Weight loss, how quickly should we be losing?
If weight loss is the goal, not only should we consider how much total weight we want to lose, but also how quickly we want to lose it.
Only when we set measurable targets can we measure our success or failure. Otherwise, it would be like aiming to save money but not setting any targets like how much, or by when. How will we track our savings progress and know if we are successful in the quest to save some pennies or not?
The obvious answer of how much weight and how quickly might be ‘as much as possible’ and ‘as soon as possible’ but hold that thought.
On 'The Biggest Loser' it wasn't uncommon for contestants to lose about 3-5kg per week so using this as a measuring stick is reasonable, right?
This sort of exposure to weight loss can glamorise rapid weight loss and set up unrealistic expectations, making a 'dieter' feel like they are failing when really they are perfectly on track!
You see, there are costs and benefits to losing weight either ‘*rapidly’ or ‘**slow & steady’.
*'Rapid', defined in this context as 2% body weight or more per week.
**'Slow & steady' defined as up to 1% body weight per week (For some context, losing 1% of total bodyweight per week for a 70kg person is over 6.5kg in 10 weeks. Not bad!)
Benefits of rapid weight loss:
You can drop weight faster
You don't have to 'diet' for as long
Costs of rapid weight loss:
Increased likelihood of muscle loss
Reduced energy, memory & concentration
Reduced fuel for performance & recovery
Increased chances of weight regain post 'diet' due to excessive feelings of hunger & restriction
Increased potential for binging within the dieting phase
Compromised immune system
Accelerated negative metabolic adaptation
Negative impacts on sleep
Benefits of the slow & steady approach:
Reduced risk of muscle loss
Supporting performance & recovery as best as possible while in a deficit
Decreased impact on the immune system, metabolic rate, sleep, memory & concentration compared to rapid weight loss
Decreasing chances of weight regain post 'diet'
Reduced feelings of hunger & overall restriction
Costs of the ‘slow & steady’ weight loss:
You have to 'diet' for longer.
There is, of course, a 3rd option outside of the 'rapid' and 'slow & steady' approaches to weight loss, and that is the 'start/stop' approach or ‘intermittent dieting’ where dieters restrict caloires for a period of time, then move into periods of increased caloric intake for weight maintenance, and repeat until the desired weight is achieved.
This has been proven to be the most effective approach in ‘The MATADOR’ study (Minimising Adaptive Thermogenesis And Deactivating Obesity Rebound) which looked at long term weight loss success for obese males.
This is not to say that one approach is universally ‘the best’, but rather it’s important to consider the costs and benefits of each before setting your targets to choose the one best for you based on your individual circumstances
If you’re interested in the ‘slow & steady’ approach and are unsure of what that should look like, here is some info to point you in the right direction:
To work out 1% of weight loss for you, simply multiply your body weight by 0.01. Keep in mind, this is UP TO 1%, so even 0.5% can be considered 'successful'. Aaaand weight loss is never a linear journey so some weeks where you don't reach your scale targets are normal. Keep going.
Its also important to keep in mind that the heavier you are, the more you can 'afford' to lose, so the leaner you get, the smaller you should be setting your weekly targets.
*This guidance not directed at those in a ‘comp prep’ for a physique competition that may require harsher weekly targets at points in time.
With all of this in mind, you’re now equipt to make an informed decision on the speed of your weight loss, and understand the costs and benefits of your choice.
Diet Smart. Not Hard