Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Losing at a "healthy" rate

I read a news article late last year about a woman in England who went on an extreme diet that allowed her something like 500-600 calories per day. The diet was overseen by a doctor, and included some sort of nutritional supplements that were supposed to ensure that she got enough nutrients during rapid weight loss. The incentive for her desire to lose a lot of weight fast was a wedding, unsurprisingly. Weddings seem to be the biggest push for many women to shed weight rapidly.

Since this woman weighed quite a lot, perhaps in the 300 lb. range, she dropped about 60 lbs. or so rapidly. One day, she decided to actually eat, and she ate quite a lot relative to her highly-restricted diet, though nothing ridiculous. She may have consumed something on the order of 3500 calories at most, possibly as little as 2000 calories. The number of calories she ate is unknown because there’s no concrete report of exactly what and how much she ate because, you see, she dropped dead.

Everyone who wants to lose weight wants to lose it fast, but weight loss is a tremendous strain on your body including your heart. Your heart is a muscle, and shrinks during rapid weight loss. That means it is in a weakened state. This woman who lost so much weight under a doctors care died from heart failure because the consumption of a larger number of calories so stressed her body that her heart couldn’t deal with it.

My husband and I have talked about my weight loss and he’s pleased that I’m losing weight, but he always cautions me when I say I wish it were going faster. He has said that he believes that a more rapid loss would be unhealthy, and that a slow steady loss (around 1-2 lbs. per week) is better not only in the long run, but also in the short run for my immediate health. The news story that I read last year, while somewhat extreme, provides a good lesson in why that is so. Yes, I’m impatient to feel better about myself, stronger, and healthier, but I’d rather get there with a strong heart and a body that has burned fat to reach my goal rather than a weak heart and a body that has consumed muscle and released fluid-based pounds.

To this end, I decided to go against my assertion about not weighing myself again for a long time to see what my one-month progress tended to look like. As before, I thought very carefully before I dragged out that scale and considered what the numbers would mean to me. In particular, I was considering the effect of it not changing as much as I might hope or more than I might expect. I wasn’t going to do it if I believed the number would have an appreciable effect on my plan. In the end, I decided that I could be sanguine about it and that the value of knowing my progress after one month, something which I have never looked at before, was greater than any potential emotional consequences.

The number was 284, which is 11 lbs. lighter than when I last weighed myself on February 12. This number was not surprising and my emotional response to it was what it was last time. That is, a small amount of satisfaction. It’s really about where I expected to be in terms of monthly loss (which I hope to be around 10 lbs. per month at my present weight and possibly lasting to the 250 lb. range, at which point I expect a slow-down) and where I thought I was in terms of my losses since I started this last year (about 100 lbs. lost by now). This is a range that falls in line with what I feel to be healthy, so I’m pretty happy with it.


Human In Progress said...

Wow. This information makes me quite peaceful about losing slowly.

screaming fatgirl said...

Losing slowly really is the best for your body. I'm very happy is this helps you feel more at peace because I think more people need to know that rapid loss is very bad for them. Shows like The Biggest Loser create a distorted view of weight loss and I wish there was an equally powerful voice encouraging people to do it slowly and be happy with a low rate of loss.

My best to you in your difficult endeavor.

dlamb said...

YIKES!!!! This could have been me, dozens of times! My starvation diets, as you know, often limited me to 150-400 cals per day and an awful lot of exercise, followed by binges like nobody would have believed!
Maybe the fact that I spent most of my life eating once a day (mini fasts) and that my weight never reached as high as this woman's may have helped but that is a scary case study! Glad I don't do that anymore. Most who do, like me, were certainly not under a doctor's care.

screaming fatgirl said...

I think the case I read about was atypical, and age as well as personal chemistry play a role. However, it does make me concerned for people who have had weight loss surgery. That being said, I'm guessing most of them are incapable of eating normally after prolonged restriction since they'll throw up if they eat more than a tiny amount.

I'm glad you're okay. :-)