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Why It Isn’t Realistic For Everyone to Lose 2 lbs a Week

skinfold measurementsYou’ve more than likely heard that a safe weight loss pace is between 1-2 pounds/week. However, who in their right mind is going to choose 1 pound/week when 2 pounds/week is safe too?

If you ask 100 people that want to lose weight what pace they’d like to lose it at, at least 90% of them are going to choose 2 pounds. Is this realistic for everyone though?

Is It Possible to Lose 2 lbs a Week?

I get a lot of questions that go something like this:

I have so and so event coming up xx days from now. I’d like to lose xx pounds. Is this going to be possible?

More times than not, my answer is yes – it is possible, but it’s not probable. These lofty goals of 2 lbs/week (or more) are possible for the people who have dieted down to single digit body fat several times in their lives (think bodybuilders).

They have their bodies down to a science and know exactly where they’re going to be in xx month’s time. For the average person who has never been (or recently been) at their goal weight before, there is going to be a lot of trial and error. For the most part, they need to cut their expectations in half.

Depends on Your Starting Point

For the person that is starting off at a very high body fat – say above 30%, losing 2 pounds a week is not unrealistic at all. In fact, it’s possible that you could lose weight at an even faster pace at the beginning, especially as you drop excess water weight.

For the person who is in the teen % body fat, 2 pounds/week might be a lofty goal. However, even that depends on several factors. The biggest one though – is your weight.

Use Body Fat as Your Guide – Not Weight

Most progress goals are set in weight measurements. For example, you might want to lose 30lbs, or you might want to lose 10lbs in a month. The better way to set your goals is using body fat percentage as your measurement. Let’s take a look at an example:

Take a 150lb female at 20% body fat. She currently holds 30 pounds of fat on her body (150lbs * 20%). Her goal is to lose 10 pounds in 5 weeks at a pace of 2lbs/week. This is a very lofty goal, and one she will very likely never reach. Here’s why:

If she were to maintain her lean body mass of 120lbs (150lbs – 30lbs of fat), and lose 10lbs of fat, that would put her at 120lbs of lean body mass and 20lbs of fat (30lbs of original fat mass – 10lbs fat mass lost). Her new body stats would be 140lbs at 14% body fat. Losing 6% body fat in 5 week’s time would be an amazing transformation.

She would be much better off setting her goals in body fat percentage measurements. A good guide is .5-1% body fat per week. If you are reaching the 1%/week mark, you are doing extremely well. For most people though, .5% is much more realistic and attainable.

Now, let’s take another look at the example using .5% as the goal. Her starting stats are 150lbs at 20% body fat. To lose .5% each week for 5 weeks would total 2.5% body fat lost (.5% * 5 weeks).

To maintain a lean body mass of 120lbs and be at 17.5% body fat (20% body fat – goal of .5%/week for 5 weeks), she would end up at the finishing stats of 145lbs and 17.5% body fat.

That’s Why You Should Measure Your Body Fat

So, this person lost 5lbs over the course of 5 weeks. That’s a pace of 1lb/week. This is the scenario much more people are likely to reach.

Do yourself a favor and a cheap pair of body fat calipers, and get in the habit of measuring your body fat. You will learn a lot about your body. The scale shows you nothing but weight. It can’t show you the differences in fat and lean body mass.

Having these two measurements tilts the power of information back in your favor. With this information you can set realistic goals, make smart adjustments to your diet and exercise program, and break through plateaus as they come upon you.

Be smart about the goals you set for yourself. Reaching your goals gives you the added motivation to continue changing your lifestyle. If you start off with lofty, unrealistic goals, you are dooming yourself to failure. Weight loss is such a mental game, and the difference between succeeding and giving up can simply be a matter of meeting realistic expectations.

  • ginee scarbrough

    How do you accurately use the body fat calipers? I have a pair, don’t know really how to use them. I think I need to lose 20 lbs to be healthy even though losing 3 inches off my mid section would be more fabulous to me than the weight. I am not sure how to start with them, I can pinch differently and get different readings.
    Any suggestions on the best read?

    • Coach Calorie

      Hi Ginee, it take s a little practice, but you’ll eventually get the hang of it. This link might help you a little – http://coachcalorie.com/how-to-measure-body-fat-skinfold-measurements/

      More important that anything is that you measure the same way each time so that your relative readings from each time show your progress.

      I’ll sometimes take 5 measurements in the same spot until I see a pattern take shape. Practice on your quad several times. Just pinch and read until your readings start getting consistent. You’ll start to notice how the skinfold is supposed to feel, and then you can move on to other sites.

  • http://soapbox.iblogger.org Neel Joshi

    Along with using body fat as their guide, people should remember the “paper towel” philosophy. When you remove one sheet from a full roll of paper towels, you don’t notice much difference. But when it’s nearing the end, each sheet looks like a much bigger difference. Similarly, depending on how much you have to lose, a pound can be a big deal!

    • Coach Calorie

      Hi Neel, I like your analogy, and it’s very true.

  • Lindsey

    Great article! I have many times performed all the math equations to determine BMR and % body fat to know how many calories I needed in deficit to lose x lbs……but trying to get all those calories vs. calories out to be reflected in exercise and food journals was very overwhelming. I definitely agree this is a much mentally healthier approach.

    I am going to try this route.

    One question: i have a set of calipers as well. The instructions say to only pinch in the abdominal area, and then it directs you to a chart to find your particular specifics (height, weight, etc). Do you recommend only going by this one measurement, or taking and average across several areas of the body?

    Thanks again -

  • http://physiquerescue.com Matthew Hampton

    My favorite ways to gauge results are the comparison to the before picture and “shrinking out clothes”. I dislike the scale and it saddens me to see entire reality shows based around it.

    Measuring bodyfat is ideal, I just wish there was a BodPod just down the street :). I agree completely with measuring based on these criteria.

    Now if we could just get everyone to throw the scales away!

    Matt

  • Silver

    Ages ago I got my skin folds done and they were 42. (Across 7 sites)
    I was 1.59cm and 43.6 kg (5″2 and 96lbs)
    Also then I had my Ed and my skinfolds were 37 but I was 5″4 and 83lbs….
    What does that mean that my body fat was at those times?

    So iwas wondering if from that anyone knows what my skin folds might be now… I haven’t gone for them but I’d like to know! (Now I’m 5″5 and 99lb but healthy!)

    Thanks :)

    • Coach Calorie

      What your skin folds are right now depends on your lifestyle since the last time you had them measured. It’s impossible to guess. You’re going to have to measure. Once you have them you can enter them into a body fat calculator to get your percentage.

  • http://www.jillripley.com Jill Ripley

    I totally agree with your article. When I actually lay out to a client what that body % of fat means in actual pounds of fat mass, they are generally shocked. It is good to set realistic goals to avoid disappointment and having someone want to quit.

  • Melanie

    Hi Coach Calorie,

    Thanks for the article, and for taking the time to answer people’s questions. I have recently decided to try to change my lifestyle to make myself healthier and fitter. I am not trying to achieve any particular weight, however I do realise I need to lose body fat. I do not have body fat calipers…yet (that is the next purchase), so I do not know my body fat percentage, but a rough guess (based on photos on the net) would suggest it is probably about 25%.

    I have been trying to read as much as I can about fitness and nutrition, and have learnt a lot from your articles. I am not looking for a quick fix or anything like that. I just want to eat healthy, and have a good level of fitness, and I know that the byproduct of this will be a better looking body.

    One month ago, I started exercising regularly. My fitness has slowly been improving, and I am happy with how it is going. I did weigh myself at the start of the month, and then didn’t get on the scales again until nearly end of the month. I am mindful of what you have explained about losing body fat versus losing muscle and water, so I was hoping to lose no more than about 1 pound a week. When I got on the scales, I had lost about 6.5 pounds in 4 weeks. I was a little concerned that I might have lost a bit too much, and that perhaps this means I was losing water/muscle, rather than fat.

    My usual food intake over the past month was probably around 1600-1900 calories/day (I hadn’t been tracking it, so not sure how consistent the numbers were), and I was not starving myself by any means – if I was hungry, I would eat (good food). After I lost the 6.5 pounds, I began to increase the amount of food I ate daily (still good food, just a bit more of it) and the weight still appears to be going down steadily.

    My question is this: Is it possible to lose around 2+ pounds/week, and the majority of this loss is body fat? What I mean is, if my goal is to lose body fat, does that mean I NEED to keep the weight loss down to less than 2 pounds/week?

    Is it likely that I have mostly lost water/muscle, rather than fat? My focus is on my fitness and nutrition, so I am not looking for my weight to be a certain number, but I am wondering if the rate of weight loss might indicate that I am doing something wrong/unhealthy.

    Oh, by the way, I am a 35 year old female, 5ft 3in, 136pounds.

    Thank you for your advice!

    Melanie.

  • Tinasoga

    Hi,
    I have a scale that measures my body fat percentage along with BMI, hydration level and bone mass. Is it accurate? I have the HealtoMeter Performax. Thank you!

  • http://www.coachcalorie.com/ Coach Calorie

    I don’t know about that particular scale. I’m currently testing out a body fat scale and comparing it to caliper measurements. Usually I don’t recommend scales to measure body fat, however, so far it has been accurate. I’m not ready to give it the OK yet, however.