Discover the science-backed advantages of slow dieting for maintaining muscle mass, boosting metabolism, and achieving sustainable weight loss. Learn how gradual lifestyle changes lead to lasting results.
SUMMARY OF SLOW DIETING FOR PRESERVING MUSCLE MASS
The women were assigned to either a severe calorie deficit or a slow diet with a progressive reduction in calories for eight weeks.
The crash diet group did not lose more weight or body fat compared to the slow diet group.
The crash diet group had less dietary adherence, only maintaining adherence to the lower-calorie diet for the first two weeks before returning to similar calorie consumption as the slow diet group.
This study highlights the potential pitfalls of a crash diet. It can lead to less dietary adherence and ultimately result in similar weight loss outcomes compared to a slow, gradual reduction in calories.
In today’s fast-paced society, people often seek instant gratification, including quick weight loss solutions. Crash diets may provide the satisfaction of rapid weight loss, but studies have shown that they can lead to muscle loss, decreased fat loss, and a reduction in calorie burning, known as metabolic adaptation. (Trexler et al., 2014)
Fat Loss Extreme- The Biggest Loser
The popular TV show, The Biggest Loser, glorified crash dieting and how to lose weight fast, with contestants losing upwards of 10 pounds per week. Despite the extreme fat loss program on the show, many contestants regained their weight.
On average, participants regained 70% of the weight they had initially lost. The study revealed that contestants experienced persistent metabolic adaptation, which led to reduced calorie burning at rest. Additionally, they lost 25 lbs. of lean muscle mass, and their resting metabolic rates were over 500 calories per day lower than expected.
The contestants following the crash diet also lost 25 lbs. of lean muscle mass while filming the show (Fothergill et al., 2016). Their resting metabolic rates (RMRs) were over 500 calories per day lower than expected. Metabolic rate is sensitive to acute fluctuations in calories, so larger calorie deficits result in bigger metabolic reductions. (Hollstein et al., 2019)
In contrast, a slow and steady weight loss approach, consisting of gradually reducing calories, is generally healthier and more sustainable. Although extreme calorie deficits may be necessary under medical supervision in certain cases, smaller calorie deficits are usually more effective for long-term weight loss.
SLOW DIET vs. CRASH DIET: The Benefits of Weight Loss Slow and Steady
Several studies have shown that slower weight loss is more advantageous for athletic performance and body composition than fast weight loss extreme programs. The first study, conducted in 2011, found that elite athletes performing resistance exercise who followed a rapid weight loss diet (losing 1.4% of their body weight per week) lost more muscle mass and less fat than those who followed a slow weight loss diet (losing 0.7% of their body weight per week). Notably, the group following the slow weight loss diet actually gained a small amount of lean muscle mass and had better performance outcomes in the bench press, squat, and jumping ability. (Garthe et al., 2011)
A 2017 study analyzing studies with slower vs. faster weight loss found that slower weight loss led to slightly greater reductions in fat mass and slightly smaller reductions in lean muscle mass. Faster weight loss resulted in a larger reduction in resting metabolic rate of about 57.5 calories per day. (Ashtary-Larky et al., 2020)
In a 2023 study, researchers investigated the effects of a crash diet versus a slow, gradual reduction in calories on dietary adherence and weight loss in college-aged women. The women were assigned to either a severe calorie deficit of 25 kcals/kg of muscle per day or a progressive reduction in calories of 5 kcals/kg of muscle per day for eight weeks. Throughout the diet, the women performed both resistance exercise and cardio.
The results showed that the crash diet group did not lose more weight or body fat compared to the slow diet group. The crash diet group had less dietary adherence, only maintaining adherence to the lower-calorie diet for the first two weeks before returning to similar calorie consumption as the slow diet group. Notably, during the last two weeks of the study, the slow diet group consumed significantly lower calories than the crash diet group.(Vargas-Molina et al., 2023)
This study highlights the potential pitfalls of a crash diet. It can lead to less dietary adherence and ultimately result in similar weight loss outcomes compared to a slow, gradual reduction in calories. For individuals with a long-term weight loss goal, a slower reduction in calories may be a better choice for optimal health benefits.
Slow Weight Loss is the Healthy Alternative to Crash Dieting
Muscle mass is crucial in overall health, metabolism, and functional fitness. Preserving muscle mass during weight loss is essential to maintaining a healthy resting metabolic rate, reducing the risk of injury, and supporting daily activities. A higher muscle mass also correlates with improved metabolic health and a lower risk of chronic diseases.(Srikanthan & Karlamangla, 2011)
A healthier weight-loss approach involves a balanced, nutrient-dense diet, emphasizing whole foods, lean proteins, and plenty of fruits and vegetables. Regular physical activity, particularly resistance training, can help preserve and build lean muscle mass while promoting fat loss. (Hunter et al., 2008; Stiegler & Cunliffe, 2006; Weinheimer et al., 2010) A moderate energy deficit combined with exercise, particularly resistance training, was the most effective approach to preserving fat-free mass and RMR during weight loss.
Crash diets may promise rapid weight loss but have significant risks, including slow dieting muscle loss is less with a gradual reduction in calories. By understanding the dangers of crash dieting and opting for a balanced diet and regular exercise, individuals can achieve sustainable weight loss while preserving their health and well-being. A slow weight loss of 0.5-1% of body mass per week is generally a healthier alternative for weight loss.
Slow Dieting Tips
Set realistic goals: Aim for a weight loss rate of 0.5-1% of your body weight per week, translating to approximately 1-2 pounds for most individuals. This rate allows for sustainable, gradual weight loss while minimizing the risk of losing lean muscle mass.
Focus on nutrition: Adopt a well-balanced diet that includes a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats. Prioritize appetite control (i.e., feeling full) on nutrient-dense foods over processed or high-calorie options. Moderation and portion control are also key factors for success in weight management.
Create a calorie deficit: Calculate your daily calorie needs to maintain your current weight. Then, reduce your calorie intake by 250-500 calories daily to achieve the desired weight loss rate. Remember that it’s important not to go below 1200 calories per day for women and 1500 calories per day for men, as this can lead to nutrient deficiencies and potential health risks. Create a step-by-step caloric reduction for increasing fat burning and shredding fat.
Slow Dieting Tips-Cont.
Incorporate regular physical activity: Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise per week, along with muscle-strengthening activities two or more days per week. This helps to burn calories, maintain muscle mass, and improve overall health.
Prioritize resistance training: Include strength training exercises in your fitness routine to preserve and build lean muscle mass. Resistance training also helps increase your resting metabolic rate, aiding in weight loss.
Monitor your progress: Keep track of your weight, body composition, and overall health improvements. Regular monitoring can help you stay accountable and adjust your plan as needed.
Be patient and consistent: Stay committed to your goals; remember that consistency is key to success.
Slow Dieting Tips-Cont.
Seek support: Engage with a support network of friends, family, or a healthcare professional to help you stay motivated and accountable. Sharing your goals and progress can provide encouragement and reinforcement.
Focus on overall health: Remember that weight loss is just one aspect of a healthy lifestyle. Emphasize the importance of sleep, stress management, and overall well-being to ensure lasting success and improved quality of life.
Ashtary-Larky, D., Bagheri, R., Abbasnezhad, A., Tinsley, G. M., Alipour, M., & Wong, A. (2020). Effects of gradual weight loss v. rapid weight loss on body composition and RMR: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Br J Nutr, 124(11), 1121-1132. https://doi.org/10.1017/s000711452000224x
Fothergill, E., Guo, J., Howard, L., Kerns, J. C., Knuth, N. D., Brychta, R., Chen, K. Y., Skarulis, M. C., Walter, M., Walter, P. J., & Hall, K. D. (2016). Persistent metabolic adaptation 6 years after “The Biggest Loser” competition. Obesity, 24(8), 1612-1619. https://doi.org/https://doi.org/10.1002/oby.21538
Garthe, I., Raastad, T., Refsnes, P. E., Koivisto, A., & Sundgot-Borgen, J. (2011). Effect of two different weight-loss rates on body composition and strength and power-related performance in elite athletes. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab, 21(2), 97-104. https://doi.org/10.1123/ijsnem.21.2.97
Hollstein, T., Ando, T., Basolo, A., Krakoff, J., Votruba, S. B., & Piaggi, P. (2019). Metabolic response to fasting predicts weight gain during low-protein overfeeding in lean men: further evidence for spendthrift and thrifty metabolic phenotypes. Am J Clin Nutr, 110(3), 593-604. https://doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/nqz062
Hunter, G. R., Byrne, N. M., Sirikul, B., Fernández, J. R., Zuckerman, P. A., Darnell, B. E., & Gower, B. A. (2008). Resistance training conserves fat-free mass and resting energy expenditure following weight loss. Obesity (Silver Spring), 16(5), 1045-1051. https://doi.org/10.1038/oby.2008.38
Srikanthan, P., & Karlamangla, A. S. (2011). Relative muscle mass is inversely associated with insulin resistance and prediabetes. Findings from the third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. J Clin Endocrinol Metab, 96(9), 2898-2903. https://doi.org/10.1210/jc.2011-0435
Stiegler, P., & Cunliffe, A. (2006). The role of diet and exercise for the maintenance of fat-free mass and resting metabolic rate during weight loss. Sports Med, 36(3), 239-262. https://doi.org/10.2165/00007256-200636030-00005
Trexler, E. T., Smith-Ryan, A. E., & Norton, L. E. (2014). Metabolic adaptation to weight loss: implications for the athlete. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 11(1), 7. https://doi.org/10.1186/1550-2783-11-7
Vargas-Molina, S., Bonilla, D. A., Petro, J. L., Carbone, L., García-Sillero, M., Jurado-Castro, J. M., Schoenfeld, B. J., & Benítez-Porres, J. (2023). Efficacy of progressive versus severe energy restriction on body composition and strength in concurrent trained women. Eur J Appl Physiol. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00421-023-05158-8
Weinheimer, E. M., Sands, L. P., & Campbell, W. W. (2010). A systematic review of the separate and combined effects of energy restriction and exercise on fat-free mass in middle-aged and older adults: implications for sarcopenic obesity. Nutr Rev, 68(7), 375-388. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1753-4887.2010.00298.x