Are You Losing Weight Too Fast Or Too Slow?


Question:
I started your Burn the Fat, Feed the Muscle program two months ago weighing 358 pounds and 45.1% BF. I am 5’6″ tall. I weigh in on Sunday mornings and check my body fat with the OMRON (I know that’s not ideal but I don’t think the calipers will work at my current bf% level). I actually went to Chili’s with my family last night and had some chips and salsa with steak fajitas for my “free meal.” I figured my weigh in this morning would show I didn’t lose anything, but instead I still lost 5 pounds and 0.3% body fat for the week. I weighed in this morning I am at 321 pounds, with a BF of 42%. Your program is working. Im down 37 pounds already, but my question is: am I losing weight too fast? Am I losing muscle compared to fat? I’m going to the gym 6 days a week doing an hour on the treadmill and three days of weights. I’m eating 5 times a day and averaging about 2200 calories. I’m thinking I might need to eat a little more. What do you think?

Answer:
Slow, but steady fat loss of about 2 pounds per week is often encouraged as the most realistic and best approach for muscle maintenance and long term weight maintenance. However, weight loss recommendations should be customized for each individual. It’s entirely possible that 2 pounds a week could be too fast for some or unnecessarily slow for others.

For people with a lot of weight to lose, it’s perfectly reasonable to lose more than 1-2 pounds per week.

If you have a high body fat level, you are better able to handle an aggressive calorie deficit without negative side effects. An already lean person who restricts calories will trigger the body’s starvation responses more than an overweight person. When body fat is high, you’re also less likely to lose muscle tissue when you’re in a calorie deficit. When body fat is low, you’re more likely to lose muscle tissue in a calorie deficit.

People who are already lean who want to get even leaner (such as bodybuilding, figure or fitness competitors) need to lose fat more slowly. Usually a rate of only a pound per week or even just a half a pound per week is ideal. Faster weight loss would be difficult to achieve without leading to muscle loss.

Considering the differences in physiology between people with a little body fat and people with a lot of body fat, a more customized guideline for weight loss would be 1% of your total body weight per week. For example, if you weigh 350 pounds, then a reasonable weekly goal could be as high as 3.5 pounds per week.

In the beginning, (the first week), many people see even greater weight loss than 1% of total bodyweight. However, large initial weight losses are usually from a loss of water and a depletion of glycogen, especially if the nutritional changes involve a reduction in carbs.

Why can a heavier person lose more fat/weight per week than a lighter person?

A heavy person has a faster, not slower, metabolism. Stated differently, they have much higher calorie expenditures to support the larger body and the cost of moving around that larger body. Therefore, they can create much larger caloric deficits, even with caloric restriction alone.

Here’s an example. A 25 year old man 5 feet 9 inches tall weighing 350 pounds will, at least “on paper,” have a basal metabolic rate of 3000 calories per day. His total daily energy expenditure (maintenance level) at a moderate activity level will be 4675 calories. That seems like a lot, and theoretical (on paper) calorie needs don’t always match real world calorie needs, so this may be an overestimation. Nevertheless, it’s true that calorie needs for larger people will be much higher than for smaller people. You can confirm this for yourself by plugging the stats into any calorie calculator formula.

If your maintenance level really is 4675 calories a day and you cut calories all the way to 2200 a day, then on paper, you have a huge deficit of 2475 calories per day, which would produce a weekly fat loss of about 5 pounds. The only problem is, that’s an extremely aggressive calorie cut. A more conservative calorie reduction would produce slower weight loss, but reduce the risks that come with rapid weight loss. If you weigh over 300 pounds, you could probably take in 2700-2800 calories a day and still be dropping up to 3 lbs a week – of pure fat. A “starvation” diet is completely unnecessary.

Just for contrast, let’s plug me into the formula. Suppose I need to be 176 lbs to make middleweights for my next bodybuilding competition and at the moment I’m about 185 lbs (5′ 8″ tall). At my weight, my BMR is 1800 a day. My calorie expenditure is about 3100 calories a day, being very active at the moment. If I follow your diet of 2200 calories, I only get a 900 calorie per day deficit and I only lose 1.8 lbs per week. Because I’m very concerned with muscle retention, I generally do a more conservative deficit and cut on about 2500-2600 calories a day, with a high calorie day at maintenance every 4th day – voila, that gives me about 1 pound of fat loss per week.

These examples show why a one size fits all program (such as “women eat 1500 calories, men eat 1800 calories”) is totally off the mark. Like everything else related to nutrition and training, you need to customize your caloric intake and deficit levels for your current situation.

Ultimately, the answer to whether you’re losing weight too fast should be based on your body composition, not just the scale.

Looking at your numbers, you are dropping quickly and you have lost a lot of fat (congrats! great work so far!) Dropping from 358 to 321 is a loss of 37 pounds in two months (9 weeks), that’s about 4.1 pounds of weight loss per week.

If your starting body fat was 45.1% at 358 pounds and you are now down to 321 pounds at 42% body fat that means you dropped 27 pounds of fat and 10 pounds of lean body mass:

45.1% @ 358 = 161.4 lbs fat, 196.6 lbs lean mass
42.0% @ 321 = 134.8 lbs body fat, 186.2 lbs lean mass

Naturally, you don’t want to see your muscle decrease. Moving forward, you’ll want to keep an eye on your lean body mass, but don’t get too concerned yet. Remember that lean body mass (LBM) represents all types of fat free tissue and also that includes water weight, which can flucutate dramatically. Changes in glycogen stores and even the contents of your digestive tract can also affect your weight.

Also keep in mind that the bioelectric impedance analysis method for fat testing is not perfect and can occasionally produce some wacky numbers. You may have lost more fat than you think.

Watch your progress chart and if lean body mass is decreasing week after week in a downward trend, especially if you notice your strength decreasing as well, that is usually a sign that you are losing muscle tissue.

If you’re losing lean body mass, here’s are some of the first corrective measures:

(1.) Increase caloric intake slightly, if you have room
(2.) double check that your protein intake is adequate with at least 1 gram per pound of lean bodyweight
(3.) Be sure you are diligently doing your weight training with sufficient resistance and progression
(4.) Assess your amount of cardio to be sure you’re not over doing it
(5.) Assess lifestyle factors that might negatively influence muscle retention, especially high stress and lack of sleep.

Summing up, some weight loss experts tell all their clients to lose only 1 or 2 pounds per week, under all circumstances. But it’s entirely possible to be too conservative. People who weigh 300 or 350 pounds who set up their programs to drop only a pound a week because they were told that’s how they were supposed to do it, may find that slow rate of weight loss can actually become a de-motivator. They could actually take some steps to ramp it up.

If you lose 4 or 5 pounds per week, but fifty percent of the weight is muscle, it would be better to make adjustments to your nutrition and training so you lose weight more slowly each week and you hold on to the lean body mass. But if you can manage to lose more than 3 pounds per week or more and it’s pure fat, and you do it safely and sensibly, that’s fantastic – you’ve achieved better than average results. Keep it up!

Burn The Fat, Feed the Muscle is the most detailed, one-stop guide to fat burning nutrition you’ll ever find.That’s why so many people call it the fat loss bible.

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