Weight loss can be a long—and at times frustrating—journey, depending on your health condition, fitness level and goals at the start. Seeing the results of your hard work will spur you to keep going. But how long does it take for weight loss to become noticeable to you and to other people? Health experts explain below.
How Long Does It Take for Others to Notice Weight Loss?
Dr. W. Scott Butsch, director of obesity medicine at the Bariatric and Metabolic Institute of the Cleveland Clinic, told Newsweek that it depends on the amount of weight lost.
“Health benefits occur with 5 to 7 percent body weight loss and this is probably where we begin to see changes in the appearance of others.”
This amount of weight loss usually takes a few months but it can vary, in part because “the distribution of our weight, or body fat, varies among people of different ages, gender and ethnicities,” Butsch said.
For example, pre-menopausal women hold their weight in their hips and thighs while men and post-menopausal women hold it more centrally in the belly. In addition, some may lose weight in their faces, which to others may be more noticeable than weight lost from hips or the waist.
Dr. Macklin E. Guzman, chief science officer for the Medi-Weightloss program, told Newsweek that “there are varying opinions and a lot of subjectivity and little research on the topic.” However, “on average, it takes approximately four weeks for others to notice weight loss.”
Guzman also pointed out that a 10-pound loss in one individual “may look completely different” than a 10-pound loss in another. Those with larger frames and bodies tend to “see weight loss a lot quicker” than individuals with smaller frames.
Other factors, such as how often you see someone, can also play a role.
Someone who sees you daily, such as a colleague, may notice your weight loss incrementally versus someone who sees you once a month or every couple of months. Spouses also tend to notice weight loss sooner because they know your body more intimately, Guzman said.
If you want your weight loss to be noticed more quickly, “change your wardrobe from more ill-fitting clothes to ones that are more tailored,” he advised.
Everyone’s body will respond to diet and exercise in different ways. So, there is no hard and fast rule.
Roxana Ehsani (RoxanaEhsani.com), a registered dietitian nutritionist, told Newsweek: “There’s no magic number of days or weeks” by which the changes can be seen.
“It really can vary from person to person and can be dependent on various factors such a person’s body composition, health conditions, age, gender and activity level,” said Ehsani, who is also a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Those who have a higher muscle mass may have an easier time losing weight and experience weight loss more quickly because “the more muscle mass you have, the more you burn at rest,” she explained. On the other hand, people with certain health conditions, such as hypothyroidism, may lose weight more slowly.
Ehsani said: “I would recommend that people refrain from commenting on other people’s bodies, whether it’s positive or negative comments.”
A person with anorexia may be working hard to stop restricting their diet and have started to gain a few pounds. But if a friend or family member makes a comment such as “Looks like you’ve gained weight,” that may trigger the person to revert to their risky habits.
If a person who is underweight and undereating is told “Oh, you look so good,” that could trigger them to “continue to practice unhealthy eating behaviors,” Ehsani warned.
How Long Does It Take for You to Notice Weight Loss?
It can actually take longer for you to notice your own weight loss than for other people to spot it, because we typically underestimate our own body size and weight, according to Butsch.
“Studies have shown that we are less accurately estimating our own body size and the changes in our body weight. However, this may depend on the individual as people lose weight from different areas of their bodies,” he said.
Those who hold their weight mostly in the waist area, as is the case with men, may notice a change in how their trousers fit or that they’re using a different notch on their belt.
Guzman said weight loss was typically noticed in our faces first. According to a Canadian study on the social perception of weight loss, “women and men of average height need to lose or gain approximately 10 pounds for anyone to notice the difference in a face,” he said.
How much weight a person needs to lose for it to be noticeable is also subjective as it depends on your frame and starting body mass index, according to Guzman.
On average, a 15 to 20-pound loss (approximately 2 to 5 percent of your starting body weight) is enough to notice “significant changes in your body,” he said.
You can start seeing differences in yourself as early as two weeks with rapid weight loss. However, most people will notice a significant difference in themselves anywhere between four to eight weeks, Guzman said.
“Keep in mind that without medical supervision, 1 to 2 pounds a week of weight loss is the healthiest alternative. Weight loss may be more drastic and noticeable in a shorter period with medical supervision.”