Ask Peggy

Are the first pounds lost water weight?

DEAR PEGGY: Whenever I watch my diet, I lose a lot of weight quickly—sometimes 5 to 7 pounds within the first week or two. After that, it's much harder to lose weight. Is it true that the first pounds lost are water weight? —K.C., Berline, New Hampshire

Yes, that's true. When eating fewer calories, the body gets the extra calories it needs from muscle protein. This is the case regardless of what type of calories you consume—protein, carbohydrate or fat.

Protein holds water, so when muscle protein is burned for fuel, water is released and eliminated from the body. And remember that while water might not have any calories, it can be heavy.

Your body doesn't continuously draw calories from muscle, however. As it adjusts to the reduction in calories, it burns stored fat for energy. When stored fat is used, weight loss slows because water isn't released as it is when the protein breaks down.

Remember that losing weight takes time. For every 3,500 calories you expend beyond your intake, you'll lose a pound of fat. If you consume 1,500 calories a day and burn 2,000 calories each day, you can count on losing a pound per week. Increase the calories you burn by becoming more active and weight loss will follow.