I’m not the sharpest shovel in the shed so don’t laugh at this stupid analogy for losing weight too fast. 

Let’s say you have a flight to catch tomorrow morning. For reasons that elude rational explanation, you choose Thailand or some equally boring place as your vacation destination. It’s an early flight so you have two options to get to the airport: 

  • You take a superbike taxi. Since it’s a superbike, there’s no trunk nor much comfort. So you hold your luggage with one hand and with the other one onto the bike while shitting your pantaloons. Cuz speed. You get an extra hour in bed but have to deal with the possibility of losing some of the luggage along the way (including that stupid Harry Potter book).

  • You wake up an hour earlier and get a taxi. You lose some sleep but at least you get to Thailand with all of your luggage including that boring Harry Potter book (although, the book is so boring that it would help you fall asleep during a flight so you could argue that both options are equal).

And when it comes to losing weight, it has come to my attention that most people choose the superbike option.

They use the shortest amount of time to reach the goal body weight to avoid extended dieting. No matter the consequences. This is understandable. But still silly. And here are two main reasons why.

1. Losing weight too fast can lead to muscle loss

There’s a cool study by Garthe and colleagues where they looked at different weight loss rates on body composition and strength. They split the subjects into two groups:

slow reduction or fast reduction groups. They followed energy-restricted diets promoting the predetermined weekly weight loss. Energy intake was reduced by 19% ± 2% and 30% ± 4% in SR and FR, respectively. They compared weekly BW losses of 0.7% and 1.4%.

Just like I recommended in How to Maintain Muscle Mass When Dieting article, calorie deficit was combined with strength training (four strength-training sessions per week) and adequate daily protein intake of 1.6 g/kg of BW to alleviate the negative consequences on muscle mass and gym performance. Results?

Even though both groups lost a similar amount of body weight, the fast weight loss group lost less fat mass:

Not only that but the fast weight loss group lost lean body mass whereas the slow weight loss group gained some:

To further highlight the level of how badly shit went sideways for the fast weight loss group, gym performance sucked a lot more for it as subjects experienced smaller increases in main lifts:

Now, you might be one of those people who have a metric fugg-ton of weight to lose and you don’t give a flying fugg about losing a couple of pounds of muscle mass. You just want to lose weight as quickly as possible and be done with it. 

If you have a lot of weight to lose, you can get away with a faster rate of weight loss without losing any muscle (assuming adequate protein intake and resistance training). But you then run into another, even bigger problem…

2. Sticking to a severe calorie deficit is really hard

Off to Google. Okay. I’ve found the study to prove my point.

Efficacy of progressive versus severe energy restriction on body composition and strength in concurrent trained women

In this study, participants were randomly assigned to either a severe calorie restriction group (started the study with a severe calorie deficit and stuck with it until the end) or a progressive calorie restriction group (started on a higher calorie intake and then progressively reduced it over the course of the study):

The SER group was instructed to consume 25 kcal·kg−1 FFM from throughout the 8-week duration of the present investigation / the PER group progressively restricted caloric intake, accomplished by a reduction in carbohydrates, as follows: Energy intake for the first two weeks (weeks 1 and 2) amounted to 40 kcal·kg−1 with a similar macronutrient prescription to the SER group. During the next two weeks (weeks 3 and 4), total calorie intake was reduced to 35 kcal·kg−1 FFM. The following month continued in the same fashion, with calories reduced to 30 kcal·kg−1 FFM in the fifth and sixth weeks and then further reduced to 25 kcal·kg−1 FFM in the final two weeks (weeks 7 and 8).

Once again, both groups lifted weights four times per week and consumed adequate protein intake (2 g/kg of BW) to prevent the loss of lean body mass.

At the end of the study, the researchers found no significant differences between the groups for body composition and gym performance.

This sounds weird, I know. A more severe calorie deficit should have caused more rapid and greater weight loss. But it didn’t. Why? Guess what happened. Go ahead, guess. Ok. I’ll tell you.

As I said before, sticking to a severe calorie deficit is really fugging hard. The severe calorie restriction group probably had poorer adherence and ate more than prescribed. Quoting the researchers: 

Scrutiny of participants’ nutritional records in our study revealed that participants in the SER group (severe energy restriction) did not consume the number of calories proposed.”

In sum

Your goal shouldn’t be to lose weight as quickly as possible. It should be to lose unwanted weight in a way that allows you to enjoy some of your favorite foods in moderation while losing fat and maintaining muscle mass so that the process is more sustainable in the long run.

To do that, I recommend a rate of weight loss between 0.5-1% of total body weight per week to most of my clients. Anything within this range is phenomenal progress.

I’ll leave you with the quote by Jordan Syatt and Michael Vacanti

Progress is supposed to be slow. Which sucks, we get it. But just because it’s going slower than you want doesn’t mean it’s not working. Your strength won’t increase as quickly as you want. Your weight won’t drop as quickly as you want. Your muscles won’t become defined as quickly as you want. That’s normal, it’s part of the process, just keep going.”

14-Day Fat Loss For Life Free Course | 8Weeks2Lean Program

Originally published by me on Medium on June 5, 2023

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Ada

    Does the rate of change impact potential skin sag, too? I understand that after a certain point/number of years there’s a limit to how much weights and collagen can do. Curious as to whether rapid change exacerbates this.

  2. Egis R.

    Whether you’ll have skin issues or not comes to the amount of weight you need to lose (for the most part). Excess skin is not a problem for the vast majority of the normal population but is linked to people with obesity and massive weight loss.

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