If you are going to have a hope of realistically succeeding at long-term fat loss, you must have at least a basic understanding of how fat reduction occurs. So often we think we know this, but the reality is often very different than what we perceive it to be.
The "Starvation Mechanism”
For the majority of mankind's existence we have had to physically labor for our food. The need to exercise was not much thought of—“Exercise? I get enough exercise just trying to survive!” –It was not until about the last 60 years that we have begun to experience food on demand. However, our bodies are still wired for regular activity to bring in sufficient food, and equipped to handle periods of lack. In real world terms this means our bodies are set up to store fat easily during "abundance" times (after the hunt, at the time of harvest, etc.) and burn it slowly for energy while the body works (exercises) to gather in more. This built in capacity to survive long stretches without much food is what I’m calling the "starvation mechanism."
Results of the Starvation Mechanism
#1 The quick loss of water weight. Water is generally more abundant in famine times and thus easier to replace.
#2 The body conserves body fat. It has a high energy yield and is what the body uses to sustain itself during periods of lack. Hence it begrudgingly gives up body fat.
This mechanism, or bodily process, is why so many fad diets and gimmicks don't work—most of the early weight loss (about 3-4 lbs. a week for the first few weeks) is water weight! Only after 2-4 weeks do fat stores become the primary weight lost and weight loss slows to reflect actual fat burning—usually about one or two pounds a week. And if the fad diet is unhealthy, unbalanced, or too restrictive it will cause the starvation mechanism to really kick in—causing a slowing of active metabolism, increasing cravings for food, and generally making the diet and lifestyle unsustainable.
The Truth about Weight Loss
While it can be fairly easy and quick to lose water weight, fat loss is never quick. Stored body fat cannot just be shed like water, it must be metabolized. That is, you have to burn it off. Every pound is about 3,500 ‘calories’ of stored energy that must be burned up for you to lose it. Realistically, most people have the opportunity and potential to burn only about one to two pounds of fat per week. The good news of that is—while water weight is easy to lose, it is also easy to gain—and while fat loss is slower, it is also more permanent.
Fat Reduction Timetable
The table below is a guide to how long it will take you to lose fat weight off your body:
Reduction Time Frame Reduction Time Frame
5 lbs. = 3 ½
- 5 weeks 70
lbs. = 46 ½ - 70 weeks
10 lbs. = 6 ½ - 10 weeks 75 lbs. = 50 - 75 weeks
15 lbs. = 10 - 15 weeks 80 lbs. = 53 ½ - 80 weeks
20 lbs. = 13 ½ - 20 weeks 85 lbs. = 56 ½ - 85 weeks
25 lbs. = 16 ½ - 25 weeks 90 lbs. = 60 - 90 weeks
30 lbs. = 20 - 30 weeks 100 lbs. = 66 ½ - 100 weeks
35 lbs. = 23 ½ - 45 weeks 105 lbs. = 70 - 105 weeks
40 lbs. = 26 ½ - 40 weeks 110 lbs. = 73 ½ - 110 weeks
45 lbs. = 30 - 45 weeks 115 lbs. = 76 ½ - 115 weeks
50 lbs. = 33 ½ - 50 weeks 120 lbs. = 80 - 125 weeks
55 lbs. = 36 ½ - 55 weeks 125 lbs. = 83 ½ - 125 weeks
60 lbs. = 40 - 60 weeks 130 lbs. = 86 ½ - 130 weeks
In a time of food on demand, these long time frames dictated by the nature of our bodies may seem extreme. But if we lived in another time period we would probably have appreciated it more!
The main points are these:
#1. Because it is going to take a while, don't fall for gimmicks or fad diets, but make small, progressive changes that can become part of your permanent lifestyle. It really is not so hard to lose a pound a week—it is the long term patience, and learning of new habits that will be the challenge.
#2. By looking at this timetable you can recognize just how really difficult and time consuming it is to burn off body fat. This can encourage you to be very selective at what you put in your mouth, and how much. After all, if you do not store any extra body fat, then no extra time will have to be spent burning it off!
We will look at some dietary strategies for success next time…
Submitted by: Thomas Morrison, Fitness Coordinator, Bradley Wellness Center