When it comes to losing weight, people want it to happen overnight. So what is the best way to do it - fast or slow? Are there any negatives from rapid weight loss? If so what are they really?

Recent newspaper headlines and radio blurbs are now calling this in to question thanks to a recent study published in the Lancet [1].

It seems that the study in question found that losing weight quickly was no worse than losing weight slowly, or that losing weight slowly showed no benefit over losing weight rapidly. Or so the headlines would lead you to believe.

That is the fun thing about headlines- they may or may not adequately represent the information that is to follow in the article or study.

“Gradual Weight Loss No Better Than Rapid Weight Loss for Long-Term Weight Control” was the headline of one such article on Sciencedaily.com.

This headline would lead you to believe that rapid weight loss would allow you to maintain weight loss just as well as a slower weight loss.

Hmmmm… not quite what happened here. Well, actually it was, but just not the way the headline leads you to believe.

Virtually all participants in this study regained the weight they lost regardless of the rate at which they originally lost the weight.

Doesn’t sound like a great outcome to me.

Let’s take a deeper look at what really happened.

Two hundred people were randomly assigned to either a rapid weight loss group or a gradual weight loss group. The rapid weight loss group was placed on a very low calorie liquid diet. Three liquid meals each day were consumed for a daily total of 450-800 kcal per day.

The gradual weight loss group consumed a diet that resulted in 400-500 kcal per day deficit. This diet also included the same liquid meal that the rapid weight loss group consumed, however it comprised only 1-2 meals each day for this group.

This initial weight loss intervention was Phase 1 of the study and lasted 12 weeks for the rapid weight loss group and 36 weeks for the gradual weight loss group.

Only participants who lost 12.5% of their initial weight in Phase 1 were included in Phase 2 of the study.

Phase 2 of the study lasted for 144 weeks. During this time participants were placed on a weight maintenance diet and encouraged to perform 30 minutes or more of “mild to moderate intensity” exercise (brisk walk) each day.

Researchers main focus was the average weight loss that was maintained at the end of phase 2.

What did they find?

Not surprisingly, virtually all participants had regained the weight that they had lost. Hence the headline that gradual weight loss isn’t better than rapid weight loss.

However, after reading more details of the study it is easy to see that this does NOT mean that rapid weight loss is good!

Taking a headline at face value without digging a bit deeper can leave you missing out on some very important facts.

Here are some important facts to consider:

Of those participants who started Phase 2, 98% of those from the rapid weight loss group and 90% of those from the gradual weight loss group began to regain their weight in Phase 2.

Although researchers main focus was the amount of weight loss maintained at week 144, they did use several other metrics along the way: measures of body fat, waist-hip ratio, blood pressure, ratings of appetite, and total plasma leptin and ghrelin concentrations.

Unfortunately these metrics didn’t make it into the mainstream representation of the study.

So, what should you know about the “missing” metrics?

Those who lost weight gradually saw a greater decrease in hip circumference than those who lost weight rapidly.

From a hormonal standpoint, researchers found that leptin levels were decreased in both groups during phase 1, but were more pronounced in the rapid weight loss group.

Remember, leptin is a hormone that helps to tell you when you are full. A drop in this can leave you feeling hungry and unsatisfied.

Leptin works in conjunction with ghrelin to regulate energy balance- or the amount of energy we take in and the amount of energy we expend. Ghrelin is a hormone responsible for telling you that you are hungry and can increase food-seeking behaviors.

Researchers saw increased ghrelin levels after weight loss in both groups however these increases were greater in the rapid weight loss group. Ghrelin was 49% higher at the end of 12 weeks for the rapid weight loss group 21.7% higher at week 48 and 15.5% higher at week 144.

The gradual weight loss group showed a 29% increase after weight loss (week 36), 22% higher at week 48 while the increase at week 144 was not significant in this group.

It should, therefore, not come as a surprise that rapid weight loss participants had higher ratings of hunger compared to those who lost weight gradually.

These changes in the concentrations of leptin and ghrelin lasted for at least 12 months.

Moreover, a rise in ghrelin concentration accompanied by an increase in hunger lasted for at least 3 years.

So, while headlines would have you believe that rapid weight loss was no worse than gradual weight loss, as you can see from a hormonal standpoint that story isn’t entirely true.

Rapid weight loss may cause other severe health concerns.

In addition to the one participant who developed cholecystitis, inflammation of the gallbladder likely caused from formation of gallstones due to rapid weight loss, in Phase 1 of the study, two other participants from the rapid weight loss group developed serious issues in Phase 2 of the study.

What is the take home message here, other than the fact that we must read more than just a headline?

1. Looking at weight lost (or regained) as presented in a study does not tell us the whole story. Quite often doing so causes us to miss the lasting hormonal impact that weight loss plans can have.

2. If weight is regained, then the weight loss (and the manner by which it was achieved) was not a success. Choosing weight loss methods that are unsustainable will inevitably result in regain of all the weight lost, and quite often a gain of additional weight.

Surely, looking at the headlines in the paper and tag lines used in other media it would seem that there was no difference between the groups; that losing weight quickly did not mean that weight would be regained more rapidly than if it was lost in a gradual manner.

If you end the story there it is easy to see how people jump to the conclusion “I’m not more likely to regain weight I lose if I do it quickly. So please give me the fastest way to lose the weight!!”

I like "fast", but I also like permanent a whole lot more.

So what is the best solution?

When will I see results?

With transformation, one of the first things people ALWAYS want to know is....... how long before I see results?

For health & fitness professionals, it’s a difficult question to answer, truthfully.....Until now.

That’s the beauty of Metabolic Precision’s science-based approach, you’ll know from day one exactly what the road is ahead of you. We determine this with a simple, yet extremely effective diagnostic tool called Metabolic Classification.

What is Metabolic Classification?

Metabolic Classification determines the status of your metabolism. A clear starting point for your first program but also a clear time line as to when significant results will be achieved. Subsequent Metabolic Classification assessments will identify the next step in MP program design.

Members of mp-body.com can view an entire webinar on Metabolic Classification here.

Being able to answer that question - "when will I see results?" is very empowering for a fitness professional. In fact, providing real-life diagnostics and solutions is career-changing for the professional and life-changing for the people we work with. It's hallmark of the Metabolic Precision System.

If you would like to become a genuine Transformation Specialist that changes lives, enroll for our MP Level 1 Certification and get the big saving now. 

1.    Purcell K. Sumithran P. Prendergast L. Bouniu C. Delbridge E. Proietto J. The effect of weight loss on long-term weight management: a randomized controlled trial. The Lancet. Oct 2014.

2.    Beavers M. Lyles M. Davis C. Wang X. Beavers D. Nicklas B. Is lost lean mass from intentional weight loss recoverd during weight regain in post menopausal women? Am J Clin Nutr. 2011;94:767-74.

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Alongside 14 years experience in personal training and a stack of certifications, Michelle Adams has a Bachelor’s and Masters degree from the University of South Carolina. Michelle is an accomplished athlete, having won the 2006 IFBB Toronto Figure Championships and has now moved into marathon and ultra marathon running. Michelle is a MP Certified Metabolic Nutritionist and enjoys nothing more than helping people learn the truth about nutrition and living a healthy lifestyle.