Why You REALLY Lost 10 lbs in One Week

Why You REALLY Lost 10 lbs in One Week

Yay! You did it. You spent a week eating only cabbage soup and lemonade (or was it eggs and chicken breasts?)–and now you’re reaping the rewards. You step on the scale and WOW, you really lost 10 lbs in one week. The diet book was right! The fat is melting off you… or is it? You may like the number on the scale, but the tale it tells is not a success story. In fact, it’s a serious warning sign from your body.

What are You Really Losing on that Diet?

Nope, it wasn’t all fat. I won’t lie and say none of that weight was fat–but it’s probably a lot less than you think. Just to run the numbers, a pound of fat equals about 3,500 calories. So even if you’re only eating 800 calories a day for one week (which is HALF of what an average woman IN A COMA needs to maintain proper body functions), you’re not likely to burn more than about 2-3 lbs of actual fat. So where’s the rest coming from? Here’s what really changed the weight on the scale:

1. Water

We can’t live without it, but it’s the first thing the body flushes down the toilet (literally) when we go on a crash diet. Crash diets cause our stress hormones to soar sky high, which in turn leads our bodies to dump water like Niagara Falls.

2. Glycogen

This is similar to water weight, and the two go hand in hand. In very basic terms, glycogen is basically stored glucose, or sugar. (Yes, in spite of what you may have heard, your body does store sugar for energy, not just fat).

This glycogen is very easy for the body to access–in fact, you are burning glycogen between meals, during heavy exercise, and all night long while you sleep. Well, when you crash diet, glycogen is the easiest way for your body to get some energy, and it will consume it all very quickly since you’re simply not eating enough to sustain yourself.

Glycogen is stored with water, so using glycogen can cause quite a bit of water loss. Between water and glycogen, your body can easily shed several pounds in just a few days without burning off an ounce of fat. It makes the scale move, though, so if all you care about is a number then it might make you (temporarily) feel happy.

3. Muscle

High stress hormones help the body access protein stores for quick energy. Not only can your body use the protein as protein is normally used in the body, but it can also break it down into sugar (aka energy) to use while you’re busy depriving yourself of energy from your diet. In the face of starvation (aka crash diets), your body is going to access this protein more readily than it will your body fat.

4. Bone

Yup. Crash diets are linked to higher “bone turnover” — basically your body is pulling nutrients from your bones during a crash diet. This can actually increase your risk of fractures! Scary stuff. If you want strong bones, crash dieting is not the way to go.

What else are you losing?

This doesn’t even take into account the mineral loss that often comes with flushing so much water out of your system–precious electrolytes like magnesium and potassium usually take the plunge, too, which can leave you feeling a little lifeless.

Not to mention the things that are harder to quantify–like your dignity, your self-worth, your body image. Usually these take a serious hit when you subject your body to torture crash diets all in the name of a smaller swimsuit.

By the Way, Those Aren’t Detox Symptoms

A lot of these popular crash diets masquerade as “cleanses” and “detox diets” that are supposed to rid your body of toxins. Then they claim the headaches, fatigue, and general moodiness are symptoms of your body “cleansing” itself.

Don’t be fooled. These are symptoms of starving yourself. These are symptoms of your body coping with a sudden drop in energy intake. Because the only thing important during a famine (and yes, your body sees a “cleanse” as a famine) is keeping you alive–your body doesn’t care if you have a headache, feel dizzy, and don’t want to get out of bed during a famine. In fact, its chief concern at that moment is conserving energy as much as possible. Sort of the opposite of what you want if your goal is to lose weight.

The Moral of the Story

Crash dieting is a miserable experience. It’s also pointless. You’re suffering a lot, getting nowhere, and probably setting yourself up for failure (and even more serious problems). Skip the crash diets.

Do this instead: Eat balanced. Have dessert. Live healthy. Move your body. Smile. Take a walk in the sunshine. Give your body energy (you know, that stuff called food)–it will thank you in so many ways.

If you like this post, you might also enjoy reading my books The Nourished Metabolism (all about living a healthy, balanced life that promotes metabolic health) and Love Your Body (to help you break free from body hate).


Why You REALLY Lost 10 lbs in One Week - The Nourished Life


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      • So, I started eating healthy (more fruits and veggies and less junk food) and I went from 211.4lbs to 199.6 lbs. what’s happening? I’m not starving myself, I’m just eating better, so I don’t really understand. In addition to eating better I’ve switched from coffee to green tea.

        • That’s awesome you’re working on making healthy changes! As long as you feel better and feel like your body is getting plenty of energy, then everything is probably fine. When you change your diet, your weight can sometimes change drastically in the first week due to a shift in your water balance. It’s just not something you should expect to continue, or try to force your body to continue doing, if that makes sense. :)

          • I’m so glad you replied in a positive way to this post. When I read your article I thought that you didn’t know what you were talking about. The first ten pounds drop off when you make positive changes, even for someone like me who is insulin resistant. The body does not go into famine mode when you cut out all the sugar and high calorie carbs, it does just the opposite. It thanks you by unloading stored sugar and fat. I just lost 7 lbs in 5 days from just eating good food all day long. No starvation, just no bloating. It’s not going to last, but the first 10-15 lbs drop off quickly if you cut out everything you don’t much need and replace it with a variety of nutrition dense food like meat, veggies, fruit. That’s all it takes.

  1. Ok, you are freaking me out – even tho I am telling myself I am not doing any of what you said!! I have lost 60 pounds in the last 8 months (and my husband has lost 40) and we are certainly not starving. We eat mostly pastured, free range meat (or at least organic) and organic local veggies with plenty of (what I consider) good fats – avocado, coconut oil, raw pastured butter, and olive and flax oils in our salad dressing… We eat no dairy except raw pastured butter, no wheat, almost no grains, no soy (never did:-), and the biggie is no sugars (we don’t touch artificial sweeteners either). We drink only water, lemon water, or one daily cup of herbal tea, but we have done that for a long time. We have had a few desserts along the way, but whoever thought I would list a cooked apple (no added sweetener) as a dessert?! We have tried to be flexible along the way, but every time we try a little (raw pastured) dairy or wheat it makes us sick and we are less inclined to do so again. My husband is close to his ideal weight, but I still have quite a bit to lose. The question is WHAT am I losing? I have tried to be healthy about it, nothing drastic or sudden. But I don’t want to end up unhealthy for the effort. And now the added “Catch 22” of not being able to eat things we used to! This has really come to a head the last few weeks as my husband hurt his back at work (lifting a 150 pound pump out of the lake off a dock by himself) and you would not believe the people who have chewed me out for our “diet”!! Like it caused his back issues? So is it ever possible to lose weight naturally and be more healthy, or are we fooling ourselves?

    • I have lost close to 60 lbs in the past year doing the same thing myself. As long as your food is balanced you are doing just fine! She’s talking about the people that are doing crazy crash diets that don’t include real food or weird juice cleanses or detoxes. You are talking about long term eating habits, basically dumping processed foods, which in term will cause a lot of weight loss. The only thing I would recommend is strength training a couple times a week because muscle is a use it or lose it thing. Plus if you’re like me, if you have that much to lose you need strength training to keep from getting saggy skin. So basically yes you can lose weight in a healthy way and as long as you are balancing it out it sounds like that’s what you are doing. Congrarulations!

      • I agree with Angela. As long as you’re listening to your body and eating a generally balanced diet (with some flexibility now and then if you need it), it’s not something to worry too much about. I also agree that strength training is an excellent way to help you maintain lean mass (both bone and muscle).

        A good idea is to look beyond the scale. It might help to track measurements every few weeks (especially the waist and hips for women). Also, take note of how you feel. Are you sleeping well? Do you have enough energy? You can also track your body temperature as an indicator of how your body is doing. Just take your temperature first thing in the morning before you get up–if you’re under 97.8 that could indicate low thyroid function, which might mean your diet isn’t supporting your metabolic health. The most important thing is to not let the scale get in the way of being truly healthy.

  2. THANK YOU for this article. It is sad that we have been taught to focus on a number on the scale when there is SO much more to our health than our weight.

  3. Several years ago before I started cooking a traditional diet for me & my husband, we did a lowfat diet( I know :( I didn’t know better) we both walked for exercise and lost weight. I gained some of mine back before I started eating right but my husband did not and even now with adding the traditional fats and healthy grains, his hands and feet are alway freezing. His thyriod has been tested and was normal. I really think our lowfat diet messed him up. His weight is still down but is a normal weight. We drink raw milk and grind our own grains. What can I do?

    • Eating enough in general, a balance of macronutrients (fats, carbs, proteins), and also enough salt really helps me with cold hands and feet. The salt has been really helpful to me. I also started taking Lugol’s iodine drops and dessicated liver this year, and I feel it’s really helped as well.

      • I have also had some of the symptoms of thyroid being off with the cold hands and very dry skin. Also, lately, I’ve craved salt, even though I salt food liberally. My Dr. has checked my thyroid several times and it is always normal. I’m not sure he is checking all parts of it. Have read there are other tests dealing with T3 and T4. I purchased the Lugol’s iodine drops, but am unsure how much to use. I don’t want to overdo that either. Any suggestions?

        • I personally use Lugol’s 2% solution, about 5 drops per day (each drop is equal to 2.5 mg of iodine). It’s usually recommended to start off with 1 drop per day and work yourself up as needed. I’ve taken more, but I don’t tend to notice more benefits. 5 drops a day seems to be just right for me.

        • Yes, get all those other tests done for a complete thyroid/hormonal function overview. I have Hashimotos Thyroiditis, but my doctor (GP) just wanted me to take a low dose of replacement thyroid hormone. When I went to an endocrinologist to have a more complete workup done, there were issues that needed addressing. I’m addressing them mostly through diet/proper nutrition, but the correct dosage of the hormone was actually 3x the amount the GP had me on. THey don’t see the big picture, and cold hands and feet are one of those tell-tale signs. If it’s not a thyroid issue, sometimes an endo can help see what is out of whack that is causing his temperature changes.

  4. After years of regular exercise and a healthy diet, I could not lose a single pound. I tried going moderately low-carb for one week (100 grams max, I’m Asian so I used to eat a lot of rice before going low-carb) and ate as much as normal as far as calories are concerned. Btw I am already athletic to begin with. I lost 10 lbs in a week. I don’t know how it happened, I never went hungry these past few days, I worked out as normal, and I dropped 10 lbs. Not sure whether I should be scared, I didn’t actively try to lose 10 lbs, I just wanted to lose a pound a week.

    • Anne, cutting back on carbs will automatically cause your body to dump water, which usually results in a huge weight loss during the first week or so. This is pretty typical and doesn’t reflect how the diet will work for someone long term.

  5. I googled “I lost ten pounds in a week ” and that’s hiw I git here. I googled it cause I wanted to know if I should be concerned. 6 days ago I started changing my diet by eliminating processed foods and keeping my sugar to under 25 grams a day. This from being a heavy soda drinker and earing lots of processed and fast food. I also started insanity and weight training. I have lost ten pounds and I have never once felt hungry. I have huge green smoothies once a day, eat bacon, eggs, chicken, fruit and vegetables, healthy fatty oils, seeds, nuts and healthy grains. As soon as I get a hunger pang, I eat until it’s gone. Does this sound unhealthy to you? I don’t see myself as a crash dieter.

    • Those are some pretty big dietary and activity changes, which can cause a lot of water loss in the beginning. Depending on your current size, it might not be a big concern. The heavier we are, the more weight we tend to drop at first. It sounds like you’re not doing anything too crazy like cutting out huge food groups or macronutrients, so that’s a good thing. I would encourage you to make sure you know your energy needs with your new activity level (I use this site: http://www.health-calc.com/diet/energy-expenditure-advanced) and make sure you’re eating enough to fuel that activity. A moderate deficit is usually okay, but it’s something you don’t want to overdo.

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  11. This is not all accurate. I will agree that not only fat is lost, but muscle is not lost I seven days. Protein is the body’s third energy source. Carbs, fats, proteins. Depriving ourselves of carbs, causes an automatic shift and we will then deplete ouglycogen storage. Once that is deplenished, we burn fat as fuel. This is ideal. Historically, human fat and protein consumption has been high when compared to carb intake and they had far incidence of disease. Furthermore, it takes a long time to tap into protein for fuel. Sugar is not our only source of eneregy and those terms should not be used interchangeably. Comatose caloric needs are based on weight, height, BMI. There isn’t one number. You cannot use that example when talking about weight loss because in order to lose weight you MUST take in fewer calories than you expend. I do agree that crash diets are unhealthy and set us up for fail, but sugar is the devil and people who have slowly changed their diets to include healthy fats and proteins with few sugars and grains have health and energy.

      • Nothing wrong with losing a lot of water from a diet, not at all. Water is part of overweight or at least an over-fat appearance. It is right that this excess water be discharged.

        • I agree to a certain extent — water loss is part of the equation when you’re losing weight, and sometimes if you are holding on to fat weight you might be holding on to water weight as well. It’s a complex issue. But typically marketers use that initial water loss as a way to pitch their diet as “amazingly” effective, when it’s just simple biology, and that whoosh of water loss means nothing when it comes to being healthy over the long term.

  12. Got to disagree slightly with most comments
    I started at 15stone 9pounds about 2 months ago.
    I chose the military diet 3 days on 4 days off.
    I also used the gym everyday (classes and weights and cardio days)
    I know weigh 13 stone 6lbs
    I’m a 6ft male 31 years old and have definition I thought I’d never achieve.

    Maybe I was lucky but crash diets and exercise worked for me and I’ve never been happier

    • Everyone is different, but generally speaking crash diets tend to backfire for a lot of people. Three days on with four days off may have very different effects than an ongoing crash diet where you eat very little for many days (or even weeks or months) at a time. For me personally, the mental effects of extreme diets are why I gave up dieting, and I’ve been much happier and healthier since then. It’s good to know yourself and what works for you. :)

  13. I have to disagree as well, i’m a 6’4 male that weighed 393 lbs just 3 days ago and I cut out almost all carbs and sugar, my diet consists of grilled/ baked chicken and vegetables, tuna and strawberry cheerios for breakfast and organic apples for snacks, I just woke up and hopped on the scale and i’m down 13lbs in 3 days, and i don’t even consider this a crash diet, cutting out processed sugars/carbs has been working great, Oh yea I just got back to working out and I can’t say i know how to take it easy in the gym :)

    • You’re right — losing weight quickly doesn’t necessarily mean you’re on a crash diet. The heavier you are, the more water weight is carried in body tissues, and more is lost when you cut things like carbs, calories, and/or salt. It’s not that what you’re doing is wrong or unhealthy, it’s just that a whoosh of water weight loss is going to happen that first week regardless. In your case, losing that much so quickly is likely unavoidable even with minor changes in your diet and I wouldn’t worry about it much.

      It’s the mentality that everyone — no matter their size or current health — should expect to be able to lose 10 lbs in a week that I have a problem with. Obviously it varies from person to person. When I see 130 lb women expect to drop several pounds in a week, that’s when I become skeptical. I’m all about listening to your body and doing what’s right for you as an individual. :)

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