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The 2 stages of weight loss: What to expect in each phase

Each stage comes with its own characteristics, timeline and challenges.

The 2 Stages of Weight Loss: What to Expect In Each Phase | Juniper

While the concept of weight loss might seem relatively linear — eat less (and better), move more, lose weight — the reality is often far different. In many cases, the journey towards a healthier weight can be highly irregular.

What you may not know is that there are multiple stages of weight loss and each one comes with its own characteristics, its own timeline and its own challenges.

Here’s your guide to the stages of weight loss and what to expect as you move through each one.

What are the stages of weight loss?

Depending on who you ask, there can be anywhere from 2-5 (or possibly even more) weight loss stages. But, you can expect the actual weight loss process to happen over 2 distinct phases: fast weight loss and slow weight loss.

Stage 1: Fast weight loss

In the beginning, weight loss happens pretty rapidly. Over a period of 4-6 weeks, you’ll likely see a noticeable difference in your body weight [1] — either on the scales or by the way your clothes fit. 

However, even though it might appear to be the case, you’re not actually losing a whole lot of body fat in this stage. Instead, your body is shedding water, protein, a bit of fat and muscle, and its glycogen stores.

Hold up, hold up — what’s glycogen? This is the name given to sugar that your body stashes away, mostly in your liver and muscles. When you eat carbs, your body uses a certain amount and stores the rest as glycogen, in case it needs energy further down the line. You can effectively think of glycogen as a backup source of energy.

Once your body has used its glycogen stores, it moves on to burning fat, which brings us to stage 2.

Stage 2: Slow weight loss

During the second stage of weight loss, things start to slow down. Your weight likely won’t be dropping as quickly as it did in the first 4-6 weeks, and at times it might even come to a grinding halt. 

Even though it’s super frustrating, know that weight loss plateaus are incredibly common. They happen for multiple reasons, including your metabolism slowing down as a result of losing weight, having trouble sticking to a strict weight loss plan and consequently going off track [2].

But as challenging as stage 2 can be, there’s some good news: unlike stage 1, you’re actually burning fat in this phase. After your glycogen stores have been depleted, your body uses fat as an additional energy source, resulting in fat loss rather than overall weight loss.

Fat loss vs weight loss

We know now that weight loss happens in 2 stages, and only the second involves fat loss. But what’s the actual difference between losing weight and losing fat?

Weight loss is considered the overall reduction in your body weight, but it includes other things beyond fat: glycogen, protein, water weight, a certain amount of fat and sometimes, muscle. However, fat loss is specifically about getting rid of body fat, which is what your goal should be. 

Some weight loss tactics and regimens can cause muscle loss, which can be detrimental to your health in the long run. This is particularly the case with crash diets and those that focus on diet alone, rather than a combination of diet and increased physical exercise [3].

Instead, it’s best to aim for fat loss rather than looking at overall weight loss and to try to build muscle. We’ll give you some insight into how shortly.

What are the first signs you're losing weight?

So, how can you tell you’re actually getting rid of fat? There are a few tell-tale signs.

  • Your clothes feel looser: This is one of the main signs you’re losing weight, and you’re likely to notice it fairly quickly
  • Your weight on the scales is a little higher: While it can be concerning seeing the scales tip higher, it may be a good thing. Muscle mass is denser than fat, so if your weight starts to creep up after 3-4 weeks and you’re noticing increased muscle tone, then you might be gaining muscle
  • Your measurements are different: The scales aren’t necessarily the best way to gauge how much fat you’ve lost, especially because muscle can increase your weight. Instead, a skinfold caliper, a scale that measures body fat or even just a tape measure may be more accurate. They can tell you your body fat percentage or waist circumference, both of which will go down when you lose weight
  • You’re feeling better overall: Weight loss can have lots of positive effects on your overall physical and mental health. Perhaps you’ve got more energy, less chronic pain, lower blood pressure and improved emotional well-being [4][5]

What is a realistic timeline for weight loss?

It might be tempting to go for rapid weight loss, but that’s not the best way to approach the process. 

A safe and healthy rate of weight loss is about 1-2 pounds per week [6]. Anything beyond this is considered too fast and could result in things like loss of muscle mass, weight gain in the long run and a slower metabolism [7].

If you lose weight sustainably, the process could take several months. However, by opting for slower weight loss, you’ll be more likely to keep it off long-term and avoid the potential for negative consequences for your health.

It’s also worth noting that weight loss occurs at a different rate for everyone. The amount of weight you lose and how fast it happens depends on a bunch of factors, including your age, sex, how much you’re exercising, what and how much you’re eating, and your starting weight. Men, for example, tend to lose weight faster than women, as do those with a higher starting weight [8].

How long does it take for people to notice weight loss?

Considering how quickly weight loss happens during stage 1, you — and the people around you — could very well notice your changing body within just a few weeks. 

Remember, though, that it’s not until stage 2 that you’ll lose fat. And because fat loss happens at a slower rate, the changes during this phase may not be as immediately obvious.

How to optimise your weight loss by stage

The 2 stages of weight loss are quite distinct, and each one requires a different approach. That being said, the ultimate goal should be about losing fat without losing muscle.

Here’s how to tackle weight loss by stage.

Stage 1

Stage one is all about laying the foundations for healthy and sustainable weight loss.

Avoid crash dieting

The key to weight loss is entering an energy deficit [9] — that is, burning off more energy than you’re consuming. But this doesn’t mean you should cut out particular foods or food groups, or restrict your energy intake to an unsustainably low level.

When you’re kicking off your weight loss journey, crash diets can be tempting, as they promise you’ll lose a lot of weight quickly. But they can backfire. As we know, losing too much weight over a brief period can cause all kinds of long-term issues including muscle loss.

Overhaul your eating habits

If changing your diet is part of your weight loss strategy, now’s the time to do it. Add fruits, veggies, whole grains and healthy fats to your diet and try to avoid foods that are processed, and high in sugar, salt and saturated fat.

If you’re reducing the amount you eat to lose weight, keep some nutritious snacks on hand in case you get peckish. Raw nuts, Greek yoghurt, hummus and carrot sticks, fruit and air-popped popcorn are all healthy foods that can keep you satisfied between meals.

Go easy on the exercise

Exercise is a crucial component of healthy weight loss, but you don’t need to go all out at the beginning. If you’re new to working out and kick things off with a 1-hour daily jog, you might injure yourself or burn out too quickly.

You could start with a brisk 30-minute on most days of the week, then build up to longer and more intense exercise as you improve your fitness.

Keep track

Keeping a food and exercise diary can help you stay on top of how much energy you’re consuming and how much you’re burning. There are lots of great apps that allow you to track your food intake and exercise, giving you a pretty good idea of your overall energy balance.

Stage 2

In stage 2, you might very well come up against a weight loss plateau. Luckily, there are a few ways to overcome it [2][10].

Assess your habits

Review your food and exercise diary and do an honest assessment of your habits. Maybe you’re sneaking in more chocolate bars and glasses of vino than your diary suggests, or perhaps your workouts have tapered off in recent weeks.

Bending the rules is one of the biggest reasons behind weight loss plateaus, so this could very well be the cause.

Up your workouts

If you’re still doing a 30-minute walk on most days of the week, you might need to up the intensity, frequency or duration of your workouts. A 2015 study found that exercising for 200 minutes or more every week, particularly high-intensity exercise, results in the highest amount of weight loss [11].

While cardio is great, you may need to incorporate resistance training into your workouts, too. Resistance training — also known as weight training or strength training — builds muscle mass, which can actually help you burn even more fat.

Resistance training comes in lots of different forms, but free weights, push-ups, sit-ups, squats and other exercises that work your muscles are all great ways to do it.

Consider a helping hand

If you’re struggling to move through the weight loss plateau or would prefer the support of a dedicated weight loss programme across both stages of your weight loss journey, consider Juniper’s Weight Reset Programme.

Our programme combines proven medication, health coaching and ongoing support to help you lose weight and keep it off. We prescribe one medication because it is the most effective — it’s called Ozempic, it contains semaglutide and is a GLP-1 medication.

Ozempic is clinically proven to reduce your appetite and make you feel fuller for longer, while also reducing cravings by targeting the rewards centre in the brain. For long-term success, changing your eating and movement habits is also crucial, which is why we offer a comprehensive programme that includes 3 core pillars of lifestyle change with the assistance of our UK clinicians.

We can help you break habits that might be impacting your weight and help you hit your weight loss goals sooner.

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