Fat loss is rarely a straightforward or linear process, and before setting out on your journey it’s important to have some realistic expectations.
Despite many of the claims you see online or in crappy health magazines, there are no shortcuts to fat loss and it will most likely be a much longer process than you think.
The crux for many is that fat loss comes at different rates and will harder or easier depending on the individual.
These individual differences rely on numerous factors including age, gender, physical activity levels, body composition, exercise history, stress, dieting history, genetics, socioeconomic status and other psychosocial factors (cultural predispositions etc).
This post doesn’t aim to dive deep on all of these factors, but rather aims to give you information to set some reasonable expectations.
Here’s a general guideline on realistic rates of fat loss to keep your expectations honest.
Realistic Rates of Fat Loss Per Week
It’s important to know these are just guidelines and numbers will vary. Your weight is also made up of more than just fat, so your actual BF% needs to be taken into consideration too.
Those with more fat will find it easier to lose fat and can typically lose more per week. These people will also have a higher overall energy need which means it’s easier to create a calorie deficit.
Leaner people will struggle to lose fat as they have less of it and the body wants to hold on to it.
Less fat and a generally lower energy need also make it harder to create a calorie deficit.
Aggressive: 1-1.5% Bodyweight
Reasonable: 0.5-1% Bodyweight
Comfortable: <0.5% Bodyweight
So now we have some guidelines to refer to, let’s apply these to a 200lb individual.
Aggressive: 2-3lbs per week
Reasonable: 1-2lbs per week
Comfortable: <1lb per week
For the majority of people, I would recommend setting expectations in the comfortable to low-reasonable ranges.
There’s no rush when it comes to fat loss, and it should be seen as a marathon not a sprint.
Those who have more fat than the average person can look to push into the upper ranges as it will be easier for them to create this deficit.
A large calorie deficit can become far too restrictive and impact your ability to keep the weight off in the longer term (which is the overall goal right?)
Let’s use the example of 1lb of fat equalling 3500 calories.
If we go for a 1lb a week weight loss target (comfortable – reasonable range), that results in a 500-calorie deficit each day.
For arguments sake, let’s say your maintenance calories (calories needed to maintain your weight) are 2500.
With a 1lb a week weight loss and 500 calorie deficit per day, you have a decent 2000 calories to play with to achieve your 1lb a week target.
With this calorie target, you still have the flexibility to enjoy your life, food and progress towards your goals.
Once you get into the upper end of the reasonable range and into the aggressive range, you’re creating a deficit of up to 1000-1500 calories, which (when using the 2500 maintenance example above) will create a daily calorie target of 1500 down to 1000 calories per day.
Whilst you think that may be doable, it’s far from sustainable for most people and will most likely lead to poor adherence.
A large calorie deficit will also increase the likelihood that you lose lean mass as well as fat mass.
A key part of fat loss isn’t just the deficit you create to lose it, but the habits and behaviours you develop along the way that will help you to keep it off.
A large calorie deficit and being overzealous with your fat loss often does little to help you build these habits and behaviours.
Especially if you’re inexperienced in dieting.
With fat loss, slow and steady often wins the race.
An important thing to know is that your metabolism is a complex adaptive system that continually works to maintain homeostasis.
Your body doesn’t like change, and when it comes to fat loss your body becomes clever by using less calories, storing more calories and more efficient at using the calories it does.
So, it’s important to adjust calories as you proceed through your diet and use outcomes to guide your judgement.
This is why resistance training is an effective tool to use for fat loss, as an increase (or at least the maintenance) of your lean mass can help to maintain your RMR (not to mention the numerous other benefits).
Essentially, you could be the same weight but with more lean mass, a higher RMR and more calories to play with to maintain your weight.
As mentioned at the start, there are many factors that can affect your fat loss efforts and your journey can look vastly different to someone else’s.
Any equation you use will give you an estimate, so it’s important to use the outcomes of your actions to guide your journey.
No matter which diet you use, or way you approach your nutrition; the key driver for success is consistency.
Another key component of fat loss is understanding your total daily energy expenditure (TDEE). You can read my post on that here.
However you approach your fat loss, it’s important to do it sustainably.
Whilst an aggressive approach may seem like a good idea in the short term, you may be making it harder for yourself and impacting your ability to keep the weight off in the longer term.
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