Weight loss can become perplexing. There’s no straight answer for knowing the right path for your own individual weight loss goals. Weight loss can lead to many questions like, “What foods should I eat to lose weight?”, or “How long does it take to lose 40 pounds?’, or even “Is it normal for weight to fluctuate during my weight loss journey?”
Fluctuations in your weight are not abnormal. However, when these fluctuations occur, our bodies attempt to steer us towards some sort of homeostasis, or equilibrium. These changes toward homeostasis happen slowly, but they tend to hold our bodies to a specific body chemistry. We can alter this with changes in our activity and nutrition. Some changes allow our bodies to gently glide towards homeostasis, while others create chaos and can harm our bodies more than we know. This can be especially dangerous when our bodies are losing weight.
So is there a “right” timing to losing weight? And what happens when we lose weight? We’ll look into the science of what happens when you lose weight and what an optimal 40 pound weight loss schedule looks like.
What happens when our weight fluctuates?
Weight gain and weight loss are two different biological processes in the human body, and we’ll go over how each one is different.
The body’s process to gain weight:
When someone gains weight, it’s typically because their energy input, like food and drink, is greater than how their body burns it off, such as metabolism and activity. These four main aspects of food, drinks, metabolism, and activity vary from person to person, so there’s no one-size-fits-all model for losing weight. As well, sometimes disease, stress, and other factors can affect the way your body interacts with energy. However, many weight loss programs tend to engage with some sort of energy reduction as one of the primary ways to control the way your body handles this energy.
If the energy your body takes in is greater than the energy it burns off, it will try and convert that energy into a dense molecule called fat. This fat is stored in special fat cells found in adipose tissue all across your body. As your body increases the amount of fat molecules, it creates more fat cells to house them.
The body’s process to lose weight:
In contrast, weight loss is when the amount of energy our body burns is greater than the amount of energy our bodies take in. Most people can alter either their intake or the ways their bodies burn energy to influence this. However, weight loss looks different than weight gain. Rather than eliminating fat cells and adipose tissue, your body just uses the fat molecules stored inside those fat cells. The cells themselves don’t just disappear; while some research points to them possibly disappearing after a decade, that adipose tissue sticks around for at least a long while.
This is why the commonly held belief that losing weight is harder than gaining weight is true: when your body is gaining weight, it has to build tissue to fit the extra energy. When your body is losing weight, typically it’s merely creating empty containers that can be easily filled with fat molecules later on. The process of adding fat molecules to pre-existing fat cells is easier than the process of creating new fat cells to fill up. And if you’re in a cycle of losing and gaining weight, it’s even easier to gain it since your body is so used to emptying and refilling the same adipose tissue!
Factors that can affect how quickly our bodies lose weight over a certain period of time…
Overall, calories in versus calories out is the largest factor in weight gain and weight loss, but thats not to say its the only factor that might affect how rapidly you might gain or lose weight. There are a few other factors that might cause weight fluctuations during your weight loss journey.
1) Cutting carbohydrates & water weight connection:
Because our body prefers to use carbohydrates/glycogen for energy and glycogen is stored in muscles with water, when glycogen is depleted in our muscles due to a low-carb diet then water in our muscles becomes depleted as well (this is not to say you’r dehydrated though). Keeping water intake up is essential during the weight loss process. Assuming a low-carb routine is being followed to a certain degree during weight loss and when you have more mass and water to lose, you’ll see larger initial drops in weight because of this. Plus any exercise routine will amplify water loss and therefore water weight loss.
2) Metabolism is running at a higher capacity:
Cutting caloric intake creates a deficit for a metabolism that’s running at higher capacity due to the fact that there were more calories coming in. So as your body adapts to the new lower calorie intake, its going to keep converting stores into energy at a higher rate resulting in starting the weight loss process.
3) Age & how it affects weight loss:
Age can become a real hinderance when it comes to weight loss, but it’s something most of us will experience as we get older. Some of the main reasons why older age can affect how quickly we’re able to lose weight include:
- Lack of muscle mass – Muscle tends to burn more calories than fat. As we age its natural to lose muscle mass meaning people burn fewer and fewer calories the older they get. Maintaining muscle mass throughout your life is key.
- Hormonal changes – Men and women alike go through hormonal changes throughout their lives. More specifically as we get older men tend to see a drop in testosterone and women tend to see a drop in estrogen. Both of these hormonal changes tend to drive higher fat percentages in the body and less muscle
- Sedentary lifestyle – As people age and their bodies stop performing as well they tend to become less active. A sedentary life style will make it harder to burn calories but it also leads to a decline in muscle mass. This decrease in muscle mass will only exacerbate any weight related issues.
4) Gender & ability to lose weight:
Men tend to lose weight quicker due to their natural make up of having more lean mass. Muscle requires more energy to function and so burns more calories resulting in a higher metabolism.
Is there a healthy timeline for weight loss?
There are not many studies that compare the speed of losing weight with long term weight maintenance, but a study from 2010 in the International Journal of Behavioral Medicine compared the pros and cons of the speed of weight loss, as the researchers compared fast weight loss to medium and slow weight loss.
The researchers broke it down into 3 weight loss groups:
- FAST = Individuals who lost an average of 29.8 lbs. within 6 months.
- MODERATE = Individuals who lost an average of 19.6 lbs. in 6 months.
- SLOW = Individuals who lost an average of 11.2 lbs. in 6 months.
When the researchers looked at weight regain at 18 months, they found that the FAST weight loss group was still at 24 lbs. of weight loss at 18 months. The MODERATE group was at 19.6 lbs. of weight loss at 18 months. The SLOW weight loss group was at 8.2 lbs. of weight loss at 18 months.
The FAST and MODERATE groups were 5.1 and 2.7 times more likely to achieve 10% weight losses at 18 months than the SLOW group.
The conclusion was that there was both short-term and long-term advantages to fast initial weight loss. Fast weight losers obtained greater weight reduction and long-term maintenance and were not more susceptible to weight regain than gradual weight losers.
Other studies showed not as much difference, but contrary to popular belief, many studies are showing that slow weight loss does not indicate that weight regain will be less.
Losing 40 pounds the healthy way
The healthy way to lose weight is when you use nutrient dense whole foods-by-nature. We do not recommend losing weight by utilizing low energy, low nutrient foods made-by-man in your weight loss program. In fact, a personalized food plan designed to support your body’s unique needs is the best and healthiest plan, not just for weight loss, but to support your body’s unique requirements.
So what is the best time period to lose 40 pounds? That is probably not the question you should be asking. The question we should ask is what is the best plan to support my body? When the body is supported properly and the metabolic pathways shift to optimize fat burning, cellular metabolism and optimal mitochondrial function, the body just moves toward optimal healthy fat loss.
This being said, it is best to monitor your fat loss with a body composition analysis smart scale. It is important to make sure that during your weight loss, that your body water percentage goes higher while the fat percentage goes lower. This is one way to monitor that the fat loss is healthy and that you are not losing too much water which causes cell metabolism to slow down.
The goal is to optimally support the body and its metabolic pathways, which creates nice, consistent fat loss that is easy and healthy and fast according to the previous research guidelines.