For long-term fat loss, think slow and steady

If all you want to do is lose weight, then any diet which puts you in a calorie deficit will get the job done. It really doesn’t matter if you go ketogenic, paleo, or on SlimFast meal replacement shakes. However, if your goal is to lose fat mass, rather than losing muscle mass and water, then you need more patience. Several studies1 have shown that a slower rate of weight loss helps to better preserve muscle mass when dieting. This is particularly true of people who are a healthy weight but looking to lose body fat, rather than those who are obese. If long-term fat loss and a lean, toned body is your goal, then slow and steady wins the race.

Being patient is hard. When you are watching what you eat, seeing fast results is very motivating. It can be really disappointing to spend a week planning all your meals and denying yourself treats only to find you’ve lost half a pound. Especially when social media is filled with stories of how people on the latest crash diet are losing 5 pounds a week instead. What they don’t tell you is 1-2 of those 5 pounds will be muscle mass, and at least a pound will be water. Yes, they’ve lost 2 pounds of fat, but at the expense of muscle mass. So actually, the percentage of the body which is fat is the same, just at a lower weight!

The other problem with fast fat loss is that it is completely unsustainable. People will follow these diets for six or eight weeks, lose a stone, and go back to their “normal” diet. Problem is, their normal diet is what got them into this pickle in the first place! Within a year they’ve put all the weight back on and then some. Numerous studies have shown that over 95% of people who lost weight will have put all of it back on (and more) within 5 years. In order to get the benefits of any fat loss plan, you have to maintain it.

Successful long-term fat loss is about finding a diet and exercise plan you can happily stick to. Ask yourself: can I see myself still eating this way a year from now? No one can give up all their favourite foods forever, so work in the occasional treat. It is far better to lose body fat slowing while enjoying your food, than alternate periods of serious deprivation with binging. Remember, your mental health is more important than a particular number on the scale!

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1. International society of sports nutrition position stand: diets and body composition

Alan A. Aragon, Brad J. Schoenfeld, Robert Wildman, Susan Kleiner, Trisha VanDusseldorp, Lem Taylor, Conrad P. Earnest, Paul J. Arciero, Colin Wilborn, Douglas S. Kalman, Jeffrey R. Stout, Darryn S. Willoughby, Bill Campbell, Shawn M. Arent, Laurent Bannock, Abbie E. Smith-Ryan, Jose Antonio

Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, volume 14, Article number: 16 (2017)

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