Dieting Drops Metabolism
Your metabolism may be sabotaging your diet.
Doctors, dietitians and trainers have always approached weight loss as a mathematical game. Burn more calories each day than you take in, and you’ll lose weight. But there’s a problem.
Researchers have discovered that as our weight drops, we burn fewer calories. Our bodies fight against the loss and struggle to keep weight on. Every pound becomes increasingly harder to shed.
To learn what’s happening, it's important to understand the traditional weight loss approach.
- First: To lose a pound a week, you have to burn 3,500 more calories than you take in. That’s a deficit of 500 calories a day.
- Second: A physician must closely monitor any diet below 1,200 calories a day.
- Third: It’s estimated that in 2021 Americans ate more than 3,000 calories a day.
The majority of diets do nothing more than limit your calories to around 1,200 a day. It’s the lowest number they can recommend without bringing in a medical professional. The average American eats so much more than that. Even if they consume significantly more than the 1,200 calories a diet suggests, they’re probably still eating less than they used to, so weight loss happens.
A more advanced method to help someone lose weight is calculating how fast their metabolism works. When you measure a person’s resting metabolic rate, you can give precise numbers on how many calories they can eat. Somebody who’s very active with a lot of muscle could lose weight eating 1,800, 2,000 or even 2,500 calories a day.
Then the diet starts, and the first few pounds drop off relatively quickly. But suddenly, your body starts to fight back. A study published in the journal Obesity was able to explain what happened.
Sixty-five premenopausal overweight women between the ages of 21 and 41 were selected for the study. They didn’t exercise more than once a week, had normal glucose levels, and took no medication that affected body composition or metabolism.
After these women had an average of 16 percent weight loss, they ran into a problem. The pounds they should have been losing started to decline. Their bodies adapted to the decrease in calories by becoming more efficient, and it got harder for them to continue losing weight.
This is a common thing many people experience on a diet. The first few pounds go quickly, but then weight loss stalls, and they hit a plateau. The researchers called it “metabolic adaptation.”
The dieters didn’t do anything different, but their bodies did. Sensing a drop in calories, the body reacts as if it’s starving, so it starts holding onto calories more tightly. It’s believed a change in the gut microbiome from fewer calories may be one of the reasons this happens.
Fortunately, researchers found this plateau isn’t permanent. Catia Martins, the lead author of the study shared this. “...metabolic adaptation is not a permanent adaptation. It is significantly reduced or even disappears after a short period of weight stabilization, let’s say a couple of weeks. So, for those who struggle to lose the last pounds, despite adherence to the energy-restricted diet, there is good news. If they stabilize their weight for a couple of weeks, metabolic adaptation will be reduced or even go away, and then they can try again to lose weight and have a better chance to succeed.”
So when you hit the plateau, stop trying to lose weight for a week or two. Go into maintenance mode and keep your weight stable. Then the metabolic adaptation will shrink or even go away entirely and weight loss can begin again.
Another way to minimize the plateau is to include strength training with your diet program. When you lose weight, both fat and muscle are diminished. Exercise can help you retain calorie-burning muscle, so your metabolism doesn’t drop as quickly. As a bonus, you’ll burn off extra fat when you work out.
Losing weight isn’t as straightforward as we like to think. But now you’re better informed to handle the inevitable slowdowns and plateaus.
Gut intraepithelial T cells calibrate metabolism and accelerate cardiovascular disease
Shun He, Florian Kahles, Sara Rattik, Manfred Nairz, Cameron S. McAlpine, Atsushi Anzai, Daniel Selgrade, Ashley M. Fenn, Christopher T. Chan, John E. Mindur, Colin Valet, Wolfram C. Poller, Lennard Halle, Noemi Rotllan, Yoshiko Iwamoto, Gregory R. Wojtkiewicz, Ralph Weissleder, Peter Libby, Carlos Fernández-Hernando, Daniel J. Drucker, Matthias Nahrendorf & Filip K. Swirski
Natura, Published: 30 January 2019
Metabolic adaptation delays time to reach weight loss goals
Catia Martins,Barbara A. Gower,Gary R. Hunter
Obesity - A Research Journal, First published: 27 January 2022 https://doi.org/10.1002/oby.23333
DRI Calculator for Healthcare Professionals
U.S. Department of Agriculture - National Agricultural Library
This tool will calculate daily nutrient recommendations based on the Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs) established by the Health and Medicine Division of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine. The data represents the most current scientific knowledge on nutrient needs however individual requirements may be higher or lower than DRI recommendations.
By entering height, weight, age, and activity level, you will generate a report of; Body Mass Index, estimated daily calorie needs in addition to the recommended intakes of macronutrients, vitamins, and minerals based on DRI data.
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