Rate of weight loss, extreme thinking, and toning

Posted: March 16, 2011 in Q&A

Sorry to be one of those many people who I’m sure bug you, but I need some advice… I’m 5ft, weighing 115 pounds, having a desk job. So my mainanance calories are like 1300 a day. Is there any way to lose more than 1lb of fat in less than a month? I’ve started exercising like crazy over the past few days (mainly cardio, but some strenght training too), we’re talking 3-4 hours a day, about or over 1000 cals, and eating 1100-1200 a day. I started seeing some results, like 2lbs in 5 days, but its probably water weight. I’m just wandering if what I’m doing will bring me effects I want? I want to get to 108lbs if I can… And I dont realy want to do that in the course of 6 months… I’ve been trying to lose it for ages, always going up and down the scale, and I’ve tried upping my calorie intake too (by about 300 a day) and I’ve put a lb on weight in two weeks. I’m getting desperate… Please help ?

I don’t understand the rush? You realize that if you use extreme tactics to lose weight, which you are, big time, the chances of keeping whatever “progress” these tactics derive are slim to none… right?   If what you’re doing right now isn’t sustainable for life, which it’s not, well… you get the point.

Will what you’re doing get you the results you desire? I doubt it. As I said a million times, beating your body into submission is NOT the answer.

A pound of fat loss per week is a reasonable average.  A pound of weight loss per week given your stats is a totally different animal once you factor in things like water weight.


Its not a rush, really, but I dont feel comfortable in my body, so shouldnt I try to change it? And you hear about people loosing 6 lbs in two weeks, not 6 months… I thought I’ll try to get to my goal weight and then slowly(and thats the key) get back to my normal eating habits. I dont plan to stop exercising and start eating more on the day I reach my goal weigh, I’m not that naive, but doesnt exercise increase your methabolism? If so, I shouldnt put on weight when I do less exercise/eat more? And I’m just so fed up with trying to lose those 6 lbs over the last year, that know I just want to get in done with. At whatever cost. I’m so confused!

You’re talking about rates of weight loss as if there’s an applicable standard that can be applied to everyone. When you have a lot of fat to lose, you can go by the stock standard 1% of total body weight per week. If you’re 200 lbs, a loss of 2 lbs per week is acceptable. 400 lbs, 4 lbs per week is acceptable generally speaking.  Heck, assuming they can handle it psychologically, truly obese people can lose at even faster rates without screwing too much up

But when you’re a 115 lb female, things change for reasons I’ve discussed in our previous conversations.  Biologically and evolutionarily your body doesn’t want you lean, which is why it’ll resist extreme efforts with a fury – slowing down metabolism and shutting off the processes that go into muscle maintenance for starters.  I don’t know about you… but those are factors that seem sort of important when it comes to getting lean.

As the wise Matt Perryman said in similar words, “You’ve to coax the fat off once you reach a certain stage… not beat it off.”  You have to trick your body into doing something it doesn’t want to to. Which is why it’s important to stop worrying about the rate of weight loss each week or month when you’re at the stage of the game you’re at and start focusing on how you look and feel. What are pictures saying? What are tape measurements saying? What is the reflection saying? What are your clothes saying? Because weight is pretty much meaningless when you’re as light as you are. It’s not telling you anything useful.

I’ve worked with women your size (who’ve achieved physiques they never thought possible) who were working with a rate of weight loss of .5 – 1 lb per month. And they maintained it. In fact, many went on to work on adding muscle with the appropriate training and a calorie surplus because they wanted to take their physiques further.

This is about setting yourself up for a lifetime. When you start worrying about how fast you can do it in a month or six months, you’re already shooting yourself in the foot by missing the forest for the trees.

What you’re doing may make a lot of sense in your head but based on my experience I can assure you that chances are very high that *if* you actually reach your goal weight (which is a silly notion anyhow since I can show you 20 different women who weigh your goal weight and some look great while others look awful) it’s not going to be maintained due to the unrealistic methods you used to achieve it.

And because you’re beating your body into submission, once you start “slowly getting back to the normal habits” you’re going to pack on weight very easily because that’s what your body is hardwired to do after it’s starved, which is what you’re making it “think” it is.

Our bodies are wired to store fat easily and resist leanness – and this is even more the case for small women.

So you have to learn to work with your genetics. Not against them.  The more you oppose them and the more frantic and anxious you get about not meeting your flawed expectations, the deeper the hole you dig.  Most people would fare much, much better by simply calming down, taking a few deep breaths, and looking at things in the light of logic.


Well, what do you propose then? The basic method for losing weight is eat less, exercise more, which is what I’m doing. I know I’m getting enough nutritiens because I eat very healthily. All protein, fibre, vitamins, good fats, good sugars, its all there. No junk food/processed foods, all home made, very little saturated fat etc So thats not a problem. And 1100-1200 is reasonable for my weight, right? So then am I supposed to exercise less? I enjoy exercising, and its not just boring gym, its all sorts of things. I feel great when I exercise. I really dont know what to do anymore, your posts make a lot of sense to me, but I’ve tried eating more and exercising and it didnt work. I’m currently size 6 at the top and size 9 (UK). Yes I know that size doesnt exist, and thats exactly my problem. Size 8 is too small, size 10 is too big. I’m pear shaped, so I heard its harder for me to lose weight? Everyone says different things, and its all so confusing…

You say the basic method is eat less and move more.  You’re right about that.  Unfortunately due to our culture and the mindsets it provokes, people take this mantra to the extreme.  Knowing what I know it amazes me when I come across people exercising 2-4 hours per day on low calorie diets.  But then I pinch myself which brings me back to the reality of the situation… everyone’s so damn confused and they have such short attention spans.  They want it yesterday and the whole immediate gratification things trips them all up.

You’re 115 lbs, so with sane amounts of exercise each day, 10 cal/lb of body weight would put you at a reasonable deficit.  If that wasn’t working, you might have to cut it to 8-9 cal/lb, but only if 10 wasn’t working.  For me it’s always about eating as much as you can get away with while still triggering reasonable rates of change.  This tends to keep your body’s regulatory systems on more of an even kilter.

If a static diet isn’t “working” you might consider some sort of CKD (cyclical ketogenic diet) where you’re installing refeeds into your plan each week.

On the exercise front, you’re doing way too damn much.  Of course it depends on what you’re actually doing in the gym… if it’s low intensity stuff like walking than you might be able to get away with it.  But I’m wagering that it’s much more than that.  When I come across people, namely women, who fit your profile… they’re always taking things to the extreme.

The point is, 10 cal/lb with reasonable amounts of exercise puts you at a reasonable deficit.  10 cal/lb with marathon gym sessions each day puts you at too large of a deficit.  Put differently, you’re going to outpace your body’s recovery ability.  Maybe not tomorrow.  Maybe not next week.  But it’ll happen sooner than later.  Then you’re going to be coming back to me asking the same questions – you’ll just be a lot more worn out and a tougher place to rebound from.

Find balance and moderation.

If you’re diet is as good as you say it is and you’re adhering to it consistently, stick with it.  Make sure your intake is actually accurate… using a food scale if you don’t already might be a good idea.  You don’t have to use it forever, but at least until you’re certain you’re as accurate as possible (most of us aren’t even close to accurate).

Having some reasonable targets as far as nutrition goes wouldn’t be a bad idea either.  Something like:

  • 1 gram of protein per pound of goal weight
  • 25% of calories from fat – maybe a 1/3 from each category (saturated, mono, and polyunsaturated)
  • 2-3 servings of fruit per day
  • 3-6 servings of fibrous veggies per day

Once that baseline is met, anything else within your calorie limit is fair game.

On the exercise front, I’d be focusing on full body strength training sessions 2-3 times per week.  These aren’t meant to be marathon sessions – they serve a very specific purpose and that’s to maintain the muscle you currently have – possibly even experience some muscle gain if you’re lucky.  To do this, you’ll need to be focusing on the basic compound exercises like squat and lunge variations, deadlift and hip thrust variations, pushing movements such as bench press and overhead press, and pulling movements such as pull-ups, pulldowns, and rows.  A handful of sets in the 6-12 rep range would be ideal for each movement.  The session will likely last between 30-60 minutes.

You can and should throw conditioning work on top of this.  This can be your traditional cardio if you prefer but it shouldn’t be all out crazy on the intensity or volume side of things.  That means you shouldn’t be sprinting every workout and you shouldn’t be running marathons every workout.  Remember, you want to work *with* your body… not against it.

As long as you can keep things in check, I’m fine with doing some form of cardio each day.  Some lower intensity sessions might last 30-60 minutes.  The higher intensity stuff might last 15-20 minutes.  But the higher intensity stuff should be used sparingly… maybe 1-2 times per week.  It wouldn’t be a bad idea to pair the high intensity stuff up with your weight training days, which would free up more days to recover in your week.

Beyond all of these details, learn to be patient!  And learn to gauge progress using more than the scale because at your weight it’s pretty useless at measuring progress.

I can’t put it much more succinctly than this.

Also, make sure fat loss is really what you need.  Many women keep chasing the “toned” look by dieting on top of dieting and the only thing it gets them is a frail, sunken look.  There are two sides to becoming toned, and that’s fat loss and muscle maximization.  If you don’t have the muscle, no amount of fat loss is going to get you to where you’re trying to be.  Unless, of course, you’re shooting for the concentration camp look. :p

Oh, and don’t worry about where your fat is positioned on your body.  There’s not a thing you can do about that.  You’re pear shaped you say.  Be happy.  Men like curves.

  1. Marianne says:

    Great post, I like your frankness. People’s expectations are generally way too high, and the goal needs to be broken down further to allow consistency and sanity – nicely written.


    • Thanks for tuning in, Marianne! Glad you enjoyed the Q&A. You’d be amazed how frequently I get these sorts of messages in my inbox. It’s ashamed how many people unnecessarily struggle due to the constraints they set up for themselves via mismanaged expectations.

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