Is it bad to lose weight too fast?

It is normal to want to lose weight as quickly as possible.

But you have probably been told that it is better to lose weight at a slow and steady pace.

This is because most studies show that people who lose weight slowly are more likely to maintain it long term. Losing weight slowly also leads to many fewer health risks (1, 2, 3).

However, several recent studies have found that rapid weight loss could be as good and safe as slow weight loss (4, 5).

So, is it really bad for you to lose weight fast? This article delves into the investigation to discover the truth.

What is considered rapid weight loss?

Woman, measuring, stomach

According to many experts, losing 1 to 2 pounds (0.45 to 0.9 kg per week) is a healthy and safe rate (1, 2, 3).

Losing more than that is considered too fast and could put you at risk of having many health problems, such as muscle loss, gallstones, nutritional deficiencies and a decrease in metabolism (4, 6, 7, 8).

The most common ways in which people try to lose weight quickly are doing a lot of exercise and following a "crash diet" or a very low calorie diet of less than 800 calories per day.

People often prefer the option of eating a very low calorie diet, since it is often easier to lose weight with diet than exercise (9).

However, if you are starting a diet or exercise plan, you may lose much more than 2 pounds (0.9 kg) in your first week.

For this initial period, rapid weight loss is perfectly normal. The weight that is lost during this time is commonly called "water weight".

When you consume fewer calories than your body burns, your body begins to submerge in its energy reserves, known as glycogen. The glycogen in your body is limited to water, so when you burn glycogen as fuel, the body also releases that water (10, 11).

This is the reason why you can experience a great weight reduction during the first week. Once your body depletes its glycogen stores, your weight loss should stabilize at 1 to 2 pounds (0.45 to 0.9 kg) per week.

Summary: According to experts, losing 1 to 2 pounds (0.45 to 0.9 kg per week) is a healthy and safe rate, while losing more than this is considered too fast. However, you may lose more than that during your first week of exercise or diet plan.

Can you maintain rapid weight loss?

Losing weight is only half the battle. The real challenge is to keep it forever.

Most people on a diet recover half the weight they lost after only one year. Worse still, almost all those who follow a diet recover all the weight they have lost after 3 to 5 years (12, 13, 14).

That's why experts often suggest losing weight at a slow but steady pace. Most studies show that people who lose weight at a slow but steady rate are more likely to maintain it long term (15, 16, 17).

In addition, plans that encourage slow weight loss usually help you develop healthy eating behaviors, such as eating more fruits and vegetables and drinking fewer sugary drinks. Behaviors like these can help you maintain long-term weight (18, 19, 20, 21).

However, several studies have found that rapid weight loss can be as effective as slow weight loss, even in the long term (4, 5).

In one study, 103 people followed a rapid weight loss diet for 12 weeks, while 97 people followed a slow but steady weight loss diet for 36 weeks.

Almost 3 years later, approximately 70% of the people in both groups had recovered all the weight they had lost. This means that both diets were equally effective at the end (22).

Although these studies found that rapid weight loss was as effective as slow but steady weight loss in general, it is unlikely that a person in the home would obtain similar results.

People in the rapid weight loss groups received support from doctors and dietitians during the phases of weight loss and maintenance. Research shows that having the support of a health professional can improve your chances of success in long-term weight loss (23, 24).

In addition, doctors and dietitians try to minimize the health risks of eating too few calories. These risks include muscle loss, nutritional deficiencies and gallstones.

People who try these diets alone have an increased risk of these medical conditions.

In short, you are more likely to lose weight and not lose weight slowly. This approach will help you develop healthy eating behaviors to maintain weight loss, and it is safer than losing weight quickly, especially if you do not have the support of a health professional.

Summary: Most research shows that gradual weight loss is easier to maintain in the long term. It helps you develop healthy eating behaviors and has fewer health risks than rapid weight loss.

Risks of losing weight too fast

While it is tempting to try to lose weight quickly, it is generally not recommended.

Diets that promote rapid weight loss are usually very low in calories and nutrients. This can put you at risk for many health problems, especially if you follow a rapid weight loss diet for many weeks.

Here are some risks of losing weight too fast.

You can lose muscle

Losing weight is not always the same as losing fat.

While a very low calorie diet can help you lose weight quickly, much of the weight you lose can come from muscles and water (4, 10).

In one study, the researchers put 25 people on a very low calorie diet of 500 calories per day for 5 weeks. They also put 22 people on a low-calorie diet of 1,250 calories per day for 12 weeks.

After the study, the researchers found that both groups had lost similar amounts of weight. However, people who followed the very low-calorie diet lost more than six times the amount of muscles that the diet reduced in calories (4).

It can slow down your metabolism

Losing weight too fast can slow down your metabolism.

Your metabolism determines how many calories you burn each day. A slower metabolism means that you burn fewer calories per day (25).

Several studies have found that losing weight quickly by eating fewer calories can cause you to burn up to 23% fewer calories per day (6, 26).

Two reasons why the metabolism falls into a diet very low in calories are the loss of muscle and the fall of hormones that regulate your metabolism, such as thyroid hormone (27, 28).

Unfortunately, this drop in metabolism can last a long time after finishing the diet (6).

It can cause nutritional deficiencies

If you do not eat enough calories regularly, you may be at risk for a nutritional deficiency.

This is because it is difficult to consume enough important nutrients such as iron, folate and vitamin B12 in a low-calorie diet.

Below are some consequences of nutritional deficiencies.

  • Hair loss: When you eat fewer calories, your body may not get enough nutrients to promote hair growth, which can cause hair loss (29, 30).

  • Extreme fatigue: You may not be getting enough iron, vitamin B12, and folic acid in a very low calorie diet, which can put you at risk for extreme fatigue and anemia (31, 32).

  • Bad immune function: Not getting enough calories and nutrients can weaken your immune system and increase the risk of infections (33, 34).

  • Weak and brittle bones: It can be caused by a Lack of vitamin D, calcium and phosphorus in the diet (35, 36).

Fortunately, you can avoid a nutritional deficiency by consuming a diet rich in whole, unprocessed foods. These foods contain fewer calories per gram and are also quite abundant, which can help you lose weight (37).

It can cause gallstones

Gallstones are hardened pieces of material that form inside the gallbladder. They can be a painful side effect of losing weight too quickly (8, 38, 39).

Normally, the gallbladder releases digestive juices to break down fatty foods so that they can be digested. If you are not eating a lot of food, then your gallbladder will not have to release the digestive juices (40).

Gallstones can form when the substances inside the digestive juices remain for a while and have time to bind.

Gallstones can get trapped inside the opening of the gallbladder and cause an attack of gallstones. This can cause severe pain and indigestion (40).

Other side effects

Losing weight quickly on a "crash diet" or a very low calorie diet is linked to several other side effects, which include (41,42):

  • Hungry

  • Fatigue

  • Irritability

  • I am cold

  • Muscle cramps

  • Dizziness

  • Constipation or diarrhea

  • Dehydration

Summary: Losing weight too fast carries many health risks. These include muscle loss, decreased metabolism, nutritional deficiencies, gallstones and other side effects.

Tips to help you lose weight at a healthy pace

Although slow weight loss may not seem attractive, there are many things you can do to speed up the process safely.

Here are some tips to help you lose weight at a healthy pace.

  • Eat more protein: A diet high in protein can help increase your metabolism, stay full longer and preserve your muscle mass (43, 44, 45).

  • Reduce sugar and starches: Research tends to show that people who follow a low-carbohydrate diet lose more weight. Reducing the consumption of sugar and starches helps reduce the intake of carbohydrates (46, 47).

  • Eat slow: Chewing your food well can help you feel fuller longer and eat less (48, 49).

  • Drink green tea or oolong tea: Research has shown that drinking green tea can increase your metabolism by 4 to 5% and can increase fat burning by up to 17% (50, 51, 52).

  • Rest enough: Lack of sleep can increase your levels of ghrelin, the hunger hormone, and decrease your levels of leptin, the hormone of fullness. This means that sleeping poorly could leave you hungry, making it harder to lose weight (53).

  • Try resistance training: Resistance training or weightlifting can help combat muscle loss and decreased metabolism that can occur with weight loss (54).

  • Try a high intensity workout: High intensity interval training (HIIT) involves short, intense bursts of exercise. Unlike regular aerobic exercise, also known as cardio, HIIT continues to burn calories long after exercise (55, 56).

  • Eat soluble fiber: Research shows that soluble fiber can help burn fat, especially abdominal fat (57, 58).

Summary: There are many ways to lose weight safely faster. For example, you can try to eat more protein, eat slowly, reduce sugar and starches, and do endurance training or high intensity interval exercises.

The bottom line

If you want to lose weight and not get it back, try to lose it at a slow but steady rate of 1 to 2 pounds (0.45 to 0.9 kg) per week.

Research shows that slow and constant weight loss is easier to maintain in the long term because it is better to develop healthy eating behaviors and it is much safer than very rapid weight loss.

Losing weight too quickly can increase your risk of side effects, such as muscle loss, lower metabolism, nutrient deficiencies, gallstones and many other risks. This is especially true if you try to lose weight quickly without the support of a health professional.

Although slow weight loss may not seem as appealing as rapid weight loss, there are many ways to help accelerate weight loss safely. For example, you can increase your protein intake, reduce sugar and starches and drink more green tea.

Slowly changing your eating and exercise habits will help you lose weight and keep it off long term.

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