by Ed Yourdon
Weight loss can be a tricky thing and may often feel like a roller coaster ride. With all the conflicting information around, sometimes it can be hard to tell if your diet is working. So just how much weight can the normal person expect to lose each week?
First off, we need to differentiate between weight loss and fat loss. When starting a diet (particularly low carbohydrate diets), it is not uncommon to lose a lot of weight in the first week or two of dieting only for it to slow down significantly in the following weeks. This occurs because low carbohydrate diets deplete the body’s glycogen stores (glycogen is the body’s preferred way of storing carbohydrates). To keep things simple, glycogen likes water. An adult male can typically store 2-3 pounds of glycogen with an accompanying 6-10 pounds of water! When you start to restrict carbohydrates, glycogen stores go down and so does the accompanying water.
In the first two weeks of a low-carbohydrate diet, even petite females can see 4 pounds of glycogen & water weight loss, whereas a large male might see an upwards of 10 pounds of weight loss. The larger the person, the more glycogen and water weight he retains. Obese or very muscular people may store even more glycogen and water. This early weight nose-dive is exciting at first but sets up some very unrealistic expectations for the rest of the diet!
When it comes to fat loss, the major factor for how fast the fat can be lost is body weight. Bigger people lose weight faster. When it comes to weight loss, a good rule of thumb is that for every 100 pounds of body weight, 1 pound of weight loss per week is realistic. A shorter, petite female looking to lose ten pounds of fat would likely have to diet for 10 weeks, while an obese man or woman might be able to lose 30 pounds in the same time frame, in addition to ten to twenty pounds of glycogen and water weight!
If you are losing weight a lot faster than one pound per 100 pounds of body weight per week, odds are your body is burning some muscle up in addition to fat. This is not a good thing because muscle is highly metabolic tissue and your body uses a lot of calories each day (to the tune of 10-15 calories per pound) simply to maintain it. In order to prevent this, it is important to include resistance training as a part of your routine in addition to eating enough calories. Many doctors typically recommend a minimum of 1200 calories per day to meet basic nutritional needs. As a result, petite females need to exercise more than other populations to lose weight effectively while getting enough calories to provide proper nutritional support.
Another thing to remember is that weight loss is not a linear event. The human body is incredibly complex, with trillions of chemical reactions occurring inside of it each day. We simply do not know everything about weight loss. What we can do is observe the evidence and make conclusions. One thing that I have seen time and time again is that fat loss is not linear. A strict dieter may remain the same weight for two weeks only to drop five pounds in the third week. It is not known why this happens, but it does. The best thing you can do to limit weight variations is to weigh yourself at the same time every day. To receive the most consistent weights, the best time for weighing in is right when you wake up in the morning. Try to use the scale after using the bathroom but before eating or drinking anything for the most consistent results.
What about TV shows and celebrities that get in shape overnight or lose 100 pounds in just a few months? These extreme circumstances typically involve many hours of exercise per week and carefully planned meals. Unfortunately, normal people have to do things like go to work and cook their own meals. Real world weight loss is not a race; it is a lifestyle change. In reality, your friends and family do not care if it takes you two or twenty weeks to reach a healthy weight, as long as you do so. Habits are very hard to break, and in order to encourage long-term success, dieting should be as hassle-free as possible.