Anyone who has successfully lost weight can probably recall when their results stalled, slowed or went the other way. What gives? There are many reasons the body might hold on to fat and make it almost impossible to move the needle. In this post, I’ll share four key strategies to help counteract weight-loss resistance that won’t cause the metabolism to push back.
At a certain point, weight loss is associated with metabolic compensation. In other words, metabolic and behavioural responses that favour the defence of body weight rather than promoting weight loss.
Weight loss strategies that promote sustainable and slow weight loss rates are going to help reduce the impact of this effect to a point. But what happens when your metabolism reaches this threshold and you still have weight to lose?
During periods of energy restriction (eating less) and/or increased energy expenditure (moving more), the metabolism shifts in ways that prevents further weight loss. Without getting too deep into the science of it all, we can summarize these shifts into the following metabolic and behavioural responses:
- Decreased energy expenditure: you’re burning less energy for the same activities (planned and spontaneous physical activity), and you move less.
- Increase energy intake: Increased hunger and decreased satiety and satiation (food is less filling and/or less satisfying).
- Essentially, your metabolism wants you to eat more and move less to prevent further weight loss. Sneaky sneaky! At the same time, our metabolism has become more efficient with how it uses energy, so we’re not even burning the same amount of energy as before.
When this kicks in, and the degree to which it impacts our body weight, depends on many personal factors. A significant one is the amount of body weight lost. Typically, we see this coming into play when people lose 5-10% of their body weight. The metabolism is highly tuned to stress, so too much weight loss could set off alarm bells. And “too much” for you is going to be unique.
So at a certain point during our weight loss journey, the metabolism downshifts to prevent further weight loss. Fortunately, it recovers during weight maintenance. Strategic and intentional periods of weight maintenance are crucial to continued weight loss and preventing weight regain. It’s like a pause that allows the metabolism to adjust and adapt to a new normal. Otherwise, we are placing the metabolism under constant stress to lose weight, and it will push back.
Key strategies to counteract weight-loss associated metabolic compensation.
- Take a break from dietary energy restriction. Periods of weight maintenance are crucial to continued weight loss and preventing weight regain. If you want to continue eating in a negative energy balance, then switch to moderate energy restriction. Given the changes in appetite, it’s helpful to track food intake during these times.
- Higher protein intake. Increase protein to support lean muscle mass and to help offset some of the changes in appetite we discussed, like increased hunger and decreased satiety and satiation.
- Slower weight loss rates. Weight loss strategies that promote sustainable and slow weight loss rates are going to help reduce the impact of metabolic compensation.
- Exercise. During periods of energy restriction, exercise in ways that promote and preserve lean body bass. In other words, resistance training.
- Decrease sedentary behaviour. Track movement and be intentional with your movement goals.