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Feb 21

What Are the Stages of Weight Loss? Dietitians Explain – Men’s Health


Embarking on a weight loss journey is akin to a marathon, not a sprint, says Dalia Beydoun, R.D. Each persons weight loss journey is unique, with its own timeline, hurdles, and milestones. But for the majority of people, safe and sustainable weight loss takes time."

In general, though, weight loss can be delineated into three stages: rapid weight loss, gradual weight loss, and maintenance. The length of each stage depends on the individual, Michelle Routhenstein, R.D., preventive cardiology dietitian says. Being able to identify these stages may be a key sign of healthy and sustainable weight loss.

Ahead, dietitians spell out what you should know about the difference stages of weight loss, how much weight you can lose safely, and more.

There are a few.

It's not uncommon to see substantial drops in weight right at the beginning of a weight loss journey, as the body adapts to new habits, expands Tiffany Ma, R.D.N.

[This] rapid weight loss stage is the initial, and typically, the shortest stage. This is the time when diet modifications have just begun and there is a significant drop in body weight within a short period, says Beydoun. During this stage, individuals usually experience a pronounced decrease in water weight, likely due to a reduction in glycogen stores which are used up for energy when the body is in a calorie deficit.

This stage can last anywhere from a few days to a few weeks, depending on factors such as starting weight, dietary changes, and physical activity levels," she says. "While rapid weight loss can be motivating, much of the initial drop on the scale can be attributed to fluid loss rather than fat loss."

People often incorporate drastic calorie restriction or extreme exercise regimens to hit this rapid weight loss stage quickly, says Routhensteinas you might see wrestlers do right before a weigh-in, or when someone needs to lose a few pounds to fit into a suit for an occasion. This approach can lead to muscle loss, nutrient deficiencies, and potential health risks such as gout attacks and liver issues."

Gradual, or slow weight loss, is the next stage of losing weight. As the body adapts to the changes introduced during the rapid weight loss phase, progress may slow down during the second stage, says Ma. This phase involves a more gradual and sustainable rate of weight loss, typically ranging from 0.5 to two pounds per week.

During this stage, individuals may focus on incorporating healthier eating habits, regular physical activity, and behavior modifications to support long-term weight management. It can last for several months or years, depending on the individual.

The pace of weight loss slows down compared to the initial rapid phase, but it is often more indicative of true fat loss rather than water weight," says Beydoun. You may be losing weight less quickly, but this stage of weight loss is what creates your success for the long haul. It allows for better preservation of muscle mass, reduces the risk of negative health consequences, and promotes long-term weight maintenance.

Once youve reached your goal weight range, your attention shifts to sticking at that weight for the months and years to come. This stage may come unintentionallywhat was once your calorie deficit becomes your maintenance calories as you lose weight.

Weight maintenance refers to the phase following successful weight loss where individuals actively work to sustain their achieved weight through continued adherence to healthy habits and lifestyle changes, says Beydoun. This phase is key for preventing the regaining of weight by anchoring those long term habits. It involves finding a sustainable balance between calorie intake and expenditure without excessive restriction, maintaining regular physical activity, and monitoring progress."

If youre noticing that you dont go directly from rapid weight loss to gradual weight loss, youre not alone.

Between the rapid and gradual weight loss stages, its common to experience intermediate phases of weight fluctuations and plateaus. While weight fluctuations are normal, plateaus may often require adjustments to dietary and exercise strategies, says Beydoun. These stages might make your weight loss journey more challenging, but they do show the value of long term lifestyle changes as opposed to rash, short term extreme diets.

Fluctuation between stages happen when individuals encounter obstacles like plateaus, cravings, and social pressures, Routhenstein says. "Successfully navigating this stage involves adapting strategies, building resilience, and seeking support to overcome setbacks and continue progressing towards long-term weight loss goals."

As we touched on above, to ensure sustainable, healthy weight loss, most people dont want to lose more than two pounds a week.

Rapid weight loss is not recommended, as losing more than two pounds in a week can cause muscle loss and increase the risk of gout attacks and liver scarring, says Routhenstein.

Not all weight loss is fat loss.

Fat loss refers to a decrease in body fat mass specifically, while weight loss encompasses any reduction in overall body weight, including water weight and muscle mass, says Routhenstein. Prioritizing fat loss through healthy lifestyle changes is preferred over simple weight loss for improved body composition and overall health."

The key concept here is zooming in on long-term fat loss over weight loss. It's essential to focus on sustainable fat loss rather than simply chasing a lower number on the scale since preserving lean muscle mass will promote overall health, says Ma. To avoid losing muscle mass while losing weight, prioritize strength training and keep up your protein intake.

Maintenance requires ongoing adherence to the healthy eating habits you participated in while you were losing weight and participating in regular physical activity, and whatever other lifestyle modifications you utilizedlike limiting alcohol and avoiding cigarettes and other drugs, Ma says. It's a lifelong commitment to health and well-being and is often considered the hardest part about ones weight loss journey, emphasizing sustainable habits rather than short-term fixes.

Perri is a New York City-born and -based writer; she holds a bachelors in psychology from Columbia University and is also a culinary school graduate of the plant-based Natural Gourmet Institute, which is now the Natural Gourmet Center at the Institute of Culinary Education. Her work has appeared in the New York Post, Men's Journal, Rolling Stone, Oprah Daily,, Architectural Digest, Southern Living, and more. She's probably seen Dave Matthews Band in your hometown, and she'll never turn down a bloody mary. Learn more at

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What Are the Stages of Weight Loss? Dietitians Explain - Men's Health

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