TV-shows like Biggest Loser set us high expectations regarding how fast it’s possible to lose weight. However, fast weight loss isn’t possible without drastically limiting your calorie consumption. Making drastic cuts leads to problems that make it hard to maintain your weight loss result in the long run.
Before I list the benefits of slow weight loss, I want to define what I mean by “slow”. By slow weight loss I mean losing no more than a pound per week. Losing two pounds a week is plenty. At this slow rate you’d be able to lose 22-45 pounds a year (10-20 kg/year). Depending on how much you have to lose, the whole process may take 12-24 months.
So here’s my list of the benefits of slow weight loss. I hope you’re able to learn something new.
#1. Slow weight loss is easy and comfortable.
Slow weight loss helps you avoid the suffering and drama that usually goes hand in hand with dieting. No starving, mood swings, blood sugar crashes and food cravings. The only difficult thing about slow weight loss is accepting it takes time to see results.
In my opinion, the anticipated suffering is the reason many people aren’t willing to start yet another attempt at dieting, even for health reasons. And who wants to disrupt their life like that, if there’s an alternative?
#2. Minimal loss of muscle mass.
The purpose of losing weight is to lose fat, not lean muscle. Unfortunately, the faster your rate of weight loss, the more you lose muscle mass. At a slow rate (i.e. losing less than 1 lb per week), 90 percent of the weight you lose is fat (case a) while at a rate of losing 2 lb / week, 75 percent of your weight loss is fat (case b).
And if you’re on a “starvation diet”, consuming max 1000 cal/day, only 60 percent of your weight loss is fat (case c).
A concrete example may help to illustrate. Let’s imagine your scale tells you’ve lost 10 pounds of weight. In case a (i.e. slow weight loss) that means you’ve in reality lost 9 pounds of fat. The rest is muscle mass, water and other stuff. In case b you’ve lost 7.5 pounds of fat, and if you’re on a starvation diet, your real fat loss is only ~6 pounds.
What difference does it make whether you lose fat or muscle, as long as you shrink?
It does make a difference, especially if your weight tends to go up and down. Muscle tissue is metabolically more active than fat tissue, meaning that if you lose lots of muscle tissue during dieting, you end up slowing your metabolism.
Slow metabolism makes it hard to maintain your weight loss result in the long run.
And when it comes to your appearance, guess which one ends up looking better: the person on a crash diet, or the one who lost her weight at a snail pace? It’s the slow dieter who looks trim and toned.
Surely you want to feel fabulous and energetic after weight loss, not listless and flabby?
#3. No hunger debt.
Hunger debt works like just like sleep debt. If you don’t get enough sleep during the week, you end up sleeping longer during the weekend. Similarly, if you take a large hunger debt (i.e. eat too little) now, you end up eating too much later. (On a physiological level, your hunger is regulated by dozens of hormones and neural transmitters that make you hungry in response to your eating behavior).
In other words: if you take a large debt, sooner or later you get a big backlash. This is something you will experience as bingeing and food cravings. But if you avoid making large cuts in calorie consumption, your body doesn’t prevent weight loss and you’re able to lose weight without hunger.
In practice, the heavier you’re, the larger is the calorie deficit you can maintain before you start experincing hunger debt. Someone with a BMI of 40 can reduce her calorie consumption as much as 900 cal/day (which corresponds roughly to a weight loss of 2lb/week).
In contrast, if you want to lose weight within normal range of BMI (19-24,9), you can restrict your daily consumption by 200-300 calories before you start getting hungry.