Patience. It's the one thing you never seem to have when you've got a body fat problem. You want the fat gone and you want it gone now! And why not? It seems so do-able. Everywhere you look, you read and hear promises of quick weight loss and you even see people losing weight quickly. We have reality TV shows that actually encourage people to attempt "extreme" body makeovers or see who can lose weight the fastest, and the winners (or shall we say, the losers), are rewarded generously with fortune, fame and congratulations.
Let's face it. Everyone wants to get the fat off as quickly as possible - and having that desire is not wrong – it's simply human nature. However, you must become aware of some serious problems that can occur if you try to force it and lose weight too quickly. The faster you lose weight, the more muscle you will lose with the fat, and that can really mess up your metabolism. An even bigger problem with fast weight loss is that the loss just won't last. The faster you lose, the more likely you are to gain it back. Think about it: We don't have a weight loss problem today, we have a "keeping the weight off" problem.
Weight loss will be the healthiest, safest and most likely to be permanent if you set your goal for about two pounds per week (and even if you lose only a single pound each week, that is healthy progress). This is the recommendation of almost every legitimate and respected dietician, nutritionist, exercise physiologist and personal trainer, as well as exercise organizations such as the American College of Sports Medicine and the American Dietetic Association.
Are there any exceptions to this rule? Is it ever okay to lose more than two pounds per week? The answer is yes. It may be ok to lose slightly more than two pounds per week if you have a lot of weight to lose because the rate of weight loss tends to be relative to your total starting body weight. Generally the rule is that it's safe to lose up to 1% of your total body weight per week, so if you weigh 300 lbs to start, then 3 lbs a week is a reasonable goal.
But there IS a catch.
What really matters is not how much weight you lose, but how much FAT you lose. Where did your weight loss come from? Did you lose body fat or lean body mass?
"Weight" is not the same as "fat." Weight includes muscle, bone, internal organs as well as lots and lots of water. What you really want is fat loss, not weight loss. If you only wanted weight loss, I could show you an easy way to lose 20 or 25 pounds in about 5 minutes. Just come over to my house. I have a really sharp hacksaw in my garage, and we'll just slice off one of your legs, after all it's just extra "weight" right?
Let's look at an example with some numbers so you can really grasp this concept of weight versus fat and then you can see, clearly illustrated, what will happen when you lose weight too quickly (because I know you probably don't believe me and you STILL want to lose weight as fast as possible… read on and it will all become clear to you).
As an example, let's take a 260 pound man who has a lot of body fat to lose - let's call it 32%. With 32% fat, a 260 pounder has 83.2 pounds of body fat and 176.8 pounds of lean mass. Using this example, let's look at a few possible scenarios with losses ranging from two to four pounds per week.
Weight Loss Scenario 1:
Suppose our 260 pound subject loses four full pounds instead of the recommended two pounds per week. Is this bad? Well, let's see:
If he loses a half a percent of body fat, here are his body composition results:
31.5% body fat
80.6 lbs fat
175.4 lbs lean body mass
Out of the four pounds lost, 2.8 pounds were fat and 1.2 were lean mass. Not a disaster, but not good either. Thirty percent of the weight lost was lean tissue.
Weight Loss Scenario 2:
If he loses a half a percent of body fat and only three pounds, here are his results:
31.5% body fat
80.9 lbs fat
176.1 lbs lean body mass
These results are better. Although he lost less body weight than scenario one, in this instance, 2.3 pounds of fat and only 0.7 lbs of lean mass were lost.
Weight Loss Scenario 3:
What if he only lost two pounds? Here are the results:
31.5% body fat
81.2 lbs fat
176.8 lbs lean body mass
These results are perfect. Even though our subject has only lost two pounds, which seems slow, 100% of the two pound weight loss came from fat.
Weight Loss Scenario 4:
Now let's suppose he loses three pounds but he loses more body fat: .8%
31.2% body fat
80.2 lbs fat
176.8 lbs lean body mass
These are the best results of all. When the weekly fat loss is .8%, 100% of the three pounds lost is fat.
So the answer to the question is yes - it's safe to lose more than two pounds per week… but only if the weight is all fat or at least mostly fat with minimal lean mass losses.
If you take example one – with thirty percent lean tissue loss and compound that over a few months, you're talking about a massive muscle tissue loss which can dramatically slow down your metabolism and turn you into nothing more than a "skinny fat person" (a person with low body weight because they lost so much muscle, but still holding stubborn body fat because they shut down their metabolism).
One thing you should know is that water weight losses sometimes distort the numbers, especially when you first begin a new nutrition and training program. It's very common to lose 3 - 5 pounds in the first week on nearly any diet and exercise program and often even more on low carb diets. Just remember, its NOT all fat - WATER LOSS IS NOT FAT LOSS!
The best advice I can give you is to focus on losing fat, not losing weight. If you lose three to five pounds per week, and you know it's all fat, and not lean tissue, then more power to you!
Of course the only way to know this is with body composition testing. For home body fat self-testing, I recommend the Accu-Measure skinfold caliper as first choice. Even better, get a multi site skinfold caliper test from an experienced tester at a health club, or even a water (hydrostatic) or air (bod pod) displacement test.
From literally hundreds of client case studies, I can confirm that it's rare to lose more than 1.5 - 2.0 lbs of weight per week without losing some muscle along with it. If you exceed 2.0 to 3.0 pounds per week, the probability of losing muscle is extremely high. If you lose muscle, you are damaging your metabolism and this will lead to a plateau and ultimately to relapse.
Lack of patience is one of the biggest mistakes people make when it comes to losing body fat. If you want to lose FAT, not muscle and you want to keep the fat off for good, then you have to take off the pounds slowly.
This is one of the toughest lessons that overweight men and women have to learn - and they can be very hard learners. They fight kicking and screaming, insisting that they CAN and they MUST lose it faster.
Then you have these TV shows that encourage the masses that rapid, crash weight loss is okay. To the producers of these shows, I say SHAME ON YOU! To the personal trainers, registered dieticians and medical doctors who are associated with these programs, I say DOUBLE SHAME ON YOU, because you of all people should know better.
The rapid weight loss being promoted today by the media for the sake of ratings and by the weight loss companies for the sake of profits makes it even harder for those of us who are legitimate fitness and nutrition professionals because our clients say, "But look at so and so on TV - he lost 26 pounds in a week!"
Sure, but 26 pounds of WHAT - and do you have any idea what the long term consequences are?
Short term thinking, folks… foolish. There are hundreds of ways to lose weight quickly, but only one way to lose fat and keep it off in the long term.
Do it the right way. Take off the pounds slowly, steadily and sensibly with an intelligent nutrition and exercise program, measure your body fat, not just your body weight, and make this a new lifestyle, not a race, and you will never have to take the pounds off again because they will be gone forever the first time. No more yo-yoing.