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For weight loss, the slow way is still the best

A pair of feet with painted toenails stand on a coral-colored bathroom scale.

March 15, 2019—A rapid weight-loss plan may help you get slimmer sooner than a slow-and-steady one can. But that's where the supposed benefits stop, a new study finds.

Most people who need to lose weight are advised to shed about 1 to 2 pounds per week. For one thing, it's safer: Dropping pounds quickly can raise the risk of forming painful gallstones. But could losing excess weight faster offer some people better health results?

Researchers looked at data on more than 11,000 participants in a weight-loss program. Specifically, the study authors examined whether rapid or slow weight loss had better effects on heart disease and diabetes risk factors. But they found that—when the amount of weight lost was the same—those who lost weight quickly did not see more health benefits than those who shed pounds slowly.

The bottom line, the researchers said, is this: It's the total amount of weight you lose—not how fast or slow you lose it—that matters most when it comes to overall health. But remember those gallstones that can develop with rapid weight loss? That's still a risk. And for that reason, losing weight at a slow pace is still the safer course, the researchers said.

The study was published in the Journal of Obesity.

Starting a weight-loss journey

If you're overweight, losing pounds and keeping them off can help improve your health. You could drop those pounds on your own or join a structured weight-loss program, the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) notes. If you do decide to try a structured program, the NHLBI says you should find out if the program:

  • Provides counseling to help your eating activity and personal habits.
  • Includes qualified health professionals, such as doctors, nurses, nutritionists, registered dietitians, mental health experts and exercise physiologists.
  • Offers strategies to help you deal with stress and setbacks.
  • Aims to help you maintain the weight loss through permanent eating and exercise changes.
  • Considers your lifestyle and food preferences when setting weight-loss goals.
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