Cop-out answer: it depends
Realistic pace put into perspective: a great pace is 1/2 pound to 1 pound of body-fat per week, or about 1% change in PBF per month. Many people feel like this is “too slow,” and can talk themselves into being disappointed because they didn’t live up to the fictitious results they’ve seen on social media and infomercials. However, if you take the long-term perspective 1% per month is dropping 12% body-fat in a year. Many people want instant gratification and want that 12% gone this month, and I wish there was a safe and sustainable way to do that. There isn’t. Three thoughts that have helped me and my clients be more patient are:
- Remember that next year of my life is going to pass anyway, and will pass before I realize it. I can be patient and make real changes over that time, or I can flip and flop between quick fixes and make great progress in the short term and have essentially nothing to show for all my hard work in a year. I’ve already tried the flip-flop many times…
- Most women are only about 10-12% away from where they want to be. 12% is the difference between 40% and 28%. 99% of women will be quite happy with anything under 30%. The mid to high 20’s is a nice balance between living a life that doesn’t suck and looking & feeling the way you want to.
- The most important part of weight-loss/fat-loss is keeping it off. The very large calorie deficits and very restrictive eating and extensive exercise programs necessary to get a women to lose at a faster pace will generally make you hate life. You would need to be weighing everything you eat on a digital scale, only eating food that you prepare (never at a friend or relative’s house, and no restaurant food), living in a nearly constant state of hunger, exercising 6-10 hours per week, sleeping 8-10 hours per night. This isn’t the sort of lifestyle that people stick to long term. When you’ve had it with this, you go off the rails and put everything back with interest. And fast.
Pace of change continued:
- Changes in body composition or percent body-fat are much slower than changes on the scale. The scale counts water lost, muscle lost, bowel movements lost, and fat lost as equal.
- It is very important to remember that weight-loss is not the same as fat-loss or improved body composition (changing your percent body fat).
- As a general rule of thumb, for women, anything over 1/2-1 pound in a week is not fat-loss, but actually changes in body water. This is especially true with low/lower-carb diets, low/very-low calorie diets, and any sort of “fat-burning” supplement.
- When you go to work on your lifestyle vs. a quick-fix it is generally a 4 step process that is similar to turning around an ocean liner:
- (step 1) stop gaining weight – so we reduce the rate at which your normal, non-diet lifestyle makes you gain weight. This is what “normal” represents for most people and we can’t address your lifestyle if we avoid it by focusing on gluten or only eating raw food, or some other gimmick.
- (step 2) start losing weight
- (step 3) make mistakes in the process of learning how to apply the basics to your life
- (step 4) maintain a handful of good habits/skills that will maintain your weight
How life can get in the way/Ways that change may not go to plan:
In terms of gaining/maintaining SMM (Skeletal Muscle Mass): if you are new to strength training, then 99% of the time you will make progress in terms of SMM regardless of what else is going on in your life if you get at least 6 hours of sleep, minimal protein and show up consistently.
However, when you are no-longer a beginner, then other factors matter more: high stress, low/poor sleep all make a bigger difference and can prevent any increase in muscle mass or cause a slight drop in SMM despite consistent (or pretty consistent) training and adequate protein intake. On the bright side, during these periods of high stress, the training helps you stay sane and prevents what could be much larger drops in muscle mass.
In terms of lowering body fat/changing PBF (percent body fat): fat-loss is about calories in vs. calories out, and this isn’t going to change with life circumstance. However, what will change with life circumstances are factors that influence calories in and out: low-sleep and/or high-stress can often lead to increases in food consumption.
During these times it is hard to perceive the increase because low sleep and high stress increase appetite, so it feels like you’re eating the same amount of food. High-stress and/or low-sleep are also generally exhausting, and when you are tired your NEAT (non-exercise activity thermogenesis) goes down… in plain English this just means fidget less, are less expressive, and just move less because you’re pooped.