How long does it take to lose weight after you start eating healthy and being more physically active? You can’t help but wonder if you’re on the right track. We’re going to clear up your weight loss doubts and explain exactly what to do and what to expect.
Have you ever wondered what happens to the “weight” when you lose it?
Does all the fat vanish via your poop, sweat, and urine? Or does it just disappear into thin air?
The answer is a little more complex than that.
To understand it, you need to first understand how your body gains weight.
Weight gain is a result of consuming more calories (energy) than your body needs on a regular or daily basis. Individual calorie needs vary from person to person, depending on age, gender, weight, and activity level.
When we consume more calories than we need, they are converted into triglycerides and stored in the fat cells of our body. Triglycerides are a type of fat (lipid) and they’re made up of one glycerol and three fatty acid chain molecules .
Continuously overloading your body with excess calories can cause the stored triglycerides to make the fat cells to grow in size or multiply. This is what adds inches to your waistline .
When you lose weight, the fat doesn’t “melt away” as some imagine it to. For instance, if you go on a diet and exercise program, the enzyme lipase will hydrolyze, or breakdown, the stored triglycerides to glycerol and free fatty acids. These are then released into the bloodstream to be utilized for bodily functions .
The breakdown of triglycerides causes the fat cells to shrink in size, and eventually give the appearance of weight loss. However, the fat cells do not disappear and remain in our bodies forever .
Does that mean all of the stored fat is used up for energy?
That’s what most people, even many health care professionals thought until a 2014 study proved that wasn’t the case. In this study, the Australian scientist Ruben Meerman found that most of the body fat is lost via carbon dioxide during exhalation . The byproducts of fat metabolization are carbon dioxide, water, heat, and adenosine triphosphate (ATP).
Water is excreted via urine and sweat. Heat is used to regulate body temperature and ATP is the main molecule in our body responsible for storing and transferring energy. Carbon dioxide is exhaled during respiration. In the above study, however, they found that the large majority of fat is exhaled as carbon dioxide, and a small fraction is lost via water.
The study also pointed out that you cannot attempt to lose weight by practicing heavy breathing. This could lead to hyperventilation and it’s not practically possible. Lifestyle changes, such as good nutrition and exercise, need to be implemented to properly lose weight.
The bottom line is that when you lose weight, fat cells shrink in size to give the appearance of weight loss. Most of the metabolized fat leaves the body via carbon dioxide and water, and some is used for energy.
These three body weight components are also known as body composition in the medical and fitness industry.
Body fat percentage refers to exactly how much of your body weight is made up of adipose tissue.
This refers to everything else in your body that does not contain fat. This includes muscles, internal organs, and bone.
Water refers to the percentage of total water in your body. Most people lose water weight first and often mistake it for fat loss.
Body composition is recommended as a more accurate way to measure your health than BMI or ideal body weight because it shows you exactly what your weight is made up of.
John is 35 years old and weighs 176 pounds. Peter is also 35 years old and weighs 176 pounds. However, John appears to be overweight and Peter looks fit.
Why do you think that is?
Both John and Peter are the same age and weight, yet one of them is fitter than the other. The reason is that Peter has more lean body mass than John. This means Peter probably has more muscle and bone density than body fat.
This is precisely why BMI or ideal body weight may not always be an accurate way to measure your health. If you live a sedentary lifestyle where you spend most of your day sitting, you could have a normal BMI but have a higher body fat percentage than what is considered healthy.
A 2016 study conducted on 50,000 people found that having a low BMI and high body fat percentage was associated with higher mortality in women . This study shed light on the fact that having a normal BMI is not always an accurate way to measure your health.
Here are a few factors that can determine your weight loss. Some of them you have control over, while some you do not.
It has become clear over the past few decades of research that genetics do play a part in determining body weight . While making lifestyle changes can certainly make a difference, it’s not always that simple for everyone.
Genes can influence your weight loss in many ways by affecting your appetite, satiety, metabolic rate, and body fat distribution.
Some individuals have genes that predispose them to developing overweight or obesity. For example, you may have a higher genetic predisposition of becoming overweight or obese if you have most or all of the following characteristics:
You may have a low-moderate genetic predisposition to becoming overweight or obese if you have most or all of the following characteristics:
If the above describes you, you may be at the low-moderate end of the genetic overweight/obesity spectrum. This means you have some genetic disadvantages compared to individuals who aren’t at risk, but it’s not something you can’t overcome with the right lifestyle changes.
That said, everyone, despite their genetic disadvantages, can expect to see some positive results with continuous efforts.
Metabolic rate refers to the rate at which your body burns calories for energy, even at rest. Think of it as a car waiting at a red traffic signal, metabolism is like the fuel it takes to keep your car on and ready to move when the signal turns green.
Your body uses metabolism to function from digesting the food you eat, to breathing, to circulating blood throughout your body. Some individuals have a faster metabolic rate even at rest, meaning they’re burning more calories even when they’re not moving . The reason for that could be genetic, their level of physical activity, or body composition.
In general, individuals who have more muscle mass will have a faster metabolism than those who don’t. This would explain why women tend to have a slower metabolic rate than men. Your metabolic rate can influence how fast or slow you digest your food, and how many calories you burn in a day.
However, contrary to popular belief, the metabolic rate only plays a small role in your body weight. Unless you have a health condition like hypothyroidism, Cushing’s syndrome, or polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), your metabolism cannot solely be blamed for your weight gain.
Although weight gain can be caused by many factors, your weight loss will be more dependant on your lifestyle choices than your metabolic rate. If you have more muscle mass, or if you happen to be more physically active and have good nutrition, you’ll have a greater chance of successfully losing weight than someone who’s inactive with a similar metabolic rate.
Have you ever wondered how we have more obese individuals in the world now than fifty years ago? Statistics reveal that approximately one-third of the US adult population and 17% of adolescents are obese, and it will continue to increase .
It’s unfair to blame it all on genetics or not being able to follow a healthier lifestyle. The truth is that the increased availability of unhealthy foods plays a big role in the enormous growth of obesity.
The availability of food
Look at the availability of junk food now compared to fifty years ago. We have more access to unhealthy foods everywhere we go and there are fast food restaurants on every corner. It is much easier to purchase unhealthy, calorie dense food in large portions sizes than it was a few decades ago.
A lot of the unhealthy foods that we see in the supermarkets were created with three intentions:
Cheap marketing tactics
Some junk food manufacturers falsely advertise their food items as healthy, and specifically target children via food advertisements. Kids watching movies and cartoons are being lured by fast food advertisements every day, which is a big contributor to childhood obesity.
The portion sizes of fast food restaurants, such as McDonalds, have grown significantly in the past few decades. Large amounts of cheap food have distorted our perceptions of what normal portions are supposed to look like, causing us to consistently eat more calories than we need. Cheap prices coupled with large portions of hyperpalatable foods is one of the biggest contributors to the obesity epidemic that is seen today.
We all have a bit of a disadvantage with the availability of hyperpalatable foods, as well as other contributing factors such as genetics and certain health conditions. It may feel like you have a lot of forces working against you to stop you from losing weight. However, the truth is that although it may have become harder to lose weight these days, it’s not impossible with self-discipline.
For example, if you are exposed to unhealthy food at your workplace or school, you could try to overcome that by meal prepping at home. We’ll discuss this more in a bit.
Fewer than 25% of Americans meet the government's recommendation of at least 150 minutes of moderate-vigorous exercise per week. Due to continuously growing technological advancements, your chances of being more physically active are continuously decreasing.
Clothes used to be hand washed before the invention of the washing machine. Can you imagine how laborious it would be to wash a week’s worth of clothes with your hands? It’s probably great exercise, and was considered a part of everyday life at one point in history.
Likewise, vacuum cleaners have replaced broomsticks, and dishwashers have replaced the effort it takes to wash the dishes with your hands. Manufacturers target consumers using their weaknesses such as:
“Save time and effort” are the golden words manufacturers and business owners use to reduce physical activity in your life. Walking down the aisle to hand pick your products has been replaced by online shopping and the option to pick and collect. Some supermarkets now offer drive up grocery delivery, where the items you have purchased are brought out to your car for you.
Robot vacuum cleaners have also gained popularity in recent years, which takes away the effort of moving with the vacuum cleaner. Can you see where this is going?
As a result, many individuals head to the gym in an effort to get more exercise. Those who cannot go to a gym simply blame it on their busy schedule or lack of time and envy others who are able to go.
Little do they know is that they could have the same kind of workout in the comfort of their home if they simply reduced the usage of technology.
The bottom line to this is that being more physically active is getting harder than it was decades ago due to the continuously growing technological advancements. This isn’t something that can’t be overcome, and you can supplement your weight loss efforts by simply reducing your usage of technology and moving more throughout the day. No gym required!
For years we have been taught to keep an eye on our body mass index (BMI) because it can help you get an idea of where you fit in the body weight ranges (underweight, normal, overweight, obese, etc). In most cases, BMI is a good indicator for weight loss and disease risk.
BMI takes into account your height and weight and lets you know where you stand in the weight spectrum. According to the BMI scale, the taller you are, the more you should weigh and the shorter you are, the less you should weigh. For example, Peter and John both weigh 160 lbs, however, Peter is considered to be at a healthy weight for his height because he is taller (5’9”), while John is considered to be overweight for his height because he is shorter (5’5”).
It’s important to note that BMI is not accurate for everyone. If you have a large amount of muscle mass, BMI can incorrectly categorize you as overweight or obese, while someone with little to no muscle mass but a high body fat percentage could be categorized as underweight or at a healthy weight. This is why body composition should always be considered when assessing an individual’s weight status and health risk.
Consider losing weight if you have one or all of the following:
There’s no one size fits all answer for this question. By now you should know that not everyone is overweight or obese due to the lack of willpower. There are many different factors that contribute to the development of overweight and obesity. Likewise, how long it takes for someone to lose weight will also vary from person to person.
Many different factors can come to play, some of which include:
Someone who’s visibly overweight or obese will lose weight at a faster rate, especially in the initial stages of making lifestyle changes compared to someone who is already at a healthy body weight for their height. This is due to individuals with overweight and obesity having a higher metabolic rate than someone who is underweight or at a normal/healthy weight. Overweight and obese individuals have higher metabolic rates because they require more energy to move and maintain their body weight.
Another reason why those who start at the overweight or obese end of the spectrum may lose weight faster, in the beginning, is due to water weight. An overweight or obese individual is going to hold onto more water than someone who is underweight or at a normal weight.
Getting into a calorie deficit may be easier for someone who is overweight or obese compared to someone who is a healthy weight or underweight. Someone who normally requires 4000 calories a day to maintain their weight will start to lose weight by simply eating less than that number. Cutting calories tends to get increasingly difficult with the more weight we lose.
Studies have shown that rapid weight loss isn’t always bad news and can actually be beneficial in some cases if the weight loss was achieved by a caloric deficit and exercise. However, the same studies have also pointed out that gradual weight loss might be easier to maintain and decrease muscle mass loss compared to rapid weight loss .
Most health professionals and health care sources recommend aiming to lose 1-2 pounds per week.
For some, weight loss is just a matter of fitting into their old clothes, while for others, it can be a life-changing experience. There are numerous health benefits of losing weight when you need to. Here are a few of them:
It’s no secret that losing weight can reduce your risk of developing cardiovascular diseases. In fact, it is for this reason that many obese and overweight individuals are told to lose weight . Carrying excess body fat can increase your risk of having a heart attack, stroke, and overall risk of mortality. Losing weight can reduce that risk.
Overweight and obese individuals are more likely to suffer from sleep disorders like obstructive sleep apnea. Losing weight can reduce your risk of developing sleep apnea and help improve the quality of your sleep.
Overweight and obese individuals are more likely to suffer from body pain, especially in the back and joints. Losing weight can significantly improve body pain and mobility.
Overweight and obese individuals are also more likely to suffer from stress and depression regarding their quality of life. Many are self-conscious about their physical appearance and worry about their health. These feelings can increase stress, making it even more difficult to lose weight.
Losing weight can improve stress levels, self-confidence, and overall quality of life.
Do you have more weight loss advantages or disadvantages compared to others? For example, does obesity run in your family? This could mean that you may face more difficulties to lose and maintain your weight.
Do you have any hormonal conditions like polycystic ovary syndrome or hypothyroidism? These conditions could also make it difficult to lose weight. Do the disadvantages above mean it will be impossible for you to lose weight and maintain it?
No. You will be able to lose weight with the right efforts, however, you may not lose weight as quickly as someone without those conditions.
Acknowledging this will help you form realistic expectations about your weight loss. You also have to take treatments for any health conditions that may interfere with your weight into account and ask your doctor for advice.
Many claim that going on a restricted calorie diet is not necessary for weight loss. Not true! Entering a caloric deficit (consuming fewer calories than your body needs) is one of the most important and necessary aspects of weight loss. If you are not in a caloric deficit, you will not lose weight. Period.
Do not rely on weight loss supplements or diet pills. Many of them do not work and contain unregulated ingredients that could potentially be damaging to your health. Save your money and your health by focusing on changing the factors that have been proven to lead to weight loss (aka diet and exercise!)
Please consult your doctor or a qualified dietitian before entering a caloric deficit to ensure you are going about it safely.
Crash diets are diets that promise a large amount of weight loss in a short amount of time, and are usually very restrictive. Some examples of crash diets include juice cleanses, detoxes, the cabbage soup diet, military diet, and so on. Following these diets will usually lead to weight loss, but are not healthy or sustainable ways of eating due to their restrictive nature. Following a crash diet usually leads to losing water weight and then weight regain once you begin eating normally again. This is why health care professionals recommend healthy, sustainable changes to your diet and lifestyle for permanent weight loss.
As stated earlier, rapid weight loss isn’t always a bad thing, but the approach you take is what matters the most. For example, rapid weight loss from lowering your calories and increasing your exercise is a healthier approach than rapid weight loss from a juice cleanse or detox.
This alone can make a huge difference in your weight loss journey. Swap sugary snacks and high-calorie junk foods for healthy alternatives like fruits and nuts.
Rice and pasta aren’t necessarily “bad” carbs, but cutting them out of your diet or decreasing your intake could help you lose weight. You could swap regular rice with cauliflower rice and experiment with low carb pasta recipes.
If and when you’re ready, you could also consider following a ketogenic eating pattern to speed up your weight loss and improve your overall health.
Remember how we discussed vacuum cleaners replacing broomsticks? You could overcome this by reducing your usage of technology wherever you can to boost your movement throughout the day.
It’s not always going to be possible to hand wash your clothes, mop the floor, or wash the dishes by yourself, but overall reducing your reliance on technology will help add more physical activity to your life without having to make time for the gym
Making many small, sustainable changes to your lifestyle is how weight loss is achieved. Utilizing your own body to complete household chores instead of relying on technology is a great way to make exercise a part of your everyday life.
As stated earlier, individuals who have more lean body mass have a higher resting metabolism than those who have less muscle mass and more body fat. Resistance training can help boost your metabolism and speed up weight loss, along with improving your body composition, strength, and mobility.
The scale does not tell the whole story and can be influenced by water retention, hormones, digestion, and body composition changes. The scale can be a great tool to track progress, but it should not be the only tool. Pay attention to how your clothes fit, take measurements, or take progress pictures to track changes in your body. If the scale is not moving but your clothes are fitting better, that may indicate a favorable change in body composition.
The first thing you need to remember is that weight loss is not a linear process. You will not continue to lose weight week after week until you reach your goal. There will be times when you’ll lose weight faster, for instance, in the beginning, when it is mostly water weight. Stalls and plateaus are part of the weight loss process and are to be expected.
There will be times where the scale may show weight gain, despite no change in your diet or exercise routine. This weight gain is likely water weight and can be influenced by sodium intake, carbohydrate intake, hormones, muscle soreness, and digestion. It is important to take all factors into consideration before getting discouraged by a weight increase on the scale. This is where the other methods of tracking progress can be helpful in keeping you motivated.
Even if the scale or mirror doesn’t agree, if you’re consistently losing at least 4 pounds a month or there is a noticeable difference in how your clothes fit, you’re making progress. How fast or slow you lose weight will depend on the many factors mentioned earlier. What matters is that you’re making some progress and you’re continuing your efforts to lose weight.
Weigh yourself once a week or daily and take the weekly average to get reliable results.
Getting a body composition test every few months can be helpful in tracking progress throughout your weight loss journey. These tests will breakdown changes in body fat percentage, lean muscle mass, and water balance. Body composition tests are especially helpful if you’ve been resistance training, or if the scale hasn’t been moving but there has been a noticeable difference in how your clothes fit or your appearance.
How fast you lose weight will depend on a number of different factors such as your age, starting weight, health conditions, and your level of physical activity. Some individuals may find it harder to lose weight than others, especially those who have genetic predisposition to overweight or obesity, or if they have a medical condition affecting their metabolic rate.
Individuals with a higher metabolic rate have a slight advantage when trying to lose or maintain weight than those who have a slower metabolic rate. Despite the many disadvantages that you may have, it is possible to lose and maintain weight with the right efforts.