The speed you can effectively lose fat is misunderstood and often over-sold. The most common question our new clients will ask their Nutrition Coach is; “When will I see results?” The answer, on average, is that we expect to measure somewhere between 0.75% – 1.5% of your total body weight lost per week as fat. For example, if you currently weigh 80kgs, optimal progress would be losing between 0.6kgs and 1.2kgs in pure fat each week. You may notice more weight lost on the bathroom scale, but this is the amount of pure body fat you should lose.
Knowing only your weight on the scale can be limiting in tracking progress. As measuring body fat with absolute accuracy is an expensive business, combining your weight, skinfold measurements and full-length pictures can help build a great understanding.
How do we lose fat?
This is the famous equation with ‘energy used’ on one side and ‘energy consumed’ on the other side. Take on more energy (kcals) than you use and you are likely to gain weight. Take on less energy than you use and you will typically see a reduction in weight as the body begins to rely on stored energy (body fat). Logic suggests that the bigger the deficit we create, the more fat we will lose. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Our bodies are complex biological machines and designed to protect against energy losses. If too large a deficit is created, your body will instead look to sacrifice other tissue such as muscle mass.
Compliance and Consistency
How consistently you adhere to fat loss principles will ultimately determine how quickly you lose fat. If you can sustain a slightly more ‘aggressive’ energy deficit (through your diet and exercise) over a longer time period, you will lose fat at a faster rate than somebody who adheres to only a modest deficit and occasionally deviates. The results we have helped produce are a testament to the focus and determination of the amazing people we work with.
Enzyme activity: Diving deeper
Most of us are not particularly good at burning fat after periods of inactivity and ‘questionable food choices’. It’s important we help upregulate the activity of our enzymes that control our fat utilization. Without these enzymes doing their job, progress slows. We can help this enzymes initially by reducing the carbohydrate content of our diet and exercising in a way that increases our ‘aerobic capacity’. By performing exercises that significantly increase heart rate and uses large muscle groups we can get things working again. A little more on this below.
A well-designed exercise programme is responsible for a huge percentage of your progress. At the most basic level, exercise feeds into our energy balance equation and helps to increase your deficit. The right exercise programme helps improve insulin sensitivity and dictates the fuel sources from which you should be/can consume energy. The right type of exercise (for you) at the right frequency has huge impact on your ability to lose fat.
What is a ‘healthy’ speed to lose fat?
Type “healthy rate of fat loss” into a search engine and you are likely to find a figure of around 0.5kg – 1kg per week. Or, 1-2lbs for the more mature among us, or those hailing from the US! These figures roughly line-up with our suggestion at the top of this article. However, why is it that losing fat faster is considered unhealthy?
Low calories means low nutrients
Individuals leading recent research agree that an energy deficit is essential. To keep things simple, this means expending more calories than you consume from food. Tracking your expenditure is far from an exact science and is almost always overestimated. We believe that we move and use far more energy each day than we really are. This often means consuming less energy than you might expect and therefore taking on less nutrition.
When dieting, many habitually consume the same foods over and over. After all, we all have busy lives and creating interesting menus is rarely a priority at the weekend. This dietary monotony, added to a sustained energy deficit, can often mean our micronutrient intake takes a hit and become unbalanced. Evidence suggests this pattern of eating can lead to malnutrition if sustained for long periods. Add to this your increased requirement for certain nutrients (utilized in the conversion of fat for energy and the removal of toxins) and you begin to understand the potential for negative effects.
For these reasons and others, if we were to measure fat loss in a client above what we considered optimal, we take action to re-balance the equation. In our opinion, you can lose fat too fast.
Losing fat safely and effectively
We know there needs to be a series of basic principles adhered to in order to lose fat. How can you apply these to improve (let alone harm) general health?
- Apply the science. The first step is estimating your energy expenditure. Once you have an estimate of your expenditure you can determine an effective deficit for you as an individual. There are a number of equations and variations for this first-step. We use the Harris-Benedict equation. This first-step is the foundation upon which we build an individual’s nutrition programme and so should you.
- Guarantee essential nutrients. We often advise people take specific supplements to assist with their target. Most of these supplements have a dual role as the nutrients they provide prevent potential malnourishment, as well as assisting with more specific barriers to progress.
- Assess and adapt. We constantly monitor how our clients are feeling and performing to identify potential barriers and opportunities. Regular assessments help us understand how well your programme is performing and if things are (occasionally) working a little too well. Weight loss programmes often fail through lack of accurate assessment and progression. Regular testing and programme updates are essential.
As you now know, fat loss is often simple in theory but complicated in practice! On the one hand, you might argue that all you need is to create an adequate deficit between your energy input and output. On the other, there are any number of considerations at a cellular level affecting how much fat you may lose using any given deficit. We want you to understand that losing fat is a well-trodden path. We’ve yet to meet someone who could not achieve their targets, only that each of our paths are individual and some require more consideration.
Hungry for more?
Try this article: “City of London’s Healthiest Breakfast“