The Weight Loss Snowball

Snowball Fight

CC Stéfan

Do you expect that when you start a weight loss program that the weight should immediately start coming off at a pace of 1-2 lbs per week?

In the words of Robin Williams, in Good Will Hunting, ‘It’s not your fault.’

Now it’s typical for me to set realistic expectations with the people I work with in that the recommendation for healthy weight loss is 1-2 lbs per week.

What I need to clarify is that this is an ‘average’ of various research studies — so over the course of a 15 week, a 26 week, or 52 week study — we’ve averaged up the total amount of weight loss and divided it by the number of weeks.

That doesn’t mean that people ever consistently lose 1-2 lbs per week though.

Organizations like Weight Watchers have been getting together since the 60’s to have group discussions and praise small changes in weight (often 0.5-2 lbs), have probably perpetuated the misunderstanding too.

Like everything else, context is very important in the interpretation of that kind of data, and like most research, you can only try to hone in on one variable.

Unfortunately, the real world doesn’t look like that, weight loss is always a multi-centric (multi-variable) problem to solve.

What I’ve found increasingly interesting is that, in the process of helping people lose weight, my data tells me something very different about weight loss, that many people simply aren’t aware of.

First, it isn’t linear.

One of the biggest pitfalls most people experience in a weight loss pursuit or even a performance pursuit is that of  linear bias.

Most human beings have this bias, towards viewing most things as an incremental process, that you will see consistent measurable change through.

That is our left brain interfering with our right brains holistic outlook.

If you’ve been put through the North American education system in the last 100 years, you’ve probably experienced more left brain bias, than right brain bias, and consequently experience more of a linear bias and less of a holistic outlook ability as a result.

We have a tendency to believe that eating or exercising great for one month at a time, will eventually add up, even if we take one or two weeks off in between.

We love the idea of going all out for 90 days because of this bias.

Think about this…

…Would you rather be given $100 a week, or given 2 cents squared every week?

Most people say that they would rather receive $100 each week than a mere 2 cents, but if you did, you’d be potentially missing out on hundreds, or thousands of dollars in money paid later in the process.

By week 7, taking significantly less money to start leads to significantly more money later, because of exponential gain, instead of linear gain.

7 x $100 = $700


Week 1 = 2 cents

Week 2 = 4 cents

Week 3 = 16 cents

Week 4 = $2.56 cents

Week 5 = $6.55

Week 6 = $42.90

Week 7 = $1840.41 (or $1892.64 cumulative total)

Exponents are fantastic aren’t they?

Illustration of the Exponential function

Weight loss works in the exact same fashion — but opposite in curvature to what you see above… —  by starting small and making small incremental improvements done consistently day to day or week to week, weight loss builds an exponential curve tendency.

As desirable to your left brain as it is to make big impactful steps, you can clearly see it is far more rewarding to utilize the example above in the long-run, and that these small incremental steps add up until they swell in effectivness.

Honestly, what I’m about to reveal ‘time-wise‘ depends on how new someone is to fitness.

The longer it takes me to teach them the appropriate skills (nutrition, movement and mindset), the longer it takes for this exponential snowballing action to become noticeable.

Vice versa, the more experienced someone is, the less time it takes to hit that period.

I tend to see a light switch flip on someone’s progress generally at about the 8-16 week period, and you’ve probably experienced it yourself if you ever stayed committed to a program for at least that amount of time or longer.

This is generally the reason I avoid working with people for periods less than 3 months.

Why is it that you may only lose half a pound the first four weeks, but then suddenly you lose 2 or 3 in the next four weeks, then suddenly 4 or 5 in next four?

The Snowball Effect

The snowball effect is something worthwhile to consider when losing weight, especially if you’ve been at it for 4-8 weeks now, and haven’t really seen any results, or at least feel like you haven’t seen any results.

Don’t fret, because of this phenomenon, if you stick the course, you will probably see dramatic change in the near future.

If you’re struggling with the first few weeks, often the best suggestions I can make is to give it more time.

Know what they say about patience being a virtue?

My clients are always amazed at the sudden onslaught of weight that comes off with a little patience, and this isn’t the water weight that a month long program would help you lose either, these are real metabolic changes that are yielding actual long-lasting results, provided you don’t stop now.

This brings me to the second pitfall, I see in the process of weight loss.

When we often start to see the results we want, we’ll ride that tidal wave to shore.

When things start going good, it is easy for us to forget to steer that elephant on the path we’ve been on and he/she will again eventually start looking for that all too familiar path that leads back to the road you were on.

You’re more likely to take liberties when you feel good about the situation, but you’re not over the hump yet, until the skill, habit or behavior you are trying to change for the better becomes automatic.

So be patient, focus on little continuous improvements, and you’ll be surprised by the end result.

Leave a comment if you have a great story about patience being a virtue in your own quest.

7 thoughts on “The Weight Loss Snowball”

  1. Nah, actually you were right, caught me writing too quickly without double checking my figures. The principle is still sound but I goofed on the math (I had originally done the problem with $2, not $0.02), so it’s actually week 7 where you see considerably more gain (not week 5). Anyways, you get the idea, thanks for pointing out out my ‘whoops…’

  2. love this article, so motivating…and lol at whoever actually did the 2.56^2 math…oh lawd

  3. I originally goofed on the math, but corrected it after Geeth left their comments, so ya it doesn’t add up to the comments anymore. It was more meant just to show how weight loss typically works (on an exponential curve as opposed to a linear one). Thanks for the comment Laura!

Leave a Reply