Want to know how to lose weight fast? Spoiler alert – it’s slow and steady that wins the race.
When we’re aiming to lose weight, it can be tempting to do it as fast as possible to see results quickly. But those quick results don’t always last.
Here’s why a healthy (and often slower) rate of weight loss is key to long-term success.
“Research shows that a healthy rate of weight loss is about 0.5 to 1 per cent of body weight per week, which for most people works out to around one to two pounds per week,” explains Michael Matthews, a fitness and nutrition expert and the author of Muscle for Life: Get Lean, Strong, and Healthy at Any Age.
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“It’s a good idea to look at weight loss as a percentage of your weight rather than a specific number, as losing one pound per week (which is often recommended) might be very little for a 300-pound man or too much for a 120-pound woman,” he adds.
Fast Weight Loss vs. Slow Weight Loss
“On the one hand, losing weight as fast as possible – crash dieting – is a fool’s errand because it’s not sustainable,” Matthews says. “Sure, you might be able to lose two, three or four-plus pounds per week for a few weeks, but that’s not a viable long-term strategy if you have 30 pounds to lose. What’s more, this kind of dieting is also miserable for most folks. Their energy dips, their mood sours, and their hunger rises. Finally, this strategy also usually results in muscle loss, which actually makes it harder to get and stay fit over the long term.”
On the other hand, he says, you also don’t want to lose weight too slowly, as that could be demotivating and actually produce worse results over time.
“For example, if you have 30 pounds to lose, and decide to lose just 0.5 pounds per week, you’re going to be dieting for over a year – and who wants to do that?” Matthews says.
“A good example of this comes from a study published in the journal Obesity Reviews, which found that ‘successful weight maintenance is associated with more initial weight loss.’ In other words, people who lost the most weight in the first few weeks of starting a diet did the best job of keeping it off. This doesn’t mean you should crash diet, but it does mean you don’t want to go too slowly, either,” he says.
Therefore, a good rule of thumb, he explains, is to shoot for the middle ground between “slow” weight loss and crash dieting, which usually works out to around one to two pounds per week for most people.
The other key point to keep in mind is that “fast” weight loss typically does not address behaviour change, which is an essential component for lasting lifestyle reform.
Weight Loss and Habits
“Many people look at weight loss the way they look at filing their taxes: a burdensome task they have to perform periodically that requires a lot more drudgery than it should,” Matthews says. “Gut it out, get it done and then go back to your life, is how most people think of it. The problem with this approach is that the same behaviours that allow you to lose weight are the ones you’ll need to maintain to keep it off. In this way, losing weight is a lot more like gardening than filing taxes, as it requires consistent diligence over time.”
This doesn’t mean it needs to be a burden, though, he adds.
“The fact is that most of our behaviors throughout the day are dictated by habits – subconscious routines that drive our choices. By trying to rush weight loss with reckless exercise programs and overly restrictive diets, you’re instilling unsustainable, unenjoyable habits that might work for a few weeks or months but will leave you frazzled, hungry, and frustrated in the end. Even if you do lose a bunch of weight, much of it will have been muscle, and you’re likely to gain much of it back.”
Instead, Matthews recommends adopting simple, enjoyable, sustainable habits that help you lose weight at a slower rate, but also keep it off over the long term with minimal effort.
“Some good examples,” he says, “are eating protein at every meal, getting at least one hour of physical activity per day, lifting weights at least two to three times per week, and eating at least three to five servings of fruits and vegetables per day.”