You’ve heard (over and over again) that gradual weight loss is sustainable weight loss. And you’re totally going to incorporate all of those healthy lifestyle changes that will help you shed your extra pounds and keep them off for good.
But you’ll start all that next month. This month, you’ve got your friend’s wedding and a beach weekend to worry about. So what’s the best way to lose five pounds fast?
Start by ditching salt, says Dana Hunnes, a senior clinical dietitian at UCLA Medical Center. “The average American eats about 4,000 mg of sodium a day, and that can cause you to retain a lot of water weight,” she explains. “Just cutting your sodium way down can help you lose three, four, five pounds very quickly.”
To do that, you’ll want to avoid all packaged products—including cured or deli meats—all of which tend to be loaded with salt. Hunnes says anything under 1,500 mg a day is “really good,” but if you can go lower sticking with fresh foods, even better.
Also on the chopping block: processed carbohydrates. Think breads, pastas, fruit juices and pretty much all snack or dessert foods. “Carbs are hydrophilic molecules, meaning they love water,” Hunnes says. “They make it more difficult for your body to release water from your kidneys through metabolism.”
By ditching both processed carbs and cutting way back on sodium, you’ll lose weight, and it will be the kind around your midsection that people will really be able to notice. “With water weight, you can be bloated and not realize it,” Hunnes says. “I have people do this and say, ‘I can see my abs for the first time!’”
Two important warnings here: If you’re not completely healthy, talk to your doctor before making any changes to your diet, Hunnes says.
Also, if you’re exercising a lot while you’re trying to lose weight—especially if you sweat a ton when you work out—you need to be careful about slashing salt too severely. Sodium is one of the electrolytes your body loses when you sweat. If you’re adding an intense exercise program to your low-salt diet in order to lose weight, you could be at risk for hyponatremia, a potentially life-threatening condition linked with heavy sweating, heavy water intake and too-little sodium consumption.
The risk for hyponatremia is very low, but it’s something to be aware of if you’re really pushing yourself hard by exercising for hours a day while drinking a lot of water and consuming little salt, Hunnes says.
What if you’re already disciplined when it comes salt and processed carbs? You can lose five pounds in two weeks by restricting your diet to one meal and three protein-powder shakes a day, says Dr. Zhaoping Li, director of the Center for Human Nutrition at UCLA’s School of Medicine.
“Your one meal should be non-starchy vegetables—so no beans or potatoes or rice—and lean protein like chicken, fish or eggs,” Li says. “You also want to cook your vegetables, and make them the dominant part of your meal.” Cooking veggies helps your body absorb more of their nutrients, and the protein in your meat and shakes will help keep your hunger in check. Your lone meal should include about three cups of food, and it doesn’t matter if you have it at lunch or dinner, she says.
When it comes to protein shakes, the type of protein—whey or plant-based—doesn’t matter much either. It’s the amount that counts. “Women should have one scoop, or 20 grams of protein, with each shake,” Li says. Men should aim for 30 grams. Mix that protein powder with water or almond milk, but skip dairy milk. (While dairy fat can help you lose weight, it’s not ideal if your goal is short-term rapid weight loss.) “You can have black coffee or water,” Li adds. But skip the cappuccinos or alcohol, which tend to pack a lot of calories per ounce.
When next month (finally) rolls around and you decide to reach a healthy weight for good, doctors have advice about how to do that, too. Here’s everything you need to know about long-term weight loss, from the people who study it and those who have done it.