The Grapevine

Weight Loss: Should It Be Fast Or Slow For Better Health?

The prevalence of obesity in the United States has seen a steady increase over the past two decades, affecting both adults and children. Highlighting a need for effective weight loss programs and informed recommendations, one question often pops up — at what rate should we be shedding pounds?

When comparing rapid weight loss and gradual weight loss, you may have heard varying perspectives on which is better. This may be based on which helps keep weight off in the long run or which could be tied to other health risks.

Recently, a large study from York University, Canada linked the faster method with greater weight loss. However, the bottom line was that the rate may not matter for overall health as much as we think. "Fast and slow weight losses are associated with similar improvements in metabolic health after adjusting for the absolute weight loss attained," the authors wrote in conclusion.

Currently, guidelines recommend that people aim to lose one to two pounds per week. Losing weight very quickly has been linked to a slightly higher risk for gallstones in past research. Losing and regaining weight repeatedly is also considered to be a risk factor for the formation of gallstones.

But is it true that a faster rate increases the likelihood of regaining lost weight? Donald Hensrud, M.D., of the Mayo Clinic, notes that it is hard to burn a large number of fat calories in a short period. This means one may lose water weight or even lean tissue instead.

Slower weight loss could work better as it increases the tendency to lose fat instead of muscle. Of course, it is important to practice strengthening exercises in addition to changing dietary patterns.

"In some situations, however, faster weight loss can be safe if it's done the right way. For example, doctors might prescribe very low-calorie diets for rapid weight loss if obesity is causing serious health problems," Hensrud writes. For instance, someone with type 2 diabetes or high blood pressure may require rapid weight loss if their weight is worsening their condition.

Aggressive diets under medical supervision combined with healthy lifestyle changes can be a safe way to lose weight, fast. Avoid the so-called miracle pills and fad diets as they are not known to have long-term benefits even if they provide immediate results.

But if your doctor does not see a reason for you to lose weight quickly, a gradual approach should be just as fine. Setting such a pace can help you get used to major changes in terms of diet and physical activity. 

No matter the rate of weight loss, discipline is what needs to be prioritized. This means a lifelong commitment to healthy adjustments rather than dropping them after experiencing a dramatic or gradual change in weight.