The benefits of sustainable weight loss
Slow and steady weight loss
Another day, another quick-fix weight-loss plan fills your social media feed, promising overnight success and an instant confidence boost. The slick marketing and dramatic ‘before’ and ‘after’ images can be persuasive and plenty of people are lured in by the idea of a ‘perfect body’ in just weeks. But the trouble with quick-fix solutions is that they often fail to talk about what happens after the dress size is dropped – there’s a real risk of re-gaining all that weight and then some.
Why is slow weight loss best?
There are lots of physiological and psychological benefits for losing weight slowly. To start with, it allows flexibility so you don’t have to sacrifice social catch-ups or that much-needed Friday night glass of wine. “For [weight loss] to be sustainable in the long term, you have to start small and make changes to your eating and movement habits that still fit into your lifestyle,” explains Dietitian and WW Program Developer Nicole Stride. “Cutting out whole food groups or positioning foods as good or bad often makes you want to eat them even more. That’s why it’s best to learn how to enjoy all the foods you love in moderation..”
When you lose weight quickly through fasting or severe calorie restriction, you often lose muscle mass as well as fat, explains Stride. “But lean muscle mass is important for driving our metabolism,” she says. “When you lose weight slowly you’re more likely to preserve your lean muscle, which helps keeps your metabolism up and your body feeling more energetic.”
It’s also worth noting that the more often you yo-yo between weight gain and weight loss, the harder it is to lose weight in the future. “When you try to get weight loss results too quickly you can slow down your metabolism when you drop that lean muscle mass. This makes it harder to lose weight next time you try because there’s less to rev your metabolism,” explains exercise physiologist Neil Russell. “Your body fat percentage goes up, but your muscle mass goes down, despite your weight staying the same. You create a body that struggles to exercise and carries higher body fat.”
Another key risk of fasting or restrictive dieting is not getting adequate nutrition. “Very low-calorie diets are also short of nutrients – around 5000 kilojoules are needed per day to ensure there is sufficient nutrient intake,” says Gaynor Bussell, dietitian and public health nutritionist. “Vitamin and mineral supplementation is needed when following these diets, which is never as good as getting the nutrients from food.”
With research data showing that WW members are more likely to maintain their weight loss after five years than those who use other weight-loss methods, there’s clear merit to the slow and steady approach.
Set yourself up for a win
Usain Bolt didn’t break a world record on his first sprint and nor should you expect to achieve huge strides in your fitness overnight. Instead, allow yourself time to make slow and gradual fitness improvements. “Athletes spend time building their foundations and working on their core strength and movement patterns,” says Russell.
For instance, instead of trying to deadlift 50kg on your first trip to the gym, work on your stability and posture, which will not only make the exercise more enjoyable, but may help prevent injury. “If you come back after a week and your posture has slightly improved and you’ve learned how to stabilise, then you can progress onto something else,” he points out. “If you start really slow you can get some early gains and celebrate the little wins.”
Remember, you’re only a newbie the first time! Knowing this should be enough to get you through the beginning of an exercise routine. “The first month of exercise, whether it’s weight training or running, can be hard,” Russell admits. “You get sore and you might feel like you’re not doing very well – but getting through that is half the challenge.”
Keep in mind that your goal is to change your health and wellbeing – not just your clothing size. Reminding yourself of this can ease some of the pressure to lose grams every week. “There may be periods where you put on a little bit of muscle and the scales don’t change,” says Russell. “If your weight has stayed the same but your body shape has changed, then you’re making progress.”
Maintaining momentum on your health and weight loss journey
While a loss on the scales is undeniably uplifting, if the kilos are slow to budge then look for validation from other healthy lifestyle measures. “Success along your journey can be celebrated in so many different ways,” says Stride. “It could be tracking your meals every day this week, doing a 5km fun run, or feeling more energised when you wake up in the morning.”
If nothing else, remind yourself that every little loss could give you a few more years on the planet. “We know that even a five per cent drop in body weight can be quite significant for reducing your risk of chronic disease,” Stride points out.
Ultimately, taking a lifelong outlook to healthy living gives you leeway to live a balanced life. “It’s very hard to stick to something when you feel restricted or deprived. The idea is not to look at your diet as an ‘on’ or ‘off’ thing. Rather, you’re embracing a healthy lifestyle, with the flow-on benefit being weight loss,” she says. “It’s about learning to love healthy foods in a new way, learning to embrace exercise and learning new tools and skills to change yourself towards a healthy lifestyle that you can sustain forever.”
"I lost 12kgs over 12 months." Danielle Ritchie-Halligan had to let go of expectations that she’d lose 1kg a week and instead embrace a more gradual weight loss over the course of a year.
"When you first sign up to WW, you’ve got high expectations and you think, ‘I’m ready to be skinny now!’ But it’s not the same for everyone and we don’t all lose weight at the same rate. Losing weight slowly can be very challenging. You put in what you perceive to be an extraordinary effort, waking up early to exercise, planning all your meals, saying no to things and counting everything that you put in your mouth, only to discover you’ve only lost 300g. I would think, ‘Is that it? What I’ve done is worthy of a kilo!’ It’s disheartening as we live in an ‘instant graitification’ society and think nothing less than 1kg loss a week is acceptable.
But after a month you’ve lost 1.2kg and after two months it’s 2.4kg – it’s steady progress. I started to realise that I could lose weight and still go on holidays, eat birthday cake, drink wine and socialise. You don’t have to turn your life upside-down to lose weight. The benefit of doing it slowly is that you’re practising maintenance from the very beginning.
Even when the scales weren’t showing big losses, I was improving in other areas. I’m the fittest I’ve ever been – I even ran the Gold Coast marathon! I feel more empowered and I’ve got so much vitality – you’ve got to think of all the other markers you’re achieving by living a healthier life – it’s not just weight loss."