It’s tempting to go for fast results when you want to achieve a healthy body weight. But just as gaining weight doesn’t happen overnight, losing is safest — and most successful — when it’s a gradual process. Healthy, long-term weight loss isn’t about making extraordinary efforts through diet and exercise until you reach your goal; rather, it’s about making a series of lifestyle changes that are relatively easy to manage and maintain over time. Losing a chunk of weight, such as 5 pounds, in a safe manner may take several weeks to a month.
Although your body weight is influenced by your gender, age, genetics and other factors, it’s also affected by your diet and level of physical activity. This is why understanding the concept of calorie balance is front and center in virtually all weight-loss programs. To lose weight, you must first create a calorie deficit, either by cutting calories from your diet, burning them off through exercise, or a combination of both. Specifically, it takes a deficit of 3,500 calories to lose 1 pound of weight. To lose 5 pounds in one week, therefore, you’d need to cut or burn 17,500 calories, or create a 2,500-calorie deficit per day.
To put this number into perspective, a woman in her early 20s who weighs about 125 pounds and is moderately active requires about 2,200 calories a day. At that body weight, she’ll burn about 240 calories per hour of brisk walking, and about 330 calories per hour of low-impact aerobics. Even if this woman were to exercise for two hours every day, burning somewhere in the range of 600 to 700 calories, she’d still have to cut 1,800 to 1,900 calories from her daily diet to achieve her goal of losing 5 pounds in a week. That would leave 300 to 400 calories left over for her to eat, which isn’t safe or doable.
Consuming fewer than 800 calories per day — which is considered a very low-calorie diet — is usually only recommended for severely obese people under a physician’s care.
Perhaps the most obvious danger of rapid weight loss is its potential nutritional side effects. Because calories deliver the nutrients you need to stay healthy, eliminating too many calories — particularly when it continues over time — can cause your body to become malnourished. Malnutrition can manifest itself in a variety of ways, depending on what you’re lacking – an iron deficiency can cause you to feel tired, while a vitamin C deficiency can lead to dry skin and hair, as well as easy bruising. Even if you don’t experience a specific nutritional deficiency, simply consuming too few calories can leave you feeling chronically depleted or unwell.
Rapid weight loss also increases your risk of developing gallstones, hard crystals that form in the gallbladder that can cause severe pain if they become stuck in the duct between the gallbladder and the small intestine. Specifically, people who lose more than 3 pounds per week have a greater chance of developing gall stones, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.
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