The Dangers Of Dropping Weight Too Quickly

9 min read
  • Why slow trumps rapid weight loss
  • The best rates for weight loss

Dieting down can be an incredibly addictive process, and it’s easy to get sucked in. It almost doesn’t matter which diet you choose, you’re going to see results from the get-go. Each morning you step on the scale, the needle moves a little further. The first week could see you drop half-a-stone, with not much effort. 

Now you probably will figure out that some of that is down to the flush of water and glycogen. But seeing such a dramatic shift can make the following weeks of look thoroughly amateur and dispiriting. 

You have two clear options once the honeymoon week comes to an end. 

Lose 0.5-1% of your bodyweight per week

Settle for the scaled-down trundle of one or two pounds per week. You may go days at a time without seeing a change in the scale. This may be a tax on your patience, as you’ve likely had to make some sacrifices to start the diet.

Lose 1-3% of your bodyweight per week

Step up the gas to keep up that early momentum. Which is easily done, as long as you’re happy to throw in the kitchen sink of cardio coupled with steep deficits. This is a proven tactic, but there are downsides in using it this early.

Chasing the pounds can end up becoming a trap. If you want to see the diet through to the end and reach whatever goal you’ve set down, the best course is to reel yourself in and settle for a slower rate of weight loss.

And it’s not just a question of playing the percentages and picking the safe route. If you’re happy to dial it up and embrace the suck, the best results are still going to be found in a steady approach. To understand that, you just need to look at the many downsides of trying to maximise fat loss.

1. Raised Muscle Breakdown

Here’s the dose of reality. If you’re able to sustain rapid weight loss after the first couple of weeks, then there’s a significant amount of muscle being discarded along the way. The metabolic cost to drop a pound of muscle is far less than burning off a pound of fat. For that reason, higher rates of weight loss are made possible by muscle breakdown.

Muscle stores 700 calories worth of energy, while fat contains 3500. The standard deficit of 500 calories per day will only result in a pound of weight loss, if we could assume that the entirety comes from fat stores. Which it never is. 

So let’s assume that one pound in a week is below-par, and you want to step up the pace. Take the deficit to 1000 calories, and muscle loss is only going to become more likely. If you lost 50% muscle and 50% fat over a week, which is not far off the mark for aggressive dieting, then you’d lose 2.5lbs of lean mass and 0.5lb from fat. 

So it’s not using masterful deduction to figure out that extra results are not what you’re after. And if it’s really just about the scale, then there’s still the issue that the metabolism is heavily linked with lean mass. Dropping muscle has the direct, unwanted effect of spiking hunger and lowering activity levels. Simply put, the stage is being set for the fat-massing rebound.

Getting to the goal means nothing in this scenario, as the negative adaptations won’t resolve until you regain all the lost muscle. Otherwise the signals for fat regain can continue past your pre-diet weight. Essentially making you fatter for your efforts.

Does Fasting Cause Muscle Loss?

2. Lean Dieting

The fact of dieting that everyone needs to note, is that strength training and high protein isn’t some magical equation that completely wipes out muscle loss. While they are incredibly effective tools, the goal should be damage limitation. Unless you’re overweight and untrained, you will lose some muscle over a weight-loss programme. With the right tools and the best rate of fat loss, this ends up being minimal.

However, it’s a different ballgame for lean dieters. This could be under 10% for men, and 20% for women. At this stage, muscle isn’t such a precious commodity for the body. Losses of lean mass are heightened, along with all the other negative adaptations. There’s just a lot of suffering in order to inch over the line.

Combining this with an aggressive deficit, and all the pain gets amplified. Even if you manage to wade through it, the excessive muscle loss means you’ll spend as much as a year just trying to get back to a healthy baseline. That’s a whole lot of time you could be spending getting stronger.

What I Learned After Fasting For 46 Hours (While Lean)

3. Heightened Cravings

Hunger is always going to be the biggest threat to a successful weight-loss programme, and the more you can avoid it, the better. This is one of the reasons a carnivore or keto diet is so successful, because ketones act as appetite suppressants.

A large deficit inevitably raises cravings. There’s less nutrition being packed into your meals, and it’s a lot easier to end up with glaring vitamin and mineral deficiencies. The symptoms are often felt as insatiable hunger. 

Aggressive dieting will also leave you short on macronutrients, even if you get enough protein in. There’s still the matter of carbs and fats, and without sufficient amounts from either source, you can develop insatiable hunger. Protein is primarily a building block, and a terribly inefficient source for energy. So you’ll need a decent amount of either carbs and fats to balance the books.

4. Adaptive Thermogenesis

This phenomenon is how the body reacts to starvation. Because that’s pretty much what a diet is. Any big decrease in calories, and the subsequent drop in weight, is interpreted as a state of famine. In order to survive, the body can downregulate the metabolism to essentially become more thrifty. 

You now burn less energy, particularly that of NEAT (Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis). Less twitching, you don’t laugh as hard, and you suddenly like leaning on things. All this strung out over the course of a day, is a huge dent in energy expenditure. You may well have to do twice the work in order to get the same progress.

5. Stress

Cortisol is the primary stress hormone, but you can also lump in adrenaline and noradrenaline into the mix. All these hormones can be and will be weaponised for fat loss. They increase in response to states of energy-scarcity, quickening the heart rate and breaking down fat stores for fuel. 

But there needs to be a balance between the states of energy-scarcity and availability, or famine and feasting. Dipping into the cortisol well too often can lead to chronically raised levels, which then causes muscle loss and insomnia.

Stress isn’t inherently bad, but it does need to be carefully managed. It’s your gas pedal, and pressing down too often comes with a significant set of risks.

Fasting And Feasting

6. Lowered Leptin

Amongst a cluster of hormones that drive the metabolic rate, leptin stands out due to its ability to regulate ghrelin (hunger) and T3 (thyroid). This hormone drops in response to weight loss, which in turn raises ghrelin and decreases T3. It’s the body’s means of maintaining homeostasis, which works much better at preventing weight loss as opposed to weight gain.

Once again, an aggressive deficit will cause a more dramatic shift in leptin, initiating many of the negative adaptations to weight loss. If you’re powering through the diet over a matter of months without breaks or refeeds, then there’ll be no way to replenish flagging leptin levels. The longer the diet lasts, the worse the results are going to get.

Wrapping Up – Slow And Steady Makes For Less Side-Effects, And More Pure Fat Loss

There are some significant differences to note when choosing between fast and slow rates of weight loss. And here’s the summary. Chasing the scale isn’t the best option. It’s pretty unlikely that you can lose over a 1lb per week without sacrificing a ton of muscle and risking a lot more suffering to get there. It’s the choice between swimming upriver or going with the current.

Weight loss can cause a series of negative adaptations in the body. It fights against further losses and pushes for fat regain. Particularly by raising muscle loss and spiking cravings. The larger the deficit is, the harsher the effects. But these negative adaptations aren’t a fact of dieting, you don’t have to embrace the suck and slog through it. By keeping the deficit lower and aiming for 0.5-1% of weight loss per week, you can pretty much get through the diet with no sides.

There are obviously going to be a few other factors that you need to consider in order to make the diet a cakewalk, nutritional quality being one of them. But the rate of weight loss remains one of the biggest things you can set down before beginning a programme. 

The Apex Diet is my blueprint for getting the best balance of muscle and energy. Check out the article below to learn about the nine levers for building the optimal nutritional plan.