Conventional wisdom says that losing weight quickly is neither safe nor sustainable. If you crash diet to drop pounds—or try something like a juice cleanse—you always gain the weight back. Right?
Not so fast: A new study from the University of Melbourne tested the the widely held opinion that people who lose weight rapidly gain it back rapidly and found that it might be just that—an opinion.
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The study went on for more than three years and took place in two phases. Two hundred volunteers were divided evenly into two groups: either a rapid or gradual weight-loss program. The participants were all obese but otherwise healthy and aged between 18 and 70 years. The rapid weight-loss group was given an extremely low-calorie diet (450 to 800 calories) over the course of 12 weeks, while the gradual group reduced calories by 400 to 500 calories a day over the course of 36 weeks.
Scientists aimed for both groups to reduce their body weight by 15 percent, just at different rates. They could tell their participants were actually following the rules if their weight did indeed drop. For phase two, over 144 weeks, all participants were instructed to follow an individualized diet for weight maintenance. Throughout the entire study, they also had to meet with a dietitian regularly and perform mild to moderate exercise every day, like a brisk walk.
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By week 144 of the study, both groups had gained most of their weight back. The gradual weight-loss group gained, on average, 71.2 percent of their weight back, and the rapid-loss group gained, on average, 70.5 percent back.
In discussing these results, the researchers note that the similar rates of regain suggest that it’s a myth that you “should” lose weight slowly. In fact, they say that members of the rapid weight-loss group were more likely to hit their targeted weight and were more likely to start working out regularly on their own accord. They suggest that getting big results quickly may have been a source of motivation for those participants.
While the results are interesting, they are definitely not an excuse to crash diet. Researchers noted that the strict diets of the rapid group made it impossible to obtain normal (and necessary) nutrients—obviously a huge problem. What's more, this study was done on obese people—so it's unclear if those who are only slightly overweight would see similar results. If you are going to attempt quick weight loss, the researchers suggest you speak with a dietitian to work on a plan that ensures you get the vitamins and minerals that you need. And keep in mind that even if both groups saw similar results, the slow-and-steady method is still much less disruptive to your everyday life—and therefore a much less miserable approach if you’re trying to drop pounds.
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