This article has been Fact-Checked by Kendall Kennedy MS, RD, RYT
You have been exercising, paying attention to what you eat and other healthy habits. Now how long does it take to notice weight loss?
There is one study that tried to put this into specific numbers. In general there are a few things you can learn to get a better idea of how long it will take.
By learning these things you can tell more easily whether you are on track or not.
How long before you notice weight loss in your face
There is actually a study that tried to find just how much weight loss in your face was visually noticeable and how much weight loss changes attractiveness (1).
This study found that people are able to notice weight loss as soon as 1.33 kg/m² which is about 2.93 pounds / m² which is a BMI reduction in 1.33.
They also found that changes of about double that amount were necessary to improve attractiveness. So a change in BMI of about 2.38 for women and 2.59 for men.
That means that you and others can visually start noticing weight loss in your face in the first few weeks depending on how fast you go.
It’s unlikely that the number of this study is the end-all-be-all number on the subject. It does help you get a better estimation. Besides visual cues, there are other ways to notice weight loss too.
How can you tell if you’re losing weight?
The term weight loss implies that you want to see the number on the scale go down. In reality the main thing most people are interested in is fat loss. There is a difference between weight loss and fat loss.
The advantage of using weight as progress tracking is that it’s easy and simple to measure. A body weight scale is not expensive and all you have to do is step on it for a minute.
The disadvantage of weight is that it doesn’t represent your fat loss that accurately. There are a lot of things that influence this number. For example all it takes to weigh a kilogram more is drinking a liter of water.
If you gain muscle and lose fat you are making fat loss progress. However if you only focus on the number on the scale you might feel bad because it looks like you didn’t make any progress.
You can basically notice a difference in weight very fast because of things like water. Both weight loss and weight gain.
After a night of not consuming anything you will weigh less, after a toilet visit you will weigh less, if you eat salt you will weigh more,…
Body fat percentage
The second measurement method is body fat percentage. This is basically how much percent % of your body weight is from body fat.
In numbers this is [weight from body fat] divided by [total body weight]. So if you weigh 200 pounds and 20 of those pounds are body fat you have a body fat percentage of 10%.
This way things like how much you ate and how much water you drank still have an influence but less so than on body weight.
Fat percentage is arguably the best way to measure fat loss progress.
The problem with it is that the tools to measure it are fairly inaccurate, they can take a learning period or they are fairly expensive.
If the measurement tool is accurate body fat percentage is where you can see the slowest progress. Both in fat loss and gain. You don’t gain pounds of body fat in one day and you don’t lose them as fast either.
Circumference comes down to measuring certain body parts with a measuring tape.
Some body parts you can measure are:
- Waist: at the belly button
- Hips: at the widest part of the buttocks
- Thighs: at the same distance above your knee (for example 10 inches)
- Biceps: at the same place
Circumference is a pretty good way to measure progress. Building muscle will increase circumference a little but not as much as fat. So losing fat and building muscle at the same time will still result in circumference progress.
Circumference is also a fairly consistent measuring method without too many big fluctuations. The only thing that will cause big swings in waist measurements is bloating and consuming food and drinks.
You can also expect about one change in clothing size with every 10 to 12 pounds of weight loss.
Other non scale victories
Non scale victories or NSV in short are ways to measure progress without weight.
Some examples are focusing on how much your mood and energy levels have improved.
These non scale victories are not the best way to measure progress objectively but they can help you feel more satisfied when you’re not 100% happy with the number results.
You can notice progress with these very quickly. It’s a surprise to some people how much a week of healthier eating does to you.
Where do you notice weight loss first?
Where you notice weight loss first depends on how much weight you still have to lose and your genetics.
When people gain weight they most likely gain it first on their belly and legs. This is just where the human body usually likes to store fat first. The more you put on, the more body fat starts to appear in other areas too.
When you lose weight the sequence of areas where you first lose fat is usually in the reverse order of when you gained weight.
That means that if you’ve already lost a lot of weight, belly and legs will probably be next sooner or later.
If you still have a lot to lose, you will most likely notice weight loss first in areas like your hands, face and arms first.
Important factors for how long it takes to notice weight loss
How long it takes to notice weight loss results depends on a few different factors. By learning these you get a better view on when you should see changes.
Starting amount of body fat
How much body fat you start with is a big factor in when you will see weight loss results.
It’s easier to visualize with an example. Let’s say we have 2 women. Woman number 1 just lost her last 10 pounds to a 20% fat percentage. Woman number 2 lost her first 10 pounds and she started at 250 pounds.
Woman number 1 might look like a different person while woman number 2 might have a hard time noticing anything different.
Woman number 2 might be able to lose more pounds easier but they may be harder to notice.
What you eat
The things you eat have a big impact in terms of how long it takes to see weight loss visually and on the scale.
The main reason for this is that your weight and how you look isn’t only determined by body fat.
Some types of food make it so your body retains more water. These types of food are mainly carbohydrates and salt. The extra water retention also swells up certain body parts.
Once you eat less of these kinds of foods, let’s say by going on a low carb diet. You will notice a lot of initial results if you’re focusing on visual cues and the number on the scale.
One liter of water is 2.20 pounds (1kg).
It’s fun to see this initial progress but you need to keep in mind that weight loss is not always fat loss. Not being able to keep up these drastic changes in measurements is not something you need to panic about.
How fast you lose fat
For example person 1 who is keeping up a 500 calorie deficit a day will more or less have double the amount of fat loss compared to person 2 who is keeping up a 250 calorie deficit.
If they want to lose the same amount of weight it will take person 2 double the amount time.
One pound of body fat is about 3500 calories. If you manage to stay in a calorie deficit of 500 a day you can expect to lose about 1 pound of body fat per week.
Keep in mind that too big of a calorie deficit can be harmful. In general up to a 500 calorie deficit a day is considered a healthy weight loss rate.
How often do you check
If you don’t see someone for a long time it almost always feels like they’ve changed a lot. When you tell them they often look surprised.
That’s because if you see yourself regularly you don’t notice the changes as much. But if you compare 2 pictures with years between you’ll notice a big difference.
Progress pictures can be helpful to remind yourself how much progress you’ve made.
This is also the same for weight measurements. If you weigh once a week you will notice much bigger progress per time you weigh compared to when you weigh yourself every day.
What to do if you are not noticing results?
Weight loss plateaus happen all the time to almost everyone. It’s not something to panic about.
But not changing anything also isn’t the way to go. It’s time to take a look at your routine and find more things you can improve.
If you reinvent your routine again and again, it’s only a matter of time before you reach the body of your dreams.
You can speed up the process with these 3 essentials to start your weight loss journey.