Have you ever tried to lose weight, burn fat or get fit and wonder just how long does it take to notice weight loss?
I have two perspectives on this question. The first is as a former fat guy that lost weight and the second as a fighter that needs to maintain a certain weight in order to meet weight class requirements and I will talk about both.
When I was starting out on my weight loss journey back in 1996, I remember quite vividly that I was about 6 weeks into my healthy eating and exercise regiment and getting quite frustrated that I couldn't notice any difference. I too asked the question, how long does it take to notice weight loss but, as much as I didn't notice and was almost ready to throw in the towel, I remember being at a family function when my aunt said to me, "Wow Fahad, have you ever lost weight!". That made me feel amazing and then I knew I was not only losing weight but making progress which kept me motivated. Had I not heard those words, who knows, I may have had a lot of cake that evening!
Now, when we speak of losing weight, we need to make one thing crystal clear is that we're only interested in burning fat. As a result, Measuring your weight alone using bathroom scales will provide a somewhat inaccurate reflection of the weight you've lost as it gives no indication whether the weight you're losing (or gaining) is fat or water.
So what is body weight?
Our bodies are made up of all sorts of wonderful stuff such as cells, bones, muscle, fat, organs, bodily fluids such as blood and water and all contribute to our overall body mass. Therefore, when we talk about weight we need to understand two different types. There's fat mass, i.e.. the amount of fat you have and your fat free mass i.e.. your bones, your organs, fluid and water as well as glycogen (Carbohydrates are broken down into a fuel source called Glycogen and are stored in your muscles). It's your fat mass you're actually trying to lose (of course, if you''re trying to make weight for a fight or competitive event, many athletes will even strive to lose weight from fluid and glycogen. I have not met anyone that's taken any organs or bones out though)
So, Once you understand that your goal is to lose body fat and not just weight, we can answer the question, how long does it take to notice weight loss.
When we engage in a fitness regime to lose weight, we usually eat healthier and perform exercise. The net result is that we usually create a calorie deficit. If we create a calorie deficit then we need to look at where the initial weight loss comes from. After all, a lot of people experience weight loss in the fist couple of weeks and then notice a stall. This may be due to the fact that initial weight loss is a loss in water weight and in glycogen which is certainly the case in carbohydrate restricted diets since carbohydrate depletion will usually mean a loss in muscle glycogen as well as a loss in water weight. Even if a carbohydrate restricted diet isn't observed, a drop in calories or an increase in physical activity will probably result in reduced carbohydrate consumption. So, when can you expect to lose fat?
Well, we have to answer this question by understanding how the body burns fat for energy. Fat is the preferred source of energy for the body during periods of rest and low to mid activity (This is why carbohydrate restricted diets are s o popular). It is said that to burn a pound of fat, one needs to burn 3500 calories but recent research and common sense throws this theory into jeopardy because fat is stored in different ways in the body. There is adipose tissue, visceral fat, subcutaneous fat, brown fat and white fat so what fat is actually being burned when 3500 calories are burned?
With that being said, we go back to what the body does with fat. Your body utilizes fat stores as an energy supply during periods of rest and low to mid level activity as stated. Enzymes in the body convert fat into usable energy which is then converted into ATP (Adinosene Triphosphate, the chemical your body uses for energy).. The body stores fat due to fat's dense energy reserves. The trouble is, if we eat too much, we store too much fat so, the key is to create an environment in the body to optimize fat burning. The key to this is to raise your metabolic rate. To put it simply, the higher your metabolism, the more fat you'll be burning at rest and one of the main ways to up your metabolic rate during rest is to have lean muscle tissue and this is why starvation diets, crash diets and severely calorie restricted diets, diets with too little protein or improper exercise leads to muscle loss which means as your weight goes down, so does your lean muscle mass as it's not only fat you're losing but muscle tissue and the net result is a slower metabolism which means you're more than likely to put on weight fast and find it hard to burn that last bit of fat.
So the real thing we need to look at when answering the question"how long does it take to notice weight loss" is how long does it take to burn fat and the answer to that is you're probably burning fat for most of the day. So, if we're burning fat so often, why does it take so long to see fat loss even if we're eating less and exercising more?
The answer to this really differs from person to person as people store fat differently and differences such as gender are just one variable. Some people are more prone at storing fat around the hips and thighs, others in their lower belly, some in their face. People's hormonal responses and diets play a big part too and losing fat such as the stubborn lower fat where A2 receptors play a big part vary from person to person so there's no hard and fast rule as to how long does it take to notice weight loss or fat loss. The only conclusion you can make is to aim for safe weight loss of 2-3 pounds per week and to check your body composition as well as your weight. In fact, your body composition could give you a huge clue as to whether or not you're on the right track. Make sure you measure your fat using the most reliable method available to you. My recommendation is to get it measured by a certified professional such as a personal trainer who uses good quality body fat calipers. if that's not available to you, you can opt for body fat scales but these are not as accurate (more on measuring body fat in a future post). If you're losing weight but not bodyfat then you know the weight you're losing is water, glycogen or even worse, muscle mass and the result should be to alter your nutrition and training accordingly.