Editor’s Note: Konstantin will be answering questions in the comments section at the end of this post so feel free to chime in with your thoughts and questions to keep the weight loss discussion going. Konstantin will be posting a column on The Healthy Home Economist for the next few weeks. If you haven’t been able to attain your dream weight no matter how hard you’ve tried, these posts will help transform your understanding of how to best attain your optimal weight using Traditional Diet – without failure and side effects – for life!
Statistically speaking, losing weight and keeping it off permanently is just as challenging as becoming a millionaire, perhaps even more. I discovered the core reason behind this enigma while investigating the weight loss plateau phenomenon of low carbohydrate diets. This finding has helped me to cross the last nine yards toward attaining normal weight, and remaining that way for the past twelve years.
As all serendipitous discoveries go, this one was remarkably simple: weight loss diets fail because doctors, nutritionists, dietitians, and celebrities who promote them (and people who follow their advice) do not make a distinction between the reduction of body weight and the reduction of body fat. In other words, losing weight and losing fat isn’t exactly the same thing!
To understand what the distinction between the body’s fat and weight means in real life, let’s review the most basic physiology of weight loss:
- There are two principal components of body weight — constant weight and variable weight.
- The variable weight is a sum of all the digestive fluids inside your GI tract, the undigested foods already in your stomach and the small intestine, the stools inside your large intestine, and water, which can be safely lost with sweat, urine, and perspiration. These variable components of your body weight represent between 15 and 30 pounds, depending on your original diet, your current weight, and your digestive health.
- The constant weight is everything else – the remaining fluids, such as the blood plasma and lymph, the weight of your skin, bones, internal organs, muscles, and adipose tissue, or body fat – the sole substance you actually want to get rid of.
- Variable weight swings from day to day depending on the amount of foods and fluids you consume and expel, workload, and environment. A day on the beach, an hour in the hot tub, or an intense workout in a sweat suit, for example, can reduce your body weight by several pounds simply from sweating.
- Constant weight remains stable for longer stretches of time because loss of body fat is quite slow on any diet, and requires a considerable time to produce measurable and permanent results.
In practical terms, when you start a weight loss program, the first 10 to 20 pounds of weight reduction are almost exclusively made up from the following components:
(a) A reduction in the total weight of foods that you have consumed over the past few days. It may be considerable, especially if you love to eat.
(b) A reduction in digestive fluids. As soon as you start eating less, your body reduces the amount of saliva, gastric, and pancreatic juices involved in digestion. This amount ranges from 6 to 7 quarts per day, and may be halved by the reduced calorie diet.
(c) A loss of water throughout your body, particularly with urine. This happens because reduced calorie diets have a pronounced diuretic and dehydration effect.
(d) Loss of stools from your bowels. As you reduce food intake, particularly fiber, the total volume of stools inside the large intestine may drop three to five times.
I refer to the total of all of the above as a phantom weight loss. This universally ignored fact of human physiology is behind the ubiquitous promise of the near instant weight loss of 10 to 20 pounds on the covers of diet books, supermarket tabloids, and diet plans.
The precipitous – two weeks or less – loss of phantom weight also explains why so many people yo-yo back to their original weight as soon as they stop dieting – the cumulative weight of foods, digestive juices, water, and stools starts to come back the moment you return to your regular diet.
A quick reduction of the waistline is also a popular diet hoax: as your stomach, intestines, and bowel clear out their respective contents, the waistline around them shrinks down a few sizes, even though practically all the body fat remains exactly where it was before commencing the diet.
The proverbial weight loss plateau is another gimmick intended to absolve weight loss counselors from any responsibility for their advice, and to blame you and your metabolism for an inability to lose weight. The truth is – when you can’t overcome weight loss plateau, it simply means that you have lost only phantom weight, but not an ounce of body fat, and, quite possibly, you have gained even more!
So, let’s summarize what I have just described:
- Anyone commencing a reduced calorie diet will demonstrate an appreciable loss of weight, but this is not a loss of actual body fat, but a loss of phantom weight related to the much smaller intake of foods and fluids.
- Weight loss diets that have a pronounced diuretic and dehydrating effect may demonstrate an even larger phantom weight loss at the expense of body fluids. You can accomplish pretty much the exact same effect by restricting fluid intake or sweating out in a sauna.
- Reaching a weight loss plateau simply means that you have lost only phantom weight, but have not lost and won’t lose any body fat.
- A rapid weight rebound shortly after resuming a regular diet simply means that you’ve simply restored the weight of fluids, undigested foods, and stools in your body back to their original volume.
At this point you may be asking yourself a rightfully indignant question: why have all those diet books I’ve been reading for so long not been telling me about this?
Two reasons, I believe. First, their authors simply may not know or may not want to know about this unsavory phenomenon. Second, telling readers the truth — that it actually takes a LOT of time and a LOT of effort to lose body fat — gets in the way of selling no-sacrifice diet books, cookbooks, classes, tests, and diet-branded foods and snacks.
Since I am not constrained by similar goals, I can tell you the hard truth as it is: If you are contemplating losing weight, it must the fat under your skin, not undigested foods, fluids, and stools inside your gut. Losing actual body fat takes time, because even on a very low calorie diet you can (at best) count on losing just a few ounces (under 60 to 90 grams) daily.
So, the next natural question then is: how long does it take to lose real body fat, and how much effort is involved? Well, that is exactly what I am going to explain in the next post: How Long Will it Take You to Lose the Weight?
Once you realize and appreciate the difference between the loss of fat and the loss of mere phantom weight, you will have a much easier time managing the actual process of weight loss (not the make-believe one), and attaining your desired weight and size.
For your health and safety, please read these important Weight Loss Common Sense Warnings and Disclaimers before commencing a reduced calorie diet.
Thank you so much to you all for sharing your gracious thanks, comments, concerns, stories, and questions.
I’ll be working on the next post (coming Friday) and may not be able to answer additional questions. I look forward to resuming our conversation after the next post, “How to Determine Your Rate of Fat Loss and the Duration of Your Diet.”
I realize that this subject may make a lot of people upset after realizing just how long it takes to lose weight, even under the best of circumstances. On the other hand, gradual, deliberate, and consistent weight loss is best because:
(a) A slow rate of weight loss allows your skin to shrink gradually, preventing wrinkles.
(b) You are less likely to get derailed by the most common side effects for all weight loss diets (a deliberate semi-starvation).
(c) It is so much easier to stick with your weight loss protocol when your expectations are in check.
While waiting for the next post, please read “Get Your Fats Straight”. The more you know about the metabolism of dietary fat, the easier it is to lose your own.
See you soon,
This makes so much sense, I always manage to,lose between 20-28 pounds then put that and more back on really quickly. I am the heaviest I have ever been and have around 112 pounds to make me within a healthy weight range.
Sarah and I can both relate to your story, and we are both looking forward to helping you with getting back to your optimal weight and staying that way for the rest of your long and happy life.
The reason for your “weight creep” after each dieting cycle is fairly prosaic: anytime your body experiences “starvation” (which is what all reduced calorie diets are), your “starvation” gene reduces your level of energy and structural metabolism in order to assure your survival by (a) preserving and (b) accumulating precious resources, and particularly fat.
And this trait is significantly more pronounced in women of child-bearing age because of extra energy needs for fertility, lactation, and offspring care.
This is just one of several mechanisms behind the epidemics of obesity in the developed countries, and I’ll deal with all of them in future posts. Stay tuned!
Thank you for taking time to answer so many questions. I’m really enjoying this conversation. I was wondering if you had any thoughts about the research that shoes obese people have different gut bacteria than normal weight people. I read a study about an obese man who rapidly lost weight after the researchers targeted his particular bacterial overgrowth/imbalance. I’m curious to know what you think.
You are very welcome. I too am enjoying this experience and learning a lot from it. Thank you to all who have contributed their stories and questions!
In regard to your question: yes, it is quite possible that obese people may have gut flora markedly different from healthy people with normal weight. This happening isn’t related to their weight per se, but to their propensity to consume more processed foods, taking/needing more medications, and having a high rate of inflammatory GI conditions.
The important takeaway from all of this is that obese individuals aren’t necessarily obese because they have a different composition of intestinal flora, but because they lead less-than-wholesome lifestyles.
Thus, if you are obese, you absolutely should concentrate on fixing up your gut flora because it is essential for good health and critical to avoiding weight-loss-related complications such as constipation or IBS. But improving one’s flora by itself will not have as much impact on one’s weight as lifestyle changes required for sustained and permanent weight loss.
Konstantin, this is the best explanation I have ever read about why I can never lose more than 15 to 20 pounds. At that point I get discouraged and can not maintain the eating plan, so I eventually gain it back. Just as life has had its ups and downs, so has my ability to eat in a healthy way. Just as life has had its ups and downs, so has my ability to eat in a healthy way. When I was diagnosed with pre-diabetes two years ago, I changed to a raw plant based diet and I felt ten times better than usual. I have since left my husband and changed jobs, and effectively reduced most of my stress. I am also studying to be a Holistic Health Coach, in an attempt to learn as much as I can. I wish I had only 10 pounds to lose, unfortunately it is more like 50. By the way, Fiber Menace was of great help to me, as I also have chronic constipation. I very much look forward to your future posts. Thank you.
Thank you for sharing your insights and travails. I am sure you’ll become a great health coach, so stick with it. It takes a great deal of humility to do this job well, and it usually comes from having to deal with/overcome one’s own demons and failures. I am confident that by the time this series is over, you’ll be well on your way to your desired weight!