If you’re reading this article, you set a goal and started creating your weight loss plan. Congratulations!
As the saying goes, all you have to do now is “eat less and move more,” right?
Not so much. You might get there on that advice alone, but chances are high that you’ll be Googling the same question next year.
The important question is, “How to lose 20 pounds and keep it off?” This article will help you make an intelligent, sure-fire plan. One that gets you lasting results, which, sorry to say it, is the opposite of the fastest results.
If you want to learn how to lose 20 pounds fast and easily, you’ve clicked the wrong article. But a word of warning: quick dieters usually end up bouncing back to an even higher weight than what they started at.
how to lose 20 pounds
Did you know that Americans spend more money on weight loss products than it would take to end world hunger?
Double, in fact, by some estimates.
And business is good for the $60 billion weight loss industry in the US. According to the CDC, 73.6% of American adults aged 20 and over are overweight or obese. How could this be? We have so much knowledge at the tip of our fingertips.
Since it’s such a profitable business, there’s always going to be new magic weight loss solutions that are total BS. Kind of like this one that snuck through my spam filters today.
Ignore all the instant gratification nonsense and take control of your weight loss journey once and for all.
Here’s the hard truth: there is no easy and fast way to lose 20 pounds and keep it off. But the solution is simple. Just commit to doing it the right way once.
Here’s a quick view of what people are searching for on Google:
Minus the first one, every search query is about how long will weight loss will take or how fast it can be done.
If you came to this article to find sound advice on how to lose 20 pounds, then read on because we will deliver.
However, if you came here trying to learn how to lose 20 pounds in a month or 2 weeks or FAST, then this information is even more important for you. Definitely keep on reading.
My Weight Loss Journey
It began one day while eating a microwaved Hot Pocket for lunch in my cubicle. It was just after 1 o’clock, and even though I had consumed 5 cups of coffee already, I was foggy and exhausted.
I grew up healthy, played sports year-round, and had limitless energy. What the hell happened?
I was good at solving complex problems for my job as a chemical engineer. Why had I let my health slip off the back burner? That day, I decided that I would use that skill set to optimize my health.
At the time, I looked the perfect picture of health. I had even helped thousands as a fitness accountability coach through Beachbody, read dozens of books, ran my own diet and fitness experiments, and was more muscular than ever.
But only on the outside.
I didn’t feel that way on the inside. It turns out I was massively burned out from work stress and my hormone levels plummeted.
When I saw that I had the testosterone level of a 60-70 year old as a 29 year old, I knew I had to do something. I guess there is more to being healthy than working out and eating healthy every day.
So, in a leap of faith, we quit our jobs in Texas and bought a one-way ticket to Ecuador. Alex and I strove to learn how other cultures create happiness and nurture health while working to get my health back.
Now, having been in the throes of burnout and successfully climbed out in a year, we knew that we could apply our knowledge to help others.
Through our website, we’ve helped several thousand people with weight loss, and our 30-Day Weight Loss Challenge alone has 1,050 sign-ups to date.
The following are the weight loss tips I wish I had ten years ago when I was eating Hot Pockets at my desk and three years ago when I was ruining my health with sleep deprivation and work stress.
This is how to lose 20 pounds and be healthy once, and for all.
How Long Does it Take to Lose 20 Pounds?
Since it depends on diet, age, body fat percentage, activity level, genetics, sex, muscle mass, metabolism, hormones, and countless other variables, the answer is a range.
It depends on your body. Plan on 3 months to three years.
If you’re 100 pounds overweight, you could lose 3-5 pounds per week at first.
But if you’re only 20 pounds above your healthy body weight, that weight loss will decrease to 1-2 pounds per week.
That is until you reach your last 10 pounds of stubborn weight to lose. Then, you’re making amazing progress if you’re losing 1/2 to 1 pound per week.
However, in a perfect world, you shouldn’t give a damn how long it takes. View losing 20 pounds as the first phase of a lifelong project to optimize your health and wellness.
If you want to lose 20 pounds by a specific date, chances are you need to change your mindset, making sure you’re not motivated by your ego.
Lastly, don’t just depend on the scale to track your weight loss journey.
As engineers, one of our favorite sayings is, “What gets tracked gets improved,” and weight loss is no different.
Without benchmarking your numbers — weight, body fat percentage, waist-hip ratio, measurements, etc. — how do you know you’re progressing?
In our article, ‘The Best Ways to Measure for Weight Loss,’ we share the best metrics to track. We’ll teach you how to measure fat loss and weight loss, and recommend the most accurate tools.
How To Lose 20 Pounds
The following actionable tips will help you lose 20 pounds. Again, it’s not the fast and easy way, but it’s the right way.
Diet and exercise will play a huge role in your weight loss journey.
However, there are other seemingly less important habits, such as proper hydration and sleep, that are just as critical to your success.
This is a holistic approach to losing 20 pounds and keeping it off.
1. Check your ego at the door
You’re wondering how to lose 20 pounds and my question for you is why?
Do you want to lose 20 pounds in two months to have a bikini bod on spring break?
Or, is the plan to lose 20 pounds to look good for the family reunion?
These are superficial reasons to lose weight and are based on ego. And I’m not saying this to be mean. I want to point out that you may need to dig deeper in order to maintain your motivation and commitment.
If you want to lose a certain amount of weight by a certain date, you need to reframe your mindset.
The above examples are extrinsic motivations rather than intrinsic. Extrinsic motivation (focused on external benefits) is based on self-pride. Instead of bringing happiness and contentment, pride breeds frustration and continuous disappointment.
A motivation based on ego is a sure recipe for failure. So, why do you truly want to lose 20 pounds?
Just like money can’t buy you happiness, ego can’t bring you sustainable weight loss.
The following are examples of strong, intrinsic motivations:
- I want to lose 20 pounds so I can spend more time hiking this summer.
- My goal is to lose 20 pounds to be a good example for my kids and teach them how to be healthy.
Once you find your intrinsic motivation or your “why,” you’ll have success with your weight loss goals. Feel free to share your motivation in the comments section of this post to inspire others!
2. Meal variety is not so important
Here’s the thing… many say that losing weight is 80% nutrition. That’s true.
Therefore, a lot of the tips in this article are nutrition-based. For many, this first tip is a game-changer.
Eating a huge variety of foods is not necessary to lose weight. Instead, create an easy-to-cook rotation of healthy but tasty meals. Our meal rotation currently includes 2 breakfasts, 2 lunches, and maybe 3 dinners.
They are all healthy meals, mostly plant-based, and simple to cook. We’ve eaten these meals 90% of the time for the last 6 months. Soon, we might introduce something new but for now, we’re not bored.
The other 10% of the time we eat out or order in. Those meals are exciting and usually less healthy.
You do not need to be a master cook or meticulous meal planner to lose weight. You just need to cook a handful of healthy meals that you love and eat them over and over. For us, this includes bean burritos, Indian curry with vegetables, quinoa bowls, bean chili, soups, and green smoothies.
Once you hit your stride and are living a healthy lifestyle, work to add in more variety. With where you’re at now with your goal to lose 20 pounds, just keep it simple.
3. Cook at home
Cooking at home will save your wallet, and according to science, it will save your waistline as well. After all, the vast majority of restaurants serve unhealthy foods in portions far too large.
This study concluded that “The frequency of consuming restaurant food was positively associated with increased body fatness in adults.”
We love to eat out, but only 2 times per week. The other meals are those simple, healthy recipes.
“Easy. You want Americans to eat less? I have the diet for you. It’s short, and it’s simple. Here’s my diet plan: Cook it yourself. That’s it. Eat anything you want—just as long as you’re willing to cook it yourself.” – Harry Balzer
Balzer, a now-retired food industry analyst at the NPD Group, studied what Americans have eaten since the 1970s. He knows better than anyone what Americans need to eat to lose weight.
4. Eat slower
Do you ever feel stuffed after a meal? I know I’m guilty. That’s because it takes up to 20 minutes (according to a multitude of studies) for the body to register when it’s full.
When I’m hungry, I can easily eat a full pizza in less than 10 minutes. But that’s way more food than my body needs or even wants.
If you eat too fast, the body’s mechanism to prevent overeating is useless.
Eat slower, chew your food, and set down your utensil between bites. If you have a hard time eating slowly, set a timer and take a 10-minute break after eating for five minutes.
Here’s another mindful eating tip from my favorite diet and lifestyle book of all time, “Never eat alone, standing, or behind the wheel.”
5. Sleep more
Sleep and weight loss are closely linked. Frankly, if you’re sleep-deprived while trying to lose 20 pounds, you’re screwed.
Studies show that sleeping less than six hours increases the production of ghrelin, the appetite hormone while limiting leptin, which helps control food intake.
In other words, when you’re tired, your mind and body are lazy, craving only an unhealthy lifestyle. Your body doesn’t want to leave the couch and your mind craves convenient snacks packed with calories.
One 2-week study had randomized, dieting adults sleep either 5.5 or 8.5 hours each night.
Subjects who slept 8.5 hours lost 55% more body fat and gained 60% more lean body mass (aka muscle) than subjects who only slept 5.5 hours.
Losing weight requires a sharp mental game. You need to make the right choices consistently to develop the right habits over time. If you’re not sleeping enough, you’re shooting your weight loss goals in the foot.
Exercise and dieting are significantly more fruitful when we prioritize quality sleep and a routine sleep schedule.
6. Count calories
I know you don’t want to do it. But why is it so important to know your calories? Because an excess of 200 calories per day adds up to 20 pounds in one year.
That’s just a little over half of a bagel, two tablespoons of butter, 16 Doritos chips, 17 gummy bears, or a piece of cheddar cheese the size of 3 AA batteries.
Trying to lose weight without knowing your calorie intake is like training for a race without knowing the distance.
Additionally, consuming an excess of calories or too few calories will prevent you from losing 20 pounds.
So, we have to find the sweet spot. Here’s the math:
Calories in – (BMR + Calorie burn) = Calorie deficit or surplus
Fortunately, the math is really simple these days with the help of apps and smartwatches that track your activity.
We outline the right calculation in our ‘30-Day Weight Loss Challenge‘ article. Make sure you do the math, know your calories, and feel free to reach out in the comments if you need help.
Before we move on, there are two very important rules about calories that you must follow if you want to lose 20 pounds:
1. Never consume fewer calories than your BMR requirements. If you do, your metabolism will plummet and you’ll gain weight. This is the problem with a lot of fad diets.
2. Women should consume no less than 1200 calories and men no less than 1600 calories for their daily caloric intake (DCI). If you’re below those thresholds, you will not lose weight.
That’s right, if you eat too few calories you will not lose weight.
Instead, your body will preserve calories as body fat.
The most common cause of a weight loss plateau is not eating enough calories. It’s like underwatering a plant but expecting it to grow strong.
7. Put the WORK in workout.
We couldn’t write about how to lose 20 pounds without mentioning exercise. Working out is hard and if it doesn’t challenge you, it’s not working.
Here’s why working out smart is important. We ran a cardio experiment and found that a good workout (total body resistance and HIIT) was 91% more effective than a bad one (the stationary bike).
According to the calorie burn math, that equals an additional 23 pounds of weight loss compared to the worst workouts (the treadmill or stationary bike).
If you’re serious about losing weight, do not wing your workouts. There are such things as effective workouts and ineffective workouts.
Here’s the best clue we can give you:
If you’re not torching calories (getting your heart rate in the fat-burning zone) and building muscle (via bodyweight resistance, bands, or weights) within the same workout program, you’re leaving results on the table.
Calorie burn + Increased muscle mass = Bye-bye stored fat
Here’s why that equation works:
1. It takes your body a long time to recover from elevated heart rate (the fat-burning zone). Your heart rate will stay elevated for hours after the workout. This means your body is burning calories while you do NOTHING!
2. Additionally, building lean muscle mass increases your basal metabolic rate (BMR) which are the calories your body burns just to sustain daily life. Again, that means your body is burning more calories while you do NOTHING!
End rant. Find yourself a great workout program and it better challenge you. We’re firm believers in the Beachbody workouts.
8. Stop sitting so much
Exercising is important for weight loss and increasing lean muscle mass, but sitting too much can reverse all of your hard work.
When we sit for 90 minutes, our bodies go into a state of hibernation. Even if you work out for an hour, 7-days a week, you won’t undo the damage of inactivity.
A recent study published in the journal, The Obesity Society, concluded that adult dieters who lost 30 pounds and maintained or continued to lose weight tracked 12,000 steps per day, which is about 6 miles (9.7 km).
Overweight adults tracked 6,500 steps.
Do you need to drive everywhere? Or could you walk or ride a bike?
Must you sit at a computer all day? Or could you use a standing desk and take phone calls while walking outside?
You must find ways to move more throughout the day. Taking the stairs and parking in the last row at the grocery store isn’t going to cut it.
Our hunter-gatherer ancestors walked between 3.7 to 9.9 miles (6 to 16 km) daily.
Compared to the average American adult today, their physical activity burned 3 to 5 times more calories. On top of that, experts estimate that their calorie consumption was the same as ours.
9. Don’t drink calories
Whenever people ask me, “How do I lose 20 pounds?,” my initial response is always the same.
“Do you still drink soda?”
When I lived in China, my colleagues would always joke with me and ask if I wanted a bottle of liquid obesity with lunch. That was their nickname for Coca-Cola.
Only after living in China did I realize how severe the obesity problem was in the U.S. I only had culture shock when I returned to the U.S. to see obese people eating way too much fast food or checking out at the grocery store with a whole cart full of soda.
Step one in our how to lose 20 pounds strategy is cutting out all sugary drinks and the chemicals they contain.
Happy Gilmore was right… H20 is better!
10. Drink enough water
Speaking of H20, you won’t lose 20 pounds without properly hydrating.
Nothing happens in our bodies without water. Water is the vehicle that carries every nutrient, hormone, chemical messenger, enzyme, and electrolyte. What’s more, our brains hoard water.
By the time your brain sends out the thirsty signals, your body has already been dehydrated for up to 24 hours.
Drinking enough water has been scientifically linked to weight loss. A Humboldt University study found that drinking just 0.5 liters (about 2 cups) of water could increase metabolism by up to 30%.
On top of that, drinking water helps satiate your appetite, preventing you from overeating. That’s why one of our mottos is ‘water first’ before going back for second helpings.
Kickstart your day by drinking a full glass of water upon waking up. A rule of thumb for how much water you should drink is taking half your body weight in pounds and drinking that many fluid ounces.
Your urine should be a pale yellow in the morning if you’re doing it right.
If you want to run a fun experiment, try drinking a gallon of water a day for a week and see how you feel.
11. Don’t eat fake foods
There are so many buzzwords and diets in the U.S. that make proper nutrition confusing. We could tell you all about what foods are healthy here, but we already wrote that article.
After traveling to over 40 countries in Asia, Europe, Central America, and South America, we’ve learned a lot about healthy eating cultures.
Our most simplified takeaway is this: if it’s fake, skip it. Fake means it is man-made rather than nature-made and your great, great grandmother wouldn’t even recognize it.
Fast food and ready-made meals from the grocery store are fake and highly processed. They’re also the foods with a long ingredient list of indecipherable chemical names.
Carrots, potatoes, lentils, and bananas are whole foods that are in their natural form. These are the foods that should fill your pantry and fridge. No ingredient list needed.
Now that you are cooking more meals at home it will be much easier to avoid fake foods.
12. Focus on fiber
One of the problems with fake foods is they are stripped of all their fiber. They have been stripped of it and instead of being a “whole food” they are “empty calories.”
A University of Massachusetts study concluded that adult dieters who consumed 30 grams of fiber per day lost 5 pounds without making other lifestyle changes.
Fiber is so important because 97% of adults in the United States are fiber deficient.
Processed foods contribute to weight gain, which is a known fact. Researchers at Pamona College (published in Food and Nutrition) fed two groups of adults meals identical in calories, fats, proteins, and carbs.
One test group ate whole foods (with fiber) and the other group ate processed and packaged foods (without fiber and with added junk).
They measured the calories that were metabolized and concluded that people who ate processed foods only burned half the calories. This is why processed, fiberless foods lead to weight gain.
Fiber is important for weight loss because you can eat fewer calories without feeling hungry.
So, how do you lose 20 pounds? Eating 30 grams of fiber a day is a good start. We recommend you use the free MyFitnessPal app to track your fiber intake.
13. Take a chill day once a week
A lot of people refer to this as a cheat day, but it’s not cheating. Instead, taking a day off from your exercise and healthy eating routine is important for balance.
Relax, be lazy, and eat whatever you want once a week (just don’t overdo it on the calories). This is the day when you should indulge and give in to your cravings.
If you’ve been craving pizza all week, go to town. Heck, if you think you deserve a bowl of ice cream too, you do.
Just make sure that you keep your junk food cravings under control the other 6 days a week by keeping it out of the house. If you have junk food around the house, you WILL eat it.
If it’s not possible to get it out of the house, at least make it hard to access. Keep tempting goodies like bread and cookies in the freezer, making them less enticing to eat.
14. Try intermittent fasting
Do you have hanger? Or do you have snack cravings at night before bed?
If you’ve answered yes, you may want to consider intermittent fasting.
Before starting a 16/8 intermittent fasting schedule (16 hours of fasting with 8 hours of eating), I had serious hanger problems if I went 2 hours without a meal or snack. Plus, I couldn’t resist late-night snacking.
To lose 20 pounds, you need to stop snacking before bed. One study fed subjects via a vending machine (it was an inpatient setting), monitored eating times and amounts, and found that 33% of subjects were nighttime eaters.
On average, they consumed 12% more calories than non-nighttime eaters, which, upon follow-up (roughly 3 years later) meant a weight gain of 13.7 pounds (6.2 kg) compared to 3.7 pounds (1.7 kg) for the non-nighttime eaters.
Intermittent fasting is a great solution to nighttime snacking. Intermittent fasting (IF) is an eating strategy that doesn’t define what you eat but instead when you eat it. The most common and recommended way to start is the 16/8 plan.
What’s amazing is that intermittent fasting studies show you don’t have to change your diet whatsoever to lose weight.
But, you must optimize your meals to receive all of the health benefits. Since you’re serious about losing 20 pounds, you should optimize what you eat and avoid eating simple carbohydrates right before your fasting window.
Want some guidance? Download our free Intermittent Meal Plan (PDF) below.
Intermittent Fasting Meal Plan (Printable PDF)
Download and instantly access the intermittent fasting meal plans, including a printable meal planner to create daily menus.
Plus, we're just an email away for support.
15. Track progress the right way
Like I said at the beginning of this article, you know your body best.
It’s your job to implement, self-experiment, see how your body responds, and create an optimized plan over time.
The thing is, you can’t truly see how your body responds to your weight loss efforts without taking body measurements. If you’re on a weight loss journey, the scale can be a helpful accountability tool or a frustrating chuck-me-off-the-bandwagon tool.
We think it’s mostly the latter. But the good thing is, you don’t need a scale to track your weight loss.
As engineers, we always say, “What gets measured gets improved.” Our body measurement chart is hands-down the most simple and effective way to track your weight loss (and muscle gain) transformation.
It entails taking measurements in inches and centimeters, as well as before-and-after photos. That way, you’ll be able to see and feel the change over time without letting your life become dominated by the number on the scale.
Now that you’ve taken the time to read this comprehensive article, take some more time to build your weight loss strategy.
Whatever you do, make sure to implement ways to measure your progress and ways to incorporate added accountability. Our favorite way to do this (although it’s old school) is a Habit Tracker Printable.
Avoid spending money on unnecessary weight loss products and don’t expect instant gratification. In fact, losing weight too quickly can mess around with your hormones, incentivizing your body to store body fat and lower metabolism.
The good news is, it’s possible to lose these 20 pounds you’re struggling with. And while there are no “quick fixes” on the list and unsexy items like “eating more fiber,” it goes to show that the path to weight loss is simple. But simple doesn’t necessarily mean easy.
Take it day by day and measure weekly or even monthly. Trust the process and know that healthy growth will get you to your goal.
Good luck, and we’re here for you along the way! Post your comments or questions below and we’ll help guide you on the journey.
30-Day Weight Loss Challenge
As engineers with ten years of health coaching experience, we needed to create a data-driven way for our clients to sustain weight loss. The number on the scale matters for weight loss, but other numbers are significantly more important.
Too many weight loss challenges involve a long list of what you can, cannot, and need to do every day. We’ve reduced the overwhelm and only require you to track five numbers a day — calories, steps, fiber, sleep, waistline.
In this 30-Day Weight Loss Challenge, you'll track five numbers daily to give you the highest return for sustainable weight loss.
Hey we're Ryan and Alex
The creators of Ryan and Alex Duo Life. We are a husband-wife duo and “lifestyle engineers.”
After eight years working in the corporate world as engineers, we left our high-powered jobs to tackle our true passion — helping couples engineer their best lives.
The synergy of our engineering minds and ten years of health coaching experience produced Ryan and Alex Duo Life. Our mission is to help you transform your bodies, minds, and relationship as a couple.
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