The 3 Stages of Weight Loss, According to Dietitians [2024]

The three stages of weight loss, according to dietitians, are rapid weight loss, gradual weight loss, and weight maintenance.

Stages of Weight Loss

Embarking on a weight loss journey comes with common hurdles like emotional eating, snacking temptations, and lack of motivation. Overcoming these challenges involves planning snacks, finding healthier alternatives, and engaging in fulfilling activities. Weight loss typically occurs in two stages: initial rapid weight loss, mainly from water loss, followed by slower fat burning. Despite potential plateaus, sticking to healthy habits is key.

Weight Loss Stages
Weight Loss Stages

Prioritize adequate sleep, stress management, and balanced nutrition over crash diets for sustainable results. By focusing on gradual progress and overall well-being, you can successfully navigate your weight loss journey. Here, are the 3 effective weight loss stages.

1. Rapid weight loss

Rapid weight loss is the initial and typically the shortest stage, involving substantial drops in weight as the body adapts to new habits.

When you kickstart a weight loss plan, several factors influence how much weight you’ll initially lose:

  • Age: Metabolism slows as you age, especially if you’ve lost muscle mass over the years.
  • Biological Sex: Men and those assigned male at birth (AMAB) usually burn more energy than women and those assigned female at birth (AFAB), leading to quicker weight loss for men and AMAB individuals.
  • Body Composition: Your mix of body fat, muscle, and bone affects how you respond to weight loss efforts, even if you start with someone of the same weight.
  • Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR): This is how much energy your body uses at rest, influenced by factors like body size and muscle mass. Your starting BMR drives the initial rapid fat loss when you begin a weight loss journey.

As you shed pounds, your BMR decreases, causing weight loss to slow down gradually. People often wonder where the fat goes when they lose weight, highlighting the importance of understanding fat metabolism.

If you’re overweight or obese, you’ll likely lose body fat rapidly at the start. But if you’re not, the pounds you drop may be from losing substances like glycogen, protein, and water weight.

How Long Does the Rapid Initial Weight Loss Stage Last?

This phase typically lasts 4 to 6 weeks and varies based on factors like:

  • Your daily calorie intake
  • Activity level
  • Body composition
  • Sleep quality and quantity
  • Medications
  • Any chronic health conditions you may have

2. Gradual weight loss

Gradual weight loss follows, with a more sustainable rate of weight loss, typically ranging from 0.5 to two pounds per week.

When you begin a new program, the first few weeks are about getting adjusted. After that, the gradual weight loss stage kicks in and lasts for about 24 weeks. During this time, your progress on the scale might slow down, but you’re likely to lose more fat and less of your muscle mass.

What to Aim For

In this stage, it’s recommended to aim for a weight loss rate of around 0.5 to 2 pounds per week, depending on your starting body size.

The Role of Biological Factors

Your biological sex can impact how you progress during this stage, especially if you’re cutting down on calories. Studies have shown that women and individuals assigned female at birth (AFAB) tend to lose weight at a rate that’s 20 to 25% more energy-dense than their male counterparts.

Dealing with Plateaus

It’s common to hit a weight loss “plateau” during this stage, where your progress stalls. This can happen for a few reasons:

  • Decrease in Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR): As your body size shrinks, your metabolism slows down. This means your body becomes more efficient at using energy, which can slow down weight loss.
  • Slip-Ups: Sometimes, motivation or focus can wane after sticking to a weight loss plan for a while. It’s important to develop a sustainable plan with the help of a healthcare provider to stay on track.
  • Adjusting Caloric Intake: If you hit a plateau, it might be time to adjust your calorie intake. You could try consuming fewer calories or increasing your physical activity level to maintain a calorie deficit.

Understanding Your BMR

Calculating your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) can give you a better idea of your calorie needs. Working with a healthcare provider or dietitian can help ensure you’re eating enough while still progressing toward your weight loss goals, even when facing a plateau.

3. Weight maintenance

Finally, weight maintenance is the stage where individuals actively work to sustain their achieved weight loss by finding a sustainable balance between calorie intake and expenditure without excessive restriction, maintaining regular physical activity, and monitoring progress.

The importance of sustainable weight loss and the need to ditch the all-or-nothing mentality. Expert recommends following the MyPlate guidelines, which involve filling half of the plate with vegetables and fruits, a quarter with whole grains, and a quarter with protein and some healthy fat.

Here are some effective tips for maintaining weight loss and adopting a healthier lifestyle:

  • Stay Balanced: Avoid extreme dieting as it can lead to binge eating. Be forgiving and realistic with yourself.
  • Mix It Up: Incorporate both aerobic exercises (like walking or cycling) and strength training (like weightlifting) into your routine. Aim for at least 30 minutes of movement each day.
  • Stay Active: You don’t need to spend hours at the gym. Make small changes like taking the stairs instead of the elevator to stay active throughout the day.
  • Mind Matters: Mental health is crucial. Address emotional eating patterns by working with a therapist or counselor.
  • Seek Support: Connect with others who are also on a weight loss journey. Having a support network can keep you motivated and accountable.
  • Explore New Activities: Try out new hobbies or activities that you couldn’t do before. This could be anything from gardening to bird watching. Embrace the opportunity to rebuild your life more healthily.

By incorporating these tips into your lifestyle, you can maintain your weight loss and enjoy a healthier, happier life.

Additionally, it suggests that weight loss is a long-term commitment and that small habit changes are more effective than crash diets. Seeking help from a registered dietitian to set realistic goals and develop a healthy eating plan is also recommended.

In short, three stages of weight loss according to dietitians are:

  1. Rapid weight loss: The initial phase is characterized by significant drops in weight due to adjustments in diet and lifestyle.
  2. Gradual weight loss: Middle phase featuring slower, sustained weight loss at a safe pace, usually around 0.5–2 lbs per week.
  3. Weight maintenance: The long-term phase focuses on sustaining the desired weight by developing healthy habits and avoiding extreme restrictions

How to stay motivated during weight loss?

  • Know Your Why: Figure out why you want to lose weight and write it down. This keeps you focused and committed.
  • Celebrate Victories: Give yourself credit for every success, no matter how small. Share your achievements on social media or weight loss communities for support.
  • Set Achievable Goals: Aim for realistic goals, like losing 10% of your weight in six months. Focus on maintaining your progress for the long term.
  • Picture Your Success: Visualize yourself reaching your goals. This mental image can be a powerful motivator.
  • Be Kind to Yourself: Practice positive self-talk, especially when things don’t go as planned. Treat yourself with compassion and understanding.
  • Get Expert Advice: Don’t hesitate to seek help from professionals if needed. Feeling confident in your knowledge and abilities boosts your chances of success.
  • Build a Support System: Surround yourself with people who uplift and encourage you on your journey.
  • Keep a Journal: Writing down your thoughts and feelings about weight loss helps you stay connected to your goals.
  • Enjoy the Process: Focus on enjoying the healthy choices you make and overcoming challenges along the way.

In short, by following these effective tips, you can stay motivated and increase your chances of reaching your weight loss goals for the long term.


Which body part loses weight first?

Typically, men tend to notice weight loss in their upper body first, while for women, it often starts in the legs. This happens because women generally have more body fat, particularly around the hips and thighs, which takes longer to shed.

How long does it take for weight loss to show?

The adage suggests that you might start noticing changes in your body after about 4 weeks, your friends might see it after 8 weeks, and it may take up to 12 weeks for everyone else to notice. So, while results may vary, consistency is key to seeing and feeling those improvements over a few months.

What’s the toughest part of a weight loss journey?

You’ve been watching what you eat and hitting the gym regularly, and you’re almost at your goal weight. Then suddenly, you hit a plateau, especially when you’re just a few pounds away from your target. It’s a common frustration that those last few pounds can be stubbornly resistant to any efforts to lose them.


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