Why is slow weight loss better than fast weight loss?

Lisa Cole , NASM Elite Trainer
Fitness Specialist

If you plan on maintaining your weight loss, it is much better to take it slow ~ think quality over quantity. It is possible to lose a lot of weight quickly by taking extreme measures, but that is not typically healthy or easy to sustain over any length of time. Also, it would be highly likely that a high percentage of the weight loss would not be from fat but from water and lean muscle.

NASM recommends a weekly weight loss of one to two pounds per week. In order to lose one pound a week, you must burn 3,500 calories more than you eat each week, or 500 calories per day.

According to NASM 50 percent of dieters gain weight back. Why? Because most diets do not teach you to make healthy decisions every day. You are sold a product that requires an extreme measure that cannot be sustained over time. Only daily, healthy choices are the key to keeping weight off. Think of weight loss in terms of sustainability.

One pound equals 3500 calories. So, to lose one pound in one week, you must have a caloric deficit of around 500 calories each day. In other words, you would eat 500 calories less than what your body needs, or you have to would burn an extra 500 calories each day. For two pounds a week you would need to forgo 1,000 calories per day. This is relatively sustainable for most people.

One to two pounds per week can seem pretty slow, especially for those who have a lot of weight to lose. However, an overweight person who normally exceeds their body’s caloric needs may lose more weight at first just by staying within their personal daily caloric needs.

Fast weight loss requires an excessive daily caloric deficit. Because your body needs calories just to exist, depriving yourself so severely simply cannot be sustained over time. Any diet that requires some sort of starvation or exuberant deprivation should be avoided. Bottom line, if it is not sustainable, it is probably not healthy.

Be patient and remember that weight loss will happen as you adopt a healthy lifestyle and make good choices. You will be more likely to keep the weight off because you have made healthy, sustainable habits for life.

Dropping 10 pounds quickly sounds tempting, but fast weight loss never lasts. In addition, the weight loss is almost always a result of water or muscle loss rather than fat. The answer to long-term weight control is learning to consume the same number of calories as you burn.

Try to keep a food record for at least three days. Pay close attention to the amount of food you consume and portion sizes. Also, record how much and what type of physical activity you are doing. Try to achieve 30 to 60 minutes of physical activity each day, raising your heart rate and burning calories.

Dr. Jame K. Heskett, MD
Family Practitioner

Slow weight loss (1/2 lb. to 1 1/2 lb. a week) is better because it is more likely to be a sustainable weight loss. Also, it is more likely that what you are losing is fat and not water or muscle which are crucial components to successful long term weight loss. I recently lost 55 lbs. It took a whole year. If you take it one day at a time any weight loss goal is achievable.

Paula Greer
Midwifery Nursing Specialist

Quick weight loss is usually losing water weight or muscle. It doesn’t allow you enough time to burn off the fat. It also doesn’t allow you the time to make the life long lifestyle changes necessary to sustain the weight loss and make it permanent. This is one case in which it pays to be the tortoise and not the hare. Slow gradual weight loss is more likely to become permanent lifestyle change and success.

Molly Morgan
Nutrition & Dietetics Specialist

Weight that is lost too quickly may not stay off and the routine to keep the pounds off maybe too difficult to stick with long term. Setting weight loss goals of 1-2 pounds per week is best, which really can add up overtime, and is more likely to not return!

Slower weight loss is usually more sustainable than rapid weight loss, plus you're more likely to stay healthy losing weight slowly. Rapid weight loss can come with adverse health risks like fatigue, nausea and other stomach upset. A more serious side effect is gallstones, which can develop when obese people lose weight very quickly. 

Studies show that slow, progressive weight loss of even 5-10% of your current body weight can improve health and lower blood glucose and blood pressure levels. 

Slow weight loss is preferred to your reach long term goals. Upon initially starting a weight loss program one may see a weight loss of 2-5 lbs. during the first week due to the newly imposed demands of the diet. This weight loss usually is water and can be very misleading. Rapid weight loss is usually followed by rapid weight gain because it gives a false sense of security and does not teach proper eating habits like much experience with slow weight loss.

On average 1-2 lbs. per week is a great rule of thumb. Simply by cutting back 500 calories per day for 7 days will help lose that 1 lb. you are looking to get. Secondly by being aware of your caloric intake you will make better decisions about what you are eating and making that necessary lifestyle change.

To ensure long term success a change of diet as well as including exercise into your daily routine will not only be more beneficial for you general health but will help you meet your goals of long term weight loss.

Slow weight loss is always better than fast weight loss because it allows your body to adjust the changes in your body. Losing too much weight too quickly can be a factor of water loss and muscle loss as well. So you want to take the gradual approach of only losing about 1-3 pounds per week. Learning how to make lifestyle changes is always better than going the fast track approach because you run the risk of gaining it back.

Julia Havey
Nutrition & Dietetics Specialist

While we dream of miraculous overnight transformations, and buy millions of dollars of pills that promise we can eat whatever we want and still lose weight--there are NO shortcuts when it comes to losing weight; at least if you want to be in the 2% who lose weight and KEEP it off!

There is one thing I can promise you IF you lose weight 'fast' and that is you will gain it back even faster!

When a person loses weight slowly, ideally at a rate that averages 2lbs a week--you can be sure the person is eating a healthful diet, exercising and changing their lifestyle and is losing FAT rather than muscle or water weight.

I lost 130 lbs. 17 years ago. During the post weight loss years, I have fluctuated up as much as 30 lbs., but what remains consistent is that I adhere to the fundamental lifestyle changes that I made then.

Give it time, don't be in a rush and trust that real change brings real results...over time!

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.