The Problem with Losing Weight Fast & 4 Things to Do Instead
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You want to lose weight as fast as possible. When you have a big event coming up or you’re fed up with the way you look and want change now, it can be hard to integrate the patient, gradual behavior changes that will lead to sustainable weight loss and — more important — excess fat loss.
According to Sarah Musleh, co-founder and endocrinologist at Anzara Health, different people will lose various amounts of weight in one to two weeks depending on factors like how overweight they are, their gender, activity level, metabolism, and energy intake.
“With extreme caloric restriction, you could in theory lose several pounds per week, but this is definitely not the healthiest way to lose weight or maintain weight loss,” she said.
If you step onto the scale after two weeks of restricting yourself, you may find that you’ve lost a lot of weight. But the mass you lost could include water and a combo of muscle and fat. This isn’t ideal for long-term weight loss because the more lean muscle mass you have, the more calories you burn overall.
“As a person restricts, their Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) — that’s the calories needed to maintain your body functions for life (breathing, brain function, and heart rate) — will be lowered in an attempt to keep the body in homeostasis,” said Kimberly Gomer, MS, RD, LD/N, and director of nutrition at Body Beautiful Miami. “So BMR slows, and each time a person loses, gains, and loses, it gets harder and harder to lose weight.”
Instead of trying to lose a lot of weight in a short amount of time, aim to lose one pound or a maximum of two pounds per week, Musleh suggested.
“The beauty of slow and steady weight loss is that the process is not as painful,” said Musleh. “You’re a lot more likely to maintain your new goal rather than yo-yoing and regaining weight after you have reached your goal.”
To be clear, you can lose some weight quickly — a maximum of about four pounds in two weeks — in a way that’s sustainable.
We spoke with Musleh and other health and weight loss experts, and they recommend these four strategies to start losing weight:
Choose your calories wisely
Exercise, but don’t overdo it
Employ back-up support
We also include advice about how to integrate these weight loss strategies into your routine so you lose fat and keep muscle.
A word of warning though: Our tips aren’t personalized for you. We recommend that you consult a doctor and, if you're up for it, talk to a personal trainer who can build you a custom plan.
1. Be Choosy With Your Calories
Conventional weight reduction advice suggests introducing a caloric deficit each day — the standard recommendation says to cut 500 calories per day through eating a lot less or a combination of eating less and burning more through exercise.
If you’ve tried this approach and failed, you’re not alone. It’s tedious to count calories, track portions, and exercise more, not to mention improbable you’ll get accurate numbers for how many calories you eat and burn each day through trackers and exercise gadgets.
“Start with looking at the foods you’re eating and choose more nutritious options from there,” Rob Guthrie, ISSA-certified Master Trainer who coaches Kickoff clients, suggested. “You'd be surprised at the amount of calories you can save by cutting out some less nutritious food and going to more fresh fruits and veggies and other whole food sources.”
What can this look like in real life?
Avoid highly processed foods and foods with added sugar.
Limit or omit alcohol. Research suggests that calories from alcohol “count more” in overweight and obese people who follow high-fat diets.
Prioritize vegetables, fruits, high-fiber whole grains, protein, and unsaturated fats like olive oil and wild salmon.
Swap sugary desserts for fruit; syrup-sweetened lattes for black coffee; soda for sparkling water; fruit-flavored yogurt or kefir for plain varieties; and artificial sweeteners for monk fruit, allulose, or small amounts of dates, unsweetened apple sauce, or mashed banana.
Visualize portion sizes: one 4-ounce serving of protein is the size of your palm, the front of your closed fist is ½ cup, your clenched fist is the size of 1 cup, your fingertip is 1 teaspoon, and your thumb is 2 tablespoons.
Drink enough water. The U.S. National Academy of Sciences & Medicine recommends the following daily water amounts for sedentary people in a temperate climate: 3.7 liters (16 cups) for adult men and 2.7 liters (11 cups) for adult women. These recommendations can change based on total fluid intake, activity level, and climate.
2. Exercise, But Don’t Overdo It
Groundbreaking research from Dr. Herman Pontzer, author of Burn: The Misunderstood Science of Metabolism, shows that our body fat percentage and how intensely we exercise influences how many calories we ultimately burn. Pontzer and his team studied the physical activity of more than 300 people in five population groups and learned that when it comes to exercise, more (intensity and duration) doesn’t lead to burning more calories overall. Total daily energy expenditure plateaued in the groups with the highest physical activity.
This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t exercise.
Pontzer’s research did uncover a positive correlation between physical activity and total energy expenditure — and the relationship was much stronger over the lower range of exercise. So don’t push those workout sneaks to the back of your closet; instead, strive for a more moderate approach to getting your sweat on. Besides, you don’t want to miss out on those mood-boosting endorphins.
A winning workout plan for weight loss can look like:
Complete full body strength training at least twice a week to reduce lean mass lost during weight loss.
Switch up your cardio effort: One study on 82 obese women found that those who performed moderate-intensity cardio and high-intensity interval training for six months lost 6.6 pounds more than the group who only did moderate-intensity cardio.
Move your workout to the morning: One study conducted on inactive females showed that morning exercisers lost significantly more weight than afternoon and early evening exercises, despite minimal differences in energy balance.
3. Get Your Sleep on Track
You may be focused on food and exercise, but healthy sleep habits are crucial to weight loss, too.Poor sleep can contribute to:
The disruption of circadian rhythms
What’s more, if you don’t sleep enough, you might feel hungrier and end up eating more that day. You might also be tempted to skip your scheduled workout because you don’t have the energy. If you stay up late at night, you could also be tempted to eat midnight snacks.
For optimal sleep:
Keep a regular sleep schedule with similar sleep and wake times
Block light with blinds or room-darkening curtains
Turn screens off an hour before bedtime
Avoid eating right before bed
Go outside shortly after waking up in the morning to expose your eyes to natural light
If your mind races when your head hits the pillow or you wake up and have trouble falling back asleep, listen to a guided meditation or try one of these breathing techniques:
4-7-8 breathing: Inhale through your nose for four seconds. Hold your breath for seven seconds. Exhale through your mouth for eight seconds. Repeat these steps for a few minutes or until you’re relaxed.
Box breathing: Inhale for four seconds. Hold the air in your lungs for four seconds. Exhale for four seconds. Hold your lungs empty for four seconds. Repeat these steps for a few minutes or until you’re relaxed.
Deep breathing (aka belly breathing) stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, which regulates your heartbeat, blood flow, breathing, and digestion. Rapid, shallow breaths taken from the chest can signal a stress response — ever notice how your breaths are short and shallow when you wake up from a vivid nightmare? Calm your nerves with slow and deep breaths.
4. Employ an Expert
Weight loss success can be complicated but you don’t have to go at it alone.
“Work with a team of professionals that are dedicated to your well being and success,” said Musleh. “This includes your doctor, dietitian, health coach, and physical trainer.”
These professionals will help you determine exactly what type of plan would work for you. No diet or exercise routine is the same for everyone and a customized program and accountability partner may be what you need.
“Each person is unique and they have to understand their own issues, motivations, and their own willingness to make lifestyle changes for health,” said Gomer. “It’s hard in our culture where most people are surrounded by a ton of temptations every day around highly processed foods and alcohol.”
Research supports the model of a coach-supported weight loss program. One analysis of 828 participants in a weight loss program showed that the users who used the platform with coaching help lost more weight than those who used the platform only. Another study showed that app users who received two months of dietary coaching by a certified nutritionist lost significantly more weight than the control group.
What’s more, studies show that slower weight loss results in more favorable body composition, or greater reductions in fat mass and body fat percentage. Avoid a restrict-lose-regress-gain cycle. Take the time to discover the underlying habit associations that trigger the behaviors that lead to weight gain. An experienced professional can guide you to uncover invaluable insights that lead to your long-term weight loss success.