If you’re trying to lose weight, you may have started out with some success only to find it’s getting more difficult as you continue on the weight loss path. You’re not alone. Almost everyone loses weight fast at first when they set out to drop some pounds, only to find it gets harder and harder to make progress.
So, let’s talk about what happens to the body as weight loss begins and how that changes over time. Here are four reasons you lose weight fast at first only to suddenly slow down.
4 Reasons You Lose Weight Fast at First
‘Water Weight’ Is Real
You may have heard about “water weight,” and yes, it’s real.
Lots of foods that are not good for you in large amounts—like sugar, salt, and carbs—also happen to cause your body to hold onto extra water. When you cut them out (or reduce them dramatically), your body lets go of that extra H2O.
When we eat sodium-rich meals, for example, we retain fluid in order to balance out those high levels of salt. (The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend limiting your daily intake of salt in food to 2300 milligrams, by the way.)
Also, if you cut your overall calorie intake significantly, especially from carbs, your body dips into glycogen stores for energy. Glycogen is bound in the body by water, so burning it means getting rid of that water, too.
This explains why people on a keto diet (which is very low carb) can lose several pounds quickly at first as the body releases its stored carbs and associated water. Once the initial weight is shed, their weight loss slows to a more typical rate (1-2 pounds a week).
More Body Weight Means More Fuel Is Needed
Now, here’s where it starts to get more complicated: The more you weigh, the more calories your body needs for its daily functioning. As you lose weight, your body needs less fuel to do all of the things it does to keep things humming. You know, the daily maintenance. (There are three components to your metabolism—the Basal Metabolic Rate, the thermic effect of food, and the thermic effect of exercise—and you can learn more about them here.) So a person who weighs 150 pounds might need more fuel than someone who weighs 125 pounds.
This is tricky though, and it becomes a gray area, because you can’t keep reducing how much you eat as you continue to lose weight. (You need to feed your body enough calories to stay strong and healthy!)
I always advise my clients to be aware of this and suggest that instead of reducing calories further and further (we’re not calorie counters anyway), they try changing up what they’re eating more often.
Just like at the gym, your body gets used to certain exercises and you’ve got to switch things up, it might help to add some diversity to your diet to break out of a rut. While some studies have shown more diversity in diets is associated with weight gain, others have shown that when you compare only people eating healthy foods, those with more diversity in their diets have better metabolic health.
Listening to your body and understanding your hunger quotient is super important here, too, since you may not be tuned into the fact that your body is asking for slightly less.
And finally, this is also where sleep, stress, hydration and really all the intertwined pillars of a nutritious life play an important role. I often suggest ways for my clients to focus on these other factors as well, which can affect hormones and weight.
Your ‘Set Point’ Kicks In
There’s also a theory called “set point,” and a lot of evidence points to the fact that your body has a weight range it will naturally settle in. That’s because genes play a role in body weight, but it’s important to remember that hormones and habits—such as diet, exercise and stress management—are just as important. In other words, your genes are one of many factors.
So how do we work around these factors?
First, you have to acknowledge your personal body type so you’re not being unrealistic about weight loss goals.
Second, much of the weight loss research usually suggests losing weight gradually and steadily. Most studies suggest that slow, steady weight loss gives you a leg up when it comes to the likelihood of keeping the weight off long-term. Diets that rely on extreme calorie reduction, or very-low calorie diets (VLCDs) may deliver rapid, short-term weight loss, but studies show that the weight is often gained back quickly once the VLCD is discontinued. Regardless of the type of diet you do, it’s important to create new lifestyle habits and behaviors that will work for the long-term.
You Are Better at Staying On Track At First
When you think about why you were losing so much weight in the beginning and then hit a plateau, you’ve got to ask yourself: Did I get off track without realizing it?
Sometimes in the beginning, you’re super focused on meal prep and staying hydrated and hitting every spin class. Then, as time goes on, you lose a little of that drive. Or you forget about all of the other non-food components of weight loss, such as stress management and getting enough sleep.
Bottom Line About Losing Weight Fast At First
If you’re frustrated by your progress, it’s worth checking in with your food journal, your habits, and your body.
Ask yourself: Am I settling into new, healthy habits or am I back to old, bad habits I wanted to leave behind? The more you can get to the latter, the closer you’ll be to maintaining a healthy weight 24-7, instead of having to embark on another weight loss journey.
If you need help on your weight loss journey, talk with your doctor, a registered dietitian nutritionist or a nutrition and wellness coach to develop a healthy plan that works specifically for you and your unique needs.