What Are the Stages of Weight Loss?

Bozz District

If you’re like most people, you may be eager to know when you can expect to see results after embarking on your weight loss journey. At the same time, you may also want to know whether the weight you’re losing is coming from fat rather than muscle or water. This […]

If you’re like most people, you may be eager to know when you can expect to see results after embarking on your weight loss journey.

At the same time, you may also want to know whether the weight you’re losing is coming from fat rather than muscle or water.

This article reviews the stages of weight loss, the difference between weight loss and fat loss, and tips for preventing weight regain.

Weight loss generally occurs in two stages — an early, rapid weight loss stage followed by a slower, longer period of weight loss (1).

Stage 1 — Rapid weight loss

The first stage of weight loss is when you tend to lose the most weight and begin to notice changes in your appearance and how your clothes fit. It usually happens within the first 4–6 weeks (1).

Most of the weight loss in this stage comes from carb stores, protein, and water — and to a lesser extent, body fat.

Weight loss tends to occur more rapidly in people who follow a low carb or keto diet than those who follow a low fat diet, as they deplete their body’s carb stores faster, along with water (2).

However, in the long term, the research remains mixed as to whether a low carb or keto diet offers an advantage for overall weight loss over a low fat diet (3, 4, 5).

Factors other than diet, including your age, sex, starting weight, and physical activity level, can also influence your rate of weight loss.

For example, men are more likely to lose weight quicker than women, and older adults may lose weight quicker than their younger counterparts, although some of this weight loss may be muscle (6, 7).

At the same time, you’re likely to lose weight quicker if you have a higher starting weight and exercise more frequently.

Stage 2 — Slow weight loss

Weight loss in the second stage occurs at a much slower rate, but it primarily comes from body fat, generally after 6 weeks and beyond (1).

At times, you may experience a weight loss plateau during which you experience little to no weight loss.

Weight loss plateaus can occur due to metabolic adaptations that decrease your metabolism and the number of calories you burn while exercising (8).

However, weight loss plateaus more commonly occur because many diets are overly restrictive and hard to follow, causing people to deviate from them (9).

As such, it’s important to follow a dietary pattern that fits your lifestyle and preferences so that you can stick with it long term.

In either case, you’ll likely need to make adjustments to your diet and lifestyle over time to reach your goal.

Summary

Weight loss occurs in two phases — a rapid weight loss phase followed by a slower weight loss phase. The rapid weight loss phase is when you’ll notice the most significant physical changes.

While weight loss and fat loss are often used interchangeably, they have different meanings.

Weight loss refers to decreased overall body weight from stored carbs, protein, water, and fat.

Conversely, fat loss refers to weight loss from fat.

Fat loss is a healthier goal than weight loss, as weight loss may include water and muscle losses (10).

Maintaining muscle is important for supporting healthy blood sugar levels, controlling inflammation, and maintaining your mobility as you age (11, 12).

While a standard scale can’t differentiate between weight loss and fat loss, you can increase the likelihood of weight loss in the form of fat by eating plenty of protein and creating a calorie deficit by engaging in more physical activity and reducing your overall calorie intake (13, 14).

Summary

All fat loss is weight loss, but not all weight loss is fat loss. Fat loss is a healthier goal, as it prioritizes fat loss rather than muscle or water losses.

The evidence to support dieting for sustainable weight loss is far from convincing.

One older review of 29 studies found that participants who lost weight through dieting regained more than half of the weight they lost within 2 years, and by 5 years, they had regained more than 80% of the weight they lost (15).

However, these statistics shouldn’t prevent you from focusing on your diet and losing weight to improve your health or self-image.

Besides, diets are only effective if they allow you to develop sustainable healthy behaviors.

Here are some dietary and lifestyle tips that may help prevent weight regain (16, 17, 18, 19):

  • Engage in self-monitoring behaviors like tracking your diet and exercise. Tracking your calorie intake and exercise increases self-awareness of your behaviors and how those behaviors affect your weight loss goals.
  • Find an activity you enjoy. Exercise comes in different forms, such as biking, walking, swimming, taking the stairs, or playing outdoors with your kids. Find an activity you enjoy and do it often.
  • Have healthy foods like fruits and vegetables available at home. If you have more healthy foods like fruits and vegetables at your home instead of highly processed snacks like chips and soda, the decision to eat healthily is already made for you.
  • Prioritize sleep and reduce stress factors you have control over. A lack of sleep and many of life’s stressors can sabotage your weight loss goals. Establish healthy sleep habits and try to learn ways to ease your worry about things you can’t control.
  • Fill your plate with whole foods. Choose whole and minimally processed foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean meats. These foods can help keep you feeling full and provide your body the necessary nutrients to support weight loss and your health.

Summary

Developing and maintaining healthy dietary and lifestyle habits are the keys to preventing weight regain.

You tend to lose the most weight and notice the most significant physical changes during the first stage of weight loss.

During the second stage of weight loss, you lose weight at a slower pace, but the weight you lose comes primarily from fat rather than stored carbs, protein, and water.

The most important weight loss factors include adopting sustainable and healthy dietary and exercise habits you enjoy doing in the long term.

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