Today we’re digging into metabolic adaptation. The summary could be “losing weight is harder than you think it is, but doable if you understand the components.”
Measuring Your Way To Weight Loss
The people who reach their weight loss goals tend to be the ones that understand the importance of metrics. In other words, they weigh (and often measure) themselves to know whether they’re winning. This doesn’t mean they track every calorie they eat, although some do, but they get pretty good at estimating their average calorie consumption, and at knowing when they’ve overdone it.
When 3500 Calories Isn’t A Pound…
We’ve all heard that a deficit of 3500 calories is enough to lose a pound. In other words, if you increase activity to burn more calories and/or eat less so that you are storing fewer calories, every resulting 3500 calorie deficit means you weigh a pound less. I’ve used that number before in these articles. In 1958, a doctor named Max Washnofsky wrote a paper in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition concluding “that 3,500 calories is the caloric value of one pound of body weight lost.” Since then, that’s the number we’ve all used.
And it’s an easy number… since eating 500 calories a day less seems reachable, so does losing a pound a week.
Unfortunately, that number seems to work better in a chemistry lab than in a human life. In reality, the combination of specific carbohydrates, fats and proteins you eat, your hormones, genetics, exercise and metabolism are all factors in weight loss.
Metabolic Adaptation Slows Results
When you add those factors together, you get a process known as metabolic adaptation. In other words, if you eat 500 calories a day less, and lose a pound this week, that doesn’t mean your weight loss will continue at the same rate. In fact, over a period of a year, that 500 calorie deficit will become 50% less effective, and you’d have to actually cut 1000 calories to lose that same pound of fat a year from now.
Flipping that around, it can take up to a 7000 calorie deficit to lose a pound, if you’ve already lost some weight and your body has adapted to the new caloric intake.
According to Kevin Hall, Ph.D., who helped create the Body Weight Planner we recently discussed, “The biggest flaw with the 500-calorie-rule is that it assumes weight loss will continue in a linear fashion over time.” The Planner was built according to very strict, well-controlled weight loss studies, and attempts to incorporate their information into one tool. Hall believes that the average person, in the first year of a diet program, will lose about half the weight that the “3500 calorie rule” predicts.
Typically, more obese people will lose more weight on average, and the last few pounds will be the hardest to lose. There are a couple of reasons for this, and they again have to do with metabolic adaptation. Oversimplifying a bit:
- When you weigh less, your body burns less fuel. In other words, your body no longer burns calories to deal with the weight you’ve already lost. You now need even fewer calories to stay even, or more of a deficit to lose weight.
- When you lose weight, your body can trigger metabolic processes that are meant to prevent you from starving. It doesn’t know you want to lose the weight, and tries to hoard fuel and get you back to “normal” weight… for you. Hall believes every pound you lose slows your metabolism equivalent to 10 calories.
- When you lose weight, your appetite can increase, particularly if you exercise a lot. Hall believes every pound you lose increases your appetite by about 45 calories.
His math implies that the average person needs to cut another 55 calories for every pound they lose, to keep the speed of weight loss consistent.
You Can Still Win At Weight Loss
First of all, even moderate weight loss has huge benefits to your health.
But even if that weren’t so, the great majority (about 80%) of my patients reach their weight loss goals. Here at dietMD Hawaii, we have a proven program that works. If you want to come in and talk to me about it, without obligation, please book an appointment. Many people do lose weight and keep it off, and you can too. It’s just a little more complicated than you may have been led to believe.
We know how to help you control your appetite and deal with metabolic adaptation in ways you just can’t do on your own. Medical weight loss works.