to a lot of water weight.
You can lose more than that if you wanted but doing so may put you at a higher risk for gallstones, malnutrition, and loss of muscle mass. Such is the aftermath of rapid weight loss.
Plus, it’s straight up unsustainable. As a matter of fact, research says that rapid weight loss can also come with rapid weight regain once you decide to steer away from whatever diet you were doing.
What are the best ways to lose weight in 3 months?
The same research that I mentioned also talks about sustainable weight loss. According to their findings, the long-term success of any weight loss program is better when you shift to a healthier lifestyle.
This includes learning more about proper nutrition and eating patterns, the inclusion of aerobic and anaerobic exercise to burn more calories, and forming good habits that you can take with you for the long haul.
Now, I get that 3 months isn’t exactly long-term. However, I also strongly believe that these same concepts apply no matter the time frame you’re running on. After all, you want to come out of those 3 months better and healthier, right?
Having said that, here are a few of the best ways to lose weight in 3 months:
It’s all about being on a caloric deficiency
Adjusting your weight is all about the amount of calories you put inside your body. Specifically for weight loss, you want to ingest less calories than your body burns per day (i.e. caloric deficit). This forces your body to use stored fat as fuel, leading to a lower number on the scale overtime.
Now, you might be asking:
“How many calories should I eat a day to lose 2 pounds a week?”
Whatever the amount of food you’re eating right now, the MayoClinic says to cut 500-1000 calories a day. You might think that’s a lot but if you’re currently eating around 2500 calories, dropping that to 2000, maybe even 1500 calories, probably isn’t as hard as you think it is especially if you’re eating the right kind of food.
The MayoClinic also has an easy to use calorie calculator that tells you how much you need to eat per day to maintain your weight. Just deduct calories from that and you’re all set.
Another option would be to use MyFitnessPal which is actually what I use. It’s a free app with a similar calorie calculator and a diary of sorts that doubles as a calorie tracker, making it easier to keep an eye on the amount of food you’re eating.
This brings us to the next thing you should know about.
Not all calories are equal
You’ve probably already heard this somewhere but it’s good advice nonetheless.
The gist of this whole thing is that wholefoods are better than processed food, junk food, and a lot of the food you buy from restaurants. It’s more nutritious and can make you feel fuller with significantly less calories.
1 large apple, for example, has about the same amount of calories as a serving of Doritos but the fruit is better for your weight because it has a lot of fiber and water which helps with satiety.
Plus, the vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants in fruit and vegetables are simply incomparable to chips.
Aside from fruits and vegetables though, you’re also going to want other things on your plate. Per Harvard, you should also include whole grains, healthy protein sources, water, and healthy oils on each of your meals. Specifically:
- Half of your plate should be fruits and vegetables
- A quarter is reserved for whole grains like rolled oats, quinoa, and brown rice
- Another quarter should be protein whether it be plant- or animal-based
For your oils, choose healthy options like olive and canola oils. Still practice moderation though since fat contains more than 2x the amount of calories than carbs and protein regardless if it’s “good” or “bad” fat.
For your water, well… that’s a big — yet very undervalued — part of weight loss nutrition. Let’s talk about that separately.
Drink enough water
I think drinking 8 glasses of H2O is great advice simply because it’s easy to remember. But, men and women inherently need different amounts. So, here’s a more specific amount you should be drinking (per the MayoClinic):
- For men – 15.5 cups (3.7 liters)
- For women – 11.5 cups (2.7 liters)
If that’s hard to remember, Harvard says a good way to go about it is drinking 2-3 cups of water per hour.
Having said that, getting enough water is crucial to weight loss. Per research, drinking about 500 ml of water prior to your meals, along with a caloric deficit, leads to better weight loss results.
As a matter of fact, their results suggest how you can lose 44% more weight in 3 months doing this.
Furthermore, there’s another study that shows how simply drinking water increases your metabolism by about 30% within 30-40 minutes.
On the contrary, if we were to reverse that logic, I think it would be reasonable to assume that not getting enough water slows down your metabolism, leading to a slower weight loss.
Workout, workout, and workout some more
Of course, you can lose weight without exercise (we’ll talk more about that later) but, to me, if you truly wanted to maximize your weight loss, you’ve got to keep active.
You see, the concept is simple. The more you move, the more calories you burn and the more calories you burn, the faster you lose weight. But let’s dive a little deeper, shall we?
How to lose weight in 3 months with exercise
Well, you’ve got plenty of choices here but all of them can be classified as either 1 of 2 things:
- Aerobic exercise (or “cardio”), or
- Anaerobic exercise (or strength and resistance training)
Aerobic exercises challenge and therefore improve your cardiovascular conditioning. This means that these exercises are going to have you breathing harder and have your heart beating faster.
Some good examples of this are distance walking, jogging, and cycling as well as swimming laps, dance, skip rope, and several others.
Anaerobic exercises, on the other hand, are typically done in short bursts and challenge your strength and power more than it does your conditioning.
For example, you’ve got your basic weight lifting, powerlifting, and calisthenics.
Also, there are certainly routines that fall right in the middle of aerobic and anaerobic exercises, like crossfit, certain types of yoga, and circuit training. Whatever exercise it is though, they’re all great in my eyes.
For beginners, I recommend starting out with cardio.
Some trainers might disagree with me on this and it’s certainly not the same for everyone but, generally, cardio is better for overall weight loss.
And, losing weight regardless if it’s fat and/or muscle if you’re overweight has the power to lift up your spirits. In turn, this might help you stick to a healthier routine hopefully beyond your 3-month goal.
I also find it easier to start and gradually progress with cardio. Walking, in particular, is one of the easiest ways to get more activity in your schedule. No fancy equipment needed either.
We talk more about how to lose weight with walking in a separate article but, in a nutshell, you start with whatever number of steps you can tolerate right now, add about 1000 or so steps every couple of weeks, and slowly ramp up the intensity until you’re fit enough to engage in more challenging types of workouts.
A fitbit, or any other device with a pedometer for that matter, will help you keep track of your steps and how many calories you burned. I highly recommend you get yourself one of these.
Don’t neglect the power of anaerobic training
When you’ve finally built enough conditioning to take on more labor intensive workouts, I urge you to get into some sort of anaerobic training.
If you’re not comfortable working out in a gym, you could always do calisthenics (i.e. bodyweight workouts) at home. Or, you could buy resistance bands and maybe a few pairs of dumbbells for home workouts.
To me, the greatest advantage of resistance training over cardio is that it builds lean muscle mass while burning fat.
According to an article from The University of New Mexico, muscle contributes to about 20% of your body’s resting metabolism. That may not seem like a lot but compared to fat’s 5%, I think it’s fairly significant.
Now, if we connect the dots, replacing fat with muscle can help you burn more calories even on hours that you’re not working out. The increase may not totally wow you but as short as 3 months is, any help should be welcome, right? Right.
That being said, your nutrition does change a bit when you’re trying to simultaneously build/maintain muscle and lose weight since you’re going to need to eat more protein to feed those muscles while still staying on a caloric deficit.
Specifically, a study says you’re going to have to eat 1.2-2.0 grams of protein per kilo of your weight. The rest of your calories, of course, will still be divided up into either fat or carbohydrates.
As a guide, use these numbers that a study on bodybuilding suggested:
- 55-60% of your calories come from carbs
- 25-30% from protein (or 1.2-2.0 grams per kilo of weight), and
- 15-20% goes to fat
If you’re having trouble deciding what food to eat to fill out those portions, we’ve got a list of breakfast, lunch, and dinner recipes and their respective macronutrient profiles that can help.
“How often should I workout?”
…is probably what you’re wondering now.
The CDC says you should aim for the following every week:
- At least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity cardio
- At least 2 days of resistance training that works out all your major muscle groups
150 minutes may seem like a lot now but think about it as brisk-walking (or any equivalent activity) for 30 minutes for 5 days. Doesn’t sound too hard now, does it?
Moving on, you can also choose not exercise and still lose weight.
How to lose weight in 3 months without exercise
In this case, it all comes down to food.
While it’s certainly doable, the downside is that you won’t be able to eat as much because you won’t be burning as many calories.
For example, a 30 year old woman who stands 5’4” and weighs 200 lbs would need 1700 calories to maintain her weight and about 1200 calories to slim down. On the other hand, if the same woman were to lead an active lifestyle, she’d be able to eat 1500 calories and still lose weight.
Moreover, the lower calorie threshold might make you feel hungrier than you wanted especially if you’re not eating the right type of food. In turn, this makes you more likely to break your diet and lose less weight in those 3 months.
Here’s how you can make things a little easier:
The secret is using natural appetite suppressants
I’ve already mentioned apples and its effect on satiety but there’s plenty more food with nutrients and compounds that promote fullness and satiety.
One such nutrient is protein. One large egg, for example, has over 6 grams of protein (per the USDA) and according to research, egg breakfasts are better than cereal at promoting satiety specifically because of its high protein content.
This resulted in less food eaten the following meal. Of course, other foods rich in protein — like chicken, tuna, chickpeas, and edamame to name a few — have the same benefits.
Another nutrient you want to take note of is fiber. There’s evidence that supports how simply eating more soluble fiber slows down digestion which, in turn, helps you feel fuller for longer and keeps your appetite in check.
Insoluble fiber, on the other hand, which is found in whole grains like rolled oats, can’t be digested which means they basically have no impact on your calories but still fill up space in your belly. Both types help regulate your appetite.
Fat is good, too, but choose your fat wisely. Specifically, research points out how MCTs (or medium-chain triacylglycerols) are better than LCTs (or long-chain triacylglycerols) for satiety which, in turn, can help you eat less calories later.
Coconut and palm oil are 2 of the best sources of MCT but you could also get them from dairy products like whole milk, cheese, and yogurt. As previously mentioned though, take these in moderation as fats are the most calorie dense macronutrient there is.
Foods with high water content can help you lose weight as well. In fact, research shows how eating more of these types of food can be better for controlling your appetite compared to solely drinking more water.
Lucky for you, a lot of these foods also come with plenty of fiber which, in turn, gives them some of the fewest calories in the entire world. Most of these are fruits and vegetables like grapefruit, watermelon, berries, and spinach.
For more examples of food that help you lose weight without exercise, check out our list of Healthy Foods to Eat Everyday to Lose Weight.
Metabolism boosting herbs and spices
Apart from appetite suppressants, there are more than a handful herbs and spices that boost your metabolism to help you lose weight. Some of them might even be in your pantry right now.
We’ve talk more about these spices in detail in another article but here are a few good ones that you can easily use right now:
- Cayenne and other chilli peppers with capsaicin
- Turmeric because of circumin (the active compound found in turmeric)
- Black cardamom and its powerful antioxidants
- Ginger because it’s great for detox and fat burning
- Garlic as it seems effective for trimming waist circumference
- Parsley because of its diuretic properties which help reduce bloating
Apart from herbs and spices, you could also have coffee and green tea.
Both these drinks have caffeine which, according to research, has a two-pronged effect on weight loss:
- It helps you eat less calories, and
- It helps you burn more calories
Coffee and green tea both also have close to zero calories, so that makes them even better.
Plus, green tea has this compound called EGCG which not only ramps up your metabolism even higher, it also specifically helps you burn more fat. Not bad for such a common beverage, eh?
So, to sum it up:
You can safely lose around 12-24 lbs in 3 months. However, I believe your approach to losing weight during that time span should be the same as when you’re trying to catch a healthier weight for the long haul.
This way, you leave little doubt about its safety, effectiveness, and sustainability. This means cleaning up your diet, choosing the right type of food to put in your belly, and if you can, consistently workout.