We’ve all seen the incredible success stories of people who have lost 20, 40, or even 100lbs, and that’s an amazing achievement. People who lose this much weight look better, feel happier, and usually have more energy and stamina, but have you ever wondered what’s going on beneath the surface?
Losing 10% of your body weight comes with significant impacts on your health - all for the better. Let’s take a closer look at what’s going on in the body when you lose 10% (or more) of your body weight after being overweight.
Why losing 10% of your body weight is so significant
- Lowers the risk of heart disease - Studies have shown that losing around 10% of your body weight can significantly lower the risk of heart disease, by reducing your risk of adult diabetes, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure. This reduces the strain on arteries and makes your heart’s job easier because it doesn’t have to work so hard for each heartbeat.
Lowers the amount of visceral fat in your body - visceral fat (sometimes called active fat) is the fat that develops around your organs in your abdominal cavity.
The fat we can see is subcutaneous fat, which is stored in adipose tissue and has little purpose for us in the modern world. Historically, it would provide our ancestors with energy when there was not enough food available and keep them warm during the winter.
Visceral fat, on the other hand, is called active fat because it influences how our hormones function. When we carry excess visceral fat, we’re at a greater risk of suffering from heart disease, diabetes, stroke, cancer, and Alzheimer’s. The good news is that this fat is one of the first we lose, and when you lose 10% of your body weight, around 30% of that will be visceral fat.
- Your metabolism lowers - Something most people don’t know is your metabolism lowers when you lose weight, due to your reduced size, but it does not recover if you regain the weight. That means that each time we yo-yo diet, we’re actually making things more difficult for ourselves to lose weight and maintain a lower weight in the future.
- Lowers the risk of depression - The link between weight, food, and depression is complex, but many studies have reported that participants found they felt fewer depression symptoms after losing as little as 8% of their body weight. The increased feelings of control, increased activity, and better self-esteem are just two possible factors, but there are chemical factors that need further study.
- Lowers the risk of arthritis - That 10% weight loss will significantly reduce the strain on your joints. More than 58 million adults in the US suffer from arthritis, with 39 million of those being overweight or obese. It’s believed that being overweight directly causes around 25% of all diagnosed cases.
- Lowers the risk of sleep apnea - Most cases of sleep apnea are caused by excess weight. Sleep apnea is where the soft tissue in the throat and mouth relax, blocking airflow. People with sleep apnea snore and may stop breathing. If you are overweight, there’s a greater likelihood of the soft tissue in these areas getting in the way of nighttime breathing.
- Insulin sensitivity improves - When we’re overweight, our bodies lose sensitivity to insulin, which can lead to problems like diabetes. When we lose weight, our bodies are better able to regulate blood sugar levels. Studies have found that a reduction of even just 5% of your body weight can improve your blood sugar levels and better insulin sensitivity.
Why is 10% the magic number?
Nothing magical happens between losing 9% and 11%, but 10% is such a magic number because it’s an amount of weight that most people can lose relatively easily, and maintain. If you weigh 200lbs, losing 20lbs to 180lbs sounds achievable - it’s significant weight, but not such a drastic number that it scares us away from trying.
It’s also relatively easy weight loss to maintain. When you lose 10% of your body weight, and you have 10% to lose without becoming underweight, you can maintain that weight loss without significant deprivation. It’s important to realize that the body will want to return to your old weight for up to a year after you achieve your goal weight.
It’s also an amount of weight that makes a significant difference in the mirror - losing 15, 20, 30 lbs is a significant amount of weight (remember, muscle weighs more than fat) and so 10% less body fat will show up when you look in the mirror.
How do I go about losing 10% of my body weight?
You’ll gain all the benefits of weight loss no matter how you go about losing your weight - whether you exclusively lose weight through your diet, start working out religiously, get weight loss surgery, or work with your doctor and take diet pills along with other methods. The reduced fat in the body will improve your health.
The key difference is if you choose to work with a doctor to use medication or surgery to “shortcut” your results (so to speak, everyone’s route to health is different and valid when advised by an MD), you may need to make some bigger lifestyle changes to maintain the weight loss, over someone who worked to lose it all through a traditional weight loss program and so already understands how to eat and move to maintain the weight loss.
If you are ready to start your weight loss journey, start here.
Dr. Nancy Rahnama, MD, ABOM, ABIM, is a medical doctor board certified by both the American Board of Obesity Medicine and the American Board of Internal Medicine. Her specialty is Clinical Nutrition, that is, the use of nutrition by a medical doctor to diagnose and treat disease. Dr. Rahnama has helped thousands of people achieve their goals of weight loss, gut health, improved mood and sleep, and managing chronic disease.