What is the best rate to lose fat?

Why am I losing only 1kg per week? How can lose more weight faster? How much longer before I reach my ideal body weight? By when can I expect to lose X kgs? 

These are all questions I get from clients and readers all the time and are questions that truly reek of desperation. Being an advocate of sensible and sustainable transformation, I thought it is best that I address the issue in detail while keeping the text as simple as possible.

This is what happens after 12 days on the die-on-the-13th-day diet

Truthfully, everyone wants to go to bed looking like Fat Albert and wake up like Will Smith. But, as fate would have it, the human body doesn’t function thataway. Fat loss is a very complex process that involves changes from the cellular to the organ level… but a process that is triggered by some very simple actions.

Unless you are clinically obese and/or have serious hormonal imbalances/autoimmune diseases, it is unacceptable that you are ‘unable’ to lose fat. In other words, if you are overweight and have been unsuccessfully trying to lose fat for a while, you either have something wrong under the hood (think: hormonal imbalances, micro-nutrient deficiencies or other physiological we don’t understand right away) or you’re not doing the right stuff (think: wrong diet, stupid training, stressful lifestyle etc.).

Fat loss for dummies

So what is so simple about fat loss? I’ll try to explain fat loss in 3 (overly simplified) steps.

  1. When you take in calories (i.e. eat food) you utilize (burn) the required calories and store the remaining calories for future use (in fat cells). These extra calories are stored as body fat.
  2. Consequently, when you take in lesser calories than you require, you utilize all the calories that you take in via food and then get the remaining of what is required from what is stored. That is, you burn the fat and fuel the machine (your body).
  3. So, irrespective of who you are, you need to be utilizing more calories than you consume in order to lose fat.

So, if you are overweight and are having trouble losing fat, it could only mean one thing – you are not utilizing your fat stores to fuel your activities. While this is easily perceived in a healthy body without any systemic derangement, even in the case that something is metabolically wrong (hypothyroidism, leptin resistance, insulin resistance, compromised fat oxidation capabilities etc.), what really happens is that the metabolic handicap restricts you from either mobilizing and/or oxidizing the energy (fat) and hence results in forcing you to stay fat. There is, of course, much much more to fat loss and the many mysteries behind fat loss, but that is beyond the scope of this article.

So why did I even mention all this? Today, thanks to the media, the word fat loss (or weight loss) has been so misinterpreted that…

  • we don’t quite know what it truly is and the complexity involved in its happening.
  • we don’t understand how simple actions can initiate fat loss resulting in long term sustainable results.

And as a result, we end up doing extremely complex actions to initiate (what we think is) a simple process and expect drastic results within a very short period of time (think: zero carb diets, oil-less cooking, detox, raw diets, fat burners, appetite suppressants  etc etc). This is either due to an insufficient understanding of the mechanics of fat loss or due to the baseless belief that if results require actions then awesome results require complex actions or both.

In other words, this is the equivalent of wanting to go from point A to point B using your car but hoping that a certain magical combination of gear shaft movements will potentiate the car to fly and hence reach your destination in record time. Sadly, a lot of people just end up sitting in their cars for years and years trying out the trillion possible gear shaft combinations that would make them fly while all they need to do is to displace that shaft left and up and start moving towards their destination.

Are we there yet?

So now, let’s assume you ‘understand’ fat loss and finally start driving to your destination. How long of a drive is it really? How long will it take you to reach your fat loss goals?

Honestly, I have no idea! But, sticking to the same analogy, the duration of travel and your rate of fat loss depends on a lot of things.

  • How far is your journey? How much fat do you have to lose?
  • Have you been this route before? Do you have any experience with trying to lose fat?
  • Are you taking the long comfortable route or are you taking the short crazy route? Are you planning on losing fat the slow and healthy way or are you looking to go on a (crash) diet?
  • How many unexpected traffic jams are possible? How many forced deviations (vacation, birthdays, business travel etc.) are possible?
  • How often do you take a detour? How often do you deviate from what needs to be done wrt nutrition and training and sleep?
  • And most importantly, how good is the vehicle? Does it have issues under the hood that you are unaware of that might slow you down or force you to stop a few times? Does your body have issues (hormonal imbalances, insulin resistance etc etc.) that you are unaware of that might affect the rate of fat loss?

With so many variables no one can ever tell you how long it will take you to reach your goals or exactly how many pounds of fat you can lose every week. And if someone does promise you a number, then the person is possibly hoping for weight reduction by means of making your wallet skinny.

Estimated rate of fat loss

That said, there is always an estimate. This estimate generally takes into account all these variables and is fairly relevant for the majority of general public. This estimated number holds true for rate of fat loss as it does for speed. If an estimated 30 min drive took you 3 hours, then there is something seriously wrong somewhere and if it took you only 6 minutes, then there is something very unsafe about it. You see my point?

Jumping off the analogy for a bit (only a little bit ‘cos I know you love this!) and talking purely fat loss, the general rate of safe fat loss per week for a generally healthy person is about 0.5-1% body weight per my observations. That is, if you weigh 150 lb (68 kg) and are looking to lose fat, a fat loss rate of 0.75-1.5 lb/week (0.35-0.7 kg/week) seems to be ideal. At this rate, it seems to be possible to continually lose mostly fat without risking loss of lean tissue or starvation.

While your rate could be higher or lower depending on your variables, this serves as a yardstick. Anything much more than this and you’re losing weight too fast which means you’re burning plenty of muscle and possibly pushing your body into a starvation mode. Anything much lower than this and you are best served taking a more critical look into your nutrition and/or training and/or thyroid. (Note that if you are just starting a fat loss phase and are losing a lot more than this, it could be due to water loss and is nothing to be worried about. Your rate of fat loss will eventually drop down and fall within this range)

So if you are losing at a rate that is within this window, smile and keep fighting the good fight for as long as it takes ‘cos you definitely are on the most optimal route to reaching your fat loss goals.

What is the reward?

I don’t want to take the analogy too far (if I haven’t already) but everyone’s travel time is different and it depends on too many variables, some of which you have control over and some of which you don’t. But once you realize that irrespective of how long this takes, this is your trip and you need to do this to look forward to a better future, the boring long “are we there yet?” trip becomes a journey! A journey during which you learn so damn much about yourself, your body, your physical capabilities, your mental toughness and much much more!

So instead of acting like the kid on the back seat constantly asking ‘How much longer?’, frowning, whining and sulking, be the kid that is super excited to be on a journey and has his head out the window! Make it count, make it memorable and make it something you’d remember for life ‘cos at the end of the day it is what you learn about yourself during this transformation that matters. In other words, the journey is the reward!

Peace out.

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17 responses to “What is the best rate to lose fat?

  1. Madhuram February 28, 2012 at 4:31 pm

    Thanks Raj. It’s 5.45am here and I’m so happy to start the day knowing that I’m on the right track.

  2. Reva February 28, 2012 at 9:36 pm

    Two words – Very Neat! One word – Awesome!:)

  3. Jane February 29, 2012 at 2:11 am

    You might be interested in reading this:

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-17177251

  4. Vani March 1, 2012 at 2:59 pm

    Learning (hard) to concentrate on strength gains.. Another related article I found interesting:
    http://www.jencomaskeck.com/2012/02/tick-tock-fat-loss-clock.html

  5. anand srivastava March 2, 2012 at 11:41 am

    Very nice article and analogy.

    I particularly liked the gear shift and flying thing :-). And the kid at the back asking “How much longer?”. Very funny.

    One point looks problematic to me. The rate of fat loss should depend on the body fat not body weight. The example that you gave with 0.5-1% fat loss/Kg of total body weight, would be problematic at lower end of fat loss scale and would be much lower on the high end.

    • RG March 2, 2012 at 12:01 pm

      Thanks Anand. This is for the “most” part. Assume the lightest person looking to lose weight is 50kg and the heaviest person is 110 kg (we’re not talking about morbidly obese people here). The 50kg person will be served best if he/she loses 0.25kg per week (that is my preferred rate of fat loss by the way) and the 110kg person will initially lose 1.1 kg a week (2.4 lb that is) and will eventually drop down to about 0.7%/week.

  6. Arvind G March 3, 2012 at 2:15 pm

    I wish I could “workout” as good as you “writeout” -if that even makes sense! 😉 Really nice article though… Best part of it was to provide a specific yardstick in contrast to keeping it vague/generic…

  7. Shwetha March 5, 2012 at 10:28 pm

    What an amazing Post. I have become a fan. Your blog tabs are forvever open on my chrome window and my plan is to read as much as i can cuz the motivation is immense. n i need it so i look back and know its been a great journey!
    I already await to say this aloud:
    ‘… The trying times will fade
    Life will once again be great
    I await the end to know it has been a fairy tale’
    – from one of my poems (http://thethoughtsofthestar.blogspot.com/2010/11/fairy-tale.html)

  8. Madhuram March 6, 2012 at 5:24 pm

    I have a question Raj. Is losing inches around the waist and losing fat (in terms of lbs) mutually exclusive or they go hand-in-hand? I’m asking this because, this week my fat loss % is way less than .5% (usually it’s in the 0.5-1% range you have mentioned) but I have lost 1.5 inches around the waist.

  9. Madhuram March 6, 2012 at 8:07 pm

    It’s not waist, but hips. I lost about 1.5 inches this weeks in the hips.

    • RG March 8, 2012 at 10:12 pm

      Dont worry about it much. You can lose inches and not lose weight and vice versa. This is a result of what you eat, bloating, fluctuations etc that change everyday/every week. As long as the trend is a downward trend (wrt weight and measurements), you’re on the right track.

      • Madhuram March 12, 2012 at 7:01 pm

        Thanks Raj. After writing here I too looked it up and was relieved. While doing so, I stumbled upon http://www.bodyrock.tv. I don’t know if you have seen that already, but it’s really very good. She also has a lot of YouTube videos. I think our group will benefit from those workout videos. Let me mention it on the FB page as well.

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