Don’t Get Tied Up With Short Term Weight Loss Goals…Long Term Weight Loss Is What Counts!

To begin with I’d like to touch on what’s meant by the term weight loss, it can be the source of some confusion for a surprisingly large portion of the population. Some personal trainers and other fitness enthusiasts, in all their wisdom, like to gauge success by the amount of weight someone loses irrespective of what the composition of this lost weight might be. Weight loss is a term used to describe a decrease in body weight, irrespective of the composition of weight loss. When it comes to losing weight there are a few hard and fast rules that need to be respected 1.) weight loss is not an indicator of health and wellbeing 2.) weight loss is not a good indicator of nutritional adequacy 3.) weight loss can arise as a result of fat, muscle, water, faecal or bone mineral losses, and 4.) weight loss in the short term is of minimal benefit to chronic health…the key is to achieve sustainable weight loss.

'Manageable weight loss' is a hot topic

My article is timely because the government, and in particular the NHS have recently accepted the fact that gradual, small amounts of weight loss is more sustainable for the general public. This is thought to be attributed to the feeling of success that follows even modest weight loss, in turn encouraging people to lose more! In the health, wellbeing and fitness industry, ‘weight loss’ should be all about healthy weight loss, so it’s no good someone losing 16kg in a month if a large proportion of this weight loss is muscle. Someone can lose weight and be completely malnourished in terms of total calories, vitamins and minerals, or they can manage to lose weight whilst maintaining lean mass as well as stripping off body fat.

What the Institute of Medicine has to say on matters

The goal has to be for sustainable, healthy weight loss in the form of subcutaneous (under the skin) and visceral fat (fat surrounding the bodily organs). This is generally achieved by entering a calorie deficit that remains nutrient dense and balanced i.e. still meets adequate protein, carb and fat ratios, but is low enough to invoke some fat loss. The Institute of Medicine’s definition of ‘weight loss’ goes some way to clearing any ambiguity with regards to what constitutes acceptable weight loss…they explain the following:

‘successful weight gain is deemed to be more than or equal to 5% reduction in baseline weight at more than or equal to 1 year follow up from initial treatment’.

The institute go on to say that the clinical or health relevance depends solely on the long term, rather than the short term outcomes. In other words, if the weight reduction is not maintained then there is far less chance of the health benefits (reduction in heart disease and Diabetes risk to name a few) being sustained. In general those who lose weight lose approx 5-10% of their total bodyweight, only to regain approx 75% of it in less than a year, with many regaining it all within 5 years! The message has to be to adhere to a healthy, balanced lifestyle that incorporates both regular physical activity and a healthy diet. A health professional, Dietitian, trainer or other health and fitness coach should aim to set strategies for individuals to self- monitor (this can be very empowering), realistic goal setting, stimulus control (removing external prompts to eat or drink), cognitive restructuring (adjusting ones perception of eating, so trying to negate emotional eating etc), and stress management (which is often directly correlated to being overweight and relatively unhealthy).


Institute of Medicine (IOM), (1995). Weighing the options: Criteria for evaluating weight management programs. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.

Nestle Nutrition Institute, (2014). Behavioural intervention in obesity treatment. Retrieved 29th May, 2014, from

About the Author

Job Role Qualified Dietitian and Sports Nutritionist Qualifications BSc (Hons) Sports Science | BSc (Hons) Dietetics Tom has always participated in sport both recreationally and competitively which led to an unquenchable thirst for information on anything health, nutrition and fitness. After leaving school Tom went on to play for a football academy during which time he studied Sport and Exercise Science. From here he went on to study a BSc (Hons) Sport Science at UEA followed by his second BSc (Hons) degree, this time at the University of Hertfordshire studying Dietetics. Tom has worked in the fitness, educational and clinical nutrition industry starting out at David Lloyd Health and Leisure Clubs. He then went on to work as a Dietitian (RD) in the NHS, during which time he conducted clinics for healthy eating, weight loss and weight gain, as well as specialised consultations on Diabetes, IBS and Coeliac disease to name a few. He has vast amounts of experience at devising diet plans and supplement regimens, as well as working in the community with schools and competitive athletes. As Head Nutritionist and Supplement expert at Discount Supplements Tom is here to provide current and evidence based health and nutrition information to help you reach your health and fitness goals!
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