- Losing a lot of weight quickly has for too long been lauded as something we should strive for.
- But drastic weight loss isn’t healthy or sustainable, either mentally or physically.
- It’s more impressive and sensible to lose weight slowly and keep it off, which can be enjoyable too.
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“Lose 10 pounds in two weeks!” “How [insert celebrity here] lost 5kg in a week.” “Transform your body in 30 days!”
When it comes to weight loss, everyone wants a quick fix: A brief period of suffering which promises drastic results.
But actually, we need to stop branding extreme weight loss in short periods of time as aspirational or commendable — because it never lasts.
I absolutely don’t hate to break it to you, but if a diet only “worked” for a brief period of time, it didn’t work.
Anyone can lose weight — what’s actually impressive is keeping the weight off.
Dietitian and nutrition coach Dr. Mike Molloy told Insider that fast weight loss is counterproductive in the long-run: “Anything that’s super extreme is ultimately designed to fail.”
As someone who lost 35 pounds over six months through a gentle calorie deficit two years ago and has stayed around the same weight and body composition since, I know that the slow and steady approach works — and it allows you to enjoy your life too.
Weight loss is not a case of the faster the better
When you lose a lot of weight quickly, you’re more likely to regain it for a multitude of reasons.
Firstly, when you suddenly start eating a lot less, you initially drop water weight, not fat. But you’re also more likely to regain the weight afterward.
Molloy said that when in a drastic calorie deficit (consuming less energy than you expend), a process known as metabolic adaptation occurs: “When you put yourself into really large calorie deficit — over 25% — you are going to preferentially lose muscle mass, and as a result of this, you are going to slow your metabolic rate down.”
“Using relatively extreme approaches, you’re simply setting yourself up for a rebound in the long-term,” he continued. “Slower, more controlled, more sustainable weight loss also preserves lean muscle mass. And this is going to allow you to keep a higher metabolism when you get to your lower body weight eventually.”
A process called adaptive thermogenesis also occurs when in an energy deficit, which contributes to the slowing down of your metabolism. “The more extreme your diet is the faster this process kicks in,” Molloy said.
Maintaining weight loss is the commendable part
Science aside, if you’re not learning healthy lifestyle habits that you can sustain, how can you expect your results to be sustainable too?
Whether your motivation to lose weight is based on health, aesthetics, or a combination of the two, your lifestyle decisions are what led you to that place. So if you simply go back to the same lifestyle afterwards, you’ll go straight back to the same position as before.
No one can stick to severe calorie restriction — even though a calorie deficit is the only way to lose weight, regardless of whether it’s via a “juice detox,” the Atkins diet, or anything else — because it’s entirely unenjoyable.
If you’re losing weight in a way that doesn’t allow you to celebrate birthdays with friends or enjoy all your favorite foods in moderation, that’s not a sustainable way to live.
I’m not saying you won’t have to employ some discipline to lose weight, but this mindset work and learning about moderation is the key to long-term success.
The trouble is that people want quick fixes
It’s all very well looking at a four-week transformation photo, but what about four months or even four years afterward? That’s what we should really be celebrating.
Fitness and nutrition coaches often share “before and after” photos of clients showing fast weight loss to draw in new clients, but what they really should be showing is those same people a year later. That would prove the coach taught that person how to live a healthy lifestyle.
There’s a reason headlines and diet plans promise fast results: People don’t want to be patient, no one wants to put the work in long-term, and I get that. It’s human nature.
Quick fixes sell, but they don’t teach people healthy habits, so then they get trapped in an endless cycle of fad diets.
Sustainable fat loss coach Jordan Syatt, for example, always says if he were to write a weight loss book, it would be a five-year plan, but that’s not what people want to hear.
Sustainable weight loss doesn’t mean long-term punishment
No one wants to approach weight loss with a long-term view because they think they need to give up everything they enjoy in life, but that simply isn’t the case.
A healthy lifestyle doesn’t have to feel like punishment. Losing weight shouldn’t mean grueling workouts you hate and depriving yourself of all the foods you enjoy.
It’s about moving your body in ways that make you feel empowered and energized, making small diet tweaks that factor in all foods in moderation, and leaves you in a slight energy deficit overall.
Yes, you want to be prioritizing whole foods and eating lots of fruit, veg, fiber, grains, healthy fats, and lean proteins, because these are good for your overall health and also keep you satiated, which helps keep hunger at bay when in a calorie deficit. But if you try to cut out all the foods you enjoy, be that chocolate, pizza, or ice cream, you won’t be able to sustain that and will end up binging.
Next time you see a headline celebrating rapid weight loss or diets promising extreme results, don’t think of it as aspirational. Take a step back, remember it’s not a healthy approach, and think twice before starting your next faddy fitness plan.