Is Slow or Fast Weight Loss Better for You?

Posted On Apr 27, 2016 By Erin Kuh, MBA, RD

Is Slow or Fast Weight Loss Better for You?

1-2 lbs per week - That's the rate of weight loss recommended by dietitians, doctors, and other health professionals for safe and sustainable results. For someone wanting to drop 50 lbs or more, this could mean waiting an entire year to hit their long-term goal. This could feel like an eternity. We all want immediate results and re-training our brains to stay focused on denying ourselves immediate satisfaction in the form of cookies, French fries, and pure laziness to achieve intermediate and long-term goals is extremely challenging. Who's to say that faster weight loss isn't better, and perhaps more sustainable?

While I'm not a proponent of extreme dieting, fad diets, or dangerous cleanses and supplements, if weight is being dropped quickly, but not putting a person at risk for rapid rebound weight gain, injury from excessive exercise, or malnutrition and deficiencies due to extremely low calorie intake, then I say go for it!

One of my current clients goes through 4-6 week cycles where he drops nearly a pound per day by eating 1600 calories and working out 4-6 days per week with a combination of cardio and circuit-style weight training. He then plateaus or has slower weight loss for 2-3 weeks. He feels great and just as importantly, this works for him, his body, and keeps his motivation high, but he also gets to "practice" what it feels like to maintain his weight or have very slow weight loss, which is a mental skill that needs practice for long-term weight loss.

Figure out which is right for you:

  1. How well do you do with change?

    If you dread exercise or eating vegetables is a feat, then slower weight loss is a better fit for you.

  2. Do you feel a sense of accomplishment from small amounts of progress?

    If you feel proud by any amount of weight loss, or workouts completed, stick with slower weight loss and smaller goals.

  3. How old are you?

    Weight loss is usually more challenging the older we get so if you're over 55-60, focus on 1-2 lbs per week.

  4. Have you attempted weight loss before?

    This can work for or against you. Past attempts give you history to learn from, but generally make it harder due to metabolic changes. The body gets better at holding onto fat if you've yo-yo'ed up and down.

  5. How strict do you want to have to be and how much time do you have to exercise?

    If you know you're more likely to stick with healthy eating long-term by allowing yourself to indulge occasionally, slower weight loss is more appropriate.

  6. How much weight do you have to lose?

    The more you have to lose the more likely you are to lose weight more quickly. If you have 50 lbs to lose, it's easier to drop initial pounds than someone looking to shed 5-10 lbs.

In the weight loss/fat loss case, slow and steady may not always win the race after all, but it all comes back to finding what works for you. Your goals, and supporting lifestyle and habits, should always be focused on permanent weight or fat loss. The weight didn't come on overnight. Expectations should not be for it to drop off overnight or even over the course of a few weeks. Don't forget this! Just because it's not the crazy 15-20lb weekly weight losses you see on TV doesn't mean you've failed. 1-2 lbs per week is tremendous progress towards your long-term goal.

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