True or False? Rapid weight loss will help you lose more weight in the long term.
Rapid weight loss has been villainized – and rightfully so. Who really has the time to do a biggest-loser like challenge and keep the weight off?
We know from some of the Biggest Loser participants themselves that they all tend to put back on some pounds, or even more pounds than they lost.
Does this mean losing weight slowly is better? No.
The research is clear. If you lose a significant amount of weight in the beginning, you tend to do better. Don’t fire your trainer yet though, there does seem to be a “sweet” spot in terms of how much you should lose.
In a an interesting study of over 1,300 adults, it was found that those who lose 10% of their weight within a year showed a 59% chance of keeping it off. 10% was the sweet spot for this study.
Let’s assume you weighed in at 220 pounds. 10% of this would be losing 22 pounds within a year. To a fitness coach like myself, this isn’t a huge amount to lose within a year.
The interesting thing about this study was that the individuals who lost a little more weight (like 15% or more) had a higher chance of gaining that weight back. If they lost even more weight (in the area of 20% or more), they had the highest chance of gaining it back.
This points towards a sweet spot for weight loss which you should strive for within one year's time.
Several studies show that those with the fastest weight loss tended to keep that weight off longer. (1,2,3,4)
However, all of these studies show that weight loss which was done faster and generally within 10% to 15% of initial body weight, stood the best chance of stay off.
This is pretty critical for goal setting. If you have an initial weight loss goal, here is a template I created for recommended weight loss within a year's time.
Unfortunately, what these studies show is a lot of people regain significant amounts of weight back. Around 30-50% of individuals who lost some weight will gain the weight back. But, at least, half will keep the weight off.
We've established that between roughly 5% and 15% is a reasonable weight loss goal within a year's time. If you're above or below that?
What happens if you can’t lose 5% of your weight? First, make sure your sleep and stress are manageable. Next, I advise you consult with a professional like myself or a local dietician. The strange thing is that even if you lose 2-4% of your body weight, you are more likely to regain that weight back on compared to if you lose more.
What happens if you lose over 15% of your weight? If you do, you’ll be a lot more likely to keep it off by following some sort of program. A lot of the studies above included weight loss programs that participants followed which allowed them to keep their weight off. The less structure you have, the more likely you are to put your old weight back on.
I’m a huge fan of the Precision Nutrition coaching program which is for one year and amazingly powerful at individuals staying accountable, getting helpful motivation, and learning.
The bias for a lot of us is to assume that if you lose a lot of weight in a short amount of time, you’ll be more likely to gain it back. This is true… but only to an extent. The ideal range weight loss range within a year appears to be between 5% and 15% . If you can stick within this range, and follow at least some program, you’ll stand the highest chance to keep that weight off for good.
1. Toubro S, Astrup A. Randomised comparison of diets for maintaining obese subjects' weight after major weight loss: ad lib, low fat, high carbohydrate diet v fixed energy intake. BMJ. 1997;314:29. [PubMed]
2. McGuire MT, Wing RR, Hill JO. The prevalence of weight loss maintenance among American adults. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord. 1999;23:1314. [PubMed]
3. Bliddal H, Leeds AR, Stigsgaard L, Astrup A, Christensen R. Weight loss as treatment for knee osteoarthritis symptoms in obese patients: 1-year results from a randomised controlled trial. Ann Rheum Dis. 2011;70:1798. [PubMed]
4. Nackers LM, Ross KM, Perri MG. The association between rate of initial weight loss and long-term success in obesity treatment: does slow and steady win the race? Int J Behav Med. 2010;17:161. [PubMed]