You don’t just want to be lean. You want to be lean NOW! Unfortunately, your body does not share your enthusiasm for rapid fat loss. In this article, you’ll learn why is it better to lose weight slowly, how slowly and how exactly to implement that into your weight loss journey
I’m often asked what’s the biggest mistake people make when losing weight. And my answer is that people tend to have unrealistic expectations of weight loss progress.
Sure, everyone wants to become a Fat-Burning Wizard and drop that flab of the belly quickly but is it the best way? Is losing weight faster will result in losing FAT faster?
You see, you have to put your body under stress to force it to drop fat. As with any type of stress, too little won’t cause any adaptation and too much can (literally) kill you.
So to transform your body into your ideal physique, knowing the OPTIMAL amount of stress is crucial.
In this article, I’ll tell you what the optimal amount of stress is and answer the question of how fast weight loss should be.
The Case Against Fast Weight Loss #1
Since humans crawled out of the primordial soup and lost their tails, they want results NOW.
That’s why we now have FAD diets like paleo, Atkins, South Beach, Slim Fast, low-carb, low-fat… They all promise a quick fix (sure…).
I’m sure you have been on one of those diets. Haven’t you?
Some of them might have even worked (temporarily at least) but eventually you found yourself gaining all weight back and being fatter and sicker…
These diets we are sold are not sustainable. Period. No one can have an active and fulfilling life if they’re not eating enough food to support their activities.
Make sure to read our article on creating a sustainable diet plan.
We ‘fail’ the diets because the diets are unrealistic and unsustainable. We get fatter with each successive diet.
We train our bodies through the restriction to adapt quickly to insufficient calorie intake so that with each diet it becomes harder and harder to lose weight, and easier and easier to regain it.
When these diets put you on a very low-calorie diet regimen (VLCD) for the hope of losing weight fast, your thyroid hormone, growth hormone, insulin, insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1) and testosterone production plunge.
A slight decrease in these hormones is normal when you start dieting but too much will hinder weight loss. Your metabolism will decrease thus, to keep losing weight at a fast pace, you will have to cut calories even more.
And even if you do cut calories more, this might not translate into additional FAT LOSS! Yep, that’s right…
One study compared a calorie deficit of 25%, the one that I suggested in 5 steps to make belly fat go away article, and a VLCD of 890 calories.
Subjects on the VLCD diet lost more weight (which was expected) but the ratio of muscle to fat loss was considerably higher too!
That is, the fat loss was not proportional to the size of the deficit. The 890 calorie diet created a deficit twice as large as a 25% restriction but it resulted in less than twice as much fat loss!
These findings weren’t the only ones. More studies found the same pattern (source 1, 2).
In another study, trained athletes were put on slow weight loss and fast weight loss. At the end of the study, the slow weight loss group decreased fat mass by 31% compared to just 21% in the fast weight loss group!
Slow weight loss group also GAINED 2.1% of lean mass whereas fast weight loss group lost 0.2% of lean mass (source).
Another study looked into the effects of different VLCDs with groups eating 420, 660 and 800 calories per day. No significant differences in weight losses were found despite lower calorie intake (source).
This brings me to the most important part:
It’s true that the higher the calorie deficit you create the more weight you lose.
UP TO A POINT!
The total amount of FAT loss decreases the higher the deficit is. Muscle loss becomes more severe but you don’t know that because all you see are these -2 pounds per week…
The Case Against Fast Weight Loss #2
The issues I just raised are just a drop in the bucket of many issues related to fast weight loss. Here is another biggie…
I’m sure you know that dieting raises cortisol levels (stress hormone).
Now let’s combine a drastic calorie deficit and cardio because we all know that’s the first thing people start doing for losing weight faster.
Tons of cardio…
Cardio also raises cortisol levels. So now we have cortisol going through the roof.
Little known fact that cortisol causes water retention.
Now imagine this situation which, I’m sure, you’ve been in:
When you start dieting it’s all rainbows and sunshine in the first 3-4 weeks. But then, weight loss plateaus. You don’t know why… The weight hasn’t moved for two weeks!
You start stressing mentally which raises cortisol even more. You cut calories even harder and do more cardio. This makes everything worse…
Now you have all that cortisol and it makes your body retain water weight. It will appear that your diet is not working anymore. You will lose your absolute shi*.
You call it a day. No more dieting. Next time. Love handles come back within the next couple of weeks…
But it doesn’t stop there, my hypothetical reader friend…
I talked about leptin in eating carbs at night article. In short, leptin is the hormone that signals to the brain about energy stores in the body and how much you’re eating. It’s also called the satiety hormone.
When you want to lose weight fast and you apply a massive calorie deficit, leptin levels drop. And pretty much everything bad that happens with dieting is controlled, to some degree by leptin.
That said, when leptin drops, metabolic rate slows down, hunger increases, thyroid goes down, you get lethargic, testosterone drops…
On top of that, recall that you already have cortisol going through the roof.
According to Lyle Mcdonald, cortisol, among its other fun features, causes leptin resistance in the brain. Leptin resistance means that leptin doesn’t send a sufficient signal to the brain.
So along with cortisol skyrocketed and physiological stress that a massive calorie deficit brings, you also have leptin resistance. This leads to being hungry CONSTANTLY because there is an insufficient signal by leptin to the brain that would tell the brain “YO, I’m full!”.
After all that said, I think we can agree on this:
There is not a single good thing that comes with losing weight fast…
You lose more weight but not fat. You retain more water. Cortisol levels shoot up. Leptin drops. Hunger increases. Satiety decreases. The metabolic rate slows. Thyroid goes down. Testosterone drops.
Now that we know that it’s better to lose weight slowly, let’s see what are the weight loss rates.
The Rates Of Losing Weight Slowly And Steadily
When someone says “I want to lose 4 pounds per week”, my head automatically starts shaking in a “no” fashion. Just…no.
Slow weight loss is the way to go and we already established that. However, what “slow weight loss” even means?
If you dig into the scientific literature, you won’t get a definitive breakdown of what can be expected in terms of the optimal weight loss rates.
Fortunately, I stumbled upon these numbers by Alan Aragon. They are pretty much the same that I have witnessed from over a decade of my online client case studies.
Here are realistic monthly rates of weight loss:
It bears mentioning that, higher rates of weight loss are possible. However, these are the rates that will keep muscle loss, cravings and massive hunger to a minimum.
Continuing in this vein, here is a simpler look at weight loss rates for those who are too lazy to do percentage calculations:
I’m smart enough to know that the figures on these charts don’t mean jack without specific ways to reach them. So the next chapter is going to be an “actionable tip” part.
The Optimal Calorie Deficit
I’ve already mentioned in 5 steps to lose stubborn belly fat article about 25% calorie deficit being the way to go. This time, I’ll take a step even further and dive even deeper.
Let’s dig into the study that compared diets with 10%, 20%, and 25% caloric deficits to find out what the optimal deficit is (source).
Here are the results where CR stands for a calorie deficit, FM for fat mass and FFM for fat-free mass:
As you can see, even though the weight loss differed, fat lost was very similar between groups. Thus, a higher calorie deficit doesn’t guarantee more FAT loss!
Another point is that 20% and 25% deficits resulted in higher muscle loss. 10% deficit even resulted in a small muscle gain.
Image Source: revivestronger
So what’s the take from all that goofy, sciency stuff?
It’s clear that fast weight loss is not the way to go. It’s better to lose weight slowly. As Menno Henselmans puts it…
It’s always important to meet the nutritional demands of your body and even more so during a weight loss diet. The more stress you put on your body, the more aggressive it will fight back
The public needs to realize that achieving significant weight loss is a monumentally challenging, mind-numbing, daily grind. It’s not a stroll through the park where you simply cut 1000 calories and look like a superhero in a month.
You need to lose weight slowly. BE SMART! Your goal is not to lose weight. Your goal is to lose FAT and preserve muscle mass!
Here are my guidelines to lose FAT efficiently:
- Create a calorie deficit of 5-25%. The leaner you are, the closer to 5% you can be and vice versa, the more weight you carry, the closer to 25% you can wallow around.
- Leaner individuals shouldn’t lose more than 1% of their body weight weekly.
- If you’re losing weight in a worse than 4 to 1 fat to muscle ratio, you’re messing things up. Check your calorie deficit, protein intake, recovery, training volume…
So is it better to lose weight slowly? – Absolutely FREAKN’ YES!
You can’t go wrong with slow weight loss. Contrary to that, you can and you probably will do a lot more harm by trying to lose more weight than your body allows you.
If you’re like most mortals, then you may have a laundry list of questions on calculating the right calorie and macronutrient intake.
That’s where my online coaching program comes in. I’ll equip you with everything you need to lose weight and keep it off for life!