Dieters beware: Not all weight-loss plans are created equal, and for some, timing is key.
You might be enticed, for example, by a diet that claims it can help you shed 20 or 50 pounds in a couple of weeks.
But shedding pounds too fast can be a red flag for a diet that might encourage unsafe behaviours. On the other hand, losing weight too slowly might be discouraging and make you want to give up.
So how much weight should you lose each week if you want to keep it off?
We asked Philip Stanforth, a professor of exercise science at the University of Texas and the executive director of the Fitness Institute of Texas.
He said most people shouldn’t lose more than one to three pounds each week.
“During the losing phase, you need a calorie deficit,” said Stanforth. “At the maximum you want a 1,000 calorie-per-day deficit, meaning you burn 1,000 calories more than you take in each day. That typically means you’re losing a few pounds a week. And that tends to be a lot more sustainable than losing a whole bunch at once.“
“The concern with fast weight loss is that it usually takes extraordinary efforts in diet and exercise — efforts that could be unhealthy and that you probably can’t maintain as permanent lifestyle changes,” writes Mayo Clinic’s Dr. Donald D. Hensrud, chair of the Division of Preventive, Occupational, and Aerospace Medicine with a joint appointment in the Division of Endocrinology, Diabetes, Metabolism, and Nutrition, in the clinic’s “Expert Answers” column.
Clinical studies on weight loss provide us with a slightly more complex answer, however.
But other research suggests that neither slow or rapid weight loss is necessarily better. A 2014 randomised controlled trial of more than 200 people found that neither a rapid, 12-week program or a more gradual 36-week one affected the amount of weight the particpants regained over a nearly three-year period. And a 2010 study of nearly 300 obese women found that those in the study who’d lost weight fast also lost more weight overall — and for longer periods — than those in the study who’d lost it slowly.
So if you want to lose weight and keep it off, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach. Talk with a health professional and come up with a plan that works for your goals.
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