The first thing you need to get right is your expectations when you set out on a weight loss journey. Most people want to lose fat as quickly as possible. I am here to tell you that faster is not better, and in most cases, the least efficient way to go about losing fat. So let’s talk about why slower is actually the more efficient way to go. Unless you have an excessive amount of body fat to lose, or you have a looming deadline of some sort, I would not suggest losing more than 1 pound per week. As they say, “Nothing worth doing is easy.”
I know, being in a caloric deficit isn’t all that fun. The inclination to get it over with is understandable. So if I can lose a pound a week eating 1500 calories, why not knock it down to 1000 and get it done faster? The following are 5 very important reasons I stress to all of my clients why I am a big believer in losing weight as slow as possible.
1. Muscle Growth and Preservation
People that are new to resistance training are going to build muscle pretty easily. Even considering a reasonable caloric deficit, the gains will come. However, even seasoned athletes can develop muscle in a caloric deficit. That is why it’s important not to rob your body of the opportunity to do so.
If gaining muscle wasn’t part of the plan, that is something to rethink. The best way to turn your body into a fat burning machine is to increase the amount of muscle you have. More lean tissue (muscle) yields a higher to Basal Metabolic Rate. If a caloric deficit is too low, the body will use whatever it can as fuel, including your muscle. This typically leads to, not only a less aesthetically pleasing result, but a bottomed out metabolism. Although we’ll touch a bit more on the importance of resistance training throughout this post, there’s really too much content to cover here. Check out some of these articles that go further into it:
- Mayo Clinic – Strength Training: Get Stronger, Leaner, Healthier
- American Counsel on Exercise: The Importance of Strength Training as You Age
- Lean and Sculpted With Limited Time
2. Metabolic Adaptation
Any caloric deficit will cause your metabolism to slow down. However, a prolonged extreme caloric deficit will begin to cause metabolic adaptation or “adaptive thermogenesis”. These terms refer to the body’s unwillingness to comply with the typical BMR guidelines for your body composition. After a while, it could become a difficult and lengthy process to undo the damage to your metabolism.
What does this damage entail? Your body begins to run on decreased calories, lowering your BMR (Basal Metabolic Rate) below the norm. Once the dieting is done and caloric intake raises higher than the crash diet allowed, weight gain quickly ensues. The body is in survival mode, so it leaches on to all those extra calories being offered, and turns them into fat.
The idea is to slowly dial down caloric intake and increase caloric expenditure. If the fat loss process is started from a much more manageable number, you delay any lasting effects on your metabolism. Once you reach your desired weight, you can slowly add calories back in, or “reverse diet”. The increased energy intake, in turn, raises your metabolic rate and can find your new maintenance.
3. Recalibrate Your Body’s Set Point
“Long-term caloric deprivation, in a way that is not clear, acts as a signal for the body to turn down its metabolic rate. Calories are burned more slowly, so that even a meager diet almost suffices to maintain weight. The body reacts to stringent dieting as thought famine has set in. Within a day or two after semi-starvation begins, the metabolic machinery shifts to a cautious regimen designed to conserve the calories it already has on board. Because of this innate biological response, dieting becomes progressively less effective, and (as generations of dieters have observed) a plateau is reached at which further weight loss seems all but impossible.” MIT Medical
Operating under a smaller caloric deficit with still allow your body to progress without your body assuming it is in a state of famine. This means slow progress is still progress, where the alternative is feeling terrible and making no progress at all. Once the goal weight has been reached successfully, that body composition will need to be properly maintained for at least 8 weeks to recalibrate your body’s set point.
If you have a decent amount of weight to lose, it is possible your body’s skin will need time to adjust to getting smaller. Losing more than 2 pounds per week for consecutive weeks at a time is much too fast for your skin to maintain proper elasticity for your shape.
This is another reason gaining muscle in place of fat will benefit you. Filling the gaps between your lean tissue and skin with additional lean tissue will cause the skin to fill properly and avoid excessive sagging or obvious stretch marks.
Other ways to keep your skin happy during excessive weight loss:
- You’ll also want to keep an eye on your micronutrients. Among the many benefits of Vitamin C is increased collagen production. Collagen aids in keeping your skin elastic and keeping loose skin at bay.
- Hydrate! Drink lots of water to prevent dehydrating your skin. Shoot to finish a gallon a day. (Pro Tip – Knock out both of these by adding lemon to your water!)
- Protect from UV Rays and outdoor pollutants (another reason to pack on the sunscreen).
5. Prolonged Consistency
When you throw yourself into a crash diet, it’s not something that is typically easy to maintain for a long period of time. Often times, people hit an extended plateau because the body is trying to protect itself from starvation. The plateau is a huge mental roadblock to overcome at such low energy intake. Once reaching a plateau, the options are to decrease intake or increase calorie expenditure. If the body is already surviving on poverty macros, are either of those options something you are willing to take on?
Instead, offer yourself the opportunity to be successful by starting out at manageable caloric intake. How do you know where to start? A general rule of thumb is to multiply your body weight by 12. This number isn’t consistent to all people, but it’s a good place to start tracking to determine if you need to add or subtract calories.
Maintain a Healthy Relationship with Food
What do all 5 of these reasons have in common? Your body is highly adaptable and will not typically work with you if you take extreme measures to lose fat. Your best option is maintain a healthy relationship with food, and thus a healthy relationship with your body. Eat enough and find a way to periodically get the foods you love in moderation.
If any or all of this is overwhelming, please reach out to me. I offer nutrition coaching for this reason. Every body is genetically predisposed to react differently to energy intake. Sometimes it helps to have a coach that has seen and worked with many different types of bodies to help guide you to your success in a healthy way.