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.
Konstantin Monastyrsky holds a degree in pharmacy. He is also an expert in forensic nutrition and has written four books about health and nutrition, including the acclaimed Fiber Menace. He’s twice been featured speaker at the international Wise Traditions Conference.