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How Long Does It Take to Lose 20 Pounds?

By Chrissy Arsenault, MBA, RDN, LD

Reviewed by Briana Rodriquez, RD


How long does it take to lose 20 pounds? Can’t you just suffer for three days and permanently reap the rewards? Not so fast.


We hate to break it to you, but you can’t lose 20 pounds overnight. While drastically cutting back on your food intake for a few days may show up quickly on the scale, most of it is water weight. You’ll likely gain all that weight back as soon as you start eating normally again — which isn’t healthy.


Losing weight and keeping it off is a journey. To lose weight healthily, think about it like a marathon — not a sprint.


Read on to learn more about the different factors at play, examples of how long it takes, tips and tricks, and the best ways to keep the weight off.

Factors Affecting Weight Loss 

Many factors can make it easier or harder for you to lose or gain weight.


As we reflect on how long it takes to lose 20 pounds, consider these factors that may make that journey shorter or longer!


1.  Food and beverage intake: What you eat and how much you eat matters – the saying, “you are what you eat,” isn’t far from the truth! Maintaining a healthy calorie balance and eating nutrient-dense, whole foods make a big difference in losing weight and keeping it off.


2.  Physical activity: Getting movement throughout your day isn’t just great for weight loss (and weight maintenance) as it helps you burn calories, but it’s also a great stress reliever too!


3.  Stress level: High, chronic stress can get in the way of being able to lose weight. The stress hormone “cortisol” is linked to various metabolic diseases and can contribute to belly fat. [1]


4.  Gender: Individuals born biologically male tend to burn more calories at rest than females.[2] This is due to men typically having more muscle mass. Ladies, don’t be discouraged – while you might have to work a little harder than your male counterparts, it’s totally doable!


5.  Medical conditions: Certain diseases can affect your ability to lose weight such as hormone imbalances. Check with your physician.


6.  Starting weight: You may find it easier to lose weight at the beginning of your journey. That’s because you’re burning more calories at a higher weight.


7.  Height: Similar to your starting weight, taller people burn more calories at rest, making it a little easier to lose weight.


8.  Genetics: Having direct family members who are overweight can predispose you to a higher weight.[3] But changes in your lifestyle and environment can help you achieve a healthy weight and overcome any unlucky cards you’ve been dealt!

Examples of How Long It Takes to Lose 20 Pounds

To lose one pound, you need to achieve a calorie deficit of 3500 calories in a week from a combination of physical activity and lower calorie intake from food and beverages.


So how long does it take to lose 20 pounds? Slow and steady wins the race for losing weight and keeping it off – the entire process can take anywhere from 10 to 40 weeks depending on the many factors that may affect weight loss.


A combination of working out, walking more and eating less can help you achieve quick results.

Can You Lose 20 Pounds by Working Out?

Working out can help you lose weight faster, especially when you’re already watching your calorie intake. But remember your diet matter most. While you can’t “outrun” a bad diet, exercise has many health benefits.


There are so many types of exercises to choose from:

  • Aerobic exercise: These activities help burn calories and help your heart stay healthy. Examples include jogging, walking or dance classes.
  • Strength training: These activities help you build muscle, which then burns more calories at rest and keeps your bones strong! Examples include lifting weights, resistance training and bodyweight exercises.
  • Balance and flexibility: These activities support your mobility and help reduce the risk of falls as you age. Examples include yoga, Pilates and gentle stretching.

Regardless of your activity of choice, working out can help your body burn more calories at rest!

Photo by: Zoran Zeremski


Losing 20 Pounds by Walking

Don’t have time to attend weekly Pilates classes or learn a new sport? Try walking the pounds off – walking can be easy to incorporate into your daily regimen.


Here are some easy ways to get started:

  • Park further away from the grocery store entrance so you have to take more steps to get to the front.
  • Take the stairs instead of the elevator at work or the mall.
  • Try a walking meeting or phone call. Whether you’re in person catching up with friends or working from home talking to coworkers, a walking meeting can help boost your mood and productivity.
  • Walk with a furry friend. Dogs love to go for long walks and can keep you accountable! If you don’t have a dog, try dog-sitting for others in the neighborhood or volunteering at a local shelter.
  • Take up gardening as a hobby. While relaxing, yard work can help you add extra steps and burn calories.

Consider getting a pedometer or activity-tracking device to track your progress on your steps.


And remember – aim for progress, not perfection! For example, if you typically get 2,000 steps a day, try increasing it to 2,500 per day.

Losing 20 Pounds with Calorie Intake

You don’t need to count calories to lose weight. If you want to, tools like MyFitnessPal and Calorie King can help you estimate the calories for different foods including meals eaten at restaurants!


If counting isn't your thing, focusing on eating nutrient-rich foods over highly processed foods is a great place to start. The more non-starchy vegetables on your plate, the better!


When reducing calorie intake to lose weight, no foods are off limits – all foods fit in moderation. Being mindful of your portion sizes can help. Try to cut back on a little bit at a time. For example, instead of 1 cup of rice, try reducing your dinner portion to ½ cup. And instead of ordering a salad tossed with dressing – try getting it on the side.


As you start your journey, you may want to consider a specific meal plan for weight loss – they can help you stay on track and understand portion sizes better.

Quick(er) Ways to Lose Weight 

If you’re looking for a quicker solution to the question, “how long does it take to lose 20 pounds?”, read on for some tips and tricks. Just remember, nothing that lasts will happen overnight.

Adopt a positive mindset

On your weight loss journey, you might feel frustrated at times. You’ll hit plateaus. You’ll feel like giving up. Those feelings are normal!


It’s so important to stay positive and keep your head up even when facing adversity. All of your efforts will pay off in the end. Consider starting a gratitude journal to stay grateful for all the positive things in your life!

Set SMART goals 

Rather than focusing on your goal weight, consider setting behavior-focused goals that will result in weight loss over time.


SMART stands for:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Relevant
  • Timely

An example of a SMART goal is: “I will walk on Wednesdays and Fridays over my lunch break (12pm) for 30 minutes around the office building for the next four weeks.”

Drink more water

Water is a natural weight loss aid – it can help boost your metabolism.[4] Our bodies often confuse thirst for hunger, so if you are feeling hungry, try drinking a glass of water instead!


Drinking water doesn’t have to be boring – try adding your favorite sliced fruits or mint to flavor your water. And if you’re like many of us who run out of time to drink enough water in a day, consider investing in a big water bottle so you don’t forget to drink your H2O!

Photo by: Igor Alecsander on iStock


Eat more protein and fiber

Try to incorporate more lean proteins and fiber-rich foods throughout the day. These are the nutrients that help you stay fuller for longer!

Watch your food intake

How much you eat can be just as important as what you eat! When cooking, stick to smart portions for starchy foods while filling up your plate with more non-starchy vegetables.


If you’re looking for a quick weight loss diet, consider an intermittent fasting diet plan like Jenny Craig’s Max Up program. You could lose up to 18 pounds in your first 4 weeks.^

^ First 4 weeks only. Average weight loss in a study was 15 pounds and 1-2 pounds per week thereafter for those who completed the program.

Get more sleep 

A recent study showed that those who slept more consumed 270 fewer calories per day – which roughly translates to 26 pounds lost over three years![5]


By getting your beauty sleep, you may be able to lose more weight and keep it off.

Consider working with a weight loss coach

Research shows that working with a weight loss coach can help you lose 3X more weight than on your own.[6] Weight loss coaches can help you stay accountable for your progress.


Weight loss coaches can help uncover tips and tricks along the way and help adjust your plan if something isn’t working well!

How to Keep Weight Off

Once you’ve lost that 20 pounds and want to keep it off, try to maintain the positive lifestyle changes you’ve made.


While your calorie needs for maintaining weight may look different than when you were losing weight, positive habits like sleeping more or incorporating physical activity have great longer-term benefits to your health.






This article is based on scientific research and/or other scientific articles and was written by an experienced health and lifestyle contributor and reviewed by certified professionals. 

Our goal at Jenny Craig is to provide the most up-to-date and objective information on health-related topics, so our readers can make informed decisions based on factual content. All articles undergo an extensive review process, and depending on the topic, are reviewed by a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) or Nutritionist, to ensure accuracy. 


This article contains trusted sources including scientific, peer-reviewed papers. All references are hyperlinked at the end of the article to take readers directly to the source.






[2] https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/weight-loss/in-depth/metabolism/art-20046508#:~:text=People who are larger or,means men burn more calories.

[3] https://www.nature.com/articles/s41576-021-00414-z

[4] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3809630/

[5] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/35129580/

[6] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4446719/

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Chrissy Arsenault, MBA, RDN, LD

By Chrissy Arsenault, MBA, RDN, LD

Chrissy Arsenault is an Indianapolis-based Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, Licensed Dietitian, and writer with over seven years of experience in health and wellness. She holds a Bachelor of Science degree from Cornell University and a Master of Business Administration from Indiana University. Chrissy is passionate about creating engaging nutrition content and believes all foods fit! In her spare time, she enjoys international travel, competitive powerlifting, reading, and hanging out with her husband and pups.


Favorite healthy snack: eggs and avocado on a bagel, with everything bagel seasoning
Briana Rodriquez, RD

Reviewed by Briana Rodriquez, RD

Briana is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Certified Personal Trainer for Jenny Craig, based in Carlsbad, California. She is passionate about utilizing food as functional and preventative medicine. Guided by a simplistic and optimistic approach, Briana’s philosophy is to help people improve their health and achieve their goals through the development of sustainable habits to live a healthy life. In her free time, you can find her strength training, indoor cycling, coffee tasting, and at local eateries with her husband and two dogs.

Favorite healthy snack: peanut butter with celery alongside a grapefruit-flavored sparkling water (so refreshing!)


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