Updated 23 July 2015

How much weight can you lose?

What is a realistic tempo of losing weight? Find out!

Anyone who is overweight or obese will answer this question with "As much as possible", "All my excess weight", "50 kg!" etc

There are many facets of life where one must differentiate between the ideal (or dream) and reality.

Of course it would be highly desirable to lose every gram of excess weight that you've picked up over years of incorrect eating and doing too little exercise, BUT it's essential to be pragmatic and take a good, hard look at what you can actually achieve and how long it will take you to reach a specific weight-loss goal.

Realistic goal
Research indicates that the most realistic slimming goal for the majority of overweight individuals is to try to lose 5-10% of their weight. 

Researchers found that a 5-10% weight loss is not only more feasible than aiming at mega losses, but that even such a modest decrease in weight can have very positive effects on a wide range of obesity-related risk factors (diabetes, heart disease, arthritis and many more).

Mrs X, a woman of 40 with three children, is 1.65m tall and weighs 87kg. Her BMI = 32, so she is classified as obese. She desperately wants to lose weight and has set her goal weight at 68kg, which would be within the normal range for her height.

This would mean that she has to lose a whopping 19kg, which could take up to 25 weeks or more if she maintains a weight loss of 0.5 to 1kg per week.

So, for nearly 6 months Mrs X will have to stick to a very strict diet, exercise nearly every day and constantly motivate herself to maintain her resolve. This is a tough prospect and it's doubtful whether she is going to achieve this kind of discipline. Mrs X is, after all, only human. To complicate matters, weight loss statistics show that Mrs X’s chance of achieving her strict goal is very small.

Negative effects
If Mrs X sets herself such a highly idealistic, but practically unachievable goal, she may not succeed. This will have a devastating effect on her self-image. She'll feel that she has failed and may sink into a depression and start overeating again.

All these reactions are very negative and may discourage Mrs X from trying to control her eating habits and exercising in future.

Positive effects of realistic goals
If, on the other hand, Mrs X had set out to lose a more realistic amount of weight (say 9kg or 10% of her starting weight), the chances are good that she'll achieve her goal within a manageable period of about 11 weeks or 3 months.

Imagine how positive Mrs X is going to feel when she reaches her target weight of 78kg. She'll feel proud that she's accomplished the goal she set out to achieve and will be motivated to stick to a balanced low-fat eating plan and to continue with her exercise programme.

This will, in turn, have positive spinoffs for maintaining her lower weight and gradually lead to further weight losses over time.

Medical benefits
Studies indicate that even modest weight losses of between 5% and 10% will reduce the risk of death due to complications of obesity by 20%, the risk of obesity-related cancers by up to 50% and the risk of deaths due to diabetes by up to 40%. Sound worthwhile, doesn’t it?

So, if you're overweight or obese, and want to set yourself a goal,be pragmatic and start off with a realistic goal.

- (Dr I V van Heerden, registered dietician)


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