What is an acceptable rate to lose weight? Or I guess I should clarify that, how fast should a person lose fat?
Why the distinction between weight loss and fat loss?
I like to talk about weight loss in terms of fat loss. When you boil it down that's really what people want and usually need to lose. I've yet to work with anyone I've been coaching that told me that their muscles were just too big they wish they were smaller. This distinction ties in perfectly to the topic of this post too, so let's talk about fat loss and weight loss and some other fun stuff. Ready?
Do you have the view that when it comes to weight loss, more is better??? The faster it comes off the better. I wanted to write this post because so many people I have coached have unrealistic expectations when it comes to how fast they feel the weight(fat) should come off. I think magazine covers, the media, and our social media feeds are to blame for these unrealistic goals. Just take a look the collection of magazine covers that I found after a quick google search.
Everything happens FAST and NOW!!! The media and crappy trainers out there somehow fell in love with the idea that a pound lost per day is great marketing headline! 10 Pounds Down in 10 Days... Lose 5 Pounds in 5 Days... It's like some weird OCD thing where the numbers need match up in order to work on a magazine cover.
Throw in social media where your one friend is telling you about the cleanse they did that helped them lose 20 pounds in one month! I'm slightly guilty of that myself. I did something like that and did lose 15 pounds in 18 days. But it wasn't the best 15 pounds... take a look at my pics below.
I personally notice a bigger change between pics 2 & 3. My 15 pound weight loss was rapid but it didn't change my body composition all that much. I failed to track my body fat %'s back then but I'm guessing I was in the 20% range and maybe dropped a few points even though 15 pounds came off. What that means is I lost a lot lean mass along with some fat. Lean mass is everything from bone, water, organs, muscle, contents of your GI tract, blood, etc. Pretty sure I didn't lose any bones or organs so the lean mass I did lose likely came from water, muscle and waste. Hence the distinction that I pointed out earlier between weight loss and fat loss. Between pics 2 & 3 I only lost 3 pounds but I probably dropped from 18% body fat down to 10%.
Benefits of Losing Fat
Before I share how fast should lose fat, I want to share why focusing on fat loss is the important thing and not just overall weight loss.
How Fast Should You Lose Fat?
Now that we know why we should lose fat, what is a reasonable rate to do it? I'll try to keep the math simple but laying out a few examples will be the best way I think to help you see what realistic fat loss looks like.
First off, I just want to make the point that progress is progress. So even if you fall onto the slow end of progress give yourself your pat on the back that you are making progress.
Second, since we are talking about losing fat, hopefully it is clear that is our goal, let me layout how we should track that rather than just the number on the scale. A few ways I recommend;
Slow Progress; This rate would be losing less than 0.5% of body fat in 4 weeks. An example of that would be a 180 lb female with 30% body fat which equates to 54 pounds of fat mass and 126 pounds of lean mass. So 0.5% body fat loss would leave her ending the 4 weeks somewhere between 29.6% - 29.9% body fat. This would equate to about 0.5 - 1 pound of total body weight lost.
Average Progress; This rate would be losing 0.5% body fat every 4 weeks. So at the end of 4 weeks she now has a BF% of 29.5%. Using the same female as above that would mean average progress would mean losing roughly a 1.5 pounds of body weight per 4 weeks. By the end of the year this person could expect to be in the low 20's % body fat if they stay at a rate of 0.5% every 4 weeks. Which would equate to somewhere around 20-25 pounds lost in a year.
Excellent Progress; This rate would be losing 0.5% - 1% of body fat every 2-4 weeks. Let's take the fast end of that, 1% every 2 weeks. The same female as mentioned above in the same 4 week period would would now be 28% body fat in the same 4 week period. This would equate to about 5-7 pounds of total body weight loss depending on how much lean mass was lost too, you will lose some no matter how hard you try.
Let's talk about this same female and see what a year of weight loss would like if she was doing everything right.
So if she was doing everything right I would expect that she could maintain an excellent progress rate for 4-6 months to begin her weight loss. At the end of that time period she's likely dropped 25-30 pounds and has a body fat percentage around 20%. Not to shabby for 6 months of work!
Now it is going to start taking a little more work, probably a little more tracking, a few more sacrifices and lot more patience. This is a great article about, The Cost of Getting Lean, and whether or not you want to make the sacrifices tradeoffs to get there. Once a person starts getting into that "Athletic" range of body the rate at which the fat comes off slows. This happens mainly because the calorie deficit needed to create the body fat % to drop that fast isn't sustainable once your body fat % drops.
Staying with the same female example if she were to keep going and want to make those sacrifices to lean out even more she could. Over the next 6 months if she was very diligent with her training and nutrition/diet she could likely expect to drop another 3-5% body fat and another 5-10 pounds.
What does "dieting" for a year and getting results like that look like?
However working with a coach can significantly help you figure things faster and get you back on track. A lot of coaches will strategies to bust through plateaus. They may understand why your body is holding onto weight or see patterns in your eating that are causing progress to slow. If I can help you in this area, I would love to help you out. I offer coaching services not only with macros but in other areas of nutrition that don't require you to track your daily intake. Check out the Services tab on my site for some guidance on where you should begin if you are looking for some help.