Slow and Steady Wins the Weight Loss Race
When it comes to losing weight, most people would like to see major results quickly. Diets that promise to help you drop 10 pounds in a week are popular for this very reason. Perhaps it’s due to our relatively short attention spans, but too many of us have trouble sticking with an improved eating regimen and instead are seeking a magic bullet to shed excess pounds right away. But new research suggests that if you want the weight to not only come off, but stay off, you will fare better with a slower pace.
The study, which took place at Drexel University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, found that consistent weight loss in small increments appears to be much more effective in the long term than fluctuating weight loss with larger drops in weight that alternate with gains in weight.1 This outcome was based on an experiment involving 183 overweight or obese men and women.
The subjects were recruited for a weight-loss program that aimed to modify their behavior through techniques such as improving self monitoring, keeping track of calories, and increasing the level of physical activity, as well as using meal replacements. Throughout the year that they participated, the volunteers went to weekly meetings with weigh-ins and were told to report various dietary issues including emotional eating, cravings, binges, and how they were feeling about their progress.
The participants were followed up on once again two years after the investigation began, and the researchers analyzed the information accumulated and discovered that the earliest part of the program was very important. The data showed that those who fluctuated in weight the most over the course of the first six to eight weeks of participation in the program were considerably less likely to maintain their weight loss at either the one-year or two-year mark compared to their peers who lost weight slowly and steadily during those crucial first few weeks.
That means that an individual who dropped three pounds in the first week of the trial, then regained a pound the second week, and lost another two pounds the third week might appear to be losing more than another subject who lost a single pound for each of the first three weeks, but in reality they tended to regain much more of the weight they had lost over time. In contrast, those who lost weight in small, steady amounts were much more likely to keep their pounds off one to two years later.
Why would it be the case that consistent, small losses are more effective in the long term? It might indicate that the people shedding pounds slowly are adopting better eating and exercise habits in little increments that they can live with, without feeling the urge to “cheat.” On the flip side, their counterparts who are seesawing in weight may be going to dietary extremes that they just can’t keep up, which results in rebound gains some of the weeks. Plus, by drastically cutting calories for longer than a day or two, your metabolism slows considerably as it resets to starvation mode, making it more and more difficult to keep losing weight.
It’s also important to note that steady weight loss in smaller increments should be accompanied by a sustained increase in exercise, which helps maintain a more efficient metabolism. In addition, it is essential to lose no more than 10 percent of your body weight in any single attempt at weight loss to allow your body to reset its metabolism through a newly lowered set-point.
A set-point is a sort of control system within the body that determines how much fat should be carried, and it varies from person to person. As it establishes your normal weight, the set-point keeps that weight fairly constant and resists attempts to change it in either direction. But if you lose no more than 10 percent of your body weight at a time, that doesn’t trigger your set-point into fighting you. Therefore, you need to go into a holding pattern after you’ve lost 10 percent of your body weight and remain stable for at least six months to allow your body to revise its set-point before tackling the next 10 percent. It may take a few months longer to lose your excess weight, but this method is much more likely to help you keep it off for good.
- 1. Feig, Emily H. and Lowe, Michael R. "Variability in Weight Change Early in Behavioral Weight Loss Treatment: Theoretical and Clinical Implications." Obesity. 28 August 2017. Accessed 6 September 2017. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/oby.21925/full.