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Lose 10 Pounds in 10 Days!

Can you lose weight that fast? Here's what science says.

By Terry Dunkle
Reprinted from

For a 58-year-old man, I'm in pretty good shape. I run or walk three and a half miles every day—I haven't missed a day this year. I don't smoke or drink (although I do cuss). My blood pressure is 126/78. (I measured it just now with my wrist monitor.) And thanks to those daily workouts, my resting pulse is usually down in the 50s.

Nevertheless, I'm still 30 pounds overweight, and each summer my family requires me to stroll on a public beach near Kennebunkport, Maine, in a pair of royal-blue swimming trunks. So each spring I should be a sucker for a certain kind of email that I'm always receiving (and I'll bet you are, too). Here are three recent examples:

  • Lose Up to 10 LBS THE FIRST WEEK! FREE!
  • Melt Off 5-10 Pounds in the Next 7 Days!

I'm not making these up. I have dozens more. I collect them the way some people collect postcards or paperweights. (I especially enjoy the ones that say, "Loose 10 pounds." Would you trust a weight-loss company that doesn't know the difference between loose and lose?) Elsewhere, I'll tell you some of the hilarious adventures we've had tracking down the senders and testing their products. But right now I'd like to focus on a much simpler question:

Can a person really lose weight that fast?

In other words, if you absolutely have to, can you get down to a size six for your cousin's wedding? Can you pass that life-insurance exam? Can you shed the five pounds the camera will put back on during your "60 Minutes" interview?

If you notice, most of those emails promise weight loss of one or two pounds per day for periods of a week to a month. Suppose we go easy on them and say we only want to drop ten pounds in ten days. Is this doable?

I'm glad I asked that question.

To lose weight, you need to reduce one or more of the three main ingredients in your body:

  • Fat
  • Water
  • Flesh and Bone

Let's start by considering the flesh and bone.

You can easily get rid of ten pounds by cutting off an arm. The average arm weighs just about that much, if you take it off at the shoulder. This is convenient, too, because the arm you'll want to spare also happens to be the better one for holding the saw. I'm right-handed, for example, so I would naturally want to remove my left arm, which I don't use much anyway, except for shaking hands with Bob Dole.

So, yes, you can lose ten pounds in ten days—in fact, you can lose ten pounds in a minute if you have a sharp Homelite and a bottle of Wild Turkey.

Some people, however, will prefer to the second method: losing water. (I'm not going to say which is better. I don't want to take sides here.) The average person sweats, breathes, and pees away about 80 ounces of water a day. This means that eating dry food and shunning all drinks should remove 80 16 = five pounds per day. Easy, huh?

Not easy. Unfortunately, your body desperately wants to replace that water, to keep your blood from getting too salty and short-circuiting the nerve signals that run your brain and muscles. This can rapidly lead to confusion, seizures, coma....

In other words, eschewing liquids may get you the ten-pound loss in only three days—but you'll probably end up wearing that size 6 in your coffin.

So now we're down to the third weight-loss method: burning fat. And here it gets really interesting.

Fat in your body is like gasoline in a car. It stores the energy you need for walking, running, refinancing your mortgage, opening childproof bottle caps, and all the other necessities of life. (Including thinking. Your head uses one-quarter of your total energy expenditure, which may be why Thomas Edison said, "The chief function of your body is to carry your brain around.")

As a storage medium, fat is wonderfully efficient. A pound of body weight contains 3500 calories—almost as much as a pound of gasoline. This is good, because otherwise your body would have to convert excess calories into glycogen, a kind of carbohydrate stored along with water in the liver and muscles. To equal the storage capacity of 50 pounds of fat (the amount in my body right now), this glycogen/water mixture would have to weigh more than 400 pounds—and I would have to weigh more than 550. (I would also have a gigantic liver.)

Because fat is so efficient, however, you need to expend a lot of energy to get rid of a pound of it. A 200-some pounder like me can operate on 2800 calories a day—or 3300 if I throw in my daily walk or run. Since a pound of body weight is 3500 calories, this means I can't lose a pound a day unless I eat nothing and increase my workout to five miles. If you can do this for ten days straight, you're a better (and thinner) person than I am.

If you weigh 400 pounds, however, your energy needs are proportionately higher. You could easily lose a pound a day by eating what I eat instead of what you eat. But you'd feel just as famished as I do when I eat nothing. That's because your body has an amazingly sophisticated system designed to "correct" a sudden weight loss by making you feel ravenously hungry. The only way to fool this system is by losing weight slowly.

Wait a minute, you say. Can't I take a pill or eat something to rev up my metabolism so I burn calories faster?

In fact, this is what most of the products in those emails promise. But the truth is, even a dangerous level of amphetamines (probably the most powerful metabolic booster available) will increase your burn rate by only about 20 percent. You can do better than that by taking a long walk every day.

The only real solution, then, is cutting off your arm. And so far, none of these emails has offered to sell me a chainsaw.

More on this subject later. Right now it's time for me to practice the fourth method of quick weight loss, which I forgot to mention. It works instantly, it's perfectly safe, it's relatively effective, and it costs absolutely nothing. It's called Sucking in Your Gut.

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