A common question with new online clients who want to be stronger and leaner is how fast should they see weight/fat loss.
Some say lose it fast, while others say a slow approach is better.
There is no right or wrong answer here.
It depends on your personal preference, lifestyle, and your current body composition. There are trade-offs to both, so you must answer these questions for yourself to decide.
Figuring out what works best for you can take time and multiple diets, but figuring this out can save you plenty of headaches down the line.
With online clients, we don’t always focus on losing weight/body fat. We have dedicated times where this our focus, and then other times we focus on maintaining weight or trying to build.
This allows the client to get out of that mindset of always trying to diet.
If you want more info on nutrition periodization, read this blog here.
This blog goes over how we approach a fat loss phase for an online client.
Lets dive into a slower and faster approach so you can figure out what might work best for you.
➡ With a slower approach, the goal is to lose about .25-.75% of bodyweight per week.
For example, a 170lb person would lose about .4 to 1lbs per week.
Pros of a slower approach:
- Increases your chances of maintaining lean body mass (muscle).
- More flexibility with the types of foods you can fit into your diet.
With online clients, we use this approach for someone who doesn’t want to feel overly restrictive with their diet or someone who has multiple events coming up during their fat loss phase.
Since the rate of loss is much slower, they can fit more tasty foods into their diet because they will not have to be in as large of a calorie deficit.
The slower approach lowers the risk of muscle loss, which is ultimately our goal when losing weight. We want to lose fat NOT muscle.
Training also doesn’t suffer too much, since they won’t have a large calorie deficit.
People who don’t have as much weight to lose or are fairly lean/muscular when doing a fat loss phase should also focus on a slower weight loss approach.
The leaner you are when in a calorie deficit, the more likely muscle loss is bound to happen. This also seems to affect men more than women. So a smaller calorie deficit is better for these types of people.
Cons of a slower approach:
- Spend more time trying to lose weight, which takes away from time building muscle (there are a few exceptions to this though)
- There may not be as much of an initial and long-term buy-in to the fat loss phase if its slower.
- More time in “diet mode”.
Anytime you are in a deficit you are lowering your body’s ability to build muscle, especially if you are already fairly lean and have built a good amount of muscle/have been training for a while.
Therefore one of the major downsides to a slower weight loss approach is that this is simply time you could be spending building muscle, which ultimately gives your body that shape you are looking for. Plus who doesn’t like to eat a bit more food. Building muscle also takes time and momentum.
There may also not be as much initial buy-in and long-term buy in to the fat loss program if their results are slower. People want results quick and if they don’t see things changing they are less likely to want to do them. If you feel like you are dieting but not seeing a ton of progress your going to start to question the things you are doing and you may eventually give up.
This is something that as a coach we must take into consideration, but it comes down to knowing the client beforehand.
I know I have lost a client or two by focusing on a slower approach when looking back I should’ve sped things up in the beginning.
For some there may be initial buy-in but as they continue to diet with a slower approach they may also lose patience, so you must take into consideration the long-term buy-in of a slower approach as well.
Lastly, the other downside to a slower approach is this is just more time you have to spend in “diet mode”. While there is more flexibility with their food choices they are still aiming to lose weight. Eventually, some people just get sick of trying to be in that diet mode. It can be draining mentally.
There is one caveat to this…
Sometimes we use this slower approach with online clients who have a lot of weight to lose but have dieted multiple times in the past and wants to get out of that always trying to lose weight mindset.
I find that this gives them flexibility, but they also see the weight trend down over time. The plus here is that they will be resistance training so they will also be building lean body mass which will help with overall body composition. This type of client has probably dieted multiple times in the past with a very restrictive strategy and has seen their weight bounce back multiple times.
The amount of calories this person needs to see a slower weight loss is enough to where they don’t feel overly restrictive but they are also seeing constant progress and the scale trending down. However, they still have to make some sacrifices, so you must pay attention to how they are feeling over time.
Slower weight loss is better for those who don’t have as much body fat/weight to lose as this allows for them to maintain as much lean body mass as possible.
It also better for people who want more flexibility with their food choices.
With online clients who are going with a slower approach, 8-15 weeks at a time seems to be best before taking a diet break.
In the last example, this person could probably spend up to 30 plus weeks in a small deficit. Again monitoring the client is very important here.
➡ With a faster approach, you can lose about .85-1.25% of body weight per week.
For a 170lb person, this is 1.4 to 2.1lbs per week.
Pros of a faster approach:
- You spend less time dieting.
- More initial buy-in to the program.
One of the major pros of the faster weight loss approach is that you spend less time dieting overall. As I mentioned earlier, one of the downsides of a slower approach is that this either time you could be spending building muscle, and it’s just extra time in that “diet mode”. With a faster approach, you can spend less time dieting overall. Think of it like getting in and getting out.
Another pro is that this will get more initial buy-in from people, which in turn gets more long term buy-in to really any intervention you give the client. This can have a very positive impact on their long-term health and nutrition/fitness habits. They see its working so they are more likely to do the things that are necessary. Like I mentioned earlier, I lost a few clients because they didn’t see results right away, if they would’ve how much more of a positive impact could I have had on their long-term nutrition/health?
People who need to see results right away, have higher body fat levels, or who have experience running successful fat loss phases may benefit most from a faster approach.
Downsides to this approach:
- Much larger calorie deficit is needed (less food)
- Doesn’t allow for as much flexibility.
- Increase your risk of losing lean body mass.
- Can feel restrictive.
- Higher chance of rebound.
Less time dieting and more buy-in to the program, what else do you need to hear?
Well unfortunately there are some downsides to a faster approach.
The first is that there is a much larger calorie deficit required for this. Which means less food and less flexibility with food choices.
With less food coming in your training will also be tough. You may also feel less energy, lower sex drives, more fixation with food.
Since you are bringing in less energy and training isn’t as great you risk muscle loss. One of the biggest threats to sticking to your fat loss diet is hunger and cravings as I discuss here.
If you have some events coming up or some parties, you are going to have to pay more attention to how much you are consuming and may need to turn down food/drinks.
Another downside to a faster approach is the increased risk of rebounding after the diet.
The faster approach can be done, but it does require a bit more strategy to ensure it’s done right.
How to use a faster weight loss approach:
- Keep protein intake relatively high. ATLEAST 1g per pound of bodyweight. You may even go higher than this, up to 1.2-1.5g of protein per lb of bodyweight.
- Lift weights. Most people use cardio to lose weight and stop weight training because they think cardio “burns fat”. BIG mistake.
- Make sure you are sleeping 7+ hours per night.
- Go no more than 6-10 weeks.
- Limit processed foods.
This approach seems to be better for those who have high levels of body fat, have experience dieting, and need to see results right away to buy-in.
But realize it comes with more downsides and less flexibility.
Read my rapid fat loss guide here.
With online clients who want a faster approach, we go no more than 6-10 weeks in this phase.
As you can see there is no wrong answer here. When deciding what route to take with online clients, we let them know of the trade-offs of each and then decide which one fits best for them.
Make sure that after each diet phase (whether it’s slow or fast) it’s important to take a diet break temporarily (4-8 weeks) to let your body recover, the goal here is to maintain your new current weight.
This part is boring but it is the MOST important to long term results.
I am currently taking on clients for online nutrition coaching. If you need more accountability/structure then click the link here and let’s get to work.