How does your weight journey affect your metabolism? Here's what you need to know

How does your weight journey affect your metabolism? Here's what you need to know

How does your weight journey affect your metabolism? Here's what you need to know

When you lose weight, your metabolism slows down, and then you could hit a weight-loss plateau. (The science folks call this phenomenon “metabolic adaptation.”) There are several reasons for this slow-down, which we’ll get into shortly.

Kaitlyn Dykman
Last updated:
November 3, 2022
5 min read
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When you started your weight care journey, the scale digits may have dropped pretty easily and steadily. You were pumped! You were motivated to keep working hard! And then—Huh?!—your progress slowed down or even stopped. Hey, it happens. But stick with us. 

Here’s part of what could be going on: When you lose weight, your metabolism slows down, and then you could hit a weight-loss plateau. (The science folks call this phenomenon “metabolic adaptation.”) There are several reasons for this slow-down, which we’ll get into shortly. 

What you eat and drink turns into energy that is either immediately used or stored for use later, with the excess energy stored in fat cells. This happens through a process of biochemical reactions, aka your metabolism. Your metabolism constantly adapts during a weight care journey, which involves changes on so many levels. (Think hormonal, cellular, you name it). 

The rate at which you burn energy (calories) to keep your body functioning at rest is called your basal metabolic rate (BMR). You have a unique BMR that determines how many calories you require for breathing, sleeping, digestion, cell repair, and more. A fast BMR or “metabolism” means you burn more energy at rest. A slower BMR means you burn less energy at rest.

Now more deets on metabolic adaptation. Simply put, metabolic adaptation happens in response to a deficit of calories. It continues because your body wants to maintain homeostasis or balance. As a result, your body switches to conserving (rather than burning) energy to avoid further weight loss, aka survival mode.

Here are three things that can cause your metabolism to decline as you lose weight: 

1. Less muscle mass

When you lose weight, you don’t just lose body fat. It’s also common to lose lean muscle. Why does that matter? Because muscle burns more calories—even at rest—than fat. So the fewer muscles you have, the slower your metabolism will be. 

2. Restricting calories too much

When you restrict calories, your body jumps to the conclusion it’s starving and goes into calorie-conservation mode. When this happens, your metabolism will drop, so you burn less energy to “protect” your body from danger. 

3. Dieting period

When you start a weight loss journey, dieting can cause your metabolism to slow and stay down. A famous study of contestants who went on the TV show “The Biggest Loser” is a perfect example of this. The men and women lost impressive amounts of weight. But when the researchers followed up six years later, their bodies continued to burn less energy in response to their previous calorie restrictions.

It’s clear that once metabolism drops, it’s a challenge to get it revving again. Even more, there’s little concrete evidence that you can significantly boost your metabolism. On the other hand, you do have control over lifestyle changes. Metabolism is partly genetic, but it’s known that pumping iron in the gym can do wonders for your resting BMR. The more muscle mass, the speedier you can burn energy.

As tempting as it may be to leave treadmills in the dust and hit the rack,  the key to weight care is discovering which lifestyle changes are sustainable to keep the weight off—even if your metabolism is trending downhill. 

OK, that’s the not-so-great news. But here’s what you can do for your weight care journey:

1. Enjoy more movement

Do some type of movement you enjoy every day: walking, dancing, strength training, swimming, or yoga. Regular physical activity protects against loss of lean muscle mass on a weight care journey. 

2. Eat a wide variety of food

Well-balanced meals and whole foods can help you eat healthy long term. (Check out the Found Plate Guide!) Fad diets are canceled. Another Found favorite is to eat mindfully only when hungry by paying attention to your hunger cues. 

3. Get plenty of sleep

Ideally, healthy adults need 7-9 hours of sleep each night. That’s a much-deserved excuse to sleep in. 

4. Manage stress

Taking some self-care time can go a long way. Try stress management techniques like deep breathing, meditation, physical activity, journaling, or getting outside in nature. 

5. Stay hydrated

Did you know drinking half your body weight in ounces of water each day is beneficial on a weight care journey? Drink up, stay hydrated, and focus on changes within your control. 


About Found

Found is among the largest medically-supported weight care clinics in the country, serving more than 200,000 members to date. To start your journey with Found, take our quiz.

Published date:
November 3, 2022
Meet the author
Kaitlyn Dykman
Health writer

Sources

  • Fothergill, E., Guo, J., Howard, L., Kerns, J. C., Knuth, N. D., Brychta, R., Chen, K. Y., Skarulis, M. C., Walter, M., Walter, P. J., & Hall, K. D. (2016). Persistent metabolic adaptation 6 years after “The Biggest Loser” competition. Obesity, 24(8), 1612–1619. https://doi.org/10.1002/oby.21538
  • MacLean, P. S., Bergouignan, A., Cornier, M. A., & Jackman, M. R. (2011). Biology’s response to dieting: the impetus for weight regain. American Journal of Physiology-Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology, 301(3), R581–R600. https://doi.org/10.1152/ajpregu.00755.2010
  • MacKenzie-Shalders, K., Kelly, J. T., So, D., Coffey, V. G., & Byrne, N. M. (2020). The effect of exercise interventions on resting metabolic rate: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of Sports Sciences, 38(14), 1635–1649. https://doi.org/10.1080/02640414.2020.1754716
  • WEISS, E. P., JORDAN, R. C., FRESE, E. M., ALBERT, S. G., & VILLAREAL, D. T. (2017). Effects of Weight Loss on Lean Mass, Strength, Bone, and Aerobic Capacity. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 49(1), 206–217. https://doi.org/10.1249/mss.0000000000001074
  • Sánchez López de Nava A, Raja A. (2021) Physiology, Metabolism. StatPearls Publishing. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK546690/
  • Can you boost your metabolism? (2020, May 26). MedLine Plus. Retrieved August 14, 2022, from https://medlineplus.gov/ency/patientinstructions/000893.htm
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