Losing weight can be influenced by various factors such as age, gender, and your starting point. Additionally, the timeframe for weight loss depends on the balance between the calories you consume and the calories you burn.
Whether you have a special occasion coming up or simply want to enhance your overall health, weight loss is a common objective.
To have realistic expectations, it’s important to understand what constitutes a healthy weight loss rate.
This article will delve into the factors that impact the duration of your weight loss journey.
How weight loss happens
Weight loss occurs when you consistently consume fewer calories than you burn each day.
On the other hand, weight gain transpires when you consistently consume more calories than you burn.
Every calorie you consume from food and beverages contributes to your overall calorie intake.
However, the number of calories you burn daily, also known as energy or calorie expenditure, is a slightly more complex concept.
Calorie expenditure is composed of three major components:
- Resting metabolic rate (RMR): This is the number of calories required by your body to maintain normal bodily functions, such as breathing and blood circulation.
- Thermic effect of food (TEF): This refers to the calories used in digesting, absorbing, and metabolizing food.
- Thermic effect of activity (TEA): These are the calories expended during physical exercise. TEA may also include Non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT), which accounts for the calories burned during activities like gardening or fidgeting.
When the number of calories you consume matches the number of calories you burn, your body weight remains stable.
If your goal is weight loss, you must create a negative calorie balance by either consuming fewer calories than you burn or increasing your physical activity to burn more calories.
Factors influencing weight loss
Numerous factors can affect the rate at which you lose weight, many of which are beyond your control.
Your fat-to-muscle ratio plays a significant role in your weight loss capabilities.
Women typically have a higher fat-to-muscle ratio than men, resulting in a 5–10% lower RMR compared to men of the same height.
Consequently, women generally burn 5–10% fewer calories than men while at rest. This means that men tend to lose weight more quickly than women when following a calorie-equivalent diet.
For instance, an 8-week study involving over 2,000 participants on an 800-calorie diet revealed that men lost 16% more weight than women, with men experiencing a relative weight loss of 11.8% compared to 10.3% in women.
Although men may lose weight faster than women, the study didn’t examine gender-based differences in the ability to sustain weight loss.
Aging brings about various changes in the body, including alterations in body composition such as an increase in fat mass and a decrease in muscle mass.
These changes, combined with factors like the reduced calorie requirements of major organs, contribute to a lower RMR.
In fact, adults over the age of 70 may have RMRs that are 20–25% lower than those of younger adults.
This decline in RMR can make weight loss more challenging as you age.
Your initial body mass and composition can also influence the speed at which you lose weight.
It’s crucial to understand that different absolute weight losses (in pounds) can correspond to the same relative weight loss percentage in different individuals. Weight loss is a multifaceted process.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) Body Weight Planner provides a helpful guide for estimating how much weight you can lose based on your starting weight, age, sex, and calorie intake and expenditure.
While a heavier individual may lose double the amount of weight, a person with less weight may achieve an equivalent percentage of their body weight loss (e.g., 10 pounds out of 250 is 4% compared to 5 pounds out of 125, which is also 4%).
For example, someone weighing 300 pounds (136 kg) may lose 10 pounds (4.5 kg) by reducing their daily calorie intake by 1,000 calories and increasing physical activity over a span of 2 weeks.
Creating a negative calorie balance is essential for weight loss. The magnitude of this calorie deficit affects the speed at which you lose weight.
For instance, following a 500-calorie deficit per day for 8 weeks is likely to result in more significant weight loss compared to reducing your daily calorie intake by 200 calories.
However, it’s important not to make your calorie deficit too extreme.
Doing so is not only unsustainable but also puts you at risk of nutrient deficiencies. Moreover, it increases the likelihood of losing muscle mass rather than fat mass.
Sleep is often underestimated but plays a crucial role in weight loss.
Consistent lack of sleep can significantly hinder weight loss progress and slow down the pace at which you shed pounds.
Even a single night of sleep deprivation can increase your cravings for high-calorie, nutrient-poor foods such as cookies, cakes, sugary beverages, and chips.
In a 2-week study, participants on a calorie-restricted diet were randomly assigned to sleep either 5.5 or 8.5 hours per night.
Those who slept for 5.5 hours lost 55% less body fat and 60% more lean body mass compared to those who slept for 8.5 hours per night.
Chronic sleep deprivation is strongly associated with conditions like type 2 diabetes, obesity, heart disease, and certain cancers.
Several additional factors can influence your rate of weight loss, including:
- Medications: Some medications, such as antidepressants and certain antipsychotics, can lead to weight gain or impede weight loss.
- Medical conditions: Illnesses like depression and hypothyroidism (a condition in which the thyroid gland produces too few metabolism-regulating hormones) can slow down weight loss and promote weight gain.
- Family history and genetics: There is a well-established genetic component associated with overweight or obesity, which can impact weight loss efforts.
- Yo-yo dieting: Repeated cycles of losing and regaining weight can make subsequent weight loss attempts more difficult due to a decrease in RMR.
The best approach to weight loss
Given the multitude of weight loss diets available, all claiming to provide impressive and rapid results, it can be challenging to determine which one is truly the best.
However, despite claims made by various programs, there is no one-size-fits-all best weight loss diet.
For instance, low-carb diets like the keto diet may result in more initial weight loss, but long-term studies show no significant differences in weight loss compared to other diets.
What truly matters is your ability to adhere to a healthy, reduced-calorie eating plan.
Nevertheless, following an extremely low-calorie diet for prolonged periods can prove challenging for many individuals and is a common reason why most diets fail.
To increase your chances of success, it’s advisable to moderately reduce your calorie intake, personalize your diet according to your preferences and health, or seek guidance from a registered dietitian.
Combining your diet with exercise, including both aerobic and resistance training, maximizes fat loss and helps prevent or minimize muscle loss.
By eliminating highly processed foods and incorporating more wholesome options such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, healthy fats, and proteins, you can further support weight loss and improve your overall health.
Safe weight loss rates
While most individuals desire rapid weight loss, it’s important to avoid losing too much weight too quickly.
Rapid weight loss can increase the risk of developing gallstones, dehydration, and malnutrition.
Other side effects of rapid weight loss may include headaches, irritability, fatigue, constipation, hair loss, menstrual irregularities, and muscle loss.
Experts recommend aiming for a weight loss of 1–3 pounds (0.45–1.36 kg) per week or approximately 1% of your body weight.
It’s also worth noting that weight loss is not always a linear process. Some weeks, you may experience more significant weight loss, while other weeks may result in less or no weight loss at all.
Therefore, don’t be disheartened if your weight loss journey slows down or plateaus for a few days.
Maintaining a food diary and regularly weighing yourself can help you stay on track.
Research demonstrates that individuals who engage in self-monitoring techniques such as recording their dietary intake and weight are more successful at losing weight and keeping it off compared to those who don’t.
Weight loss occurs when you consume fewer calories than you burn.
Numerous factors influence the rate of weight loss, including gender, age, starting weight, sleep, and the extent of your calorie deficit.
Aiming for a weight loss rate of 1–3 pounds (0.45–1.36 kg) per week is a safe and sustainable approach to achieving your goals. Remember, consistency is key.