In the very beginning of the weight loss journey, there are often more questions than answers. How quickly can you lose weight without causing yourself more harm than good? Is it possible to shed kilos as quickly as those guys on The Biggest Loser? Can you lose weight quickly without losing muscles?

If you’re asking yourself any of those questions, you are definitely not alone – those are very important things to ask, and it’s great that you want to understand the physiology of weight loss beyond the simplistic “calories in – calories out” concept.

Perhaps, while doing your research, you came across the “2 pounds per week” rule, which states that healthy weight loss generally should not exceed – you guessed it – 2 pounds per week, unless you are extremely overweight (over 250 lb.), in which case you may be able to go a bit quicker.

Is this rule valid? In short, in most cases health professionals agree – 2 pounds per week is around optimal for most people [1]. Today, we’re going to explore the concept in depth, discovering the science behind it.

2

Why Only 2 Pounds Per Week?

First of all, let us clarify a very important point – as we’ve briefly mentioned earlier, “2 pounds per week” is a benchmark, not an adamant rule for everyone. That is only a general recommendation for setting weekly goals, whereas the exact “safe” amount highly depends on your physiology.

One of the most important factors in this equation is your body size. See, the more fat you carry, the more you can afford to safely lose per week. A good illustration to keep in mind is that 1 pound of fat stores 3,500 calories – so in order to burn it in a week, you need to burn 500 extra calories each day; in case of 2 pounds per week, the amount doubles [2].

Sometimes, faster weight loss can be safe. For instance, if you are extremely overweight, doctors might recommend very low calorie diets at the very start – however, such measures are only temporary and require medical supervision [2].

There are also some diets which may include a so-called “initiation phase” for the first couple of week. Again, these restrictions are only for a very short time, after which you are supposed to gradually go back to the “safety zone” of 1-2 pounds per week [2].

3

Body Weight Vs Body Composition

Another thing to consider is that weight loss is somewhat meaningless unless you also talk about body composition.

Let us explain this a bit better. Your body weight includes all the elements of your body put together, including organs, bones, blood, other bodily fluids, muscles and fat [3]. The proportion of these elements determines how much you weight!

Consider this: 1 pound of fat and 1 pound of muscle tissue are not the same size – in fact, 1 pound of fat is approximately three times the size of the same amount of muscle [4]. This is because muscle is much denser compared to fat while taking less room in our bodies [4]. As a result, it’s quite possible to lose inches without experiencing any weight changes, and the other way around works as well.

Another variable is so-called “water weight”. An estimated 50-60% of our total body weight is water [5], and how much we actually retain depends on our habits. For instance, if you indulge in salty or high-carbohydrate foods, you tend to retain more water, whereas healthier eating habits result in better water balance.

Burn Fat Faster: How Do You Lose More Than 2 Pounds Per Week?

As we’ve previously mentioned, you can sometimes safely lose over 2 pounds per week, although it’s better to discuss with your health practitioner if such approaches are right for you [2].

Simply put, if you wish to lose weight more rapidly, you need to create a greater calorie deficit. There are two ways of doing that – you can opt for increasing your physical activity or reducing energy intake further.

Remember that weight loss is much easier if you have a very large amount to lose, whereas if you’re already quite lean, these temporary “quick fixes” usually cause more harm than good.

proteins-6

You will likely need to eat way too little – around 1000 calories per day, which will decrease your mood and productivity. If you wish to be reasonably energetic at work and need to keep up with your family (like most people do!), while also exercising on a regular basis, we recommend to keep your weight loss slow and steady, as opposed to quick and torturous. Steady weight loss is also more sustainable in a long run [6]  – a wonderful bonus, isn’t it?

For Fast Fat Loss: Less Food Or Harder Training?

Now that we’ve established that to lose weight you need to balance calorie restrictions and increased physical activity, a perfectly logical question to ask is the following “What’s more important?”

There is no easy way to answer this one. Of course, all the exercise in the world will definitely become useless at some point if your diet is completely out of whack. By depriving yourself in essential nutrients contained in wholesome foods, such as vitamins and minerals, you are risking to reduce your metabolism and sabotage your progress [7].

On the other side, skilled exercise professional personal trainers are becoming more and more inventive with training programs which may help seriously boost your metabolism, such as high-intensity training [8].

Therefore, we may conclude that when it comes to weight loss, both components are equally important.

proteins-14

There is no secret, just basic science

It’s very important to understand that while there will always be multiple well-marketed “quick fixes” around, the actual deal with weight loss is much more simple and relies on basic science.

If you tear any “revolutionary new approach” apart, you will see that they all come to the basic principle of calorie balance in the end, even if the advertised claim contains something completely unrelated.

Beware of The Quick Fix

Remember, 1-2 pounds per week is far from “not enough”. In fact, if you think about it, this comes up to whopping 50-100 pounds in only a year! Is that really so slow or is that an astounding transformation?

You don’t gain 50-100 pounds overnight. Perhaps, it’s not very realistic to expect them to vanish overnight?..

References

 

  1. Kenny, T. & Evans, A. (2014). “How weight loss works”. Source: http://patient.info/health/weight-reduction-how-to-lose-weight
  2. Hensrud, D. “Why do doctors recommend a slow rate of weight loss? What’s wrong with fast weight loss?”. Source: http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/weight-loss/expert-answers/fast-weight-loss/faq-20058289
  3. Adams, G. (2015). “What Is the Difference Between Weight & Body Composition?”. Source: http://www.livestrong.com/article/442941-what-is-the-difference-between-weight-body-composition/
  4. (2012). “1KG FAT VS 1KG MUSCLE / SCALES VS MEASUREMENTS”. Source: http://www.h4l.com.au/?p=375
  5. Malina, R.M. (1969) “Quantification of fat, muscle and bone in man.” Clin Orthop Relat Res. 1969 Jul-Aug;65:9-38.
  6. German, A.J. (2016) “Obesity Prevention and Weight Maintenance After Loss.” Vet Clin North Am Small Anim Pract. 2016 Sep;46(5):913-29. doi: 10.1016/j.cvsm.2016.04.011. Epub 2016 May 31.
  7. Hoyt, A. “Diet vs. Exercise: The Truth About Weight Loss”. Source: http://www.webmd.com/diet/features/diet-vs-exercise-the-truth-about-weight-loss#1
  8. Smith-Ryan, A.E., et al (2015) “High-intensity interval training: Modulating interval duration in overweight/obese men.” Phys Sportsmed. 2015 May;43(2):107-13. doi: 10.1080/00913847.2015.1037231.