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]
A weight loss plateau sucks, pure and simple. You need to ask yourself a few questions if you experience a weight loss plateau.
How fast did I lose weight? If you lost more than 1-2 pounds per week, you may have lost weight too fast.
Everyone has a body weight set point which is the weight which your body settles at if you eat normally. Let's assume your body weight set point is 240 pounds. Now, assume you are eating at the level of a 180 pound person.
If you lose weight too fast, your body weight set point will still be closer to 240 pounds, than 180 pounds. However, the slower you lose the weight (like that of 1-2 pounds every 1-2 weeks), the more you will feel comfortable because you have given time for your body weight set point to adapt.
The bottom line is: Don't lose weight too fast!
How are my stress levels? If you have high stress levels, this will likely affect you eat, how hungry you get, how full you get, how much you exercise you get to do or have motivation for, etc. It also can affect cortisol which has been associated with weight gain.
Regardless, if your stress levels are high, breaking through a weight loss plateau will likely add more stress to your life. This is why for some clients, I tell them to actively maintain their weight or be satisfied with maintenance. No one wants to hear this, but this is the truth, and will help your clients understand that if they really want to make long-lasting changes, they are eventually going to have to do something about their stress levels.
How much sleep am I getting? How much sleep did you get last night, and make a mental note of that. How much sleep did you get the night before and make a mental note of that. If you scored 8 hours or above, you can move on. If not, you need to examine how much sleep you're getting. (And if you think you can thrive on 7 hours while losing weight, you aren't.)
Sleep absolutely affects hunger levels, and can sabotage the best diets in the world. It's associated with weight gain and eating too much.
How is my nutrition? I've known some clients that can go on commercial diets where the diet company provides all the protein bars, protein powders, and snacks. This always leads to rapid weight loss, but eventually fizzles over time.
Without getting in a majority of whole foods, losing all the weight you want to lose will be difficult, if not impossible. Anybody can do the "cabbage soup" diet and lose their first 15 or 20 pounds rapidly. Continuing to lose all your weight, then keeping it off, takes serious work.
Learning to swim is easy. Learning to compete, heck even against good grade school swimmers is challenging. You'll need a coach, lots of practice, learning from your mistakes, etc. to get better. This is what long-term weight loss is unfortunately like for many people. They need help outside themselves. They just don't fully realize that yet.
If you say "yes" to all of the following questions, you may not need to focus on your nutrition.
1. Are you getting in at least 5 total servings of pure fruits and vegetables a day?
2. Are you getting a pure protein source at every meal (like cottage cheese, eggs, beef, seafood, protein powder, etc., and no nuts or seeds count)
3. Are you getting in less than 5 alcoholic drinks per week?
4. Do you eat out at restaurants (including fast food, food trucks, etc) 3 or less times per week?
Even if you answered yes, you will at some point need to improve your nutrition.
What is the best way to avoid a weight loss plateau? It's pretty simple, but not easy.
If it's impossible for you to do any of these, you should consider maintaining your current weight for awhile, until you can focus on your weakest links. If you cannot focus on your weakest links right now, don't worry. At some point, you'll likely be able to work on them (unless you insist on being a masochist for the rest of your life).
A weight loss plateau is not the end of the world. By taking a look at a few key factors, you can determine if you should stay at your current weight, or if you can break through your plateau.
My clients laugh at me when I tell them I got to lose some weight. I'm about 195 pounds and six foot two. What they don't know is that I'll fluctuate anywhere from 185 pounds to 210 pounds. After I put on muscle mass, I need to lose fat.
And, as every knows, the hardest weight to lose is that last 5 or 10 pounds, right? I'll be honest with you, I prefer to lose fat instead of gaining muscle, and it's not because of my metabolism. I've had to learn from experience to be patient, realistic, and strategic about my fat loss. Here are my top seven strategies.
I just put a salad bar in my kitchen to simplify things for my fat loss efforts.
1. Have at least one fruit or veggies (or both) with each meal.
I don't care if my clients have the same fruit or vegetable at every meal. I just want them to get them in. I personally have two to three total with every meal. I've noticed the more you have, the easier it is to have more at each meal.
2. Have a pure protein source with every meal.
This can be yogurt, beef, seafood, whey protein, wild game, chicken, eggs (with not too many yolks because it can get pretty fatty), or whatever else has a lot of protein and not too much carbs or fat.
Also, having a sandwich with two thin slices of ham does not count as a pure protein. It's literally like 5 grams of pure protein. I highly recommend at least 20 grams of a pure protein at each meal regardless if you're a man or woman. Nuts are not a pure protein even if it's peanut butter or almonds. Nuts have much more fat calories compared to protein calories.
3. Don’t get in too much fat.
Healthy fats are great like olive oil, cooking sprays, some butter, fish oil, nuts, and seeds, but you really have to watch the amount you use. If you eat low-carb, you definitely need to watch how much fat you consume.
I personally use a food scale to measure my foods, but you don't have to. Typically, a thumb portion of fat is appropriate.
4. Minimize the In-Between Foods.
I define “in-between foods” as breaded chicken strips, restaurant meals, "healthy" microwave meals, "healthy" fast food meals, protein bars, etc. These are meals which seem okay, but they often contain too many processed ingredients, not enough protein, too much fat, and not enough whole food nutrients.
5. Have a plan, template, or calorie count.
Obviously, you need to have some plan to lose weight. However, I find that without writing down what you eat, calorie counting, or having some template, it's easy to fall apart.
I really like the Precision Nutrition Online Program which I offer. Heck, even with most of my clients who I work with personally, I still have them do this program.
6. Be Slow
You should want to shoot for slow weight loss. Maybe not at first, but eventually, all weight loss should slow down.
This is to your advantage. If you take it slow, your body in the long run will have a much easier time adapting to your new weight. There is a world of difference in losing 100 pounds in two months, and losing it in two years. It'll be nearly impossible to keep 100 pounds off if you lost it in two months because your body set point is still set so high.
A body weight set point is simply where your body prefers to eat at. The only way to change this is by eating at the same level over a long period of time. And, if you don't eat gradually, it will be much harder to keep the weight off.
You know the old adage, "it's a lot easier losing the weight than keeping it off."
7. Maintain When You Need To
I have a client who lost over 50 pounds at the end of the last fall school year through the summer. Knowing he would be going back to school, and get very busy, he realized he could maintain his weight loss by continuing to eat well and get in whatever exercise he could.
Here's the reality. It is far more difficult to choose the goal of "I will maintain" than the goal "I will continue to lose weight."
However, maintenance is a very-appropriate goal at times and people should be proud that they maintained their progress. The flip side is that if you expect to lose weight, and you are not, you are a failure in your own mind. You'll also likely revert back to old habits.
Whenever I am trying to get under 10% body fat, I need to eat at a maintenance level every three to five days. When I do this, I feel normal. However, if you have me go for a week or two, you will oddly appear to be edible if I'm training you. The lower your body fat percentage goes, the more "maintenance" breaks you will need.
Fat loss can be manageable. By making sure are not cheating yourself with too many "in-between meals", and getting in enough high-quality proteins, carbohydrates, and fats, you'll do well.
Please make sure you have an appropriate goal for your lifestyle. If you just had a pair of twins, have a demanding job, and had the in-laws move in to help, please don't add in the extra stress of "losing fat" into the mix.
If you read my blog, you probably round up top in the shoulders like this.
Don't worry, it doesn't mean you're a computer geek. You probably just live in the 21st century. Unfortunately, being rounded over can lead to crappy breathing, low energy, and even low mood. (There's a reason Igor was the way he was in Frankenstein.)
I'll usually see a thoracic spine which is rounded too much (kyphosis), or which is too flat. Sometimes, I'll see both together where the thoracic spine is clearly rounded too much, and segments of it are actually too flat.
In the picture below, it's definitely too flat.
When I see something like the picture below, I'm relieved. But, only for a short bit because we have to assess movement too.
To test movement, we are going to get into a crouched position with arms on floor in front of you.
Use three positions for your arms. Rotate as far as you can up. Use one hand on your head, one hand on your shoulder, and one hand behind your back. The goal is to see if your top shoulder can clear 45 degrees (which is the red line shown in the pictures below). Don't forget to check the left and right side.
One of my favorite go-to exercises to correct a flat or kyphotic curve is the sidelying thoracic rotation mobilization with the foam roller. (Please note that checking the pec and lat length is highly advisable as these are commonly tight and restrict movement of the thoracic spine. We'll go into this later.)
Here is how we do it.
You can use a weighted DB too for assistance if you need to. Remember though, try to move your thoracic spine as much as you can, not just your shoulder.
The thoracic spine is still one of the most problematic areas I see. It can affect your neck, hips, shoulders, and low back. When both alignment and thoracic mobility are optimized, breathing and energy improve, as well as whole upper body performance.
If you practice sitting up tall (but not too tall because you don't want a falt thoracic spine) and practice these mobilizations to make sure your thoracic mobility test is neutral, you'll not only feel better, you'll look better too.