We’re constantly confronted by before and after shots. People who’ve “changed their bodies in six weeks” or “got their pre-baby body back”.
But how long does it really take to lose weight? Here’s the science behind weight loss.
What to expect
If you’ve asked your doctor or trainer “how long does it take to lose weight?”, you may as well have asked how long is a piece of string. There are numerous factors that affect people’s weight loss — from age, fitness, health status to lifestyle.
That said, a realistic rate of weight loss for most people is around 0.5-1kg a week. Weight loss can plateau and yo-yo, so there is no designated time period to ditch that extra layer of fat — despite the common 12-week challenges.
You need to continually mix it up, keep focused and set achievable short and long-term goals.
Weight loss vs fat loss
Seeing the scales flash two kilos in a week doesn’t necessarily mean all your hard work is paying off. There’s three explanations for weight loss: losing body fat, losing water and losing muscle.
With a balanced diet and regular physical activity, you’ll most likely shed fat and preserve lean muscle tissue (ideal world). However, if you’re more focused on your calorie restriction or following the latest fad diet at the expense of exercise, then you’ll lose all three components, but most likely more muscle and water.
This may appear great on the scales, but the results are never long-lived. Why? If you regain the weight, more fat and less muscle is replaced. Then once you come off the “diet”, your body thinks another famine is coming and works hard to store away whatever energy it can — most likely as fat. You are left with a body that jiggles instead of one that is toned.
Age vs fitness age
If you’ve noticed losing weight gets tougher with age, you’re not wrong. As you get older your body loses muscle mass, which slows your base metabolic rate (the rate at which it burns calories).
But that’s not the only age that affects weight loss. Your fitness age — the number of years you’ve been physically active for — determines your base level physique and the speed at which you shed kilos.
If you’re new to training (or overweight) and start exercising 3-4 times a week and eating healthily, then you could lose up to 2 kilos a week. Alternatively, if you’ve been training 3-4 times a week and eating correctly for a while, you’ll probably lose weight a steadier pace.
Get a grip of your lifestyle
Losing weight can be more complex than just eating healthily and exercising. If you’re struggling to shift the scales, consider the role your lifestyle plays. Are you stressed? Not getting enough sleep? Are your friends and family helping you stay on track? Or perhaps you have underlying health issues?
Every body is individual. Not one size fits all. You can train and eat exactly like someone else and have entirely different results.
While most experts would agree that 0.5-1kg a week is realistic, the truth of the matter is that slow and steady wins the race.
Not the message you really want to hear, I know.
Kathleen Alleaume is a nutritionist and exercise physiologist and Author of What’s Eating You?