Setting a goal to lose 20 pounds may at times seem overwhelming, and you may get impatient and get desperate to finally hit the finish line, but sustainable weight loss requires creating healthy habits, like switching up your diet and incorporating some fitness into your weekly schedule. While you may take the same approach as someone who just wants to lose a few pounds, say three as compared to 20, Angela Fitch, MD and and Vice President of the Obesity Medicine Association, says that the tools you will have to employ may be a little different. The more weight or percentage of weight you want to lose, the harder it is and the more you need to employ tools that give you a metabolic advantage, Fitch says. Losing more weight will require more of you, such as giving up most of the processed foods in your diet, adopting a new lifestyle like intermittent fasting or working with a professional like a dietician or weight loss expert.

Losing weight is an individual journey, and how fast you lose it depends on factors like genetics, the way you time your eating and your bodys metabolism, but there are a few ways to make sure youre on the right track.

Heres how to safely and sustainably lose 20 pounds.

How long does it take to lose 20 pounds?

It all depends on your body, says Fitch. "20 lbs is not the same for everyone. The issue is what percent of your total weight is 20 lbs." The smaller a percentage of your body weight 20 pounds is, the less difficult it will be to lose it. "So if someone is 200lbs, then 20lbs is 10%. Getting to 10% is something that most people struggle to attain. If someone is 150lbs and they want to lose 20lbs then they are trying to lose greater than 10% and this is even harder to accomplish." Losing a large amount of weight takes commitment and hard work, so you should be prepared for the journey.

Safely losing 20 pounds with fitness and diet alone will take a few months at least. "On average if you are able to lose 0.5 - 1 pound each week you are doing an amazing job and bucking your biology! But the problem is most people are discouraged and disappointed with losing 2 - 4lbs in a month and become discouraged," says Fitch. "The key is to stay motivated and stay the course. Any weight loss is better than gain."

1. Strategize a long-term plan.

Substantial weight loss is not a sprint. Its not even a marathon. Its the rest of your life, says Janet Hamilton, CSCS., an exercise physiologist with Running Strong in Atlanta. It is your new normal.

When you're trying to lose a sizeable amount of weight , its extra critical to find a weight-loss approach that you can envision yourself using, well, forever. After all, a meta-analysis published in the Journal of the American Medical Association concluded that the best diet is one that you can stick with over the long term.

RELATED: 16 Tips For Losing Weight After 40, According To Experts

Adopting a new normal always feels a bit challenging at first. But it shouldn't include deprivation , ditching social events, or blacklisting entire food groups.

2. Master the big stuff.

I always look at trying to lose a large amount of weight like making a sculpture," says Albert Matheny, RD, CSCS, and trainer with SoHo Strength Lab in New York City. When you sculpt something, you have to build a base before you get into details, he says.

Translation: Start with general changes, like integrating more veggies into your meals and eating breakfast every day, as opposed to the nit-picky stuff like switching up the creamer in your coffee. You can work on the finer points after you get the big stuff down pat.

3. But create small goals for yourself, too.

Losing 20 pounds is the same as just dropping a little extra weight. You won't get there in days, and for some, not even months. And if you're trying to drop a substantial amount, that timeline can seriously delay your goal-weight gratification.

Instead of getting hung up on the scale, zone in on other payoffs associated with your new and improved lifestyle. Maybe its sleeping better, having more energy, or being able to run a mile, says Baltimore-based trainer Erica Suter , C.S.C.S. These are all signs that youre making huge progress and getting healthierwhich is the point of losing weight in the first place.

4. Start weight loss-boosting habits.

The silver lining of having a lot to lose is that you can achieve a healthy caloric deficit with relatively small changes to your overall eating habits and exercise routine.

Dont underestimate the benefits of taking your conference calls standing, parking farther from the supermarkets entrance, or having a refillable water bottle on you at all times. Sure, it's not the same as a solid sweat session or eating salads every day, but it will make a dent in your calorie burn.

5. Progressively cut calories.

To lose weight, you need to eat fewer calories than you burn per day. But as you drop pounds, your body doesn't need as many calories to subsist as it did before.

Here's why: Calories are energy. And the smaller your body is, the less energy you burn through each day. Plus, through the process of slimming down, you'll probably lose some muscle, the furnace fueling your metabolism. Finally, the more weight you lose, the harder your body works to hold onto every calorie you consume, a phenomenon known as starvation mode , says Hamilton.

Basically, you require fewer calories to maintain your new weight than someone of the same weight who was never overweight, she says. This last sucky side effect frequently happens to people who lose 10 percent or more of their body weight.

For that reason, staggering the amount of calories you cut as you lose weight can help your body adjust to its new energy intake. Try cutting 500 calories from your daily food intake when you first start out. If a month or two in you start plateauing for two weeks or more, you might need to cut another 100 calories, says Matheny. Still, it's important to make sure you never get below 1,200 calories per day.

6. Add more plants and veggies to your diet.

Whole foods, like plants and veggies, will do more for your calorie burn than processed meals. "The less processed the food is, the more energy it takes for your body to break it down. So in effect, the more energy it takes to break it down the more calories it burns to eat it. This is called the thermic effect of food," says Fitch. Processed foods, like white bread for example, take little energy to process resulting in your body absorbing more of its calories.

Plants and veggies also tends to have higher amounts of fiber, which does wonders for keeping you feeling full for longer.

RELATED: 32 High-Fiber Snacks To Fuel Your Day, According To Nutritionists

7. Eat more protein.

"Protein has the highest thermic effect of any food, meaning it takes a lot of energy to process and break down protein." This is a good thing for your net calorie balance, as it speeds up your metabolism. Fitch also notes that protein is needed to build strong muscles and the more muscle you have the better you're able to effectively burn calories, even when you're at rest .

Lift something heavy.

We beat this drum a lot around here because, hey, strong is the new sexy. And when it comes to weight loss, more strength training = more fat loss . Like we said, as you lose weight, your basal metabolic rate (the number of calories you burn just breathing) drops, along with your lean muscle mass.

Strength training is your best bet to combat both issues, says Suter. Aim to hit the weight room three to five days per week, depending on your resistance training experience and how hard you plan to work out during each session.

Get more sleep.

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