These are the downsides of losing too fast:
- You are likely to lose muscle
- You are likely to burn out psychologically before the cut is finished, increasing chances of binge eating and other compulsive eating behaviors
- You are likely to regain the lost weight
- You will feel less self-efficacious, making you less likely to run a successful cut later
The first being quite problematic! These are the downsides to losing muscle*:
- Decreased metabolism
- Increased possibility of weight regain as fat, leading to higher body fat percentage than you started with at the same start weight
- Increased likelihood of injury
- Increased likelihood of convalescence in old age
- Increased soft/undefined (“skinny fat”) appearance
*Please note that along with slower weight loss you must be doing some resistance training during weight loss in order to prevent muscle loss.
Above are all of the scary negatives of losing weight too fast. Important to know, but not very instructive. Let’s talk about what a good weight loss pace is and all of the benefits of doing things the right way!
Having patience and moving slowly on your weight loss journey is a recipe for long-term success. Your first order of business is to stop focusing on the final outcome and start focusing on your current behavior and weekly wins! The problem with always looking ahead to the final weight loss goal is that it will seem ages away from where you are now; this lights a spark to hurry up and get there and that spark will burn you. Turn your focus to what you are doing right every day. Did you hit your macros every day this week? High five! You are on your way and deserve to applaud that behavioral win! Did you get your training in each day this week? Excellent, you are doing all you can to move towards your goals! Take a look at your weekly average weight. Are things moving generally in the target direction? If so, then who cares how much you have lost, you are on the track to what you want. A slower pace will make those losses more likely to be permanent! Put your attention on doing the right things daily to reach your goals and celebrate any small trends in the right direction. What you do every day is far more important than what the scale says. Once you have goal-oriented daily habits in-tact, the scale will begin to do exactly as you expect over time.
Scientific research shows that people who lose less that 1% of their body weight per week are much more likely to keep the weight off. Wouldn’t you rather lose 10 pounds on your cut and keep it off rather than work much harder to lose 20 in the same amount of time, but gain it all back? At the end of this article is a table showing approximate best recommendations for weight loss based on starting weight. Keep in mind that if you are leaner when you start, you will probably do better losing even more slowly. Also keep in mind that if your current eating habits are pretty far from what you need to do for weight loss, shooting for a slower pace will allow you to transition to a new lifestyle and new habits much more easily, increasing your chances of long-term success! The numbers on this table might surprise you. It can be hard to swallow the smaller loss recommendations when you had a fantastic transformation in mind. I'll say it again: If you would like to stop losing and gaining the same weight over and over, slow down and be patient with weight loss.
You might lose a little more quickly or slowly in any given week depending on a number of things. Scale changes reflect body water changes as well as changes to amount of fat tissue! If you lose a large amount of water during the first weeks of a cut for some reason, you might see an artificially quick loss early on. If you put on some water thanks to diet changes in the early weeks, you might see no change on the scale even though you are losing fat! Patience comes in here again––you can’t really know your average weight loss pace until you have a few weeks of weigh-ins. Below is an example. You might notice that weight for the first day of the cut and at the end of week two are the same! Many people would find this very discouraging. Go ahead and walk through the full weight assessment across three weeks of dieting and see why this person should not have been discouraged:
Here is how to calculate a good average weight loss:
Weigh yourself 2-3x per week for 2-3 weeks. Let’s say your weights looked like this:
Week 1: Mon – 151.2 Wed – 152 Fri – 152
Week 2: Mon – 152 Wed – 151 Fri – 151.2
Week 3: Mon – 150 Wed – 150.2 Fri – 149
We would take the averages for each week:
Week 1: (151.2 + 152 + 153)/3 = 152
Week 2: (152+151+151.2)/3 = 151.4
Week 3: (150+150.2+149) = 149
So, across three weeks you have lost 152 - 149 = 3 pounds. That is one pound per week on average and a great pace for someone with a starting weight of around 150 (see table below)!
Many circumstances will require even more patience. If you are breastfeeding, brand new to dieting, or just have a lot going on in your life right now, even slower weight loss might be called for. Progress is progress though! Remember that hastiness does not pay off when it comes to weight loss. The little wins, like losing 0.5lb per week even though you started at 185lb should be celebrated. The more you can feel good about yourself for making forward progress, however small, the more likely you are to succeed in the future. Beating yourself up for not transforming fast enough just makes you feel less like you can succeed, which tends to make you less likely to do well later. So, celebrate each tiny step forward, be patient, and your progress will eventually snowball into that final outcome goal or ideal you have in your mind!
For more information on building goal-aligned habits and building self-efficacy for change see our new e-book Evidence Based Habit Formation.