Saturday, May 8, 2010

Slow versus fast weight loss: which is superior? by Jerry Brainum

Just about every article or book written about losing body fat strongly suggests that it's important not to attempt to lose weight too rapidly. There are several reasons offered for this admonition. For one, when you try to lose fat too quickly through a drastic reduction in total daily caloric intake, you risk losing more than just body fat. If  the low calorie plan that you choose doesn't contain sufficient levels of protein, there is a high risk of also losing lean mass, as in muscle. When you lose muscle, your resting metabolism drops. The problem with this is that a lower resting metabolism increases the chances of regaining any fat that you lost on the diet. Losing fat too fast also increases the chances of gaining back all that you lost in terms of body fat. This explains the 98% recidivism rate when it comes to losing fat; most people regain all the weight within a year. This, in fact, is a major critique directed at the reality TV show, Biggest Loser. While some of the contestants on that show have lost considerable amounts of weight, much of it was muscle, and many of them regained the weight shortly after their appearances on the program.
    The usual advice for losing weight is not to attempt to lose more than two pounds per week. This would require a daily caloric deficit of 1,000 calories a day, which is not that difficult for motivated dieters. More importantly, the two pound a week weight loss is more likely to consist mostly of fat, and this rate of loss doesn't shock the body, which is supposed to lead to better long-term weight loss. It all makes sense physiologically, yet a new study disputes the notion that rapid weight loss is bad. In fact, the study found that the opposite is true: more rapid weight loss is not only more effective compared to slower weight loss, but also increases the chances of maintaining the weight loss after the diet ends.
    The study analyzed data for 262 middle-aged obese women who participated in a weight-loss trial. The women followed a six month program that encouraged reduced caloric intake, coupled with increased exercise. The women were divided into three groups for study purposes: 1) fast group, who lost the most weight more rapidly; 2) moderate group, who lost slightly less weight each week than the fast group; and 3) slow group, who lost weight at the slowest rate. The study authors then looked at the women's weight loss after 6 and 18 months, and also checked for which group regained the most weight. It turned out that fast losers lost more weight, and also maintained the weight loss longer with less chance of weight regain compared to the other groups. In fact, the women in the fast group were five-times more likely to achieve a clinically significant 10 percent weight loss after 18 months compared to those in the slow group. As such, the study conclusion was that rapid weight loss in the initial stages of dieting is superior to slow weight loss because of greater short-term weight reductions, no increased susceptibility to faster weight regain, and larger total weight loss.

Nackers LM, et al. The association between rate of initial weight loss and long-term success in obesity treatment: does slow and steady win the race? Int J Behav Med 2010: in press.

©,2012 Jerry Brainum. Any reprinting in any type of media, including electronic and foreign is expressly prohibited

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The Applied Ergogenics blog is a collection of articles written and published by Jerry Brainum over the past 20 years. These articles have appeared in Muscle and Fitness, Ironman, and other magazines. Many of the posts on the blog are original articles, having appeared here for the first time. For Jerry’s most recent articles, which are far more in depth than anything that appears on this blog site, please subscribe to his Applied Metabolics Newsletter, at This newsletter, which is more correctly referred to as a monthly e-book, since its average length is 35 to 40 pages, contains the latest findings about nutrition, exercise science, fat-loss, anti-aging, ergogenic aids, food supplements, and other topics. For 33 cents a day you get the benefit of Jerry’s 53 years of writing and intense study of all matters pertaining to fitness,health, bodybuilding, and disease prevention.


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