How Much Weight Loss Is Concerning?
While many people dream of weight loss, it can sometimes happen to those who don’t want it. Even among those who want to lose weight, excessive weight loss may occur beyond the intended goal. In this article, we are going to discuss how much weight loss is concerning, what causes unwanted weight loss, and when to get help if it happens to you.
How Much Weight Loss Is Concerning?
If you are not trying to lose weight, a 5% decrease in your normal weight in a span of 6 to 12 months is concerning. For example, if you weigh 140 pounds, a 7 pound reduction in your weight within 6 to 12 months would be cause for concern. Or if you normally weigh 180 pounds, a 9 pound decrease would be concerning.
On the other hand, if you are trying to lose weight, it’s hard to know when to worry. A person losing weight in a healthy way is expected to lose about 1 to 2 pounds a week. If you are consistently losing significantly more weight than this, you may need to seek medical help even if the rapid weight loss aligns with your weight loss goals.
Causes of Rapid Weight Loss
Underactive or overactive thyroid. The thyroid is a very important organ in your neck that controls your metabolism. Rapid weight loss is often caused by an overactive thyroid that triggers high rates of metabolism. Higher metabolic rate means more energy requirements which means more burning of fat stores.
Cancer. One of the most common signs of cancer is weight loss. This is because cancer cells often burn energy too causing you to lose weight. Cancer treatments like chemo and radiotherapy can also cause weight loss in patients.
Gastrointestinal (GI) issues. All your energy comes from food which must go through the gut before it is absorbed by the body. If your gut lining is damaged, it may cause a problem with food digestion and absorption. Some of the GI issues that cause this include Inflammatory Bowel Syndrome, Crohn’s disease, and ulcers.
Diabetes. To properly use and store energy, you need adequate levels of the hormone insulin. If your insulin production is compromised, as it often is in those living with diabetes, your body will resort to burning your existing fat stores to generate energy.
Mental health issues. Our mental well-being heavily influences our food choices. This is why one of the common symptoms of mental health disorders is changes in appetite. Conditions like depression, anxiety, and stress can cause loss of appetite, which if not treated, can manifest as weight loss.
Prescription medication. Some prescription medication may cause weight loss as a side effect. This is often caused by changes in appetite or increased metabolism.
Drug abuse. Drugs like meth and cocaine can cause weight loss in abusers by compromising their mental well-being and their appetite.
Heart failure. Rapid or unexplained weight loss might also be a sign of heart disease particularly, Congestive Heart Failure (CHF). CHF is a condition where the heart can’t fill up with blood or can’t pump enough blood or both. The condition compromises how much blood goes and leaves the gut resulting in poor energy digestion and absorption.
When to Get Help
You should seek treatment for unexplained weight loss if you drop more than 5% of your normal body weight in 12 months or less. However, you should still get help as soon as you believe your health is compromised even if you’ve not yet hit this mark.
It is especially crucial to get treatment if your weight loss is accompanied by other signs and symptoms. The signs to watch out for include headaches, loss of appetite, chronic pain, swelling, vomiting, and any unusual changes to your health.
What to do if You’re Losing Too Much Weight
The first course of treatment for unexplained weight loss is identifying and treating the underlying cause.
For example, if your weight loss is caused by depression, you may need to see a therapist. If you are losing weight because of medication, you may need to alter the dose or switch to a more tolerable medication. There is no point in trying to treat your weight loss without treating the underlying cause.
If there is no underlying cause to your weight loss, your doctor or dietitian might recommend increasing your calorie intake to meet your energy needs. This will include adding healthy high calorie foods to your diet. Such foods include avocado, nuts, unprocessed meat, cheese, and olive oil.