I’d like to know more about “The maximum weight loss currently recommended is two pounds per week”.


Thanks so much for you Ask the Dietitian® page. The sections on weight loss have been particularly interesting to me. I do have a question, though!

Although you touch on this a bit in your Overweight page, I’d like to know more about the statement “The maximum weight loss currently recommended is 2-pounds per week. Research has found that this helps preserve lean muscle tissue (muscles and internal organs) so that the weight loss is mostly body fat (adipose tissue).”

Background, I am male, 5 feet 11 inches and presently weigh 222 pounds. I have lost 32 pounds in the last 62 days. This averages to 3.6 pounds per week–quite a bit more than the 2 pounds per week you mention. I am eating between 1500 to 1600 calories per day. I don’t feel hungry at all and am really happy with my success so far. What I am worried about is doing any sort of permanent damage because of this higher-than-recommended weight loss rate. I also expect that my weight loss rate should soon slow down as I become lighter (since a lighter body requires fewer calories to keep warm and move around, etc.). (Though a plot of weekly weight loss over the last 6 weeks does not show any noticeable decrease in rate.)

I keep a 100% accurate daily food diary (assuming the food values on the sides of packages are correct), so I can make all sorts of calculations. I have no problems sticking to my meal plans, so I can easily pick a daily calorie number and hit it.

Can exercise counteract the loss of lean muscle tissue? I presently walk 3 to 5 times per week for an hour (at a rate of about 4.1 miles per hour). I am also strongly considering beginning a 3 time-per-week weight training program (for the days I don’t walk).

The diet program I am using is free on the Internet and is called The Hacker’s Diet. I would love to know if you are familiar with this diet and what comments you might have about it. (I realize there are thousands of diets, so it is improbable that you know of this particular one!) This diet seems to fit my lifestyle and personality well. (Incidentally, one component of the diet happens to be a series of Microsoft Excel spreadsheet macros for doing graphs of daily weights, recording exercise, etc. Since you work for a software company, this might interest you.)

By the way, which medical professional is best equipped to answer questions about diet, exercise, and weight loss? Should I try my regular general practitioner? Have her recommend another person? Or just keep reading on my own?

Congratulations on your weight loss! True the weight you are losing is more than currently recommended, but the concerns with fast weight loss have more to do with the loss of lean tissue (muscles and organs) and deficient nutrient intake when less than 1200 calories. Also, people who lose weight fast thru eating special foods or liquid diets don’t learn healthy eating habits and when they reach their goal weight, go back to eating the way they were before the weight loss with the resulting regain of weight loss.  Exercising will minimize the effect of loss of lean muscle tissue. As to any permanent damage, you would have to nutritionally analyze your food intake to determine that answer. Are you getting sufficient protein (63 grams for males 25+ years of age) and meeting your Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for vitamins and minerals?

You are correct that weight loss slows down as people lose weight because they have a smaller size and their metabolic rate is lower to support that smaller size.  Please redo the Healthy Body Calculator® after every 10-pound weight loss to get a new Calorie Goal for your lower weight.

Using the Healthy Body Calculator®, I calculated your basal energy needs to be 1813 calories. Any personal activities and exercise would add to basal calories just lying flat. At 1500 to 1600 calories per day, you are at least a negative 213 calories per day. One pound of body weight is equal to 3500 calories. So if you laid in bed (basal energy needs) and didn’t exercise, it would take you 16.5 days to lose one pound.

Exercise is keeping your metabolic rate elevated for up to a day afterward. Using nutrition analysis software, I calculated a 222-pound person walking at 4 mph (miles per hour) would burn 235 calories in one hour. Therefore 1813 basal calories + 235 walking calories = 2048 calories – 500 (3500 calories/7 days for weight loss) = 1548 calories does not explain your 3.6-pound per week weight loss. You are probably exercising more than just walking or eating less than 1600 calories or you have a higher metabolic rate due to a higher lean tissue due to lowering body fat.

You will have to adjust your calories up from 1500 to 1600 once you get to your healthy body weight so that you stop the weight loss and start maintaining your goal weight. Your metabolic rate will decrease as you get closer to your healthy body weight of 165 to 179 pounds. At 179 pounds, your basal energy needs will be around 1625 calories per day without any activity or exercise calories. Walking 4 mph at 179 pounds will burn 211 calories per hour. So to maintain your weight maintenance plan should be to eat 1625 basal calories + 211 walking calories = 1836 calories.

Exercise is the best way to prevent the loss of lean tissue. Aerobic exercise can change the composition of your body by lowering body fat and weight lifting can increase muscle mass. You may even gain weight as you gain muscle because muscle contains more water (70% water) and holds glycogen (stored glucose from the blood) than body fat (15% water). The amount of time and effort you expend when you exercise is more important than the distance covered. The exercise program you suggest sounds good – alternating walking with weight training. I would suggest you work with an exercise physiologist or certified trainer for weight lifting instruction so that you achieve maximum results and not injure yourself.

I have not heard of the Hacker’s diet before. But any diet that has fewer calories than you currently eat will cause weight loss. The problem is what do you eat when you reach your goal weight?  Have you learned new healthy eating behaviors?

Generally, dietitians are the best source for planning weight loss plans. Your general practitioner physician could refer you to a dietitian as weight loss treatment is now covered by many insurance companies. Bariatric physicians specialize in treating obesity, but it doesn’t sound like that’s what you need since you are successfully losing weight. I would recommend you read up on nutrition, but discriminate on what to read by who is offering the advice. Again, seek references written by dietitians who are educated, trained, experts in nutrition.

By the way, a food label is required to list the 80% -120% of the nutritional content in a serving of food according to the current FDA regulations. So label nutrient values are a range.

Have you tried using nutritional analysis software to keep track of your food intake, daily weight and exercise program? You can use My Food Record which I developed with my programmers. Besides analyzing your food records, it has 3 exercise tools which will be interesting to you.

Thank you for your kind comments.