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Adaptive Thermogenesis

You will often hear people say their diet worked well only when they were following it. Then when they increased their food intake again, they gained back all, if not more, of that lost weight. Furthermore, you hear chronic dieters complain that they keep having to decrease their calories in order to keep losing weight, and sometimes even then their weight loss plateaus. The term ‘metabolic damage’ or a ‘slowed’ metabolism often gets thrown in as the reason for this phenomenon.

Explaining metabolism

Metabolic adaptation refers to the decrease in one’s metabolic rate due to a caloric deficit to conserve energy. Due to this adaptive process, one’s ability to lose weight over time will be limited. Essentially it is your body’s ability to burn calories determined by the number of calories provided. When you provide your body with less calories, over time your body will slow down certain processes to be more efficient with the available energy coming in. Adaptive thermogenesis is the regulated production of heat in response to changes in temperature and diet, resulting in metabolic changes.

At the end of the day your body wants to survive, and your body will adapt to the environment you provide it with.

Why does this happen?

During weight loss, there is a combination of fat loss as well as a loss in muscle mass, also known as fat free mass.  With the decrease in fat free mass, there is an accompanied decrease in rested energy expenditure.  Muscle mass requires more energy than fat mass to simply subsist in one’s body. Therefore, with the decrease of muscle mass there will be a decrease in one’s resting caloric needs. There are a few different strategies one can partake in during their weight loss journey to help attenuate the decrease in muscle mass, while still promoting fat loss. If you preserve muscle mass, you will be able to consume more calories, while still losing fat mass.

What should I do?

The first requirement is to eat enough protein. Protein has the highest thermic effect, meaning that it requires up to 30% more calories to break down versus fats or carbs. Protein will also preserve muscle mass which as mentioned above is essential.

Strength training is also a great way to maintain the ability to increase calories. Strength training will help grow and preserve muscle tissue on your body, while burning some calories during the session itself. Partaking in walks and daily movement should be of top priority as well. Non exercise activity thermogenesis, also known as NEAT, can account for up to 30% of calories burned every day.

Sleep and rest are super important as well.  When you sleep, your body repairs and detoxes, so we want to ensure we are getting 7-9 hours of deep sleep each night.

Another great strategy is to partake in periodic re-feeds. Increasing your calories will increase your total energy expenditure, increase metabolic markers, and can prepare you for another caloric deficit period.

All of these factors can help decrease how much muscle mass you lose and therefore help attenuate the extent of a slowing metabolism while eating in a caloric deficit.

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