Why do you always hear that 2 pounds per week is the maximum amount of fat you should safely lose? If you train really hard while watching calories closely shouldn’t you be able to lose more fat without losing muscle or damaging your health?
What if you want to lose fat faster? How do you explain the fast weight losses on The Biggest Loser? These are all good questions that I’ve been asked many times. With the diet marketplace being flooded every day with rapid weight loss claims, these questions desperately need and deserve some honest answers. Want to know where that 2 pounds per week rule comes from and what it really takes to burn more than 2 pounds of fat per week? Read on
Why Only 2 Pounds Per Week?
The truth is, two pounds is not the maximum amount you can safely lose in a week. That’s only a general recommendation and a good benchmark for setting weekly goals. It’s also sensible and realistic because it’s based on average or typical results.
The actual amount of fat you can lose depends on many factors. For example, weight losses tend to be relative to body size. The more body fat you carry, the more likely you’ll be able to safely lose more than two pounds per week. Therefore, we could individualize our weekly guideline a bit by recommending a goal of 1-2 lbs of fat loss per week or up to 1% of your total weight. If you weighed 300 lbs, that would be 3 lbs per week.
Body Weight Vs Body Composition
Weight loss is somewhat meaningless unless you also talk about body composition; the fat to muscle ratio, as well as water weight. Ask any wrestler about fast weight loss and he’ll tell you things like, “I cut 10 lbs overnight to make a weight class. It was easy – I just sweated it off.”
You’ve also probably seen people that went on some extreme induction program or a lemon juice and water fast for the first week and dropped an enormous amount of weight. But once again, you can bet that a lot of that weight was water and lean tissue and in both cases, you can bet that those people put the weight right back on.
The main potential advantage of any type of induction period for rapid weight loss in the first week is that a large drop on the scale is a motivational boost for many people (even if it is mostly water weight).
Why do you hear so many diet and fitness professionals insist on 2 lbs a week max? Where does that number come from? Well, aside from the fact that it’s a recommendation in government health guidelines and in position statements of most nutrition and exercise organizations, it’s just math. The math is based on what’s practical given the number of calories an average person burns in a day and how much food someone can reasonably cut in a day.
How Do You Lose More Than 2 Pounds Per Week?
Can you lose more than 2 lbs of pure fat in a week? Yes, although it’s easier in the beginning. It gets harder as your diet progresses. How do you do it? My rule is, extraordinary results require extraordinary efforts. An extraordinary effort means a particularly strict diet, as well as burning more calories through training because you can only cut your calories so far from food before you’re starving and suffering from severe hunger.
Simply put, you need a bigger calorie deficit.
If you have a 2500 calorie daily maintenance level, and you want to drop 3 lbs of fat per week withe diet alone, you’d need a huge daily deficit of 1500 calories, which would equate to eating 1000 calories per day. You would lose weight rapidly for as long as you could maintain that deficit (although it would slow down over time). Most people aren’t going to last long on so little food and they often end with a period of binge eating. It’s not practical (or fun) to cut calories so much and in some cases it could be unhealthy.
The other alternative is to train for hours and hours a day, literally. People ask me all the time, “Tom, how is it possible for the Biggest Loser contestants to lose so much weight? Well first of all they’re not measuring body fat, only body weight. Then you have the high starting body weights and the large water weight loss in the beginning. After that, just do the math – they’re training hours a day so they’re creating a huge calorie deficit.
But without that team of trainers, dieticians, teammates, a national audience and all that prize money, do you think they’d be motivated and accountable enough to do anywhere near that amount and intensity of exercise in the real world? Would it even be possible if they had a job and family? Not likely, is it? It’s not practical to do that much exercise, and it’s not practical to cut your calories below a 1000 a day and remain compliant. If you manage to achieve the latter, it’s very difficult not to rebound and regain the weight afterwards for a variety of physiological and psychological reasons.
The truth is, two pounds is not the maximum amount you can safely lose in a week. That’s only a general recommendation and a good benchmark for setting weekly goals.