Rapid vs. Slow Weight Loss: Which is better for Long-Term Progress?

By Shelby Stoner, PHASE IV Exercise Physiologist

To some extent, everyone on a weight loss program wants immediate results. That’s why fad diets and/or weight loss pharmaceuticals are so dominant in the health and fitness industry. In reality, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to diet and exercise and no “magic pill.” Eating healthy and staying physically active are proven ways to lose weight, but they are part of a gradual process that’s not always as easy. So, which path should you take for sustainable weight loss and maintenance?

As defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, gradual weight loss is roughly 1-2 pounds per week. Note that this is a general recommendation that doesn’t take into account individual factors. No two bodies are exactly the same, so an acceptable rate of weight loss varies from person to person. For the purpose of this article, losing more than 2 pounds per week is considered “rapid.” In general, the consensus is that slow and steady weight loss is better (and healthier) than rapid weight loss, but we will examine the effects of both!

Rapid Weight Loss

One of the few instances where rapid weight loss is recommended is in preparation for specific procedures, such as gastric bypass surgery. Keep in mind here that in these circumstances there is a significant amount of weight to lose and is under medical supervision. In more common cases, rapid weight loss usually comes from marathon exercise sessions paired with fad diets or cleanses that require strict calorie cutting. These methods are popular for dropping the pounds quickly (mostly in the form of water weight), but it’s difficult to keep up with this tiresome and strict lifestyle, making the results short-term. Remember, the weight you are looking to lose did not get there overnight, so the weight loss won’t happen overnight either. In addition, the faster you lose the weight, the more likely it is to come right back (plus some) when you stop dieting. When you lose weight too quickly, you are at risk for slowing your body’s metabolism. By the time you have reached your goal weight and go back to old habits, you may have slowed your metabolism enough to the point that even a seemingly healthy diet will make you gain weight quickly. This is the primary reason why a slow and steady approach to weight loss is the way to go. Some of the other symptoms people experience with rapid weight loss include:
  • Headaches
  • Irritability
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Constipation
  • Hair loss
  • Muscle loss

Slow Weight Loss

For most of us, slow and gradual weight loss is more realistic and achievable. It doesn’t ask you to drastically cut calories or completely eliminate multiple food groups from your diet. Instead, you are in more control of your lifestyle and develop healthier habits such as walking or biking instead of driving, swapping water for soda, etc. that benefit your health in the long term. As a result, your body is better nourished. Very low calorie diets increase your risk of nutrient deficiencies that are typically obtained through the foods we eat. In addition, you achieve a better body composition. Slow and steady weight loss ensures that you’re mostly losing fat instead of muscle or water. Chronic undereating can be detrimental to your health goals as it pushes your body towards a “starvation mode.” Other benefits of dropping the weight slowly include:
  • Better sleep
  • Hormonal balance
  • Less joint pain
  • Clearer, healthier skin
  • Stress relief
  • Improved immune function

Take Away Message

Slow and steady weight loss is typically more achievable and realistic for most of us in the long run. Quick fixes typically don’t last, as many people revert back to old habits soon after shedding the pounds. A gradual and sustainable approach allows you to learn to how adapt healthy habits into your lifestyle without radical changes or strict calorie cutting.

At PHASE IV, we specialize in creating science based programming to reach your goals in a healthy and sustainable manner. Using the knowledge from our highly credentialed staff of Physical Therapists, Nutritionists, and Exercise Physiologists, we can help you reach peak fitness with our team of experts underneath one roof.

Call us to schedule a complimentary 30-minute health and fitness consultation at our facility in Santa Monica. 310-582-8212

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