Why Am I Only Losing 1 Pound a Week? Problems & Proven Solutions

Weight Loss & Diets | Written by Nathan | Updated on 15 February 2022

Making the choice to embark on a weight loss journey and taking steps to improve health is a brave decision. It’s important to acknowledge that taking that first step is a big milestone.

But if after a few weeks you notice the weight loss has slowed and you’re only losing a pound a week, or less, feelings of frustration can arise. 

Arming yourself with the knowledge of problems and proven solutions other dieters encounter is a helpful step to move past feelings of frustration and continue progressing on a weight loss journey. 

Why Are You Only Losing 1lb a Week?

When weight loss isn’t occurring as quickly as you would like, you may wonder why the pounds have been coming off at a less than desirable rate. 

Low activity levels are often a reason for slowing weight loss. Eating too much or not eating enough are other causes of not losing weight. If any of these reasons are limiting weight loss, there are actionable steps to take to begin progressing once again. 

And remember, it’s important to remain patient when working to improve health. While working through the potential reasons why weight loss isn’t occurring as quickly as you would like, consider saying a few weight loss affirmations for encouragement on the journey. 

Problem – You May Actually Be Eating Too Much

Have you determined the number of calories you need to lose weight? If not, you could be eating too much. Even if you aren’t over eating and taking in too many calories causing weight gain, continuing to eat at a maintenance level will prevent weight loss. In order to lose weight caloric intake has to be below the maintenance level. 

Solution

Figure out your maintenance calories and make adjustments every 1 – 2 weeks. Start by determining how many calories you need to consume per day to maintain your current weight. 

A simple way to do this is to multiply current body weight by 15 [1]. Use this number and subtract 500 for a 1 pound weight loss per week [2]. For a 140 pound person it would look like this:

15×140= 2100 maintenance level calories per day. 

2100-500= 1600 calories per day to lose one pound per week. 

Subtract 1000 calories per day for 2 pounds of weight loss per week [2]. 

Once adjustments are made, follow the determined caloric intake for at least one week before making any changes to the number. Even if it seems you are losing only a pound a week, keep in mind scales can be fickle. Though it can be frustrating to not see the number changing daily, allow time for the body to adjust to the new intake. 

Problem – You Could Be Eating Too Little

The body needs food intake to be high enough to maintain normal functions. If food intake drops too low the body may increase the production of one of its hormones, cortisol, which can lead to weight gain [3]. The body moves into survival mode (often referred to as preservation mode) and will hold on to every calorie it can. 

Eating too little often comes from the fear of weight gain and worrying about consuming certain “bad” foods in general. 

Solution

Build a healthier relationship with food that will allow you to eat more without the guilt. 

Intuitive eating is a great way to build a healthier relationship with food while losing weight at the same time. Intuitive eating is a way of eating using hunger and fullness cues that signal the body to know when and how much to eat. Intuitive eating is not a diet, but a lifestyle that focuses on eating and enjoying all foods without heavy emphasis on weight control. [4]

This style of eating teaches individuals how to have a healthy relationship with food and their bodies. It encourages [4]:

  • Not using food as a reward or punishment
  • Avoiding labeling any foods as “good” or “bad”
  • Trusting hunger and fullness cues
  • Eating foods of all types 
  • Not limiting food intake 

Learning to listen to the body’s cues and building a healthier relationship with food prevents the risk of the body moving into survival mode and holding onto extra calories for energy. 

Problem – Your Activity Levels Are Too Low

If you work from home or at an office, your activity levels are going to be low during those 8 hours and this may be why you’re only losing a pound a week. So before getting too frustrated, consider how often you get up or move around during the day.

Solution

Try taking a walk on your 15 minute breaks or lunch breaks to up your activity during those sedentary hours. 

Walking helps with the body’s non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT) as well. NEAT is the energy expended for all activity that is not sleeping, eating, or participating in sports-like exercise [5]. This may be things like yard work, fidgeting at a desk, or walking around in the office. 

Be mindful that the recommended activity levels for adults are 150-300 minutes of moderately intense activity or 75-150 minutes of vigorous activity; or 2 or more days a week performing  muscle-strengthening activities [6]. 

Other ideas to increase activity levels include :

  • Increase exercise. If you’re new to exercise and aren’t sure where to start, follow a beginner’s guide to strength training to start increasing activity levels. If time is an issue, studies show exercising in several short bouts throughout the day has similar effects as one continuous bout for aerobic fitness and weight loss [7].
  • Consider ways to increase your body’s NEAT energy output. Stand and take steps in place if you have to work at your desk for an extended time. Go for short 5-10 minute walks between meetings if possible. Be sure to stand at least 10 minutes every hour. 
  • Increase the number of steps being taken each day. Studies have found weight loss increases by 10% when steps increase to at least 10,000 steps per day [8]. 

Is it Normal or Good to Only Lose a Pound a Week?

Studies say that for lasting results in weight loss, only losing a pound a week is perfectly healthy and normal [9]. Keep in mind that a 500 calorie per day deficit will result in a one- pound weight loss over a week and successful weight loss requires adhering to a sustainable diet. 

A 500 calorie deficit per day is an achievable goal that won’t require a dieter to feel severely restricted. 

For someone interested in slightly increasing weight loss, a combination of increased activity level and decreasing caloric intake for a total deficit of 1000 calories per day can increase weight loss to 2 pounds per week and remain within the limits of safe weight loss.

Dieters should be cautious and avoid severe food restrictions and/or extreme exercise levels in an attempt to significantly increase weight loss in an unhealthy manner. 

Is Losing 5 lbs. a Week Too Much?

When trying to lose weight, it’s natural to want to lose weight very quickly but studies have found that body composition is more favorable with a slower weight loss. [10]

For most adults, losing 5 pounds a week is going to be too much. To lose one pound of weight in a week, an individual needs to burn 3500 more calories than what is being consumed [11]. To lose 5 pounds in one week, an individual would need to burn at least 2500 calories each day. For most individuals, this means severe restriction of daily intake or extreme amounts of exercise, and losing weight in an unhealthy and unsustainable way. 

Losing 5 pounds in a week would be okay only in an extreme case. An example is an individual classified as morbidly obese or high risk. In this case, speak with a health professional before beginning such a restrictive diet. And be sure to use a diet created for someone looking to lose weight quickly for health purposes, such as the Dr Nowzaradan diet

Calculating maintenance calories, keeping meals consistent for a week, weighing, and adjusting calories afterward are solid methods to continue losing weight.  

Try to remain patient and allow 2 weeks of consistency before making adjustments. True weight loss takes time and isn’t always seen on the scale each week. It’s understanding to become frustrated when only losing a pound a week (or less) but experiment with the proven solutions listed, remain consistent, and trust the process. 

Resources

[1] Calorie counting made easy. Harvard Health. (2020, July 11). Retrieved February 2, 2022, from https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/calorie-counting-made-easy  

[2] U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (n.d.). Key recommendations. National Heart Lung and Blood Institute. Retrieved February 9, 2022, from https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/educational/lose_wt/recommen.htm  

[3] Osilla, E. V. (2021, September 15). Calories. StatPearls [Internet]. Retrieved February 9, 2022, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK499909/  

[4] Carney, A. K., & Carney, K. (2020, October 2). Intuitive eating for a healthy relationship with food. Home & Garden Information Center | Clemson University, South Carolina. Retrieved February 10, 2022, from https://hgic.clemson.edu/factsheet/intuitive-eating-for-a-healthy-relationship-with-food/  

[5] JA;, L. (n.d.). Non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT). Best practice & research. Clinical endocrinology & metabolism. Retrieved February 9, 2022, from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12468415/  

[6] Physical activity guidelines questions & answers. (n.d.). Retrieved February 9, 2022, from https://health.gov/our-work/nutrition-physical-activity/physical-activity-guidelines/about-physical-activity-guidelines/questions-answers  

[7] LK;, S. W. D. B. C. J. K. (n.d.). Effects of long versus short bout exercise on fitness and weight loss in overweight females. Journal of the American College of Nutrition. Retrieved February 9, 2022, from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11601564/  

[8] Creasy, S. A., Lang, W., Tate, D. F., Davis, K. K., & Jakicic, J. M. (2018, June). Pattern of daily steps is associated with weight loss: Secondary analysis from the step-up randomized trial. Obesity (Silver Spring, Md.). Retrieved February 8, 2022, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5970037/  

[9] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020, August 17). Losing weight. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved February 8, 2022, from https://www.cdc.gov/healthyweight/losing_weight/index.html  

[10] Ashtary-Larky, D., Ghanavati, M., Lamuchi-Deli, N., Payami, S. A., Alavi-Rad, S., Boustaninejad, M., Afrisham, R., Abbasnezhad, A., & Alipour, M. (2017, May 17). Rapid weight loss vs. slow weight loss: Which is more effective on body composition and metabolic risk factors? International journal of endocrinology and metabolism. Retrieved February 9, 2022, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5702468/  

[11] I want to lose a pound of weight. how many calories do I need to burn? NAL. (n.d.). Retrieved February 9, 2022, from https://www.nal.usda.gov/legacy/fnic/i-want-lose-pound-weight-how-many-calories-do-i-need-burn  

About the Author

Nathan

Nathan has been a fitness enthusiast for the past 12 years and jumps between several types of training such as bodybuilding, powerlifting, cycling, gymnastics, and backcountry hiking. Due to the varying caloric needs of numerous sports, he has cycled between all types of diets and currently eats a whole food diet. In addition, Nathan lives with several injuries such as hip impingement, spondylolisthesis, and scoliosis, so he underwent self-rehabilitation and no longer lives with debilitating pain.