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Weight Loss Reality Check: Why Losing Two Pounds a Week May Not Be as Easy as You Think

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Weight Loss Reality Check: Why Losing Two Pounds a Week May Not Be as Easy as You Think

Do you ever wonder why your neighbor seemed to drop weight in a few weeks on a fad diet but you are not seeing results as you begin making healthy lifestyle changes?

Does this mean that healthy lifestyle changes don’t work? There is a misconception of how weight loss occurs and the diet society we live in makes it seem that if we don’t see the pounds drop each week then the particular routine you have adapted isn’t working. This isn’t exactly true.

Here are the facts. Physiologically we know that it takes 3500 calories to lose one pound of body fat. So in order to lose 2 pounds a week, which is considered slow weight loss in the diet world, you have to make a 1000 calorie deficit every single day. For a few this can happen easily, but for most it really isn’t that easy to make a 1000 calorie deficit and more often than not it means you have to make immediate and drastic changes to your diet and exercise every day. Many diet plans and programs will put you on a very low calorie level, which will most likely result in that 1000 calorie deficit but it also may decrease your metabolism and is often tough to live with long term. We know this is true from looking at the percentage of people who regain their weight after dieting with these types of programs. Additionally, no one ever loses just fat, they lose a combination of fat and muscle. This causes metabolic changes that make everyone’s weight loss progression unique.

We also know that it takes about 6 weeks of consistent exercise before you begin to see changes in your body shape. This is just the starting point – 1 1/2 months.

Think about the rate that you gained weight. We usually don’t gain 50 pounds in 6 months. Instead, we gain weight gradually over time and the process works exactly the same for weight loss. Rest assure, when you don’t see immediate results it doesn’t mean your efforts aren’t working. You may make a 200 calorie deficit each day which will still lead to weight loss but over a longer period of time.

Let’s break this down and look at the true picture of weight loss:

1000 calorie deficit (2 pounds weight loss each week)

  • Quicker results.
  • Motivation is strong because you can see quick results.
  • Have to work harder and make significant changes right away (to give you an example a 30 minute brisk walk will burn around 175 calories- you would still have a long way to go to reach a 1000 calorie deficit for this day).
  • Requires an increased amount of focus.
  • Long term compliance is significantly decreased- we know that when people make more than a 400 calorie deficit they are less likely to stick with the changes long term and end up regaining their weight.
  • Doesn’t allow time to change habits. It takes 30 days to change one habit. When you try to jump into new eating and exercise habits all at once, you have a higher probability of quitting all together because it is too overwhelming.
  • Often leads people to be overly focused or obsessed about food, counting, and scales.

100 – 400 calorie deficit

  • Results happen over months not weeks (this varies; some people may lose 1/2 – 1 pound per week but it is an overall slower process).
  • Can be frustrating not seeing results right away when you are making positive changes. You have to find ways to self motivate other than the scale.
  • Still requires focus but you can focus on a few things at a time instead of trying to adapt to 10-15 changes.
  • This allows you to focus on bigger obstacles that continue to get in the way such as life long conditioning, food cravings, or emotional/stress eating.
  • Gives you time and space to change habits which results in better long term compliance. You can focus on a few things at once to build new habits.
  • Significantly better long term results. More likely to stick with the changes and not regain the weight.

Be less obsessive about food and counting. It doesn’t end up consuming your whole life. There is no right or wrong answer here, but it is important to have awareness around how this works. If you want a better success rate then allow yourself some time to make lifestyle changes that will stick. If you want to see quicker results, you absolutely can. Just be prepared to work a little harder and commit to long term changes. Learning about your body and making healthy lifestyle changes isn’t a diet or plan. It is something that works every time, but you have to be patient and not give up when you don’t see the scale move right away. This is a numbers game and it is all about making changes in your diet and exercise, that you can live with, that result in a calorie deficit.


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About the Author

Meri Raffetto, RD, LDN

Meri Raffetto, RD, LDN

Meri is a Registered and Licensed Dietitian Nutritionist and specializes in weight management and heart disease. With more than 10 years experience in nutrition counseling has helped people make positive lifestyle changes to improve their health. Since becoming a dietitian, she has been involved with nutrition research studies and has worked in many specialized areas of nutrition such as weight management, heart disease, alcohol recovery, and eating disorders. She has provided nutrition counseling for professional athletes training at Titan Sports Performance Center in Santa Barbara, CA and has developed nutrition programs and education manuals for hospitals, private businesses, and corporate wellness. Additionally, Meri publishes a monthly newsletter for RealLivingNutrition.com and has contributed articles to Santa Barbara Fitness Magazine and Santa Barbara News Press' Woman Magazine. She has been interviewed by multiple radio shows and featured in Healthy Living Magazine and the Chicago Tribune. She lives with her husband in Temecula, CA where she enjoys hiking, reading, writing, occasional rock climbing, and, of course, cooking!

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