Many people who take the plunge to lose weight want to see their hard work paying off quickly. Seeing results can be motivating, but I remind them that changes don’t happen overnight.
Along with reaching my fitness goals, as a trainer, I have spent many years at the gym guiding countless clients through their journey of establishing healthy choices through exercise, activity, and lifestyle changes.
Read on as I have outlined some things you will notice along the way, stages of weight loss, and some tips to set you up for success.
- After losing water weight in the initial stage, your body starts shedding pounds of body fat in the second stage, though at a much slower pace.
- The second is the “sweet spot” of the weight loss stages. Although you lose weight faster in the first phase, the second phase can offer an average weight loss of between one and two pounds per week.
- Healthy habits like exercising, minimal alcohol consumption, and avoiding processed foods benefit physical and mental health while promoting permanent fat loss.
4 Stages of Weight Loss
When starting a journey to lose weight, it is essential to understand the weight loss stages to avoid any frustration or unrealistic expectations.
1. The Honeymoon Phase - Glycogen Depletion
Glycogen is sugar that is in your body in a stored state, meaning it is on reserve, ready to fuel whatever activity your body needs to do, like moving, staying warm, or even thinking.
The liver and muscles store glycogen based on how active you are, how much energy you burn at rest, and the types of food you eat.
Glycogen stored in the muscles is primarily used by the muscles, while the liver stores meet the needs of the rest of the body, like the brain and spinal cord .
Carbohydrates promote most glycogen production. That’s why your diet and exercise affect Glycogen. A low-carb diet can impact glycogen stores, and a sudden restriction of carbs may make you feel tired or mentally fuzzy.
Exercise causes the most depletion of excess glycogen stores, but dietary changes, like fewer carbs, can substantially impact levels.
Every gram of glycogen carries three times that in water. So hopping on the scale and seeing the number drop in the first week of your weight loss journey is likely water weight.
2. Reality Check - Slower Weight Loss
You should reach stage 2 just a few weeks into your weight loss program, and it is where you want to be until you reach your goal; it is the ever-sought-after “sweet spot” where you experience not just weight loss but fat loss.
Many people use the terms weight loss and fat loss interchangeably, but they have different meanings.
Weight loss is overall body weight loss that may include water and muscle . Losing fat is a healthier goal.
You should be feeling better and better during this phase, with a consistent rate of weight loss, good energy, sleeping well, and having good feelings of hunger (not starving). How much weight you lose in this phase depends on your goals, diet, activity level, and motivation.
“All fat loss is weight loss, but not all weight loss is fat loss. Fat loss is a healthier goal, as it prioritizes fat loss rather than muscle or water losses.”
-Gavin Van De Walle, MS, RD.
3. The Plateau - Don’t Get Discouraged
Most people experience a plateau, which can be discouraging when working hard to exercise and maintain a restricted-calorie diet.
So why does a weight loss plateau happen?
When losing weight, you will lose fat and some muscle. Muscle keeps your metabolic rate - the rate at which you burn calories - higher.
Losing a bit of muscle as you experience weight loss will cause your metabolism to decline, meaning you will burn fewer calories than you did at your starting weight .
Tips for Overcoming the Plateau
There are a few things you can do to try and get beyond this plateau:
- Cut more calories - You may be able to cut your calorie intake a bit more, but remember consuming fewer than 1200 calories per day may do more harm than good, like being hungry most of the time and risk over-eating.
- Exercise more - The minimum suggested amount of exercise is 150 minutes (moderate) or 75 minutes (vigorous) per week. If you have been working out at these minimums, try increasing your workout time, and remember it is best to distribute the time throughout the week.
- Do more activity - Remember that real-life movement burns calories. Movement can be household chores or walking more and using your car less. Any activity aids calorie burning.
Strength training can also help you burn additional calories while gaining muscle. If you are still stuck, reach out to your healthcare provider, registered dietician, or certified personal trainer, who may have additional advice to overcome weight loss plateaus.
4. Maintaining Weight Loss
By this time, you have established healthy diet and exercise habits. Keep at it, they are now part of your lifestyle for weight loss maintenance.
A stress management plan is vital in the weight loss process. Exercise, activity, meditation, and a support system are critical for coping with life challenges, including sustainable weight loss.
Many people tend to overeat when high-stress levels can be further discouraging.
If you briefly slip back to old habits, do not think you have derailed your entire weight loss journey.
Tips to Maximize Weight Loss by Stage
Let's look at ways to maximize weight loss in each stage.
Rapid Weight Loss Stage
You likely will experience rapid weight loss when you first begin as your body adjusts to restricted caloric intake and increased activity. Keep a few things in mind will as you progress toward your goal.
Set Realistic Goals
Keep the expectations of yourself real and in check. A new fitness and diet plan requires you to adjust mentally and physically. Keeping realistic goals helps you avoid an emotional roller coaster and will help you maintain motivation to keep going.
Start Measuring And Tracking Your Food
Many people are surprised at what accurate portion sizes look like and how many calories they consume.
Measuring is essential; healthy eating habits begin with never eating out of the original product packaging unless it is a single portion. A structured meal plan can also help you stay within your calorie goals.
The best way to track calorie deficit is to track it with a food log. Many great apps make this easy.
Fill Up On Healthy Stuff First
Make sure to get your fill of whole foods, fruits, and veggies first; then, you won’t be hungry for the tempting, empty-calorie foods. Some people opt not to have those in the cupboard to make resisting easier.
Practice Mindful Eating
Mindful eating is the practice of slowly and deliberately eating, focusing on the food, your feelings, thoughts, and body sensations .
Don't Go Crazy At The Gym
Exercise aids in burning calories, losing fat, and reducing stress, but overdoing it can lead to quick burnout and stalled efforts.
Slow Weight Loss Stage
Once you have found your rhythm, established healthy habits, and lost weight, it is time to maintain steady, healthy weight loss to reach your goal. Keep the following in mind during this stage.
Switch Up Your Workouts
As good as cardio is, strength training is also very effective for losing weight . Adding high-intensity interval training (HIIT) for weight loss can burn calories and significantly increase endurance.
Focus On Fiber And Protein
Eating healthy foods includes plenty of fiber and protein-rich meals. Fiber helps you feel fuller longer, and protein can boost the calories your burn during digestion and help reduce appetite .
“Additional protein, whether from shakes or whole foods, may help minimize the amount of weight you regain after weight loss.”
-Alina Petre, MS, RD (NL)
Alcohol is empty calories that may inhibit burning fat, leading to extra belly fat . Of course, an occasional glass of wine or drink will not destroy your efforts, but frequent drinking risks gaining back the weight you have worked hard to lose.
Related Article: How Long Does Alcholohl Stops Fat Burning?
Don't Obsess With The Scale
Remember, the number on the scale does not reveal the entire picture, like muscle mass or water weight gain. When the scale stays fixed or goes up a little, is not mean a lack of progress and is part of average weight loss.
Remember, fat-burning occurs during this stage; sometimes, how your clothes fit tells more of the story.
How Long Does It Take To See Noticeable Weight Loss?
Noticeable weight loss may take as long as 6-8 weeks for you to notice. Friends who don’t see you daily may notice it in four weeks.
Where Do You First Notice Weight Loss?
Where you first notice weight loss is highly individual, and your gender is a significant factor.
For men, the belly tends to be the first place to see initial weight loss. Women tend to lose weight all over, with the hips and thighs holding on to the weight the longest.
Final Thoughts on the Stages of Weight Loss
Once you have established a workout regime, readily available healthy food options, and consistent lifestyle changes, you can still do one more thing to help decrease body fat.
I have saved that tip for the very end.
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