Let’s be real: Losing weight is hard. And sometimes, it can feel like you don’t see any results, no matter how hard you try. But even if you don’t see the fruits of your efforts in the mirror (yet!), subtle changes are starting to happen in your body—even if you just lose five pounds.
That’s right: you don’t need to lose a dramatic number of pounds for your body to start to transform. Here are 13 things that happen to your body when you start shedding weight. And if you lose more than five pounds, you’ll rack up the health benefits and see even more noticeable differences.
To lose weight, you take in fewer calories than you expend. But where does your body get the extra energy it needs? Your fat cells. “As your body starts to pull energy from your fat cells to make up for the energy from the food you’re not eating, your fat cells will shrink,” says Dr. Mike Roussell, PhD, co-founder of Neuro Coffee. And if you need more incentive to keep the weight off, Rousell says that rapidly regaining weight can hyper-inflate your fat cells. “They become bigger than they were before you lost weight,” he says.
Shedding a few pounds may improve your body’s ability to dial into your blood sugar. “Eating less and exerting yourself more will lead to greater insulin sensitivity, which allows your body to better control and stabilize blood sugar levels,” says Roussell. Keeping your blood sugar levels balanced can help you avoid hunger pains.
And it’s not just your imagination. “When you reduce your calories to lose weight, your body will release higher amounts of a hormone called ghrelin. Ghrelin tells your brain that you are hungry and could eat,” says Rousell. No wonder you’re always hungry when you try to lose weight!
While inflammation is part of your body’s natural defense system, carrying extra weight can cause it to go into overdrive, leading to chronic health conditions like heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. But in a study published in Nutrition Research, researchers found that losing an average of six pounds decreased inflammation by tamping down the production of pro-inflammatory proteins. It also improved immune system function.
You know that your metabolism is the engine that drives calorie burn. And when you start to lose weight, your metabolic rate will decrease, because your body will need fewer calories per day to keep your body running. But those changes can be relative. “A 200-pound person who loses five pounds will have less of a metabolic impact than a 115-pound person who loses five pounds,” Roussell explains. “The severity in which you cut calories and increase exercise will also have an impact. Slower, more gradual changes will have less of a negative impact [on your metabolism].”
It makes sense: The more you weigh, the more force you exert on your bones and joints when you move. And over time, that additional strain may lead to joint damage and osteoarthritis. Losing five pounds of excess weight could mean 20 fewer pounds of pressure on your precious joints.
According to a study published in Cell Metabolism, dropping a few pounds was enough to decrease not only liver fat but also intra-abdominal fat. That’s the “bad” fat that clings to your organs and can trigger the release of molecules linked to a variety of health conditions. Reducing the amount of intra-abdominal fat may lower your risk for cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
Slimming down boosts HDL cholesterol—the good-for-you kind—and lowers triglycerides, decreasing your risk for heart disease. In a study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, overweight and obese women who lost weight over a two-year period dropped their total cholesterol levels, regardless of the number of pounds dropped.
Your body that is. When you begin to exercise as part of your weight loss plan, your body has to work hard to keep up with the new activity. But once you get the hang of it, your body requires less effort (and calories) to maintain the same level of activity, says Roussell. “Your muscles will start to become more efficient, meaning that you will burn fewer calories the more you run, even if you’re running the same distance,” he says.
Who couldn’t use some more quality sleep? One study from the University of Pennsylvania found that even a small amount of weight loss can improve sleep. That means you’ll have more energy and a better mood, too!
But it depends on how you change your diet. “If you cut carbs significantly, then some of the weight that you will lose will be water weight as your body stores carbohydrates in your muscles along with water. When those carbohydrates are used up and not replaced (since you’re eating a lower-carb diet), you will lose the water that was also stored there,” says Roussell. However, if you adjust your diet moderately and don’t severely restrict calories or carbs, you’re more likely to lose body fat, he adds.
When you’re carrying around extra weight, your heart has to work harder to pump blood, which can mean higher blood pressure. Lowering the number of the scale can drop systolic and diastolic blood pressure in people who are overweight or obese and had Type 2 diabetes, according to a study published in Diabetes Care.
Losing five pounds may make you feel happier, even if it’s just the kick-off to your weight loss journey. One review of published research found that people experienced positive mental health benefits, such as higher measures of self-esteem, when they shed a few pounds, and sometimes when they didn’t lose any weight at all. So even if you aren’t seeing drastic results on the scale just yet, lifestyle changes like eating better and moving more can have countless positive impacts on your health.