Weight Loss is Easy to Start, Hard to Sustain
We have all started a diet and lost 5 to 10 pounds in the first few weeks. The weight loss is amazing initially but then suddenly slows and even stops. We get discouraged and then inevitably return to our old ways of eating. This is the plight of yo-yo dieters. In this article, I will discuss why and how we lose weight and strategies to keep it off for good.
The First Stage of Starting a Weight Loss Diet
For many people, starting a diet for weight loss means cleaning out their cabinets of junk food, stopping the fast food habit, and starting to eat “clean.” Eating clean means cutting out the processed bullshit and eating more fruits, vegetables, and lean meats.
We will use an example here. Let’s say you are a 6′ tall 270-pound obese man. You are about 80 to 90 pounds over your ideal weight. If you were to go from a diet of mostly processed food to a whole food diet, you would lose 10-15 pounds in the first 2 weeks. You would have more “energy” and feel great. You would be riding high and feel like all the hard work and food preparation were worth it. But, all of a sudden, the scale stops moving, and you are now losing only a 1/2 pound a week or nothing at all. This becomes very discouraging, and the motivation to keep going is lost. You return to your former eating habits and gain all the weight back as rapidly as you lost it.
95% of the weight that’s being lost at the beginning of a diet comes from water. The heavier you are, the more weight you will lose in this way. This happens due to all the carbs, sodium, and other water-retaining substances found in processed foods. Basically, once you stop the body from being in a water retentive, inflammatory state, it all gets pissed out of you. This process happens over the first few weeks, and after that, there is no more water to be lost. That’s why rapid weight loss stops.
Healthy Diet + Exercise for a Lifetime
Now comes the hard part. You have entered the slow weight loss stage. From here on out, you will lose weight from one of two places: Fat or Muscle. The key is finding the right strategy to have the rest of the weight loss come from fat while also retaining your muscle. If you try to lose weight too rapidly (2 or more pounds a week), a large percentage of your weight will come from muscle as well as fat. On the other hand, too slow (1/2 pound a week), and you may be discouraged by the lack of progress and quit.
- Fat: A pound of fat contains about 3,500 calories and uses less energy daily than muscle. Fat is our body’s primary “steady-state” source of energy.
- Muscle: This is our contractile tissue and is what gives our bodies “strength.” The body will readily break down muscle for energy during periods of being in a caloric deficit.
To find how many calories you should be eating in a day refer to this previous post “The only Diet you will ever need”. To lose about a pound a week, you should subtract 500 calories from your daily caloric needs. I find this to be a sustainable way to lose fat over time. If you restrict too heavily, you will feel like you’re starving all the time, and discipline can only hold out so long against the intense evolutionary drive to eat. Also, you will lose way too much muscle this way. We have all heard that muscle burns more calories than fat. This is true and is why you should try to retain and grow as much muscle as possible. More muscle means being able to eat more without getting fat. Who doesn’t want to do that?
To retain muscle, you must give your body a reason not to metabolize it for fuel. While dieting, daily resistance exercise training will give your body the stimulus it needs to keep and even build muscle. I do not recommend only doing “cardio” when on a diet. This is a great way to strip your body of its muscle. Steady-state cardio is not a muscle-building activity and will even encourage muscle loss. I wrote a great guide on the 5 Must-Do Exercises for Building Muscle. Do these as your core exercises when resistance training to build and retain muscle.
I’ve Reached my Goal Weight, Now What?
Congrats, you have reached your goal weight. Now is not the time to stop. The goal weight is not really the end game. The game has just begun. You cannot revert to your old ways; instead, slowly increase the number of calories you are eating each week until you are no longer losing or gaining weight. You have reached equilibrium. This is fantastic; you have found a way to eat a healthy diet and maintain it for the rest of your life!!
- Rapid weight loss at the beginning of a diet due to water weight (Don’t be discouraged when it stops).
- Plan to sustainably lose a pound a week by cutting calories by 500 a day.
- Do Resistance training during your diet to keep muscle and not lose it to energy needs.
- Once your goal weight is reached, find a new caloric set point to maintain health.