Managing expectations for what is going to happen with your weight loss journey is one of the most important pieces for long term success. If a person starts feeling like they aren’t making the progress they should be, motivation tanks which can lead to sabotage and quitting altogether. That is why it’s important to have a clear understanding from the get-go of what “good progress” looks like.
When your goal is to lose weight, how much should you be shooting for to know you are making progress at a decent rate? 1-2 lbs a week is a good rule of thumb, as is 1% of total body weight per week (sometimes this way makes more sense for those that have a lot of weight to lose, as they are able to safely lose more quickly than a leaner person).
Generally speaking, smaller people are going to have a hard time losing at as fast of a rate as larger people. This is because larger people use more energy just moving around, and therefore can “get away with” a bigger calorie deficit which will equate to more loss. Smaller people just don’t have as much wiggle room unless very, very active.
Let’s look at an example:
- A 200lb 5’6” woman who gets about 10k steps a day and works out moderately 5x a week would maintain her weight at around 2500 calories.
- A 130lb 5’0” woman at the same activity level would maintain her weight at around 1850 calories.
500 calories less than maintenance generally equates to about a pound a week of loss on average, 1000 gets you around 2 lbs. So the 200lb woman could choose to eat 1500 calories, and lose about 2 lbs a week. It’s a big deficit, but with the right food choices, 1500 calories is still a decent amount of food and could be doable for a reasonable amount of time until she reaches a desired leanness.
For the shorter, lighter 130lb woman to lose at that same rate of 2 lbs per week, she’d have to eat only 850 calories per day, which is not very much food. It is likely unsustainable for most people to be able to restrict their eating to that degree for long without giving up or bingeing due to hunger, low energy, moodiness etc. Also, when you limit energy IN, you also are impacting energy OUT. You’ll end up moving less and not going as hard in your workouts, which means fewer calories burned than what the math would predict. This is another factor that makes very low calorie diets backfire at times.
Water weight and scale fluctuations
Another factor to consider when dieting is the impact that water weight has on the scale. Sometimes when starting a diet, a huge LOSS of water is seen. This is common in low carb diets like keto. Carbs act like little sponges in our bodies, holding roughly 3g of water per 1g of carb. When you suddenly decrease your carb intake, you’re likely going to see a big loss (of WATER) reflected on the scale. (Note that this water will return as soon as carbohydrate intake is increased.) Sometimes, flexible dieters get discouraged when they don’t see huge drops in the initial weeks of a diet like they may hear their keto/low-carb friends experiencing, but it is important to remember their big losses are mostly water, not fat.
Water weight GAIN can also occur, both at the onset of a new diet/exercise program and continuing throughout for many reasons. If you have sore muscles from starting a new workout program, you’re likely retaining water as part of your body’s natural inflammatory process required for repair/rebuilding of your muscle tissue. You may be coming from a low carb or general food restricted background, so you’ll see more water weight due to this increase in carbs/food in general. Maybe you have switched to a higher fiber diet that includes more nutrient dense volume foods (fruits, veggies etc) than you were eating before. This means more volume of undigested food in your system which, of course, has weight.
Generally speaking, weight fluctuations of 2-5 lbs from one day to the next are normal and to be expected. This is why weighing daily and taking a weekly average is helpful so that you have more data available to see the general trend, vs what might be an uptick due to water weight. When you’re looking for 1-2 lbs of loss per week, it is easy to see how the scale going up 5 lbs overnight due to water (not uncommon at all) can make it seem like you’re not making progress, when you very well may be if you were to look at the bigger picture. Of course measurements and pictures are other helpful ways of measuring progress, and the more data you can gather the better.
To sum up, make sure you have a clear understanding of what to expect from the numbers you are working with for fat loss. If your calories are only around 500 less than where you maintain, don’t get discouraged when you don’t see 2+ lbs dropping each week…you’re not set up to see that kind of loss. Understanding this can lead you to feel more positive about the pace at which you’re going, so that you can maintain the discipline you need to reach your goals. If you need help figuring out what to expect, or where to even begin, make a post asking for help in the group. Custom macro calculations and monthly coaching are also available if you need extra guidance and accountability.