For many people who want to lose weight, especially those who have a lot of weight to lose, getting down to your ‘target weight’ can seem like a long Road…
Losing weight gradually over a long period of time has always been thought to be the safest way to do it; There are definitely a lot of benefits to dieting at a slower rate for a longer duration.
Firstly, for anyone who has a history of dieting, binge eating or has a poor relationship with food, having a diet that is less restrictive and that doesn’t leave you feeling like you’re running on low energy will probably be less likely to trigger these behaviours. It might feel a lot more manageable for some people and promote better ‘long term’ habits. The other type of person who would probably benefit from a slower rate of weight loss is someone who is already lean, i.e. a competitive athlete who wants to maintain performance levels.
So is dieting more aggressively on lower calories safe?
Well first of all here are some of the assumptions that people have of losing weight quickly and whether there is any truth to them:
1 – Your metabolism slows down.
This is only really in line with changes in your BMR due to you being a lower body weight, and not down to the number of calories you dieted on. Therefore, whether you lose 5kg over 5 weeks or 5kg over 12 weeks, the end result is you are 5kgs lighter and therefore your BMR (the calories you burn at rest) are now lower because you weigh less.
2- You will regain weight faster if you diet on lower calories.
This is also untrue, weight regain doesn’t happen quicker after dieting more aggressively.
3- You will lose muscle.
This might happen if someone is really lean, but shouldn’t happen if protein intake is adequate.
So what are the benefits of dieting more aggressively?
Being on a diet for a shorter duration of time, and seeing results come quicker can be very motivating, and for some people this will spur them on to keep going. Some people adhere to their diets better if they feel like they are actually on a diet. The psychological link between eating less food combined with seeing the weight dropping off on the scale is often what makes someone want to continue with their weight loss journey.
Another benefit to dieting harder for a shorter duration is it’s less time for you to be in a restrictive phase or state and you can return to a maintenance calorie intake sooner.
A lot of this will be dependent on the individual and some people will suit a slower and others a faster rate of weight loss.
As a coach, I believe it is important to let clients know that often a large drop in weight comes with some physiological changes, and that we may need to work on building new habits after the diet is over or the target weight is achieved in order to keep the weight off.
Here is an excerpt from a study by Hall et al.
‘Weight loss in itself is accompanied by persistent endocrine adaptations that increase appetite and decrease satiety, thereby resisting continued weight loss and conspiring against long term weight maintenance. As people progressively lose more and more weight, they fight an increasing battle against the biological responses that oppose further weight loss’.
What this means is that whether you lose weight quickly or slowly, your body will at some point start making it harder for you to keep losing more weight. This is an evolutionary ploy to survive and a lot of the challenges will be down to an upregulation of appetite hormones; again your body trying to stop you from what it may think is ‘starving to death’.
My take away advice for someone who wants to lose a lot of weight is that if you feel like a shorter duration lower calorie diet is something that will make you adhere and motivate you to keep going then go for it, but be mindful of your behaviours once the ‘diet is over’.
Success in dieting,