Consuming too few calories can drag you down.
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In the age of instant gratification, it's tempting to give up when you don't see results right away. But weight loss takes time, patience and commitment. Once you've reduced your calorie intake to create the deficit necessary to lose fat, you should start to see results quite quickly. If you get your calorie count right, you can expect to lose about 1 to 2 pounds in the first week, according to the National Institutes of Health.
How You Lose Weight
Reducing your calorie intake along with increasing your activity level is the most effective way to lose weight. When your body is in a calorie deficit - meaning you're consuming fewer calories than you expend each day - it stops storing fat and starts burning excess stores for energy. Generally speaking, 1 pound of fat is equal to 3,500 calories. Theoretically, as soon as you create a 3,500-calorie deficit, you will lose 1 pound. So if you created a daily deficit of 500 calories per day, you would lose 1 pound in the first week.
Rate of Weight Loss
Weight loss isn't that black and white, however, and not everyone burns fat in the same way or at the same pace. Weight loss depends on a lot of factors, such as body composition, age, genetics and other lifestyle factors. A study in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics points out that heavier people tend to lose weight more quickly than lighter people. This is because they burn more calories in their daily activities, in addition to the calories they cut from their diets. Older people may lose weight more slowly because they have naturally slower metabolisms, according to a 2015 article in Current Obesity Reports.
Safe Weight Loss
It can be tempting to cut a lot of calories from your diet to lose weight more quickly, especially if you have an event coming up in the near future and want to look slimmer. But experts from the Mayo Clinic and NIH agree that losing a lot of weight immediately is not safe and will not result in long-lasting weight loss. Both agencies suggest planning to lose 1 to 2 pounds per week over the long term.
The only time it's safe to lose more weight than that is if you are undergoing a medically supervised diet. With some diet programs, the first two weeks may be a a jump-start period in which you could lose 3 to 5 pounds a week. However, the Mayo Clinic warns that this is only safe when the diet plan uses healthy strategies and no weight loss gimmicks, and when the rate of weight loss slows to no more than 2 pounds per week after the first two weeks.
Evaluating Weight Loss
It's important to note that healthy weight loss means fat loss, not necessarily a decrease in the number on the scale. One of the reasons it's important to lose weight slowly is that losing too much weight too quickly can result in the loss of lean muscle mass. That is not desirable, as the maintenance and synthesis of lean muscle mass contributes as much as 20 percent of your total daily energy expenditure, according to Paige Kinucan and Len Kravitz, Ph.D. of the University of New Mexico. This is significantly more than the 5 percent contributed by fat, so it's important to maintain lean muscle mass as you lose weight.
Because muscle weighs more than fat, if you're losing weight safely and you're exercising to build muscle at the same time, you may not see the number on the scale budge much at all. Instead, assess your progress based on the way you look and feel, and on the way your clothes fit.