A common mistake people make when they want to get to a healthy weight is trying to lose body fat too quickly. This either results in a person sacrificing their muscle mass and/or health problems that make their eating habits unsustainable.
The verb "can" has no intrinsic limit in the context of questions like "How much weight can you lose in a week?" or "How fast can you safely lose weight?". Frankly, you can lose a lot of weight in a relatively short time if you just starve yourself and do hours of cardio every day. But will that be healthy or sustainable? Absolutely not.
Assuming you're not cutting down for a sports competition or bodybuilding show, your weight-loss goal should be something you can sustain in the long-term. In other words, you want to follow a diet and exercise regimen that helps you get to a healthy weight and stay there.
This article will walk you through the basics of slimming down and discuss the importance of energy balance when you're trying to lose weight.
Natural bodybuilders are arguably the best subpopulation to study for rapid weight loss and changes in lean body mass. Why, you ask? Well, these individuals typically go to extreme lengths to bring their leanest physique to the stage. As such, they follow a strict diet, are scrupulous about calorie intake, and resistance training is a staple of their exercise routine.
Basically, natural bodybuilders represent the ideal scenario for getting rid of body fat while maintaining as much muscle mass as possible. The emphasis here is on the word "natural" since performance-enhancing drugs like anabolic steroids complicate normal human physiology.
While most gym-goers and fitness enthusiasts aren't looking to get absolutely shredded, research on natural bodybuilders gives us deeper insight into how the rate of weight loss impacts lean body mass.
A recent systematic review of studies on natural bodybuilding competitors found that muscle mass was best retained in individuals who lost an average of 0.5 – 1.0 % of their body weight weekly .
Looking closer at notable case studies on natural athletes preparing for competition, subjects that lost right roughly 0.5% of body weight weekly were able to retain more lean body mass than those that lost 0.7% or 1.0 % weekly [2, 3, 4, 5].
As you can see from the graph above, there is a strong trend between the rate of weight loss and muscle loss. Those who lose weight faster tend to lose greater amounts of lean body mass. This means that optimal rates of weight loss for maximum muscle retention will likely be less than 1 lb weekly for females and around 1 lb weekly for most males. Likely exceptions to this rule are people that are highly overweight/obese since they have a disproportionate amount of body fat to muscle tissue.
In any case, it appears that most people should aim for weekly weight loss in the range of 0.5 to 1.0% of body weight. If you currently weigh 220 lbs, this equates to 1.1–2.2 lbs per week.
So, if you have 20-30 lbs to lose to get to a healthy body weight, it is imperative that you give yourself plenty of time. Rushing the process will only jeopardize your long-term results and well-being.
Research has made it quite clear that energy balance (i.e. calories in vs. calories out) determines whether you lose weight or gain weight . More simply, you must consume fewer calories than you burn if you're trying to lose weight. But how do you determine an appropriate calorie intake for healthy weight loss?
The first step is to determine how many calories you are currently eating. If you are currently tracking your calorie intake in a food journal or app, you're good to go. However, if you do not know your current calorie intake, it will be best to track everything you eat and drink for at least one week, if not two, and monitor any changes in body weight. Doing so will give you a ballpark idea of how much you should eat for healthy weight loss:
You should also have a general sense of your activity habits throughout the week. the more active you are, the more calories you burn and vice versa. Hence, people with low activity levels will have to be even more strict with calorie intake to lose weight.
Regardless of your goals, it behooves you to engage in regular exercise for the myriad health benefits of physical activity . Exercise, particularly a combination of resistance training and cardio, and a calorie-controlled diet go hand in hand for healthy weight loss.
Once you have a gauge of your maintenance calorie intake, you will need to reduce calories below this point in order to enter a calorie deficit and achieve weight loss. Weight loss will not occur if you are not in an energy deficit. Again, weight-loss boils down to calories in vs. calories out.
Now, how much of a calorie deficit is necessary to lose weight at a healthy rate?
Most health and wellness professionals suggest a daily calorie deficit of 500 calories for people trying to lose weight. This is based on the fact that 1 lb of body fat contains roughly 3,500 Calories and there are seven days in a week. Thus, a 500-calorie deficit should theoretically lead to one pound of body fat loss per week. In practice, however, this isn't always the case.
Due to individual differences in metabolism and genetics, some individuals require larger or smaller calorie deficits to lose 1 lb of fat weekly . Therefore, it's wise to err on the side of a smaller calorie deficit initially. From there, you can make small adjustments to your diet to achieve a healthy rate of weight loss (e.g. 1-2 pounds per week).
In addition, keeping your calorie intake as high as possible while maintaining consistent weight loss will give you the flexibility to make additional adjustments if/when plateaus occur along the way.
Losing weight fast is not necessarily ideal. If anything, rapid weight loss is detrimental to both your health and body composition. The most concerning health risk of rapid weight loss is the development of an eating disorder.
If someone is trying to lose 10 pounds per week at all costs, chances are they will exhibit characteristics of anorexia nervosa and/or bulimia nervosa. Food avoidance, chronic extreme food restriction, self-induced vomiting, and excessive/compulsive exercise are all diagnostic indicators of these eating disorders .
In turn, such restrictive behaviors pose serious psychological and physiological consequences since the body is being deprived of vital nutrients that it needs to function properly. Thus, the body slowly starts to “eat away” at itself just to survive. The resultant physical debilitation and life-threatening health risks of rapid weight loss due to an eating disorder may include going into cardiac arrest, fracturing bones, fainting, difficulty breathing, and inability to respond to an infection.
In extreme cases, individuals that lose weight rapidly may need emergency hospitalization to acutely restore essential nutrients — generally via intravenous infusion of glucose, amino acids, and electrolytes.
All too often, people want to know how to lose weight fast. But "rapid weight loss isn't synonymous with healthy, nor is it better for reducing body fat percentage. To reiterate, your weight-loss goal should be sustainable, meaning it improves your overall well-being while helping you get leaner (and keeping it that way once you reach a healthy body weight).
Let's quickly talk about thermogenic supplements and whether or not they can help you lose weight and get results. As a preface, the word "supplement" infers that these products are meant as an adjunct to a healthy diet.
Taking a fat burner will not help you lose weight in and of itself. But in conjunction with a proper eating plan and exercise, there are some supplements — like the PhysiqueSeries Fat Burner — that can support your weight-loss journey with evidence-based ingredients. If you're keen to learn more about natural fat burners, be sure to read: Do Fat Burners Work?
Fad diets are not going to help you lose weight, at least not in the long run. As stated countless times in this article, trying to lose weight fast doesn't mean your results will be better. If your weight-loss plan is too extreme or restrictive, you simply won't stick to it over the long haul.
Don't fall prey to silly periodicals that claim you can lose 20 pounds in a week by eating nothing but a mystical fruit found only in deep tropical regions. Needless to say, stuff like that is complete nonsense.
Instead of looking for a miracle quick-fix, establish a healthy eating plan and activity habits that are sustainable. The long-term health benefits of a balanced, calorie-controlled diet and regular exercise are innumerable so long as you make them a part of your everyday lifestyle.
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