What is unhealthy weight loss?
With a big portion of the population trying to lose weight, the weight loss industry has become a multibillion-dollar business. This has led to some looking to capitalize on this. That is why every few months, someone will come up with a “newer, faster, and scientifically proven way” to help the masses lose weight. While there is nothing wrong in hoping to lose weight fast, did you know that some of these viral methods can lead to unhealthy weight loss?
Also known as “fast weight loss or rapid weight loss”, unhealthy weight loss is the act of losing a lot of weight very quickly. If a diet or workout routine promises to help you lose five pounds in five days, 10 pounds in 7 days, or 15 pounds in two weeks, then this is a gateway to unhealthy weight loss. Despite your meticulous workout routine or how well you eat, the human body cannot safely lose this massive amount of weight in such a small time frame.
What is healthy weight loss per week?
If losing 5 pounds in five days or 15 pounds in two weeks is deemed unhealthy, what is a safe weight loss rate? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a healthy weight loss rate is about 1 to 2 pounds (0.45 to 0.9 kg) a week (21). While this might seem like a small amount to many, with consistency, the pounds add up, and you will eventually reach your goals, healthily and sustainably.
What are some reasons for unhealthy weight loss?
Extreme weight loss can be caused by multiple reasons. Some of them are listed below:
1. Prescription weight-loss drugs
These work by either blocking your body from absorbing some of the nutrients you eat or by manipulating your hormones into making your body believe that you are full even without eating (11). While this leads to you shedding some extra pounds, it is classified as an unhealthy weight-loss method.
2. Starvation diets
Such eating plans have become quite popular in recent years, and they are among the leading causes of unhealthy weight loss. Some of the most common starvation diets include the cabbage soup diet, alkaline diet, grapefruit diet, vinegar diet, cotton ball diet, celery juice diet, and other juice cleanses, as well as the baby food diet, among many others.
3. Very-Low-Calorie diets (VLCDs)
These are eating plans that require people to consume up to 800-900 calories a day. While such diets are used by medical professionals in special circumstances to help their overweight and obese patients, they are sometimes also adopted by the public. Anyone who takes part in any VLCD without a doctor’s approval may trigger unhealthy weight loss (20).
4. Cutting out entire food categories
Some popular diets such as the Atkins diet, Keto diet, Paleo diet, the HMR Program, and the raw food diet (17) have been praised by many for helping them lose weight. While they may seem good and healthy, any extra pounds you lose can be considered as unhealthy weight loss since, in truth, these eating plans are not the best. They cut out major food groups that are not recommended (14).
Sometimes, unhealthy weight loss can stem from matters that are beyond our control. Diseases such as cancer, Celiac disease, Addison’s disease, depression, thyroid problems, diabetes, Tuberculosis, and more can cause rapid, unhealthy, and unexplained weight loss (18).
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How to achieve a safe weight loss rate?
You may have come across a quote that states that healthy weight loss is 70% in the kitchen and 30% in the gym, and this is true. Before running to buy a gym membership or workout clothes, you must first clean up your diet and watch what you eat.
The fundamentals of clean eating are very simple. You must ensure to consume more whole foods such as fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, whole grains, and healthy fats. You are also required to eliminate or severely restrict your intake of highly processed and packaged foods and drinks, and other foods with added salt, sugar, or fat (19).
Once you have cleaned up your diet, you must also count your calories. It is recommended that you cut about 500 to 1000 calories a day (3500 to 7000 calories a week) from your typical diet and workout for at least 30 minutes a day. These will help you lose 1 to 2 pounds (0.45 to 0.9 kg) a week (7) and effectively prevent unhealthy weight loss.
Is fasting for weight loss a good idea?
Fasting has been around for hundreds of years, with people doing it for religious and spiritual reasons. However, in the last few decades, fasting has become popular for fitness and health reasons. But is a weight loss fast a good idea, or could it lead to unhealthy weight loss and other health problems?
The answer to this mostly lies in what kind of fasting regimen you are using. Since not all of them are created equally. Starvation diets can be considered as fasting for weight loss diets, and they are very unhealthy. Some methods even require people to go for anywhere from 3 days up to a month without proper feeding in the name of fasting for weight loss.
Such plans are ill-advised and will lead to unhealthy weight loss, as well as prolonged side effects such as anemia, nutrient deficiencies, a weakened immune system, liver and kidney problems, and irregular heartbeat. They can also lead to vitamin and mineral deficiencies (malnutrition), muscle breakdown, and diarrhea or dehydration if you are taking laxative concoctions as a part of your fasting for weight loss plan (8).
How to fast for weight loss: Is there a better way to do it?
Intermittent fasting is one way to do this, and if done correctly, you can avoid unhealthy weight loss.
What is intermittent fasting? This is an eating practice that revolves around periods of fasting and eating. Under intermittent fasting (IF), people go through extended periods of fasting, and they have a few short hours (a.k.a. the feeding window) where they can eat (10).
Some of the most popular fasting methods include:
The 12-hour fast
This gives you a 12-hour eating window.
The 5:2 method
Another popular variation is the 5:2 diet. It does not rely on hours to define the eating windows. On this variation, participants eat normally for 5 days a week and drastically cut down their calorie intake on the remaining 2 days. On the 2 fasting days, men and women generally consume 600 and 500 calories, respectively. For health reasons, these two days are not done back to back, i.e., you can fast on Tuesday and Thursday, but not on Tuesday and Wednesday.
The 16-hour fast
This is the most popular type of intermittent fasting, especially among beginners. The 16/8 method gives you an 8-hour eating window.
The alternate-day fast
This is a bit like the 5:2 diet, but it involves fasting every other day instead of just two days a week. There are no specific rules for this as some people live on a liquid diet on the fasting day, while others allow up to 500 calories on these days.
The 24-hour fast
It is also known as the Eat-Stop-Eat diet. In this variation, people go for 24 hours without eating anything. It can be done either once or twice a week, and followers of this method can have unsweetened coffee or tea, water, and other calorie-free drinks.
Spontaneous meal skipping
The name translates to the method. You are not regulated by any hours or calorie intake. With this variation, you opt for which meal to skip per day.
The OMAD diet
Also known as the “One Meal A Day” diet, is referred to as a more strict version of intermittent fasting 20/4. People do OMAD fast for 23 hours a day, which gives them a 1-hour eating window. OMAD does not require you to count calories, and neither are any foods off-limits on this eating plan. However, healthy and nutrient-rich foods are encouraged for weight loss and health reasons (13).
The warrior diet
A three-week, three-phase eating plan that revolves between a “detox” phase, high-fat week, and a high-carb high-protein cycle (16).
All of the above intermittent fasting methods have been proven to help people lose weight. However, not all of them are very healthy. Apart from the 12:12 and the 16/8 methods, all the other fasting for weight loss variations require you to either:
- Drastically reduce your calorie intake on some days of the week
- Go for 24 hours without sustenance
- Allow you a short eating window period (which does not give you enough time to eat as many calories as your body requires)
If you are interested in how to fast for weight loss, we suggest that you try the 12:12 or the 16:8 intermittent fasting for weight loss methods. Please note that the main reason why intermittent fasting could help you lose weight is that it helps you eat fewer calories than you normally would if your feeding windows were not restricted.
As for your calorie intake, this differs from person to person and is determined by multiple factors such as age, gender, level of physical activity per day, height, and more (2). However, it is advised that the daily calorie intake should not fall below 1200 calories for women and 1500 calories for men (4). Please note that intermittent fasting may lead to side effects such as irritability, feelings of lethargy, mood swings, dehydration, and overeating (15) (or binge eating in worse cases).
What is the fastest way to lose weight?
As we mentioned above, there are many ways to help you shed those unwanted pounds quickly. Although, most of these methods will eventually lead to unhealthy weight loss. However, there are some ways to boost your healthy weight loss.
How to lose weight quickly and safely?
Here are some dietary and lifestyle changes that you can incorporate into your life to help you shed off those extra kilograms without triggering unhealthy weight loss.
1. Count your calories
As we have stated before, the best way to cut weight is to reduce the amount of food you consume in a day. However, this does not mean that you do this drastically. Start small by cutting anywhere between 500 to 1000 calories a day from your regular daily intake. You can determine this number by using a calorie counting app.
2. Choose better snacks
When counting calories, people tend to log in their major meals of the day and forget that snacks add calories too. Sometimes when we eat healthy meals, we are tempted to reward ourselves with unhealthy snacks. This ends up hindering our goals. Always log in your snacks to your calorie counter. Also, ensure to only consume healthy snack options like fruits, mixed nuts, hummus and veggies or fruits, and plain or Greek yogurt, etc.
3. Cut out processed foods
Not only do they lack the nutrients found in whole foods, but they are also high in sodium, fat, calories, and sugar.
4. Add more protein to your diet
A diet high in protein is one of the best kept “how to lose weight quickly” secrets. This is because protein helps you lose weight by boosting your metabolism, hence, burning calories faster. It also reduces your appetite by decreasing your hunger hormones while boosting your satiety hormones. This will make you feel full, which leads to you eating fewer calories in a day (23). Unlike carbs, proteins take longer to digest, which contributes to your feeling of satiety.
5. Drink more water
Water has been known to help you lose weight because it is a natural appetite suppressant, increases calorie burning, and helps metabolize stored fat and carbohydrates (5).
6. Avoid alcohol and sugary beverages
They are full of hidden calories that many of us do not remember to count.
7. Eat more complex carbs and avoid simple carbohydrates
Complex carbs can be found in foods such as legumes, whole grains, brown and wild rice, barley, oats, barley, and spelt. On the other hand, simple carbs are mostly found in baked goods, candy, sugary drinks, table sugar, and baked goods, among others. Not only are complex carbs more nutritious, but they are also more filling, take longer to digest, and provide the body with a more lasting source of energy.
8. Eat more fruits and vegetables
Not only will they give you a longer life, but they can also help lower blood pressure, reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke, prevent some types of cancer, as well as lower the risk of eye and digestive problems. In terms of weight loss, fruits could help curb your sugar cravings, while vegetables are quite low in calories, which means they can be consumed in large quantities to help you feel fuller without affecting your recommended caloric intake.
9. Add more fiber to your diet
High-fiber foods tend to be more filling than low-fiber foods, which means that you are likely to eat less and stay satisfied longer.
10. Practice intuitive eating
Unlike dieting, which could lead to unhealthy weight loss, intuitive eating is a philosophy of eating that requires you to listen to your body. It suggests that you should eat when you are hungry and stop when you are full. It rejects diet mentality, asks you to make peace with your food, and to respect your body no matter what size or shape you are (22).
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What is the best way to lose fat?
While making better food choices can help you lose weight, it cannot somehow help melt away the fat. To promote better and faster weight loss you should:
Lack of enough sleep affects your hormones, making the body produce more ghrelin and less leptin. Leaving you hungry and increasing your appetite. When you are sleep deprived, you are also more likely to consume more calories than if you slept well enough (1). A study done for 16 years showed that people who sleep for five or fewer hours a night are more likely to gain weight than those who sleep for longer than seven hours a night (3).
Another trial done in 2012 for over 6 months showed that women who get better quality sleep for at least seven hours at night lost at least 33% more weight than those who did not get the same hours of sleep (12). According to the CDC, adults from 18 years to 65 years and older should ensure to always get at least 7 hours to at most 9 hours of uninterrupted sleep every night (9).
Start a workout regimen
Working out is one of the best ways to lose fat effectively. Without it, you are most likely to just lose muscle or water weight instead of actual fat. A workout regimen is divided into aerobic and strength training exercises. Some beginner-friendly workouts that can be done outdoors include walking, running, swimming, cycling, rowing, and skiing.
If you choose to go to a gym, some machines that can help you include the elliptical, treadmill, spinning cycle, and ski machine (6). Concerning strength training, some beginner-friendly workouts include glute bridges, lunges, squats, shoulder presses, deadlifts, bicep curls, and bent-over rows, among others. These can be done with just your bodyweight or with weights for better results.
The Bottom Line
Unhealthy weight loss is a common occurrence that happens because many of us desire to lose weight and achieve our body goal very quickly. However, we must remember that since we did not gain all the weight overnight, it cannot be lost overnight as well. Healthy and sustainable weight loss takes time and consistency. It requires lifestyle changes in terms of what and how we eat, as well as how much we exercise. To achieve a safe weight loss rate, follow the above recommendations, but be sure to speak to a doctor or a dietitian to ensure that these suggestions are safe for you.
Remember that a proper diet is not everything you need. Supplement it with this 20 Min Full Body Workout at Home challenge!
This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. A licensed physician should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any medical conditions. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
- Acute partial sleep deprivation increases food intake in healthy men (2010, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Appendix 2. Estimated Calorie Needs per Day, by Age, Sex, and Physical Activity Level (n.d, health.gov)
- Association between reduced sleep and weight gain in women (2006, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Calorie counting made easy (n.d, health.harvard.edu)
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- Cardio Workouts for Absolute Beginners (2020, verwellfit.com)
- Counting calories: Get back to weight-loss basics (2020, mayoclinic.org)
- Diet Myth or Truth: Fasting Is Effective for Weight Loss (2009, webmd.com)
- How Much Sleep Do I Need? (2017, cdc.gov)
- Intermittent Fasting 101 — The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide (2020, healthline.com)
- Prescription Weight Loss Drugs (2020, webmd.com)
- Relationship between sleep quality and quantity and weight loss in women participating in a weight-loss intervention trial (2012, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Should I eat just one meal a day? (2020, medicalnewstoday.com)
- The 7 Worst Things You Can Do If You’re Trying to Lose Weight (n.d, mensjournal.com)
- The Risks and Side Effects of Intermittent Fasting You Should Know (2020, menshealth.com)
- The Warrior Diet Is an Intermittent Fasting Plan for Weight Loss—but Is It Healthy? (2020, health.com)
- The Top 10 Worst Weight-Loss Diets of 2020 (2020, livestrong.com)
- Unexplained weight loss (2020, mayoclinic.org)
- What does it mean to eat clean? (2020, mayoclinic.org)
- What Is a Very Low-Calorie Diet? (2020, verywellfit.com)
- What is healthy weight loss? (2020, cdc,gov)
- What Is Intuitive Eating? A Nutritionist Weighs In On This Popular Anti-Diet (2018, health.com)
- What Is the High-Protein Diet? (2020, verywellfit.com)