Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Why Is Two Pounds Per Week the Recommended Weight Loss?

Dear Diet Coach,
I am hoping you can clarify some things I think are true--but I'm getting feedback that does not back it up: I have done a lot of reading online and everything I have read says the healthy recommended weight loss is no more than 2 pounds a week. I posted this in a thread of a discussion group I'm on for weight loss, and people are responding that this information is wrong. That is really depends on the person's weight and other conditions. Can you tell me what makes the difference to this advice I have held to be true?
I would really appreciate any insight you have!

Joanne V.

Dear Joanne,

Thanks for this great question!
Here is where the "two pounds per week" rule originates:
It takes approximately 3500 calories to store up a pound of fat. The calories are there, stored in the form of fat, to be reserved in case you need energy when you can't get to any food (or enough food). In order to get rid of a pound of fat, you need to either eat less than you burn, or burn more than you eat.

It's a pretty easy recommendation to eat 500 calories fewer each day, which will add up to 3500 calories at the end of the week, for a one pound weight loss.
It's a bit harder to burn 500 calories more, since this could take up to one hour of exercise and is beyond the capacity of many overweight people.

However, you could also do a combination to add up to 1000 calories per day (such as eating 750 fewer calories and burning 250 extra) and this would add up to 7000 calories in the negative balance at the end of the 7-day week--resulting in a two pound loss of fat weight!

Since most people eat somewhere in the range of 2000 to 2700 calories, it's not realistic to think they could eat, say, 2000 fewer calories each day to lose four pounds a week. However, there are some extremely obese people who might eat 4000 calories on a typical day and it would be easier for them to cut out more calories. These are the people you see on "The Biggest Loser" show--they are very overweight, eat a tremendous amount of calories, and are very inactive: so it's pretty easy to cut their calories by a thousand or two, and work them out for hours a day to burn another thousand or two calories.

Above three or four pounds a week loss, it's no longer just fat that is being lost; it's largely water weight. Although this looks appealing when you step on the scale, it's not really something desirable to lose: Fluid weight doesn't stay off in the long term, nor does it affect your health positively to weigh less after losing fluid, nor does it affect your size or body fat in a beneficial way.

In general, fat can be lost at a rate of about one to two pounds per week, and that's why it has become a healthy and recommended guideline by educated healthcare professionals.

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