Q: I want to lose as much weight as possible as fast as I can, but I've heard that can be bad for your health or even dangerous. How much weight loss is too much, too fast?
Losing weight is hard and requires patience, so it's understandable that people in our society are obsessed with losing weight as fast as possible, even at the expense of their own health in some instances. And the dramatic weight-loss stories on popular shows like "Biggest Loser" and "Extreme Weight Loss" don't help, falling well short of teaching average people about healthy weight loss.
For healthy, lasting weight loss, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (formerly the American Dietetic Association) recommends losing 1-2 pounds per week, max. Anything significantly more than that is considered too fast and can lead to all sorts of negative health issues. Some people need to go even slower, aiming for a pound or two a month.
The only exception is during the first 7-10 days of a new diet and exercise program, when it's common to see rapid weight loss. Much of that is water weight, though, not necessarily body-fat loss.
What Happens When You Lose Weight Too Fast?
Several things, actually, and none of them good:
- Weight loss actually becomes harder. You'll lose lean muscle mass, lowering your metabolism and calorie-burning ability. Meanwhile, you'll be crazy hungry, making sticking to your diet extra hard.
- You'll potentially rack up nutritional deficiencies such as a lack of iron, vitamin B12, and vitamin D, leading to hair loss, weak and brittle bones, and impaired immune function. You'll be more susceptible to injuries and illnesses that keep you out of the gym.
- Other symptoms you can experience include extreme fatigue, muscle cramps, dizziness, severe irritability, poor sleep, and diarrhea.
In short, trying to fast-track weight loss makes it harder than it needs to be, sets you up for failure, and damages your health in the process. This is why most crash or fad diets result in an initial dramatic weight loss followed by gaining the weight back and more.
Most "Biggest Loser" contestants who lost an extreme amount of weight didn't keep it off a year later, but it's not their fault! Many of them ended up heavier than they started and are still experiencing serious health issues because of it.
Anybody who is trying to lose weight should avoid extreme weight-loss programs and focus instead on exercise and eating habits that produce gradual, steady weight loss. You will get there. Yes, it will take longer, but it will be much easier to maintain long term. Think in terms of habits, not diet plans, and follow these weight-loss tips to keep a sustainable pace.
How to Lose Weight the Healthy Way
- Follow a balanced diet that includes carbs, proteins, and fat. I like the 40/40/20 rule: 40 percent carbs, 40 percent protein, and 20 percent fat.
- Eat plenty of high-protein foods to build and maintain lean muscle, helping to preserve your resting metabolic rate, which reflects your ability to burn calories. Shoot for close to 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight per day.
- Incorporate some form of cardio, whether it is walking, running, sprinting, cardio machines, or sports, for at least 30 minutes, 4 days a week.
- Incorporate resistance training at least 3 days a week, which will help maintain fat-burning muscle mass and prevent your metabolism from dropping.
- Cut back on sugar and refined starches.
- Incorporate vegetables and fruits daily. The fiber helps you stay full and not overeat, and also improves your digestion.
- Keep in mind that weight loss isn't linear. You might lose two pounds one week, then nothing the next. Look at long-term trends and don't get hung up on your daily or weekly weight.
You only want to lose weight once—not keep gaining it back and repeating the process. If you focus on the slow, gradual route while following sensible (and totally doable) diet and exercise habits, you'll be able to reach a healthy body weight and stay there permanently. Remember, your weight-loss journey is a marathon, not a sprint.
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