Thats because the process of shedding weight can depend on several factors including your basal metabolic rate, starting weight, sleep schedule and more. When someone asks, how much weight can I lose in a month?, , says she really cant answer that. Weight loss is not linear, Shalek says.

The most important part of weight lossaside from actually making your own decision to lose weight and doing it for yourselfis to do it in a healthy way (which also leads to a more sustainable weight loss). That means no crash dieting or exercise binging. But here's the million-dollar question: How much weight can you lose in a short amount of time and still make sure you're doing it in a healthy way? (Because, yeah, nobody wants to be dieting forever.)

So, how much weight can I lose in a month?

There's not one set number, says Christine Santori, RDN, program manager for Center For Weight Management in Northwell Healths Syosset Hospital in Syosset, New York.

It takes 3,500 fewer calories per weekor 500 fewer calories a dayto drop one pound of weight.

The amount of weight one can lose in a monthand still be healthyreally depends on factors, like age, sex, starting weight, caloric intake, caloric deficit, and exercise," says Santori. These variables all play a role in how quickly you can drop pounds. And in terms of what's safe, Matthew Weiner, MD says it's not so much about the number of pounds lost, but the method used. "I think theres means that people will take to achieve weight loss which are unsafefor instance, consuming 600 or fewer calories a day is very unsafe. Using a high doss of stimulant drugs like phentermine is probably unsafe," Weiner says.

That being said, when it comes to weight loss, people who lose weight gradually and steadily (about 1 to 2 pounds per week) are more successful at keeping it off, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention . That adds up to about 4-8 pounds a month. The story's a little different for those looking to lose 100 pounds or morein that case, you can shed up to 20 pounds in one month. Though "some of that is just water," says Santori. And Weiner who often works with bariatric patients says, "the more weight lost the better." As long as you're doing it in a healthy way.

Okay, fairbut how do I even get started?

You're going to have to look at your daily calorie intake. In general, you should aim to cut 500 calories out of your daily meal plan to lose a pound each week, says Irene Franowicz, an RD at Spectrum Health in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

"It takes 3,500 calories less per weekor 500 less calories a dayto drop one pound of weight in a week." Following that math, to drop two pounds in a week youd have to cut 1,000 calories a day. Thats a big change, Franowicz says.

But there are some easy ways to cut out those calories. It can be something as simple as taking some time to clear your mind (think: meditation or a mid-day yoga sesh). Stress ramps up your fat-storing hormones and often leads to bad food choices. In a study of women over 50, those who felt stressed during the previous 24 hours took in 104 more calories than relaxed women did.

But losing weight also depends heavily on what you're eating. Here are a few dietary tips you can follow to cut down on calories:

  • Have your sandwich on a salad: Two big slices of bread with mayo can tally up to 550 calories.
  • Skip the happy hour margs: Chains that serve margaritas in 18-ounce glasses are tacking on roughly 800 calories. That's more than a meal's worth of calories.
  • Opt for black: A grande latte with no added sugar has 220 calories, while a cup of black coffee has two. (Brew your own coffee at home with Prevention's coffee essentials .) If you typically drink two cups with some sweetener, you're saving at least 500 calories when you switch to black, says Platkin.
  • Try a iced brew: You'll save about 405 calories over a Starbucks Grande Mocha Frappuccino.
  • Chew slower: Chewing each bite twice as much as you normally do allows you to feel fuller on less food. Research suggests you can reduce what you eat at each meal by 100 to 120 calories (eliminating nearly 400 calories) and you can be satisfied on smaller snacks this way, as well.
  • Quench thirst with water and lemon: You'll save nearly 200 calories for every cola you skip. Swap out three drinks a day, and you'll easily clear 500 calories.
  • Cook meals at home: A 2014 study found that people who cooked dinner at home consumed about 140 fewer calories than people who typically ordered in, dined out, or heated up pre-made meals. Make your own breakfast and lunch and you'll be nearing that 500-calorie deficit.
  • Dont sit still: A Mayo Clinic study found that people who fidgeted throughout the day burned 350 more calories than their sedentary counterparts. Head out for a stroll during your lunch hour to burn an additional 150 calories.
  • Ask you waiter to box up half your meal: You'll save about 750 calories on average, according to a new study . Researchers found that a typical meal at an American, Italian, or Chinese restaurant contains nearly 1,500 calories , which is far more than anyone needs at one meal.
  • Swap prime rib for sirloin: You'll cut about 700 calories. A 16-ounce prime rib at a restaurant has about 1,400 calories. A sirloin steak, on the other hand, is only 700. For even bigger savings, chose filet mignon. Typically, it's nine ounces and just 450 calories.
  • Put fork down between bites: Slowing your pace at meals allows you to eat up to 300 fewer calories a meal, according to a study in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association. In 24 hours, your savings will be well over 500 calories.
  • Get 7-8 hours of sleep: You'll cut at least 300 calories. Research shows that sleep deprivation slows our metabolic rate and increases our appetite for sweets. One study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that people who slept four hours per night consumed 300 more calories than people who slept a normal amount. Well-rested folks are also much more likely to exercise, and even a short workout can burn 200 calories.
  • Workout before breakfast, dont eat after 7 pm: The combination will save about 520 calories. A recent Japanese study found that when you exercise before breakfast, you metabolize about 280 more calories throughout the day, compared with doing the same workout in the evening. A study in the British Journal of Nutrition reveals that eliminating nighttime snacks helped people consume 240 fewer calories daily.
  • Dont dip your bread in olive oil: Just a few slices will adds up to more than 500 caloriesand it won't put much of a dent in your hunger. Yes, olive oil is a healthy option, but as a condiment, it mostly adds calories. Instead, avoid the bread plate altogether.
  • Eat in front of a mirror: A study published in the Journal of the Association for Consumer Research found that when people watched themselves eat in a mirror , they chose healthier options and ate about 400 fewer calories on average.
  • Mix up your walks: A study in Biology Letters found that adding short, fast bursts to your walks will burn up to 20 percent more calories, even over speed walking. That means an hour-long walk could easily burn an extra 90 to 120 calories. Exposing yourself to cold air also burns extra calories by making the body more sensitive to the hunger hormone leptin. Study participants who spent three hours of the day exposed to cold burned 250 extra calories.
  • Dont touch the chips and salsa: Those deep-fried salty chips at your favorite Mexican restaurant offer little nutritional benefit. One basket of them packs a 645-calorie punch. The balance of salt and satisfying crunch also makes it nearly impossible to stop noshing. (Satisfy your chip cravings with these 5 healthy veggie chips.)
  • Eat mushrooms instead of meat: In a Johns Hopkins study , people who substituted mushrooms for red meat ate 444 fewer calories, enjoyed their meal just as much, and felt just as full. The only thing missing? The calories.
  • Put away your phone during lunch: People who looked at their phone during lunch, whether to peruse social media or to lose themselves in Candy Crush, tended to not remember their meal well, feel less full, and snack more in the afternoon. Plus, they ate about 200 more calories a day, according to a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
  • Chew gum and drink even more water: When volunteers in a University of Rhode Island study chewed sugar-free gum for an hour in the morning, they ate 67 fewer calories at lunch. Do the same thing in the afternoon and you'll more than double your savings at dinner. Plus, people who drank an additional one to three glasses of water a day cut food intake by 205 calories, according to a new study in the Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics.

But it doesn't have to be totally diet-dependent. Calories burned while exercising can make a difference too, says Franowicz. Remember, calories give your body the energy it needs to function , but can also be stored as fat. To keep that from happening you have to a) reduce your calorie intake or b) increase your physical activity. But if you want to lose fat and gain muscle at the same time (which you do!), you're going to want to do both.

"A great way to achieve the 500-calorie deficit is to divide it in half, maybe cut out 250 calories a day from food and burn an extra 250 more a day through movement to equal 500 calories," she says.

That way, says Franowicz, you won't feel deprived that that you're making too drastic of a change to your diet that won't be sustainable in the long runbecause the goal isn't just losing weight, but keeping it off.

Here are a few exercises Shalek recommends to cut down the calories and build muscle:

  • Walk on the treadmill or elliptical for 30 minutes.
  • Do a 20-30 minutes pilates or barre class.
  • Walk long, not short distances to build up leg muscles. Try to get in at least 10,000 steps a day.
  • Do a 15-20 minute HIIT workout.
  • Add in some structured strength training a few times a week. 15-minute weight lifting sessions using 5-pound hand weights can go a long way in building muscle.

Something important to remember when it comes to calorie counting and calories burned, however: It varies between people. "The number of calories one needs to maintain weight or promote weight loss is based on height, age, and weight, and is individual to the person," says Santori. That means you may have to experiment to find what works for your body.

What about after weight loss surgery?

Well, it depends on the kind of procedure you had, Weiner says. With a gastric bypass, most of his patients will lose 10 percent of their total body weight within 6 weeks after the surgery. With a sleeve gastrectomy, Weiner says the process takes a little longer, with most patients seeing their 10 percent drop within 8-10 weeks post-operation.

So what's the difference between the two surgeries. A gastric bypass anatomically changes the shape of your stomach, shifting around your intestines. Whereas a sleeve removes about two-thirds of your stomach, but preserves the general or natural flow of intestines.

"A gastric bypass results in more powerful hormonal changes than a sleeve," Weiner says. And the primary determinant that drives weight loss in this case is hormonal. But even after surgery there are uncontrollable variables that will determine a patient's ability to lose weight. Its really genetics that are driving the difference as opposed to lifestyle changes, Weiner says.

Ultimately though over time, most of Weiner's patients lose the weight within the first year of their surgery.

How much weight loss is too much in a month?

Any sign of unintentional weight loss, you should be monitoring. Many of Weiner's bariatric patients have experienced unplanned weight loss at some point and welcomed it. But according to the doc, "unintentional weight loss is one of the most worrisome things that a patient can tell a doctor." Why? Because it can be sign of some serious health conditions (think: cancer, ulcers or systemic infection). If youre not consciously modifying your eating and exercise plan and are losing weight, Weiner recommends checking in with your doctor ASAP.

But if you have been modifying your diet and exercise, most experts suggest sticking to one to two pounds a week, as advised by the CDC. David A. Levitsky, PhD, professor of nutrition and psychology at Cornell University's College of Human Ecology doesn't recommend losing more than 10 percent of your initial weight, unless medically necessary.

Pro tip: According to Santori, even modest weight loss can produce beneficial results. Weight loss of 5 to 10 percent of total body weight is associated with improvements in blood pressure, blood cholesterol, and blood sugars.

But it's important to watch your calorie count. Franowicz doesn't recommend dipping below 1,200 calories a daythe lowest calorie threshold she recommends. "Very low-calorie diets can result in fatigue and physical activity is such an important part of [weight loss]. If people are too tired to exercise, then this is a sign you are too low in calories," she says.

Another important thing to remember: The number on the scale shouldn't be your main focus. If you're also adding some exercise (through cardio and strength training) to your workouts, you might also see smaller overall weight lossabout half a pound a weekbut how your body looks and feels is a better measure of progress, says Santori. "As we already know, muscle weighs more than fat," she says, adding that you may see inches come off or clothes fit more comfortably as opposed to a major dip on the scale.

The bottom line: For healthy, sustainable weight loss, aim to lose one to two pounds per week, or four to eight pounds per month.