Over lunch the other day your friend mentions that she recently began a fitness program and lost 20 pounds last month. “20 pounds!” you exclaim, “I wish I could lose 20 pounds in a month, but isn’t it unhealthy to lose more than 2 pounds a week and you lost 5 a week?” you ask.
Well, it depends. The generic answer is yes it unhealthy to lose large amounts of weight in a short period of time, but there is more to it. You see weight loss rate (amount/time) is not the same as weight loss method.
Typically over an extended period of time, say 12 months, your weight loss rate will average 2 pounds per week or less. But, this is an average of 52 weeks. So couldn’t you have a month where you lost 20 pounds, especially in the beginning, and 3 months where you only lost 4 pounds? Would this not average out to 2 pounds a week? So how is what happened in month one unhealthy and then considered healthy after 4 months? Add another 8 months of only losing 4 pounds a month to this and you will see that your average drops to almost 1 pound a week.
I think a lot of people have confused weight loss rate with weight loss method. If you are following one of these extreme diet and exercise programs, taking a fat burning pill and losing large amounts of weight, then that is unhealthy. But, if you are following sound nutrition and exercise advice and losing a lot of weight, then that is fine.
However, if you are following a proper nutrition and exercise program and the weight you are losing is muscle rather than fat, this is also bad. If this is the case you need to do one of two things, or both. 1) Increase your daily calorie intake. 2) Decrease your workouts to 3x per week. Losing muscle tissue is not the goal and a loss in muscle tissue will only decrease your metabolism making it harder for you to loss weight down the road.
Extreme low calorie diets result in muscle tissue loss and a slower metabolism, both making it harder to loss weight down the road and later in life. Follow a sound program, focus on losing body fat, and enjoy losing the pounds regardless of how fast they come off. It’s the method that determines whether or not it’s healthy, not the rate.