Have you found yourself hitting a weight loss plateau? Finding that you have to keep reducing calories to continue losing weight? Then there’s a good chance that your metabolism has adapted to preserve your weight through metabolic adaptation. The good news is, there is a way to fix metabolic adaptation! In this post, I want to cover exactly what causes it, why it is essential to your health, and what to do about it when it negatively affects your weight loss goals.
Table of Contents
- What is Metabolic Adaptation?
- How Metabolic Adaptation Affects Your Weight Loss Journey
- Reverse Dieting To Fix Metabolic Adaptation
- Prevention Is Better Than A Cure!
What is Metabolic Adaptation?
Metabolic adaptation isn’t a bad thing. It’s the body’s way of maintaining energy balance in response to a prolonged change in calorie intake. Your body works hard to preserve your current weight, and when you reduce or increase the number of calories you eat over a longer period, eventually it will adapt to these changes so that you don’t gain excess weight, or lose it.
When you are trying to lose weight, you need to reduce your calorie intake over a longer period. At first, your body will respond by tapping into its stored energy reserves to compensate for the deficit (it will burn fat). But, as time goes on, your body recognizes this change and activates metabolic adaptation to maintain your weight.
The Step-by-Step Process
- Change in Calorie Intake:
- You make a consistent change in how much you eat, either by eating fewer or more calories.
- Initial Weight Gain/Loss:
- If you eat less, you might lose some weight initially. If you eat more, you could gain some.
- Hormones Come into Play:
- Hormones, like leptin and ghrelin, get involved. Leptin decreases when you lose weight, telling your body it’s using up energy. Ghrelin, the hunger hormone, may increase, making you feel hungrier. (Both my free Nutrition eBook and my Complete Weight Loss Guide cover Leptin & Ghrelin more).
- Body Adjusts the Basics:
- Your body adjusts its basic energy needs at rest (BMR) based on what it thinks is going on. If you’ve been eating less, it will slow things down to save energy.
- Weight Plateau:
- These changes can lead to a point where your weight stays the same, making it harder to lose more or gain more.
How Metabolic Adaptation Affects Your Weight Loss Journey
As discussed earlier, when you reduce your calorie intake, your body adapts by slowing down your metabolism. This means that you burn fewer calories than before, making it difficult to lose weight.
For example, let’s say your TDEE (Total daily energy expenditure) is currently 2200 calories a day. You cut this down to 1200 to reduce your calorie intake by 1000 a day (1200 always seems to be the number recommended on fitness apps!). You will initially lose weight, but over time your body reduces calories burned until it’s only burning 1200. This means you would have to eat even less than 1200 calories a day to lose weight. Which is even more unrealistic and potentially dangerous.
This is usually why people will regain weight after a strict diet. Because your body no longer burns 2200 calories a day, it burns 1200. See more common weight loss mistakes in my post 3 Mistakes To Avoid If You Want To Lose Weight.
Reverse Dieting To Fix Metabolic Adaptation
Reverse dieting is a structured and gradual approach to increasing calorie intake. The goal is to restore your metabolic rate and create a sustainable, healthy relationship with food. Instead of quickly returning to your maintenance or surplus calorie level, reverse dieting involves slowly increasing your calories over a set period.
By slowly adding calories back into your diet, you give your body the chance to adjust, without gaining weight (or with minimal weight gain). It may seem scary to increase your calorie intake when trying to lose weight, but it will make your weight loss journey a lot easier in the long run!
I have an entire free guide on Reverse Dieting as I found myself struggling with metabolic adaptation during my weight loss journey. I REALLY recommend downloading it!
Prevention Is Better Than A Cure!
This post is about how to fix metabolic adaptation, but it’s always better to try and prevent it from happening. Or to take steps to stop it happening again.
Tips To Prevent Metabolic Adaptation
- Don’t Crash Diet: Avoid extreme calorie cuts. Preferably you shouldn’t cut your calories by more than 500 a day. See my post on Yo-Yo Dieting – How To Stop: A Guide To Sustainable Weight Loss for help getting out of the restrictive diet mentality.
- Take Breaks from Dieting: Increase your calorie intake to maintenance level every so often with short diet breaks.
- Eat Enough Protein: Increase protein intake to help ensure your body is burning fat and not muscle. Muscle burns more calories than fat, so you want to keep it! (I also have a whole post on this!)
- Include Strength Training: Along with increased protein, strength training helps build and maintain muscle.
Metabolic adaptation, while a natural response to changes in calorie intake, can feel demotivating. No one likes to waste their efforts! But with the right strategies, it can be reversed.
I can’t overstate the importance of prevention! Avoiding crash diets, incorporating diet breaks, and focusing on protein intake and strength training, will save you a lot of struggles further down the line.
Whether you’re currently facing metabolic adaptation or looking to prevent it in the future, use the tips above and focus on a balanced approach to nutrition and exercise. You can not only fix metabolic adaptation but also develop a healthier and more joyful weight loss journey.
Have you experienced metabolic adaptation during your weight loss journey, or do you have additional tips to share? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!