Man using mobile phone to look up the stages of weight loss

3 Stages Of Weight Loss

Medically reviewed on December 29, 2023 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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Like any other commitment, shedding body weight can feel like a goal of outsized proportions when you’re not sure what to expect from the process. By breaking down the journey into a series of stages of weight loss, you can better see and celebrate your progress.

Weight management regimens are generally categorized into two stages—weight loss and weight maintenance.[1] But, because body composition can impact how much weight you shed when starting a weight loss program, many experts argue for dividing the first stage into two: rapid initial weight loss and gradual weight loss.[2]

Rarely does a weight loss journey follow a straight, uniform pathway. At some point, you may wonder, 'Why does my weight fluctuate so much?' during a particular stage. It’s very common to experience ups, downs, and plateaus on the way to reaching your goal weight. [3] By looking ahead to what you can expect from the journey, you’ll know how to navigate each challenge and achieve a healthier, more balanced outcome.

Stage 1: Rapid Initial Weight Loss

At the start of any weight loss journey, it’s helpful to know where you’re beginning—and not just so you can celebrate your achievements later on.[4]

Several factors play a decisive role in how much weight you lose when you first launch a weight loss regimen [5]:

  • Age – Metabolism tends to slow down as you get older.[6] If you’ve lost muscle mass with age, you’ll burn less energy than you did when you were younger.
  • Biological sex – Generally speaking, men and people assigned male at birth (AMAB) use more energy than women and people assigned female at birth (AFAB).[6] For this reason, men and people AMAB tend to lose weight more rapidly than women and people AFAB.[7]
  • Body composition – Body composition refers to how much body fat, muscle, and bone you have.[5] So, if you start a weight loss program with a partner who weighs the same as you, you may yield different results due to your individual body composition.
  • Basal metabolic rate (BMR) – Your BMR is the rate at which your body uses energy when it’s at rest. It’s greatly influenced by your body composition, as people with a bigger body size or more muscle mass use up more energy.[6]

Your starting BMR is largely responsible for the accelerated fat loss that typically takes place at the beginning of a weight loss regimen.[2] As you lose weight, your BMR will decline, and your body will reduce the amount of energy it uses, resulting in more gradual weight loss down the line.[2] A common question people have is, 'Where does fat go when you lose weight?' Understanding the process of fat metabolism is crucial in this stage.

Individuals who are overweight or obese are more likely to lose body fat early on in the rapid weight loss stage.[2] If you’re not overweight, any pounds you shed are likely the result of losing what’s known as fat-free mass (FFM).[2] This includes substances like [2]:

  • Glycogen, a carbohydrate stored in the muscles and liver[8]
  • Protein, which is held in your muscles
  • Water and fluids, which many people call “water weight”[2]

How Long Does The Rapid Initial Weight Loss Stage Last?

The duration of the initial stage of body weight loss depends on a host of factors, including [9]:

  • Your daily caloric intake
  • How active you are
  • Your body composition
  • Your sleep quantity and quality
  • Any medications you’re taking
  • Living with a chronic health condition

Generally, the rapid weight loss phase typically lasts between 4 and 6 weeks.[2]

Stage 2: Gradual Weight Loss

The gradual weight loss stage begins after your first few weeks on a new program, and it lasts approximately 24 weeks.[2] While you can expect your progress on the scale to be slower, it’s more likely that you’ll lose more fat in phase two and less FFM.[2] During stage two, it’s best to aim for a weight loss rate of .5 to 2 lbs. per week, depending on your initial body size.[10]

That said, biological sex can play a role in your progress at this stage if you’re restricting your caloric intake. In one longitudinal study, researchers found women and people AFAB lost weight 20 to 25% more energy-dense than their male counterparts.[2]

What Happens If I Stop Losing Weight?

It’s normal to reach what’s known as a weight loss “plateau” during the gradual weight loss stage. You may notice weight loss tapering or stagnating for several reasons:

  • Your BMR has declined – As mentioned, your metabolism will slow down when your body size becomes smaller. Your body is expertly efficient at managing its energy needs and expenditures. If it senses it can use less to support your daily functioning, physical activity, and exercise regimen, you’ll notice weight loss slows down.
  • You’re experiencing some “slip-ups” – Many people lose motivation or focus after they’ve adhered to a weight loss regimen for a while.[11] Developing a sensible weight loss program in cooperation with a healthcare provider can help you choose a diet (such as a [low-carb, high-protein diet]( and exercise plan that’s sustainable in the long term.

Sometimes, a stagnated weight loss plateau indicates a need to consume fewer calories to eat less than you use daily. Alternatively, you could try a new exercise program or increase your level of daily physical activity to maintain a calorie deficit.[8]

Calculating an estimate of your BMR can provide a helpful guideline for knowing your optimal calorie intake and how much energy your body needs to stay at its current weight.[12] If you’re still trying to lose weight, it’s a wise idea to work with a trusted healthcare provider or dietitian to ensure you’re eating enough while still working towards your goal weight and overcoming the weight loss plateau.

Stage 3: Weight Maintenance

In the final stage of a weight loss program, the goal is to maintain your achievement by cementing healthy habits and letting go of unhealthy ones. Not only can doing so prevent weight from creeping back, but it’ll also reduce your risk of the many health hazards associated with being overweight or obese, like [13,14]:

  • Certain cancers
  • Diabetes
  • Dyslipidemia (abnormally high levels of triglycerides)
  • Hypertension
  • High LDL cholesterol
  • Mental illness (like depression)
  • Metabolic syndrome [15]
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Sleep apnea
  • Stroke

The weight maintenance stage can be a lifelong journey, especially if you’ve struggled with your weight in the past. You’ll need to adapt to a new mindset to complement and reinforce the dietary and exercise habits you’ve built over the past few months (or longer).

Whether you’ve arrived at stage three or you’re intent on laying the foundation for lifelong well-being, consider these recommendations for enhancing your ability to keep the weight off:

  • Stay away from extremes – People who drastically restrict their calorie intake early on oten find it much more difficult to stick to their program.[11] Your body is intelligent: when its nutritional needs aren’t met, you may be more likely to binge eat or revert to old habits.[16]

    Whether you’re starting a program or maintaining your goal weight, cultivating a forgiving and realistic mindset can keep you motivated to care for yourself and your body.[17]

  • Balance forms of exercise – Experts recommend two varieties of exercise for weight loss and maintenance: aerobic exercise, which promotes cardiovascular health, and strength training, which helps build muscle (which can help enhance your BMR). [6] Ideally, you’ll get at least 30 minutes of movement each day, whether it’s a brisk walk with your dog or resistance training at the gym.[6]
  • Aim for an active lifestyle – It’s not necessary to spend hours in fitness classes or at the gym to achieve your goal weight. Though exercise can have remarkable mental and physical benefits, one of the best ways to build healthy habits for life is to adopt a more active lifestyle with the small choices you make each day. This could be as simple as choosing to take the stairs rather than riding the elevator.
  • Don’t neglect your mental health – For many people, struggles with weight or food are deeply connected to their mental health and psychological well-being. Many people eat for comfort, especially if they struggle with depression, anxiety, or hard life circumstances.[16] Working with a counselor or therapist can help you get to know your habits and triggers better and deconstruct emotional eating patterns that can make it difficult to sustain weight loss.
  • Build a support network – The CDC estimates that nearly ¾ of American adults are overweight or obese.[18] Many people who struggle with their weight experience social isolation, a poorer quality of life, and mental illnesses that stem from feeling disconnected.

    If you’re on a journey to shed weight, you’re certainly not alone. Allying with others who have similar goals can keep you accountable and inspired, and help you feel more emotionally and socially connected.

Any major change or loss—including weight loss—requires people to build something new in its place. Once you’ve lost weight, you might enjoy trying out new habits and hobbies to support your new lifestyle.

You can start by asking yourself if there’s an activity or pastime you’ve been wanting to try, but perhaps weren’t able to because of your body size or mental well-being. Gardening? Cycling? Bird watching? By expanding your concept of “weight loss” into a process of rebuilding your life, you’ll find endless motivation to creatively enjoy it in your healthier body.

Your Weight Loss Journey Starts With Everlywell

With the right support system in your corner, it’s never too late to start your journey through the stages of weight loss to better well-being.

Begin by building a weight loss plan for the long haul with a qualified telehealthcare professional from Everlywell. If your main goal is to lose weight, you’ll receive individualized care aligned with your unique health goals with our online weight management service.

Get started by booking an online health visit with Everlywell today.

Where Does Fat Go When You Lose Weight?

Why Does My Weight Fluctuate So Much?

Fat Loss vs. Weight Loss: What Is the Difference?


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  11. Thomas, Diana M, et al. Effect of Dietary Adherence on the Body Weight Plateau: A Mathematical Model Incorporating Intermittent Compliance with Energy Intake Prescription. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, U.S. National Library of Medicine. September 2014. URL. Accessed December 17, 2023. .
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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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