If you’re trying to lose weight, you want to see results!
However, losing weight too rapidly comes with some downsides, such as:
- losing precious lean mass (muscle),
- excessive hunger,
- decreased libido and loss of period,
- mood swings,
- stress, and
- poor sleep.
But perhaps the worst is the rebound bingeing and guilt that often follows after you’ve failed yet another diet.
A diet is only successful if you lose weight and keep it off!
Over the past four years, we’ve worked with thousands of people and seen numerous long-term weight loss success stories. We’ve also seen that faster weight loss is not always better.
We now guide people to aim for a loss of between 0.5 and 1.0% weight loss per week. This rate is ideal for yielding sustainable, long-term results while avoiding the side effects often accompanying rapid weight loss.
In this article, we’ll show you how we guide people to achieve long-term results while avoiding the pain that often occurs with the typical all-or-nothing approach.
- What Is the ‘Secret’ to Weight Loss?
- What is the Most Effective Diet for Weight Loss?
- Tiny Habits are Better Than Radical Changes
- What Are the Risks of Rapid Weight Loss?
- How Quickly Can I Safely Lose Fat?
- Is Fasting the Best Way to Lose Weight?
- Weight Loss is Stressful!
- Will Exercise Help You Lose Weight?
- Real-Life Weight Loss
What Is the ‘Secret’ to Weight Loss?
Many people will tell you that weight loss ‘is just a matter of burning more energy than you consume and maintaining a calorie deficit.’
Balancing calories in and calories out is indeed critical for weight loss.
However, if you’ve ever counted calories without changing the quality of what you’re eating, you’d know it’s NOT that simple!
Per the First Law of Thermodynamics, energy is always conserved. However, both sides of the calories in vs calories out equation are incredibly complex!
- On the calories-out side of the equation, your body adapts to energy restriction by slowing your metabolism, especially if you lose lean muscle mass and do not get the nutrients your body requires daily to produce energy. For more details, see Is Counting Calories and Energy Balance a Waste of Time?
- On the calories-in side of the equation, not all foods are created equal. Simply reducing your intake of the same foods that made you fat will not lead to fat loss; instead, it will just make you extremely hungry and prone to binge eating!
Our satiety analysis shows that foods with a higher protein % and more nutrients are more satiating. So once you begin prioritising these foods and giving your body what it needs, your cravings and appetite will be much easier to manage, and you will be able to maintain a longer-term energy deficit.
What is the Most Effective Diet for Weight Loss?
The best diet for you is one you will enjoy and can stick with over the long term.
- If you currently enjoy a plant-based diet, you’re probably not going to last long on a carnivorous diet (or vice versa).
- If you follow a vegetarian diet for religious reasons, you’re probably not going to switch to a Paleo or keto diet.
However, regardless of your dietary paradigm, you must modify your diet to increase satiety and achieve sustainable weight loss. The keys to succeeding within any dietary template are:
- prioritising foods and meals that provide more protein, fibre, vitamins, and minerals; and
- reducing energy from fat and (or) carbohydrates, and minimising foods that combine the two.
The chart below shows the average satiety response to each macronutrient calculated using 125,716 days of food logs from 34,519 Nutrient Optimiser users. We tend to consume more calories when our diet contains more energy from fat or carbs and less from protein and fibre.
Foods that are a conglomerate of industrial seed oils, refined carbs, and minimal protein are the basic formula for modern, ultra-processed junk foods that are designed to keep us overeating! For more on why check out Escaping Our Infinite Autumn.
In contrast, foods rich in fibre and protein provide a lot of micronutrients that our bodies need to carry out every activity we need to stay alive. As a result, our appetites will send us in search of more of these raw ingredients with cravings if we aren’t getting enough of them.
For some examples of these foods, visit High Satiety Index Foods: Which Ones Will Keep You Full With Fewer Calories?
Before you decide you’re ONLY going to eat these foods, you should be aware of the risks of radically overhauling your diet.
Tiny Habits are Better Than Radical Changes
Like any sharp tool, this knowledge must be used carefully, cautiously, and skillfully. Sadly, we’ve seen many people implement our system too aggressively in our challenges to the point they could not help but rebound.
For example, if you switched from 10% protein to 50% protein overnight, you might feel invincible and incredibly full, and the scale may even drop day after day as you lose water weight. You’ll feel great… until it stops.
Because your body can’t convert protein into usable energy as readily as it can from the carbs you’re used to eating, your cravings for fat-and-carb combo foods will increase, and your favourite comfort foods will flood your conscious and subconscious mind. Before long, you’ll be raiding your pantry and fridge to satisfy your carb cravings quickly.
In a recent study, Higher protein intake during caloric restriction improves diet quality and attenuates loss of lean body mass, showed that participants only required a slight increase in protein % (from 18 to 20%) to improve satiety and food quality and decrease the loss of lean mass.
In our Macros Masterclass, we guide people to start with their current diet and progressively dial back energy from fat and (or) carbs while prioritising the nutrients they need. Nutrient Optimiser will set an upper limit energy target and a minimum protein target. Often, once people find their groove, their blood sugars and insulin drop, and they make rapid weight loss progress.
You don’t need to meet your calorie target if you’re not hungry, but you can’t push through extreme hunger to meet a low-calorie target for long before things unravel. So, if you’re losing more than 1.0% per week, Nutrient Optimiser’s Smart Macros algorithm will increase their energy target by 50 calories for the coming week to ensure you don’t experience insatiable hunger and a rebound binge.
We’d much prefer people to get sustainable results than lose weight as quickly as possible and regain it as soon as the ‘diet’ ends! Successful weight loss is a marathon, not a sprint!
What Are the Risks of Rapid Weight Loss?
Various studies have shown that diets with a very high protein %, like the protein-sparing modified fast (PSMF), tend to yield rapid fat loss in the short term and preserve lean mass. In fact, one study showed that 15 obese patients on a PSMF lost 32 pounds (15 kg) of fat in six weeks without losing any muscle!
But you probably want to lose weight and keep it off for the long term, right?
The chart below from The Effect of Starting the Protein-Sparing Modified Fast on Weight Change Over 5 Years (Rothberg et al., 2020) shows that PSMF study participants lost significantly more weight over the first six months than the control group. However, the weight loss between the two groups was similar after five years. While the PSMF group initially lost a greater amount of weight, they experienced significant weight regain after the diet ended.
Unfortunately, aggressive weight loss protocols rely on shakes and supplements, which work in the short term. But what happens when the diet is over if you haven’t learned to eat in a way that allows you to maintain your new weight?
If you’re new to focusing on protein, protein powder can be helpful if you need to increase your protein intake. However, most people need to reduce their intake of fat and carbs while prioritising protein.
In addition, protein shakes don’t provide the same nutrients as minimally processed whole foods because they are processed and essentially pre-digested. As a result, protein powders and shakes do not offer the same degree of satiety or nutrients as whole foods.
This is why we suggest people progressively modify their current diet over time by prioritising nutrient-dense foods and dialling back energy from fat and carbs. Once they’ve started to lose weight at a rate of between 0.5 and 1.0% weight loss per week, they’re in the sweet spot between sustainability and progress.
How Quickly Can I Safely Lose Fat?
People with more body fat will lose weight more quickly, especially in the early stages of dieting. If you’re insulin resistant, the energy stores are already overflowing. Once you modify your diet to give your body the nutrients it requires with less energy, it will happily offload the excess energy. In contrast, an ultra-lean bodybuilder is primed to store fat with a ravenous appetite as soon as the diet is over. For more on this, see:
- Personal Fat Threshold Model of Insulin Resistance, Diabetes and Obesity vs the Carbohydrate Insulin Model
- The Real Reason You’re Insulin Resistant and The Macros to Reverse It
Because your muscles and organs are critical for survival, your body perceives this loss of bodily protein as starvation. In response, your hunger and cravings increase to ensure you seek out food and survive!
In 2004, Seymour Alpert estimated that humans could release energy from stored fat at a maximum rate of 290 kJ (or 69 calories) per kilo of fat per day. Once our energy deficit exceeds this threshold, we tap into body mass like our muscles and organs.
To help you understand your maximum rate of fat loss, the table below shows different weight loss scenarios for people with varying body fat percentages. The ‘max calories’ column shows the maximum amount of energy that could be released per day from fat, and this is converted to a maximum fat loss per day and a weekly rate of fat loss.
|weight (kg)||weight (lbs)||BF%||fat (kg)||max calories||max fat loss (kg/day)||% weight per week|
- In theory, someone morbidly obese (i.e., ~330 lbs, 60% body fat) could lose up to 3.2% of their body weight per week without touching their lean mass.
- However, a leaner person (i.e., ~176 lbs, 12% body fat) has a much smaller threshold and risks burning excessive amounts of lean mass if they lose more than 0.8% of body weight per week.
While more obese people can release more significant amounts of energy from their fat stores, leaner people will lose lean mass during a water-only fast because their stored fat cannot meet their body’s energy demands.
This data also highlights the importance of setting realistic goals to avoid awakening your body’s survival instincts. Once you’ve passed this threshold, your risk of excessive muscle loss and rebound weight gain increases substantially.
Is Fasting the Best Way to Lose Weight?
Some people think that fasting is the quickest way to lose weight. While this sounds logical at first, it doesn’t account for your body’s response to the loss of lean mass and the binge response that usually follows when people allow themselves to eat again.
It’s essential to remember that our lean body mass, or our organs, bone, muscle, and other fat-free tissues, are the most metabolically active and keep our metabolism optimised. If we experience any loss in precious lean mass, we will likely decrease our metabolic rate and how many calories we burn at rest.
In the figure below from Quantitative Physiology of Human Starvation: Adaptations of Energy Expenditure, Macronutrient Metabolism and Body Composition (Hall, 2012), we can see that you will use around 400 calories (100 g protein) per day of stored protein in the early stages of water fasting. Over time, this decreases to 250 daily calories (60 g protein per day).
While our protein requirement decreases during fasting, the amount of stored protein our bodies break down during a fast is still significant.
Not only do we require protein to maintain and build our muscles, but we also require it to constantly repair our organs, create neurotransmitters, make hormones, synthesise enzymes, and provide amino acids that drive other critical processes. After all, our bodies are just big chunks of protein with a layer of fat as portable fuel!
If we fast regularly or for days, our appetite will increase when we eat again to compensate for the protein deficit we’ve inflicted upon ourselves. At this point, we will be highly motivated to make up for the lack of energy and micronutrients—like amino acids—that our bodies need to carry out their daily activities.
Unfortunately, most of us don’t gravitate to grilled chicken breast, egg whites, and broccoli after not eating for 36, 48, or 72 hours. Instead, we tend to gravitate towards energy-dense, nutrient-poor, low-protein foods that refill our energy stores quickly.
When we eat again, most of us find it difficult to compensate for the shortfall of dietary protein we’ve created during our fast. Over time, this often ends in losing precious muscle, which can lower someone’s metabolic rate, make them ‘skinny fat’, or cause them to gain more weight than before due to their dysregulated appetite and hunger signals.
In our Data-Driven Fasting Challenges, we guide participants through using their blood glucose as a fuel gauge to determine when it’s best to break a fast and eat. Without having to count calories, you can use an inexpensive glucometer to retrain your hunger and maintain an energy deficit without overdoing it and making less-than-optimal food choices when you eat again.
If you look at the results from our Data-Driven Fasting Challenges, you’ll see that many people lose weight even faster than 1.0% per week. However, after four weeks, we encourage people to switch to maintenance mode in the Data-Driven Fasting app. Then, after giving your mind and body a break from dieting for a few weeks, you will be ready to push again in the next phase.
While some loss of lean mass is normal during weight loss, it’s important to keep an eye on it. In our Macros Masterclass, Optimisers can track their weight and body fat %. If they are losing more lean mass than fat, the Smart Macros algorithm in Nutrient Optimiser will increase their protein target for the coming week.
Weight Loss is Stressful!
If you’ve ever tried to lose significant weight, you know it can be stressful.
This is because you are pitting your conscious mind (prefrontal cortex) against your body’s survival instincts (amygdala). When it comes to a fight between the two, your survival instincts will always win to keep you alive!
A little bit of stress can be beneficial (i.e., hormesis or eustress). While your body likes consistency and routine, complete stagnation and monotony prompt weakness and atrophy. Hence, a little stress is good! However, too much stress beyond the point of adaptation and recovery (i.e., distress) is not good and forces our survival instincts to take evasive action.
Because of the relationship between stress hormones, sex hormones, and blood sugar (i.e., the endocrine system), excessive chronic stress can raise cortisol, raise glucose and insulin, increase the conversion of testosterone to estrogen, and escalate the hunger hormone ghrelin in proportion to leptin. Not only will these things make the process much less enjoyable, but they will often bring your weight loss to a screaming halt!
While we mostly jump to think of the physical stressors that can create this stress (i.e., calorie deficit and excessive exercise), mental and emotional stress can also have the same effects. As you can see, there are plenty of reasons that stress management and not pushing your limits are critical for long-term weight loss success.
Will Exercise Help You Lose Weight?
Finally, let’s look at the role of exercise in weight loss.
Exercise is often encouraged because it increases the ‘energy out’ side of the energy balance equation. However, your appetite will also increase, especially if the exercise is a lot more intense than you are used to.
If you start a diet with a new high-volume resistance training routine, you send mixed signals to your body. You might think it will lead to double the rate of weight loss, but you’re telling your body that it needs to grow and get stronger to survive—not get smaller!
Resistance training is great because it tells your body to preserve the muscle you have. However, starting with gentler exercise is often better than going for the gusto straightaway. Lower-intensity exercise where you can breathe and carry out a conversation with a lower heart rate (i.e., zone 2) is often better because it doesn’t stimulate your appetite as much.
Conversely, high-intensity exercise often triggers the release of stress hormones, prompting glucagon release. Glucagon liberates your stored energy, which raises your blood glucose levels to fuel the activity. Before long, they may come crashing down and lead to uncontrollable hunger for less optimal foods.
If you’re not yet exercising, it’s best if you focus on what you eat first. Then, once you get that dialled in, incorporating some gentle activity you enjoy and can do daily can compound your efforts in the kitchen. For many, this may be as simple as increasing your goal step count—which you can easily track on your phone—each week.
For more details, see Optimising Your Exercise [Macros Masterclass FAQ #7].
Real-Life Weight Loss
Before we wrap up, we wanted to show you what sustainable long-term weight loss looks like.
The charts below are from some of our Optimisers who have been at this for a while and had great results. Interestingly, most of them have used a combination of our programs to dial in when they eat (with Data-Driven Fasting) and what they eat (with our Macros Masterclass and Micros Masterclass).
First up, we have Muffy, who lost 52 lb (or 23.7 kg) over 300 days (43 weeks) at a respectable rate of 0.7% per week.
Her primary tool of choice was our Data-Driven Fasting Challenge, which uses your blood glucose before you eat to guide you when to eat. As she progressively drained her glucose, the weight came off!
She also saw her waking glucose come down nicely, from the upper end of the pre-diabetes range well into the normal healthy non-diabetic range! She also lost twelve inches (30.5 cm) from her waist as she consistently followed the process.
Way to go Muffy! We’re super proud of you!
Next, we have Carol, who lost a super impressive 84 lb (38.2 kg) in 20 weeks at a super impressive rate of 1.02% per week.
We also see Carol’s body fat drop from 42% to 32%.
Part of Carol’s success involved carefully dialling in the nutrient density of her food – she regularly featured towards the top of our leaderboard in the Micros Masterclass. She also got back into regular walking with her dogs. You can learn more about Carol’s journey in my chat with her here.
Prioritising protein, fibre and nutrients in your food while reducing energy from fat and carbs will improve satiety, reduce appetite, and support rapid fat loss. However, jumping to extremes does not tend to be sustainable.
Instead, starting with your current diet and making incremental changes to ensure a consistent weight loss of between 0.5 and 1.0% per week, as we do in the Macros Masterclass, is better for long-term success.