Work out class of men and women noticing different body stages of weight loss

Body Stages of Weight Loss

Written on January 19, 2024 by Jillian Foglesong Stabile, MD, FAAFP. To give you technically accurate, evidence-based information, content published on the Everlywell blog is reviewed by credentialed professionals with expertise in medical and bioscience fields.

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With obesity rates growing in the United States, many people are looking for ways to shed some pounds. If you are one of these people, you may be wondering about the body stages of weight loss. What changes does your body go through as you work towards your weight loss goals?

Weight gain is the result of more energy going into the body than going out of the body. Long-term increases in total energy intake have led to a global problem with weight gain and obesity.[1] Unfortunately, diet and exercise alone may not sustain long-term weight loss. Understanding the more complex body processes involved in your journey may help prevent you from becoming discouraged during this process.

Many factors affect how quickly you will lose weight and how much weight you will use. The duration of exercise and how many calories you can consume are things you can control, but some factors you can’t control, such as [2]:

  • Your age
  • Your biological sex
  • Your body composition
  • Your basal metabolic rate (BMR): the amount of energy your body uses on a daily basis to maintain basic functions

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Water Weight Loss

As you start your weight loss journey, your body may rapidly shed water weight due to decreased carbohydrate and water retention.[3] Your body stores carbohydrates for use as energy. It does this in the liver in the form of glycogen. It takes a lot of water to store glycogen. One gram of glycogen requires three grams of water for storage.[4]

Decreasing your carbohydrate intake will cause your body to release water as the body uses the glycogen stores from the liver. As this happens, you’ll likely see visible changes such as decreasing numbers on the scale, improved energy, and decreased bloating and puffiness.

Fat Loss

After the initial weight loss associated with your body shedding water as it depletes its glycogen stores, the body will begin to burn fat for energy. The body will start to experience hormone changes that promote fat loss, including the release of a hormone called adiponectin.[5] Fat-related weight loss is slower than water weight loss.

This stage of weight loss usually starts around the three-month mark in your journey, though this can vary based on a number of factors.[6] If you’re still losing weight rapidly at this point, you may need to assess whether you are losing muscle mass in addition to fat loss. Excessive loss of lean muscle mass can damage your metabolism.[7]

Muscle Changes With Weight Loss

Your muscles store protein from your diet. Your body can and will convert protein into glucose when you are in a calorie deficit.[8] Your body does this to supply energy to the parts of the body that cannot use the energy stored in fat cells. The brain is one of the parts of your body that cannot use fat-stored energy. The amount of muscle you lose will depend on several factors, such as [9]:

  • Ethnicity
  • Genetics
  • Dietary changes
  • How much weight you end up losing

While some muscle loss is inevitable when you lose weight, you can mitigate some of the muscle loss with regular physical activity, especially resistance/strength training. Dietary protein intake can also affect muscle protein synthesis and breakdown.

Weight-Loss Plateau

If your weight loss has suddenly stopped despite continuing your diet and exercise plan, you may be experiencing a weight-loss plateau. Your body is extremely efficient and will begin to compensate for the lifestyle changes you are making. Weight loss cannot happen without a calorie deficit; over time, the body will adjust some of its metabolic processes to be more efficient.

As you lose weight, your energy expenditure decreases.[6] It takes less energy to do even basic activities when there is less of you to move from place to place. Varying the intensity and types of exercise you are doing is one way to work past a weight-loss plateau.

Manage Your Weight Loss Journey With Everlywell

Whether you’re just starting to take control of your health, or you’ve hit a weight-loss plateau, Everlywell is here to help. Our comprehensive Weight Care+ program gives you access to regular virtual visits with a licensed healthcare provider, lifestyle content and support, regular lab tests and supplements, and access to prescribed weight loss medications for qualified candidates. Take control of your weight loss journey with Everlywell today.

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  1. Greenway FL. Physiological adaptations to weight loss and factors favouring weight regain. International Journal of Obesity. 2015; 39:1188-1196.
  2. Medicine, Sports. Body Composition: UC Davis Sports Medicine: UC Davis Health. Body Composition. UC Davis Sports Medicine. Accessed January 12, 2024.
  3. Heymsfield SB, Thomas D, Martin CK, et al. Energy content of weight loss: kinetic features during voluntary caloric restriction. Metabolism. 2012;61(7).
  4. Fernandez-Elias VE, Ortega JF, Nelson RK, eg al.. Relationship between muscle water and glycogen recovery after prolonged exercise in the heat in humans. Eur J Appl Physiol 2015;115:1919-1926.
  5. El-Zayat SR, Sibaii H, El-Shamy KA. Physiological process of fat loss. Bulletin of the National Research Centre. 2019;43(208).
  6. Sarwan G, Rehman A. Management of weight loss plateau. StatPearls [Internet]. January 11, 2024. Published October 24, 2022.
  7. Ashtar-Larky D, Ghanavati M, Lamuchi-Deli N, et al.. Rapid weight loss vs. slow weight loss: which is more effective on body composition and metabolic risk factors? Int J Endocrinol Metab. 2017; 15(3):e14249.
  8. Weiss EP, Jordan RC, Frese EM, et al. Effects of weight loss on lean mass, strength, bone, and aerobic capacity. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2017;49(1):206-217.,resting%20metabolic%20rate%20(13).
  9. Collins A. Why you don’t just lose fat when you’re on a diet. Scientific American. January 12, 2024. Published July 13, 2023.
  10. Cava E, Yeat NC, Mittendorfer B. Preserving healthy muscle during weight loss. Adv Nutr. 2017 8(3):511-519.

Jillian Foglesong Stabile, MD, FAAFP is a board-certified Family Physician. Since completing her residency training in 2010, she’s been practicing full-scope family medicine in a rural setting. Dr. Foglesong Stabile’s practice includes caring for patients of all ages for preventative care as well as chronic disease management. She also provides prenatal care and delivers babies. Dr. Foglesong Stabile completed a teaching fellowship in 2020 and teaches the family medicine clerkship for one of her local medical schools. Dr. Foglesong Stabile’s favorite thing about family medicine is the variety of patients she sees in her clinical practice.

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