More than a third of adults in the US are struggling with obesity, and for those feeling as if their weight-loss goals are insurmountable, a new study provides hope in the form of one very attainable benchmark:
Just lose 5 percent of your body weight.
Researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis have discovered that the most profound health benefits come not from losing an extreme number of pounds on the scale, but by simply shedding a small amount relative to your total weight.
"Our findings demonstrate that you get the biggest bang for your buck with 5 percent weight loss," Dr. Samuel Klein, the lead investigator and director of the school's Center For Human Nutrition, told university newsletter The Source. "The current guidelines for treating obesity recommend a 5- to 10-percent weight loss, but losing 5 percent of your body weight is much easier than losing 10 percent. So it may make sense for patients to aim at the easier target."
Not only is that smaller hurdle more realistic, but it also leads to greater gains in overall health — namely, a lowered risk for diabetes and cardiovascular disease and improved metabolic function in key organs like the liver — than even increasing levels of weight loss.
The study — which randomly assigned 40 obese individuals to either maintain their current weight or go on a diet to lose 5, 10, or 15 percent of their body weight — revealed that the biggest improvements occurred when the subjects lost the smallest percentage. They certainly showed continued success with additional weight loss, but the progress wasn't as significant.
So, what does this modest plan really look like?
To put these percentages into perspective, if you weigh 300 pounds, all you need to lose is 15 pounds – far more realistic than even a 10-percent loss, which is 30 pounds.
If you clock in at 175 pounds, dropping less than 9 of those pounds can make all the difference.
This study targeted obese patients – those with a BMI of 30 or greater – in particular, and it is unclear if those who are overweight or simply looking to get into better shape would have the same results.
Still, it's a good universal reminder that if you want to improve your health, you don't have to make a complete, Biggest Loser-esque lifestyle change, which is often not only unsustainable but a precursor to chronic "yo-yo" dieting.
As Klein said: "If you weigh 200 pounds, you will be doing yourself a favor if you can lose 10 pounds and keep it off. You don't have to lose 50 pounds to get important health benefits."