As the temperature approaches 90 degrees today here in New England, and Memorial Day is quickly approaching, it is hard not to start thinking about going to the beach, the pool, and yes putting on the bathing suit.
Around this time of the year, I hear many people asking me if it’s too late to start losing weight to get “beach ready”. Most ask this expecting me to shake my head and say – “no, slow and steady is the way to go”. This leads to another question:
“Is it really best to lose weight slowly?”
It is always assumed that losing weight quickly leads to poor long term results, and a more gradual approach is most effective for the long term.
Fortunately, research seems to have answered that question, oddly enough every 5 years. Right on cue, a great study was released the other day addressed this question.
Here’s what they found:
Nackers, International Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 2010
Over 260 women were placed on a weight loss program, and monitored over 18 months. They then divided the groups into fast, moderate, and slow weight loss based on the weight loss in the first month. The fast weight loss group was five times more likely to achieve a 10 percent loss of their body weight at 18 months than those in the slow group. Women in the moderate group were nearly three times more likely to reach that milestone than the slow group.
Older studies have found the same thing, except the effects of fast initial weight loss were observed to be better when compared as long as 5 years:
A. Astrup and S. Rossner. Lessons from obesity management: Greater initial weight loss improves long-term maintenance. Obes Rev (2000) 1: 17-19.
K. Elfhag and S. Rossner. Who succeeds in maintaining weight loss? A conceptual review of factors associated with weight loss maintenance and weight regain. Obes Rev (2005) 6: 67-85.
These 2 research reviews found a similar trend, as numerous analyses of weight loss intervention studies showed that a greater initial weight loss, usually achieved in the first 2-4 weeks of treatment, is associated with a better long-term outcome, as demonstrated by a sustained weight loss 1-5 years later.
Another earlier study showed a similar effect:
Astrup, A. et. al. Prognostic markers for diet-induced weight loss in obese women. Int J Obes (1995) 9: 275-278.
Those who lost the most weight at 36 weeks were able to maintain a better weight loss 2-5 years later compared to the slow weight loss group, who had actually regained weight.
There are more studies with the same message. However, I was unable to find any research to support to common belief that rapid weight loss leads to worse long term weight maintenance.
I know there are circumstances when someone achieves rapid weight loss, only to regain it back. However, this is really an error in shifting someone from a rapid weight loss approach to a moderate or maintenance diet. In addition, the error also lays in the absence of a proper exercise approach to maintain proper function and metabolism, as well as ensuring weight loss is fat loss, not muscle and water loss.
Rapid fat loss solely at the hands of an extreme diet without a proper transition program is like giving a homeless man a million dollars, but not the education, tools, and resources to use it wisely. In some cases, rapid weight loss is not the best option, such as those with extreme food binging histories.
Yes, behaviors to need to change for long term benefits, and that does take time. But it seems like the behavior change process is better reinforced by the successes from quick results. And quick results, at the very least, don’t hurt.
So let’s lay to rest the myth about rapid weight loss, and realize that rapid fat loss, done right, will give you the best results in the long run. And it may even get you where you want to be in time for the beach season!