Most people don’t like exercising and feel even less enthusiastic about dieting. So when do you put in the work and give maximum effort you expect to see changes-- today… not in a couple weeks, or even worse months.
Sorry to break the bad news: you’re going to have to wait. How long you wait depends on a complicated array of genetic and lifestyle factors.
This two-part article is going to break down the most common fitness goals: how long it takes to lose weight and how long it takes to gain muscle.
Part One: How Long to Lose Weight
If you want to lose weight you have to burn calories. You can move more, eat less or do a combination of both. Most people don’t understand how much activity you actually need to induce weight loss from exercise. It’s lot more than you think. 20 minutes a day is not going to cut it. That may enough for heart health, but not for weight loss. In order to be labeled “active” you need to get 10,000 steps in. Get a pedometer and give it a try. It’s not so simple with today’s sedentary jobs; most adults only walk 4,000-6,000 steps a day.
While you should definitely try to move more, it’s a lot easier to eat less. Plus, if you don’t focus on your diet to a degree then you are never going to see the results from your physical activity. Or, at the very least you will stop seeing results over time.
The dogma move more, eat less is a great place for a beginner to start but it’s really an over simplification of whole process. And when people don’t see the results they expect, they want an explanation.
It’s thought 3,500 calories is equivalent to one pound of fat. If you cut 500 calories a day, you should lose a pound of fat a week; but, you never lose just fat. Diet and exercise induce all kinds of weight changes: loss of lean body mass (muscle), loss of water stored in bodily tissues and the weight associated with lack of food volume. That’s why initially you may lose 2-5 pounds per week for the first couple weeks. But, that’s weight-- not all fat.
If you continue losing at that level, double check your protein intake. If you’re in an aggressive deficit but not eating enough protein you’ll lose more muscle than fat. Your weight will drop fast, but it won’t be the kind of weight you want.
Exactly how much body fat you lose every week depends on your genetics, starting weight and beginning body composition. Doctor Kevin Hall has done many studies on body weight regulation and his model asserts the higher your body fat percentage, the larger the deficit you need to lose one pound of body weight compared to a lean person. However, heavier individuals tend to lose more fat than lean body mass whereas if you are already lean and try to diet down, you’re more likely to lose muscle and hold onto your fat.
You also have to account for changes in your metabolism. As you lose weight, your body requires less energy meaning you have to lower how many calories you are eating or increase your activity. And while over time your metabolism will slow (partly because you weigh less), it’s never going to stop. If you are in a deficit you will lose weight.
Sometimes it won’t show up on the scale. It doesn’t mean you are not losing. Fat loss can masked by sodium induced water retention, hormone water retention, or food volume. Weight loss is not immediate either. Just because you had a good day yesterday doesn’t mean you are going to be rewarded on the scale today.
It’s also possible you reached a plateau. That’s the point when your intake and activity match your new (lower) body weight and metabolism. There is no consensus as to when a weight loss stall officially becomes a plateau, but experts give timelines ranging from two to four weeks without a loss. At that time you need to up the activity, lower your calories or take a diet break.
Sometimes a stall represents a gain in muscle while losing fat. This is especially the case if you are weight training for the first time and eating a diet with enough protein. After seeing an initial loss of water, glycogen, and a little fat… you might not lose weight for a while but notice your clothes fit better. Don’t fear a change in body composition. Remember, the goal should be fat loss not weight loss.
Track your weight on a monthly basis for a more accurate number and don’t just depend on just the scale. You can take pictures and measurements as an alternate method to hold you accountable.
If you have questions about how exercise can help you reach your weight loss goal, contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Michelle Fiscus writes a regular column for fredericknewspost.com. Michelle and her husband own a personal training and nutrition business based in Frederick County and hold industry certifications and credentials.