The first 10 pounds (weight loss question)

There’s an old weight-loss chestnut that says whenever you start a new regimen, you’ll immediately lose a lot of weight because “it’s all water.” Is there any truth to this?

I started a plan last month and have dumped 10 pounds in 4 weeks. (Nothing exotic, just exercising 6 days a week for 60 minutes, cutting the crap from my diet, and eating slighly fewer calories… although there may be some interesting prescription side effects in play). This is the fastest weight-loss rate I’ve ever had, even in the initial phase, and I could be at my goal weight by the end of summer. I feel fine, just a little tired and hungry sometimes, but nothing unsustainable. But I’m wondering if I shouldn’t get my hopes up because the initial 10 pounds is “all water.”

That doesn’t sound like what they are talking about. That sounds like sustainable weight loss even a bit on the slow side for the amount you are working out.

I know from experience what they are referring to. I can work out hard for a few days and look, weigh, and feel noticeably skinnier. I have done it several times. I am not fat in the first place yet my clothes will be practically falling off me after the first week of running. I always attributed it to water loss but also a fast tightening of muscles which tends to pull everything in.

From what I understand, it really depends on how much water you’re retaining in the first place, combined with how much total weight you have to lose. My first week on weight watchers, I “only” lost 2 pounds. It probably took about 4 weeks to lose 10 pounds, and I’m sure that that was not all water. If you start out with a diet high in salt you’re probably retaining water - you suddenly cut out that salt, and you’re going to lose it. I didn’t have a high salt diet, just simply too high in calories, so I wasn’t retaining any extra water.

Reading their (WW) message boards, I have seen people who’ve lost up to 13 pounds in their first week - but only those who have had a truly significant amount to lose lost that much in the first week.

All of the advice I’ve been reading seems to suggest that the recommended daily calorie deficit is 500 kilocalories per day (I’ll just call 'em calories from this point on, though). So if your maintenance (not getting fatter or skinnier) needs are 3000 calories per day, you should consume 2500 calories per day to safely lose weight (or add exercise to offset the difference – more on that below). Since a “pound of fat” is roughly 2000 calories, you should expect to lose 1.75 pounds per week if you don’t cheat on the weekends. That’s also consistent with all of the advice stating 1 to 3 pounds per week. There are many rules of thumb for determining maintenance calories, but they’re so disparate as not to have any credibility in my estimation. It’s something you’d have to measure and figure out for each unique individual. One fact is, though, that pound per pound fat requires less caloric maintenance than other body tissue.

As you lose weight, your daily needs will also decrease, so you’ll have to continue eating less (or excercising more) to maintain the weight-loss velocity. If you’re obscenely obese, you won’t have to worry too much about that for a while, though.

Excerise offers the added benefit of increased muscle mass. Remember you don’t really want to lose weight per se, you want to lose fat. Muscle mass has higher caloric requirements than fat, meaning the more muscle you have – period – the higher your calorie consumption even when you don’t do a thing. Of course not doing anything will cause your muscles to wither and disappear.

I’ve also read that initial, fast weight loss is actually attributable to a combination of water and carbs that are somehow held in suspension in your body, although I don’t understand that mechanism, as well as the loss of muscle, which because of the information above is something that you want to avoid altogether.

If you consume too little, your body will enter starvation mode whereby it becomes more efficient with its calories. This helps form the basis of yo-yo dieting, in that once you’re “off the diet,” your now-efficient body requires fewer calories and the excess food is more readily converted into fat. This is why the 500 calorie deficit is given as a figure for sustainable weight loss. It seems that starvation mode takes a little over a week on reduced calories in order to begin.

All of this in an amalgamated form lends itself to one thing: there’s no such thing as “a diet” but only “diet” (and lifestyle). You must maintain a proper amount of muscle and overall energy use versus caloric intake. In other words, it really, really, really is a simple matter of calories in versus calories out – even if you have some weird “genetic illness,” the laws of the conservation of energy and matter apply universally in our universe.

My experience? Well… my doctor suggested a 1200 to 1500 calorie per day diabetic diet. I cut back to a goal (sometimes surpassed) of 1200 calories per day without changing what I eat (it’s already really varied and healthful), and mostly by giving up beer during the week. It’s amazing how many calories one takes in if you only take a step back and count them. Wow! So by not changing my diet but only changing the calories, I don’t have hunger pangs and have no real motivation for binge-eating. So far it’s been fairly easy.

Now the 1200 to 1500 calorie daily intake is well, well, well below my maintenance needs, but that’s what the doctor ordered. I don’t track anything but calories, since by default every other thing is reduced. I’m not worried about starvation mode because I cheat freely on weekends. My homebrew isn’t going to drink itself! That, plus me and the missus like to go out, and I’m not going to go to a buffalo-wings place to eat a freaking salad. But you know what? I think it keeps the starvation mode at bay, since I’ve yet to gain an ounce on weekends, even after this last, four-day weekend including Easter dinner.

Oh, I’m not meaning to get into too many personal details, but I just wanted to arrive at my current stats: In four weeks and three days, I’m now at 24 pounds off, and the loss has been completely linear (yeah, I’m a chart-making geek). Is it sustainable? I’d like to think it is, but I won’t be disappointed if that rate dimishes, as long as the trend remains downward. In fact, I fully expect it to slow down.

*Read[/] and learn everything you possibly can so that you know what to expect and why to expect it. Then there will never be any cause for confusion or disappointment.

I am certainly no type of medical professional. I’m just trying to share what I think I’ve learned about the entire process during the course of my own lifestyle change.

Congrats, Balthisar!

I’m in the middle of my own weight loss program, and I just wanted to add something…

If you were not working at all prior to your exercise regimen you can gain muscle weight. Your pure body weight might not be the single best way to measure. Have you tried BMI-ing it?

I’ve lost a flat 20# since February, but I had been working out fairly heavily for 4 years. I just got tired of not seeing the results of my labors (I’m sure there’s muscle, but it’s all coated with a protective layer of lard). I moved to a strict diet, with the understanding that I can vary it once I hit my goal (15# more).

Keep going, and I doubt 10# is all due to water weight.


I wonder how much of the initial “water weight” is actually the reduction of undigested food. I notice that for a few days after I start eating the nightly 1400-calorie Tombstone Pizza, my weight can jump by as much as 7 pounds. This is not fat or water weight but the weight of the pizza as it is cycling through you. If it takes an average of 3 days for food to cycle through you and the 500 calories you are NOT eating represent a pound apiece of food, 3 pounds of the weight loss is represented by 500 calories of food that are no longer in your digestive system.

Of course, if you substitute low-calorie but high-fiber foods such as salads and vegetables, you might more than make up for the missing burgers and pizza.

A pound of fat is 3500-3600 calories not 2000. A 500 per day daily calorie deficit is a 3500 weekly deficit and will usually yield a weight loss of approximately 1 lb per week not 1.75.

This is by far the most accurate metabolic needs / weight loss requirement calculator I’ve found. It’s based on recently updated metabolic formulas. The ones previously being used in many metabolic formulas and online calculators were over 50 years old.

WRT the initial jump in weight loss at the beginning of a diet (IMO) it’s simply due mainly to the reduction in the volume of solid and liquid food and waste you’re carrying around in your digestive system and colon. If you cut you intake by a considerable margin, this constantly changing food+ waste volume (and weight) is also going to reduce substantially.

It’s all guesswork unless you measure your bodyfat percentage. Get a decent scale that measures bodyfat electrically and use it first thing in the morning before you eat or drink anything to get the most consistant results. Most “experts” agree that this method of measuring bodyfat isn’t accurate compared to better methods, but my experience is that it’s the change in the numbers you want to track, not necessarily the numbers themselves.

The calories you burn during exercise are trivial compared to the effect that exercise has on your basal metabolic rate. Reducing calories alone, without exercise, will cause your metabolism to slow down. Exercising keeps your metabolism up so your dieting becomes more effective. Your body composition is the result of your lifestyle, not simply the result of what you eat.

cutting the crap from my diet

Contrary to popular belief, all calories are not created equally and so not eating crap will have more of an effect than simply eating less of the same old crap you normally eat. You will get leaner on 1500 cals a day of quality protein and low glycemic index carbs than on 1500 cals a day of snickers bars.

If you want to get serious about nutrition, there is a lot of new information coming out of research that will definitely help you reach your goals. I recommend you check out Precision Nutrition. Don’t forget that bodybuilders live and die by diet and exercise and most of the cutting edge information is coming from sports nutritionists, so you can also find good info at places like Sciencelink and T-Nation.

For example, most “consumer” dieting places like Jenny Craig are working with outdated concepts like “complex carbohydrates” and totally ignore glycemic index and don’t even bother to consider the effects of insulin on nutrient uptake and muscle catabolism. Nor do they consider the effects of different foods on the pH of your bloodstream and its effect on bone and muscle mass. By eating foods that lower your bloodstream pH, you make gaining muscle much more difficult and your body will rob from bone and muscle to maintain the pH range necessary for proper functioning. It really is rocket science if you get into it.

My own obsession with nutrition and exercise has resulted in me going from 365 lbs @ 33% bodyfat to 185 lbs @ 9% bodyfat in 11 months. The look on my doctor’s face as he checks my blood numbers alone has been worth it. Not only have I lost fat, I’ve improved my health by every measurable quantity at the same time and this would not be possible in such a short time without serious attention to nutrition.

Good luck and keep up the good work!