Is Slow Weight Loss a Myth?

 | Fitness, Health, Uncategorized  | 17 Comments

fast-or-slow-weightloss

I don’t know about you but I’ve always heard that to lose weight and keep it off you must lose weight slowly. What I’ve always taken this to mean is that if you lose weight quickly you must be doing something that is unhealthy (like starving yourself) or unsustainable (like eating only cabbage soup).

It turns out this isn’t just an urban myth either. The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) uses this paragraph as it’s introduction to it’s entire section on weight loss. It says, “It’s natural for anyone trying to lose weight to want to lose it very quickly. But evidence shows that people who lose weight gradually and steadily (about 1 to 2 pounds per week) are more successful at keeping weight off. Healthy weight loss isn’t just about a ‘diet’ or ‘program’. It’s about an ongoing lifestyle that includes long-term changes in daily eating and exercise habits”.

Now, I definitely agree with the part about permanent, positive changes in your lifestyle if you want to feel and look your best. But I’m not totally convinced that losing weight slowly is the only way to do it. Let’s take a look at the research.

In a 2008 study at the University of East Carolina researchers were able to show that small healthy changes in lifestyle were easier for their study participants to sustain long-term. The people in the small changes/slow weight loss group lost weight very slowly but more of them kept the weight off (and continued to lose weight over time) than the people in the traditional bigger lifestyle changes/ faster-paced weight loss group.

In a similar 1999 study published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology researchers found that the group of participants who made smaller, more comfortable changes lost less weight but were more successful in keeping that weight off. The group that made more extreme changes lost more weight more quickly but were more likely to gain it back.

So, some studies back up what the CDC and general knowledge in the fitness community tells us: losing weight more slowly is easier on you and therefore, more sustainable.

My common sense tells me something different, though. To me it seems like the more quickly you see results, the more motivated you’ll be. Perhaps once you lock into a lifestyle that supports looking and feeling good you won’t want to revert back to old ways. So I went looking for studies to support my theory.

In 2014 a study was published in the journal The Lancet, Diabetes and Endocrinology. It split a group of men and women into two groups, a rapid 12 week weight loss group and a gradual 36 week weight loss group. Both groups lost weight but each group had about the same number of members who regained the weight they had lost. it didn’t matter how fast or slow they lost it.

In a 2010 study at the University of Florida researchers split up their participants into three groups; fast, moderate, and slow weight loss. The study was six months long and then the researchers followed the participants for an additional year after the treatment was over. This study was actually able to show that the fast weight loss group lost the most weight, with the moderate group coming in second. About the same amount of people from each group regained the weight they had lost.

I would also like to point out that the studies supporting the slow weight loss theory were more focused on behavioral and general lifestyle changes that were not discussed in detail. So it’s hard to know exactly how the participants changed their lives. Was it diet or exercise? Was it something else, like counseling or community support? The studies that showed how rapid weight loss has similar/somewhat greater effects than slow weight loss were specific in detailing that the studies were based on calorie reduction alone.

So, what does it all mean?

To me it means that we shouldn’t worry to much about how fast or slow we lose weight. You lose it slow, you lose it fast, it’s all about the same as long as you’re not doing anything dangerous or unhealthy. For some people, when something takes forever, they tend to want to give up. Fast results can be very motivating. For someone else, smaller changes might be more sustainable.

But one thing is for sure, I definitely don’t believe that the only way to permanent change is slow weight loss. I think that the CDC and the fitness community should reexamine their position on this issue. I think their position comes from a good place, where they’re really just trying to advise people against fad diets or starving themselves. And that’s all well and good. But people don’t come in one size, shape, or flavor. For some, perhaps a cabbage soup diet can be a great jumping off point to spark a weight loss journey that includes redefining their whole diet and lifestyle so that they can sustain the positive changes.

What are your thoughts on the optimal speed for sustainable weight loss? I would love to hear from anyone who has had success both with quick and slow weight loss. Were you able to keep the weight off? What do you think was the key to your successes or set-backs?

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17 comments on “Is Slow Weight Loss a Myth?”

  1. private avatar image
    Private

    Private  |  Texas, USA

    I have achieved both fast and slow weight loss. I think there’s a lot of factors that contribute to it but what has always worked for me is determination, dedication and consistency. I get out of it what I put into it. I don’t think real weight loss and physical health can be achieved with fad diets or pills. I don’t think it can be achieved by looking at healthy eating, everyday exercise and physical activity as a hobby to be taken up off and on. I know how to maintain the average but the more I kick it up a notch or two, the stronger and better I feel and look. I have to ask myself often, “Do you want to feel good physically and mentally today and tomorrow? Good? Then get your ass in gear!” 😉

  2. private avatar image
    Private

    Private  | 

    THANK YOU for posting this!!

    I know what is good for my body and how I like to feel or what habits I try to promote for myself. I also know that not everyone is the same. However, when I lose weight quickly (which tends to be what happens when I follow everything I should be doing) or get into the habit of eating the way I choose that makes me feel better (for example, low-carb or keto) I frequently have others tell me that what I’m doing is unhealthy. Sadly, I have let such negativity derail me multiple times so I’m not at my goal weight yet, even though I could and, ultimately, should be.

    Fortunately, your community is a wonderfully supportive one and I’m going to be working my hardest to focus on the positivity and support found here rather than those around me who, while they may have good intentions, don’t understand.

    • private avatar image
      Private

      Private  | 

      I kind of do the same. I like being able to lose 4-5 lbs quickly (my weight fluctuates that easily) by doing keto for a week. Keto is not sustainable for me, though, if I want to have a social life. But I prefer to see the changes quickly. I would say probably most of us in this community have made life-long changes that will prevent us from gaining too much weight in the long run…hopefully. 😀

      • private avatar image
        Private

        Private  | 

        I’m the same; keto is a great body and mind booster for me for short periods. It helps me feel great and get back on track in a very efficient manner but for the long-haul I prefer the earn-your-carbs approach that Zuzka follows. I love carb-loaded foods, though, so doing keto for a while helps me not miss them so much – same with sugar, if I stay away from it long enough I really don’t miss eating it and staying with healthier options. I love how the message here is all about what’s doable for the long run and learning to listen to and trust your own body. 🙂

        • private avatar image
          Private

          Private  | 

          Absolutely. Once you get over the hump, you don’t crave the bad carbs/sugar anymore.I haven’t been too good lately – craving a lot of bad stuff. 😛

          • private avatar image
            Private

            Private  | 

            The holidays definitely don’t help, either!

  3. private avatar image
    Private

    Private  | 

    Every time I’ve tried to loose a nice chunk of weight quickly I’ve crashed and wanted to binge eat all the carbs in the house. I’m sure this is mostly a mental game I played with myself. It is much much much easier for me to go at this with a slower approach and NOT cut out all of my favorite foods. For me, I tend to worry less about what I’m eating as long as I work out everyday – given I’m not a huge chip, ice cream, fast food eater, but i do enjoy chocolate 🙂 – so as long as I’m making efforts to be the best me possible I am a whole lot happier and tend to see changes that last a long term.

    • private avatar image
      Private

      Private  | 

      Just wanted to let you know, it’s probably not a mental game that you want to binge after losing a lot of weight. The body naturally wants us to not lose a ton of weight, since it is programmed to keep us from starving (which it thinks is happening when there’s a sudden calorie decrease). Our hormones change that increase appetite. So keep doing what works best for you! 🙂

  4. private avatar image
    Private

    Private  |  UK

    Slow is better. Your body has time to adapt. Fast weight loss requires cutting the calories too low. Which means hunger which means stress for the body. And no matter how motivated your are hunger beats motivation every single time. 1 pound per week seems very reasonable recommendation.

  5. private avatar image
    Private

    Private  | 

    The first thing I noticed Zuzka in reading your posts and watching your utube before joining is that you do really give everyone a chance to have their own thoughts and just help us to see what has “worked” for you. It’s very apparent you are not the “norm” as many of us as who are following your workouts, (in amazing great shape, and extremely strong) but we strive to be the best we can be. And thank you for that!

    For me, I used to try all the fad diets, this and that…. I finally started working with a trainer and eating a healthy balanced food plan. Actually EATING 4-5 meals a day, which included meals and snacks. I used weights and tried cardio. ( as my heart is not conditioned to do a lot of cardio right off the bat.) I was weak in the weights to start, but soon I noticed a change, body composition changed! For me the faster the weight/body fat came off, the more motivated I was. Which as you said kept me more motivated….

    Therefore, I agree with you, if you can find a healthy food plan, ( I choose to not call it diet). I did great, felt great, but as my normal habits in the past, I allowed things to get in the way. My trainer slowed in workout days, which gave me more lead way to slow….. Next I knew she had stopped and then so did I. Finding your program is great, I feel that I must check in daily, do my workout, that you and the gang are depending on it. Crazy but it helps.

  6. private avatar image
    Private

    Private  |  cherry hill, nj, usa

    Great article! I’m torn between the two as I’m starting a new weight loss journey and not sure what approach is best. I feel that you should pay attention to your body regardless of the path you take. The most important thing is not causing your body harm. I also feel that losing weight the healthy way helps you sustain not only physically but mentally. Whether you lose it slow or fast it’s encouraging and motivating to see great results. I can’t wait to see my progress as I continue on my weight loss journey. My goal is to lose 40 pounds and I don’t have a target date just the journey;-)

  7. private avatar image
    Private

    Private  |  Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

    I was 200lbs, maybe not as heavy as some who have needed to lose weight… but it was considered obese for my height. The first 10lbs fell off in less than a month, then it took 2 months for the next 10 pounds, and then 4 months for the next 10 pounds, then 6 months for the next 10 pounds… etc etc
    Anyone who has lost a lot of weight successfully will tell you it’s so fast at first, and it’s very motivating to continue, but near the end it’s frustrating to tears.
    Right now I want to get stronger, faster, more flexible and better posture because at my leanest I kind of looked like shit anyways!

    • private avatar image
      Private

      Private  | 

      Good for you! It is really tough to stay motivated and consistent when the progress slows. It seems like every 10lbs is a hurdle for me now. Congrats to you for sticking with it and pushing through!! 🙂

      • private avatar image
        Private

        Private  |  Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

        Thanks, keep in mind that I thought my final weight would be around 130lbs, and it ended up being 160lbs. For a while I kept thinking I needed to lose another 30lbs, but then a personal trainer taught me how to measure my muscle mass and fat percentage instead. Well it blew me away that I was around 25% body fat! I don’t know what I am now, we’ll see where zgym takes me.

  8. private avatar image
    Private

    Private  | 

    Nice article!
    For me, it’s really better to take is slowly. I love eating and I have a BIG carb intolerance. So for me, changing my diet slowly and increasing day by day my fitness level did it for me.

    Though I can loose a lot of weight in a very short space of time I always end up have some setbacks on matters of diet.
    And if the goal is to increase the gain of muscles I believe that burning fat gradually is the key.

    Every time I tried to do it perfectly from the beginning I always ended up failing, even considering myself a very persistent person. And the feeling of failing is not good if the goal is to keep yourself on the right track for a lifetime.
    Everyone is different, but for me more important than getting in shape the goal is trying to be as healthy as I can.

    But than again, I agree with you Zuzka, everyone is different.

  9. private avatar image
    Private

    Private  |  Centurion, South Africa

    I set a target to drop only 5kgs (about 11 pounds) quickly and then I have to keep it off for at least 6 months before I do the next 5kgs. I suppose that is categorized as slow over the long run even when the 5kg drop happens in only three weeks. I always worry about gaining it again so the 6 month “keep it off” period ensures that it is permanent.

    Timing is everything. I have to do the 5kg drop during a relatively “manageable stress” period because dropping the weight requires that I pay very close attention to my health habits for 6 weeks at a time – the first three to drop the weight, the next three to keep it off and then I can relax knowing that I’ve got it covered. If things are really hectic (I have started a new business, things feel crazy most of the time) I know that I shouldn’t even attempt the next drop as I won’t be paying attention and just frustrating myself. So during the hectic times I must just maintain what I’ve done in the past.

    The December holidays are usually a great candidate time period for a drop for me. Yes, everyone eats a lot over the holidays with family and friends visiting but that is also the time when work is quiet and things are much more manageable. Doing a drop during the holidays also ensures that I stay away from the crazy eating with family and friends and most of them are actually very supportive and often join me in eating healthy stuff as it movitivates them to eat a little better over the holidays as well. It works best to tell them that I’m eating healthily before they arrive for a visit. Not only are they supportive but it keeps me accountable!

    The 5kg drop in three weeks is really motivating, it is awesome to see the change so quickly and yes, it would have been great to just keep going and throw off another 5kgs. But I know from experience that the smaller chunks are more manageable.

    Great article.

  10. private avatar image
    Private

    Private  |  Centurion, South Africa

    Scientifically proven that you lose weight by breathing, Z. So when you tell us that we lose weight the more out of breath we are you are 100% correct according to this TedX talk! 🙂

    https://youtu.be/vuIlsN32WaE

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