Fat loss — is it better to go faster or slower?

Fat loss — is it better to go faster or slower?

As we head into December — Summer in Melbourne for those not currently sweltering in the hottest November in about 150 years — Hammer’s Gym members will be looking to ramp up their programs and drop a few extra kilos before they jump into their bathing suits, if you haven’t already hit the beach or the pool. Although this objective is a very short-term focused one, which is fine — get ripped for the beach —and therefore long-term success doesn’t factor in as much, it does make you wonder whether it is better to try to lose weight quickly or slowly for long-term success.

Anecdotally, people have said for a long time that slow weight loss is always better, because the long-term habits that must be formed for a person to reach an ideal weight over a long period of time means that they have more chance of keeping these behaviours going into the future. Recent research refutes this.

What a study out of Melbourne University found is that those who set goals to lose weight more rapidly than those who look to do it slowly tend to lose more weight overall. They showed that 81 per cent of those studied successfully reached their target, compared to 50 per cent in the slow group. Researchers believed that this is because people are less likely to drop out of the diet if they are seeing quicker results as well as there seeming like a stronger level of day-to-day commitment with these people. So for those looking to lose weight for summer, the research says go hard.

However, the question must be asked — is the weight loss all fat, or are the people busting their humps to get a few kilos lighter sacrificing some of that hard-earned muscle?

A good way to measure that is by looking at your strength in the gym. Although you might feel tired and lacking in energy, you should still be able to achieve similar lifts as you were before. So the question you should be asking is, is my strength in the gym going down as my weight loss goes down? If it is, you might be losing muscle, which is not going to do positive things for your metabolism and ultimately, lead to a very rapid weight gain. Which begs the following up question: which form of weight loss — rapid and slow — gives you the best chance of keeping the weight off long-term?

The answer is a sobering neither. Another study, also out of Melbourne University, found that regardless of whether the weight was lost slowly or quickly, there was no significant difference in terms of the amount of weight regained. In both groups, about 70 per cent regained the weight within three years.

Weight loss continues to be a problem for society, and if the vast majority of people who lose it regain it, then perhaps that needs to be the focus. If you’re looking to lose five kilos for this summer, maybe give some thought to where you want to be next summer and every summer after that.

Purcell, K., et al., (2014). The effect of rate of weight loss on long-term weight management: a randomised controlled trial. Diabetes and Endocrinology.

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