Many people looking to lose weight as part of their New Year’s resolutions are asking the question: how long does it take to lose weight?
The answer is different for everyone since no two bodies function or metabolize calories in the same way. One pound equals 3500 calories, so theoretically weight loss should occur at a rate of one pound per week if you simply decreased your calorie intake by 500 calories each day.
However several factors can impact your weight loss progress.
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Metabolism – The most effective way to lose weight and keep it off is to teach your body to become a more efficient calorie-burning machine by accelerating your metabolism. Metabolic rates are much higher in people with more muscle. Muscle cells burn on average 3x more calories than fat cells.
Incorporating strength training is an efficient way to increase muscle mass and accelerate your metabolism over time. In addition, adding aerobic exercise revs up one’s metabolic rate within the first hours after a workout. The higher the intensity of the aerobic exercise the longer the rise in metabolic rate throughout the day.
Incorporating HIIT – high intensity interval training will have longer lasting effects on metabolic rate than steady state aerobic exercise. Also eating every 3-4 hours keeps your metabolism cranking so you will burn calories much more efficiently than if you skip meals throughout the day.
Physiological Hunger – You are more likely to lose weight and keep it off when you learn to eat in response to physiological hunger, which originates in the stomach not the mind.
One of the greatest benefits to eating soon after you feel physiologically hungry is that you will likely eat the right amount of calories your body needs, because your brain will send a signal to help you detect your fullness level before you overeat.
However the brain responds to being over-hungry by turning off that same signal off so you end up eating and storing significantly more calories and fat than your body needs which can add up to weight gain instead of loss!
Using a 1-5 scale, 5 being neutral and 1 being ravenous, ideally you want to eat when you are at a 3-4 so that your body will know when it’s had enough calories, similar to the way it did when you were an infant.
We are all born with an awareness of physiological hunger but, at some point may have learned to override hunger signals due to demanding schedules or the lack of access to food. If that is the case we can benefit from relearning how to eat with awareness the way nature taught us. Visit the Center for Mindful Eating to learn the principles of mindful eating at www.tcme.org.
Protein – One study published in Nutrition Metabolism (2010) showed dieters who increased their protein intake to 30% of their calories ate nearly 450 few calories in a day and lost 11 pounds over the 12 week study without employing any other dietary measures!
This study shows that not all calories are created equal. Protein (e.g. poultry, lean meat, fish, soy, eggs, dairy, nuts, seeds, etc.) has great satiating power and therefore including it in each meal can decrease cravings and overeating later in the day.
Exercise and snacking – While high intensity exercise is a great metabolic booster it also can lead to extreme hunger and cravings soon afterwards. Be sure to have a carb and protein snack (e.g., 1/2 a turkey sandwich, or a fruit and string cheese) two hours before or within ½ hour after exercising to replenish blood sugars and decrease the risk of cravings throughout the day.
Use skinfold measurements rather than the scale! – The scale shows how much you weigh but says nothing about body composition. Strength training will help build muscle and raise your calorie-burning potential but the scale may not budge initially due to muscle weight gain.
If you take body measurements you should start to see a decrease in your waist and hip circumferences (due to fat loss) within the first couple of weeks. Pound for pound fat takes up more space than muscle. It is better to gain gauge your success by how your clothes are fitting.
Relax! – Too much stress can slow down the weight loss process because of the body’s production of hormones in response to stress factors which can lead to greater fat storage as well as keep you from detecting your physiological hunger. Take time to slow down and have more mindful moments throughout your day.
Weight loss is not a one size fits all approach! Some people are faster losers than others.
Be patient with yourself. Rather than trying to lose weight in a hurry, focus on longer lasting success, e.g., teaching your body to become more efficient at burning calories by eating in response to stomach hunger, incorporating protein into each meal to ward off cravings, exercising 3-4 days per week, keeping active on your “off” days, and learning to de-stress.
Remember, in the end, permanent weight loss is much more rewarding than quick weight loss but may take some time and effort to re-learn some basic, yet valuable principles for healthy living!