Why Losing Weight Slowly Is Better Than Doing So Quickly

Unleash your inner tortoise.

When you decide you want to lose some weight, it's only natural that you'd want to shed as many pounds as you can as quickly as possible. Maybe you've got a beach holiday or a big wedding coming up, and you want to be in your best body. Or maybe you just love the thrill of stepping on the scale every week and seeing the number get lower and lower.

Either way, we often forget that losing weight shouldn't be about appearance so much as overall health. And, according to a new study published in the Journal of Obesity, people who lose weight quickly versus those who lose it slowly don't get any additional health benefits.

In the past, it was largely believed that shedding the pounds quickly better decreased the risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes than doing so at a slower rate, and made it easier to lose more weight in total. But some research indicates that losing more than one to two pounds per week also increases the risk of gallstones. To determine which method was truly better, researchers  looked at the data of 11,283 patients who attended the Wharton Medical Clinic Weight Management Program between July 2008 and July 2017. Their results indicate that—when it comes to your health— the rate at which you lose weight isn't as important as the total amount of pounds lost.

"With the same pound for pound weight loss, there is no difference in terms of health benefits if you lose weight fast or slow," Jennifer Kuk, associate professor in York University's Faculty of Health, and lead author of the study, said in a university newsletter. "However, given the risk for gallstones with faster weight loss, trying to lose weight at the recommended one to two pounds per week is the safer option."

The study is limited by the fact that it consisted predominantly of middle-aged women, many of whom attended the clinic for less than two years. But it does confirm that losing weight at the recommended 1-2 pounds per week is the best option for your overall health.

The study also found that whether you lose weight quickly or slowly doesn't have a significant impact on your ability to keep it off. If your goal is not only to lose weight but also to maintain the weight loss, the speed at which you lose weight isn't as important as the way you go about doing so.

"It's not the speed at which you lose weight that matters, it's the method,"Jillian Michaels, a personal trainer and certified nutrition and wellness consultant, wrote on her website. "I've had success after success of taking more than 100 pounds off people, and they've kept it off for years. It's the way you lose the weight that is the most crucial part! If you've lost weight through exercise and clean eating—it shouldn't be a problem for you to maintain your weight loss. On the flip side, if you've lost weight by more extreme measures, like starvation, cleanses, or crazy crash diets— it's much more likely all the weight you lost will come right back just as quickly."

Aside from increasing your risk of gallstones, there's also evidence to suggest that losing weight rapidly due to what's commonly known as "yo-yo dieting" can trigger the starvation response in the body, deprive it of essential vitamins and nutrients, make you feel cranky and tired all the time, disturb your sleep cycle, and even cause anemia. The only instance in which losing more than 2 pounds per week is considered healthy is if you're extremely overweight or obese, given that people who have a larger body mass naturally burn more calories because the body needs to expend more energy to keep itself running.

Finally, it's worth noting that the medical community is increasingly shifting to the belief that where fat is stored on your body (i.e. your hips versus your abdomen) is more of an indicator of your health than your body mass index (BMI). For more on this, find out why waist-to-hip ratios are so important for women and why waist-to-height ratios are so important for men.

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Diana Bruk
Diana is a senior editor who writes about sex and relationships, modern dating trends, and health and wellness. Read more