Why Is It So Easy To Regain Weight?

It is no secret that, after losing weight, people have a tough time keeping it off.  I mentioned in a previous issue of Weightology Weekly how only 17% of Americans are able to maintain a 10% weight loss after 1 year.  Many people have repeatedly lost weight, only to regain it again and again.  Even celebrities such as Oprah Winfrey struggle, despite having the money to have their own personal trainers and chefs. 

Oprah Winfrey from February to December, 2005

We know that a change in body weight is caused by an imbalance between energy intake and energy expenditure.  We also know that your body tries to resist weight change and correct this energy imbalance.  For example, if you eat 2000 calories per day and suddenly decrease it to 1000, you will lose weight, but you will also get hungry in the process.  This hunger drives you to eat more to bring you back into energy balance.  This is one of the reasons why maintaining long-term weight loss is so difficult. 

However, there are two sides to the concept of energy balance.  There is not only food intake, but there is energy expenditure as well.  Your body can resist a negative energy balance by not only making you more hungry, but by decreasing the number of calories you burn.  The extent to which this happens in humans is not clear.  The challenge of successful long-term weight loss could be partly because our bodies reduce their energy expenditure to the point that it makes it very easy to regain the weight. 

Energy Expenditure Primer 

To further investigate this issue, we first need to discuss what comprises the total number of calories you burn each day.  Your daily energy expenditure consists of 3 components: 

  • Resting Energy Expenditure (REE).  Also known as resting metabolic rate or RMR, this is the number of calories you burn to maintain basic life functions at rest, such as breathing and heart rate.  It is measured while lying quietly after an overnight fast.  The primary drivers of REE are your internal organs; other tissues like muscle and fat contribute as well, but to a much lesser degree.  REE typically makes up 60% - 75% of the total calories you burn each day, but this can go down to 50% or less in highly active people.
  • Activity Energy Expenditure (AEE).  This is also referred to as non-resting energy expenditure (NREE).  This is the number of calories you burn due to physical activity, and this means ANY type of physical activity, which includes fidgeting, maintenance of posture, and the movement of my fingers as I type this article.  AEE will typically make up 17-32% of your total daily energy expenditure, but can be higher for very active people.  AEE can be divided into two components:
    • Exercise.  This is formal, planned exercise, such as going to the gym or going out for a jog.
    • Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT).  The majority of your energy expenditure comes from NEAT.  This includes all activity that is not related to formal exercise, such as fidgeting or walking to your car.
  • Thermic Effect of Feeding (TEF).  This refers to the calories burned while digesting food.  This typically makes up around 8% of your total daily energy expenditure.

Components of Daily Energy Expenditure in a Sedentary Person

Components of daily energy expenditure in a physically active person

Does Energy Expenditure Change in Response to Weight Loss?

Now that we know what comprises energy expenditure, we need to look at how it responds to food restriction and weight loss.  In animals, food restriction and weight loss cause a decrease in REE.  However, there is an increase in spontaneous activity, likely due to stimulation of food-seeking behavior in the animal.  Given that food is plentiful in human society and food-seeking behavior is not necessary, we cannot apply this animal data to humans. 

Research has looked at how energy expenditure is affected by weight loss in humans.  We know that weight loss will decrease energy expenditure from the simple fact that you have less weight to move around.  However, the question is whether the decrease in energy expenditure is proportional to the weight lost, or if it is greater than what you would expect given the weight lost.  If the decrease is greater than what you would expect, then that means your body is adapting to the weight loss and trying to conserve energy.  In other words, you become more efficient.  In terms of organ function and REE, you expend less calories for the same function.  In terms of AEE, you either move less, or you expend less calories for the same movement.  

When you look at the research in humans, the data is conflicting.  Some research has shown greater decreases in energy expenditure than you would expect based on weight loss alone (a phenomena known as adaptive thermogenesis), yet other studies have failed to confirm these observations.  There are many possible sources of error in these studies that may contribute to the conflicting results.  For example, some of the studies that have looked at this problem have used the doubly-labeled water technique to measure energy expenditure in free living people.  These studies assumed the person was weight stable.  However, if the person is very slowly gaining weight, then an abnormally low energy expenditure will not be detected.  For example, let's say I have a truly weight stable, 200 pound person (person A) with an energy expenditure of 3000 calories per day.  Let's also say that this person has never had a weight problem.  Because this person is weight stable, I know that he needs 3000 calories per day to maintain his weight.  Now I take another 200 pound person (person B) who used to be 250 pounds.  I think he is weight stable, and his energy expenditure is also 3000 calories per day.  I compare him to person A.  Since they are both expending 3000 calories per day, I assume that person B's energy expenditure is normal for his body weight.  I then infer that person B needs to eat 3000 calories per day to maintain his weight.  However, let's say that person B is slowly gaining weight and I don't know it.  This means that person B needs to eat less than 3000 calories to maintain his weight (let's say 2800).  If person A needs to eat 3000 to maintain his weight, but person B only needs 2800, then person B will be more energy efficient.  However, I will fail to detect this because I assumed that person B was weight stable. 

An Elegant Study 

To get a better handle on how long-term weight loss will impact energy expenditure, and whether adaptive thermogenesis occurs in humans, Rudolph Leibel, a well-known researcher in metabolism and weight loss, and his colleagues performed a study on people who had lost at least 10% of their weight and kept it off for more than a year.  The researchers examined 7 trios of subjects.  Each trio consisted of the following: 

  1. A subject who was at his/her usual weight
  2. A subject who lost at least 10% of his/her weight, and had maintained it for the last 5-8 weeks
  3. A subject who lost at least 10% of his/her weight, and maintained the loss for at least a year

The subjects were matched for sex, meaning that each trio would contain all males or all females.  They were also matched for weight, meaning that the subjects in a particular trio had similar body weights.  The subjects lived in the clinical research center throughout the study.  They were fed only a liquid formula diet, which contained 40% fat, 45% carbohydrate, and 15% protein.  Their caloric intake was adjusted until weight stability was achieved.  A stable weight was defined as a daily weight fluctuation of less than 10 grams for at least 2 weeks.  The formula diet was important, as a mixed food diet can cause random shifts in weight due to shifts in salt and carbohydrate intake (which is another limitation of previous research in this area).  Thus, diet and weight were precisely controlled.  Since weight was stable, 24-hour energy expenditure had to match 24-hour energy intake.  Thus, the subjects' calorie intake would also indicate the number of calories they were burning each day.  REE was measured under a metabolic hood.  TEF was measured by feeding the subjects when they were under the hood, and measuring the increase in metabolic rate.  AEE was calculated by subtracting REE and TEF from total daily energy expenditure.  Body composition was measured using hydrostatic weighing

The researchers then took 83 subjects at their initial weight, and developed regression equations that related energy expenditure to age, fat-free mass, and fat-mass.  The observed energy expenditures for the trios were then compared to what these equations predicted their energy expenditures should be. 

Adaptive Thermogenesis:  A Reality 

The following chart shows the average energy expenditures of the subjects: 

Energy Expenditures of Subjects Who Lost Weight and Who Didn't Lose Weight


You can see that the resting metabolic rate of the subjects who lost weight were slightly lower than the subjects who had never lost weight, despite the fact the subjects were of similar weight.  The difference amounted to 72 - 139 calories per day.  The difference in activity energy expenditure was much more dramatic, coming in at 366 - 383 calories per day.  These differences in resting metabolic rate and activity energy expenditure led to a difference in total daily energy expenditure of 428 - 514 calories per day.  TEF was not affected by weight loss.

When the observed energy expenditures were compared to the values predicted by the equations, the results were similar:

Differences between observed energy expenditures and the predicted energy expenditures for subjects who lost weight and who didn't lose weight. You can see that the energy expenditures for the subjects who lost weight were lower than you would predict, but the energy expenditures for the subjects who had never lost weight were very close to what you would predict. This indicates adaptive thermogenesis with long-term weight loss.

You can see that the energy expenditure values were lower than predicted for the subjects that lost weight, but were similar to predicted for the weight-matched subjects that had never lost weight.  For REE, values were 143 to 161 calories lower than predicted in the subjects who had lost weight.  This indicated a slight lowering of metabolic rate that is sustained even when the weight loss is maintained for more than a year.  Where weight loss had the biggest impact was on activity energy expenditure, with values being 298 to 334 calories lower than predicted.  Total energy expenditure was 422 to 460 calories lower than predicted in the weight loss subjects.

A NEAT, Efficient Explanation

It is clear from this study that metabolism (in terms of resting metabolic rate) slows with weight loss, and this decrease is greater than you would expect with the amount of weight lost.  This decrease is present even when someone has maintained weight loss for more than a year.  However, the slowdown of metabolic rate is not the primary culprit for why it's so easy to regain weight, as the slowdown in metabolic rate only amounts to around 150 calories per day.

The main reason why we have a greater-than-expected decrease in energy expenditure with weight loss is because we become less active.  This doesn't mean we exercise less, either, as exercise is a conscious choice.  It means we unconsciously reduce our NEAT and spontaneous activity.  It also means we become more efficient in the activity we do; we expend less calories for the same movement.  In fact, 35% of the decrease in activity energy expenditure can be attributed to an increase in efficiency.  Overall, we move around less, and we become more efficient at the movements we perform.  Combined with a decrease in resting metabolic rate, we end up burning over 400 calories per day less than you would expect for someone of our same height, weight, gender, and body composition.  This is not only why weight loss eventually plateaus, but also why weight is so easily regained.

Other research has verified that NEAT and physical activity decrease with weight loss, and that they are the primary drivers behind why energy expenditure decreases more than you would expect.  In one study, obese subjects lost 23.2% of their body weight.  Total daily energy expenditure was 75.7% of what you would predict, and nearly all of the energy savings were due to a decrease in activity rather than a decrease in metabolism.  In fact, the decrease in activity amounted to 582 calories per day!

It has also been found that changes in activity predict the amount of weight gained over time.  In one study, women were followed for a year.  They were divided into maintainers (a weight gain of less than 3%) and gainers (a weight gain of more than 10%).  Changes in activity energy expenditure explained 77% of the greater weight gain in the gainers.

High Physical Activity Levels Prevent Weight Regain

The good news is that, since the reductions in energy expenditure are primarily due to decreases in activity, one can make conscious choices to increase physical activity to a sufficient extent to prevent weight regain.  Research has demonstrated that high physical activity levels can help with maintenance of weight loss.  In one study, subjects who exercised enough to expend 1000 calories per week regained most of their weight, but subjects who expended 2500 calories per week maintained most of their weight loss.  Similar results have been observed in other studies.  Subjects in the National Weight Control Registry, a database of individuals who have maintained at least a 30 pound weight loss for over a year, expend an average of 2620 calories per week in physical activity.

Remember that physical activity doesn't have to include formal exercise.  NEAT makes up the majority of your activity energy expenditure, and thus has the greatest ability to impact it.  In fact, walking at only 1 mile per hour will double your energy expenditure over sitting.  Thus, anything that you can do to accumulate physical activity throughout the day will dramatically improve your chances of maintaining weight loss over the long haul.  Even small things, like parking a car further away from a destination, or taking stairs rather than an elevator, can add up if accumulated throughout the day.  But because activity can decrease on an almost unconscious level, you need to make a deliberate conscious effort to get as much activity as possible in throughout your day, every day.

REFERENCE:  Rosenbaum, M., et al.  Long-term persistence of adaptive thermogenesis in subjects who have maintained a reduced body weight.  Am. J. Clin. Nutr.  88(4):906-912, 2008. 

88 Responses to “Why Is It So Easy To Regain Weight?

  • Wow, phenomenal entry James, THANKS!

  • James,

    Great post! As someone who has lost a significant amount of weight, I could not agree more with what you’ve said here. Whenever I had issues with plateaus or my weight starting to increase, it was almost always because I was no longer as active, and, as you pointed out, this is not necessarily exercising less.

    Something as simple as moving to a single level house from a house that had pretty steep stairs affected my over TDEE even though I continued to follow my usual training routine. What’s also funny is that the tips you give to move a little more each day, I have used for the past five years with success because my weight has been stable during the same time period. I’m definitely going to blog about this post in the near future … thanks!

    • Something as simple as moving to a single level house from a house that had pretty steep stairs affected my over TDEE even though I continued to follow my usual training routine

      Even though I don’t have a very active job, I noticed a distinct difference during a period where I worked from home (and now when I’m not formally working). Those little walks to and from the car and just prepping for the public may not amount to much taken separately, but they sure do add up. Lately at home I’ve taken to running up the stairs any time I need to go, and just going up and down for the heck of it or taking a lap around the house when I take the garbage out. Sounds silly but it helps.

      • No, it doesn’t sound silly at all. I’m a teacher, and I feel sorry for my students because I pace back and forth as I teach. I take the stairs 99.9% of the time, and I’ve been parking in pretty much the same spot for over five years. So, you’re right about how it all adds up …

  • Gosh the results from that study are depressing!

    I don’t know how much you read around the LC webosphere, but exercise is almost a 4 letter word to some. Many brag how they lost weight w/o exercising. (Full disclosure here: I did no formal exercise during my weight loss, but not by deliberate design). And yet exercise is the best way to counter the reductions on the “out” side of the energy equation.

    I blogged on a study a while back that was rather interesting: http://carbsanity.blogspot.com/2010/04/effects-of-aerobic-exercise-and-dietary.html

    This study compared two diets (LC & LF) and exercise (3X 45min @60% max) vs. no exercise. Who lost the most fat mass? The exercisers independent of diet because the diet resulted in the least reduction in TDEE. But what surprised me was that even though they adjusted caloric intake for the caloric expense of the exercise activity, the exercisers still lost more fat. RMR declined (and remained depressed from baseline) in all groups. The difference? The exercisers maintained their NEAT levels. This is counter to the mantra that exercise may make you lazier the other 23 hours or so of the day and be counter-productive.

    So we may not be able to do much about our bodies becoming more efficient, but exercise does seem to help stave off the reduction in activity.

  • Thanks again James for this very informative piece, and thank you for putting the science behind what I have suspected with my own weight loss struggles. Many a time I have successfully lost some weight with diet alone (read as trying every diet out there) and there is always this point where I feel I am struggling against my body. It always felt like this battle of my psyche vs. my physiology. Physiology often won out and I often felt like my body wanted to gain the weight back and return to what I call it’s “comfort zone.” It’s insanely frustrating, especially when you can’t figure out what is going inside your body.

  • Totally anecdotal, but I have a soon-to-be 11 year old very lean nephew who seems very resistant to weight gain. During family celebrations, he will stuff himself with food, but afterward, when everyone else is relaxing and basically just digesting their food, he is running around like a maniac! A few weeks ago, my husband and I took him and his little sister to an all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet. My nephew ate a lot more than he would have eaten at home – we all did actually. Afterward, we wanted to visit a gift shop that was on the first floor of the building. My nephew ran to the stairs and raced down them. He was running and jumping around the aisles in the shop. When we were done, he challenged us to race him up the stairs (nobody took him up on his offer,lol!) and then he ran to the car. It was like his body immediately detected that he ate too much and reved up his physical activity to burn off the excess calories. I’ve often wondered if the so-called “hyperactivity” parents and teachers claim happen to some kids after they eat sugar is simply their bodies’ response to over-eating calories in general. Anyway, the information in your article really jibes with what I’ve observed over the years with my nephew and brings home the importance of physical activity on weight loss maintenance.

  • LynMarie,

    There is tons of scientific evidence on the powerful role that NEAT plays in how resistant people are to weight gain, and it strongly supports your anecdotal observation. It’s actually a topic that I’m going to be writing a book about, and I also do a 90 minute lecture on NEAT alone.


    Yes, all the little things add up. By the way, I checked out your website…would love to see you get it going again. I read about your weight loss journey and I want to congratulate you on your immense transformation.


    Yes, I’ve read about how exercise is a nasty word for some in the LC community; I will be addressing some of this when I continue my Taubes critique. It’s unfortunate because the data is very strong on how important exercise and overall physical activity are for maintaining long term weight loss.


    Glad you liked the piece. Leibel’s study was an eye opener for me as well; I had always known that NEAT decreased with weight loss, but I had no idea that the low levels were maintained even after someone had maintained the weight loss long term. When I was the researcher for 20/20 Lifestyles, we told people that maintaining weight loss would be a part time job for the rest of their lives. This study confirms that.


    Thanks for the compliment on the article!

  • This is depressing. I don’t want to have to fight inertia all my life to stay active and keep my weight down. I don’t want a part-time job to stay thin. This really really really sucks. There has got to be a way to lower the set point so that you don’t have to fight it all the time. I am not disagreeing with your post of Leibel’s findings, only suggesting that perhaps there is a way to lose weight without having a spontaneous, involuntary reduction in NEAT. I suspect that the decrease in RMR and NEAT go hand in hand, that they are influenced by the same hormonal changes. That which lowers the RMR, even a little bit, makes one disinclined to exertion.

  • Harry Mavros
    9 years ago

    Great post, as always James. Thank you for your work.

    Everybody has made some great points here regarding the utility of regular exercise in the post-weight loss phase (i.e. the ‘maintenance’ phase).

    A couple of additional observations:

    1) Exercise plays an important psychological role in encouraging dietary compliance; in short, people are less likely to break good eating habits when they’re also on the straight and narrow with their exercise;

    2) While changes to NEAT and REE do influence the ‘energy-out’ part of the energy balance equation (and thus may contribute to weight re-gain), it is patently clear IME that that the overwhelming majority of weight re-gain comes as a consequence of the ‘energy-in’ component. Put simply, almost all people who re-gain weight do so because they stop complying with their diet. Whether it’s a Kirstie Ally/Oprah style “binge break”, or just a gradual creeping up of energy content, the bottom line is that most people find it very difficult to sustain a lower caloric intake than the intake to which they were accustomed pre-diet (and to the intakes that are encouraged by an obesogenic environment).

    Ergo, “the best diet is the diet you can stick to”.


    • Harry,

      You make a very good point in regards to the “creep” in energy intake. This is also why physical activity helps so much with prevention of weight regain: it allows room for the “creep” to occur without affecting body weight.

  • Jean Paulo
    9 years ago

    Another great article! I always tell my overweight friends that they have a “faster metabolism” than their lean counterparts simply because their body weight alone is a burden/ extra weight to be carried around. A good example of this is a 4 cylinder Honda civic vs a Cadillac Escalade. Assuming both cars is traveling at the same speed at same distance, the heavier car with bigger engine will obviously expend more gas(energy/ calories) because if the car’s weight and because of the bigger engine.

  • Thanks for the article. It seems that people who have kept the weight off for over a year show improvements in metabolic activity over those who have more recently lost the weight. I wonder if there is any evidence to suggest that this improvement continues the longer the weight remains stable at a lower level…or are those who were obese doomed to forever suffer for their corpulence?

    • Gary,

      The improvements seen on the graph are very small and not statistically significant, so the improvements after 1 year appear to be minimal.

      It’s difficult to say if people are, in essence, “doomed forever.” I don’t think anyone is doomed forever. However, it is very likely that a formerly obese person will always have to work harder to keep the weight off than a person who has never had a weight problem. Like a type 1 diabetic who will always need to be on insulin, someone who used to be obese will need to maintain certain habits to help keep the weight from creeping back.

      There is some evidence that endurance exercise can actually increase NEAT levels in animals. However, it is not known whether this is true in humans. If this does happen in humans, it’s possible that regular endurance training over an extended period of time could help maintain unconscious levels of physical activity throughout the day.

  • Used you with a reference and link.

    Do you know the calorie ranges that people maintained on? The “never lost weight” group ate an average of 2700ish calories a day. And the “maintaining for a year” group ate an average of 2400ish calories a day. That is still a good number of calories.

    The average women in the National Weight Control Reg reports that she is maintaining on 1350 calories a day, or something ridiculous like that.

    Granted, no ONE person is “average”… but an average of 2400 calories a day looks pretty good to me! And is WAY better than the 1300 that many people believe that they maintain on.

    • Denise,

      The calories ranged from 1700 to 3600. Only 4 of the subjects had maintenance intakes of less than 2000 calories per day.

      Anyone who claims that they are maintaining on 1350 calories per day is underreporting. There are studies showing that, when you take people who report these low calorie amounts, and actually provide them with the calories they claim to be eating, they lose weight.

  • Wonderful article; really been enjoying your blog – nice to have another good science fitness blog. The article highlights what I’ve been constantly afraid of, ever since I lost a significant amount of weight (60 pounds). Even with consistent exercise/lifting, I find that the only way I can stay in a lean state is with the help of ephedrine and caffeine.

    • Jon, I used to do the EC stack too (I’ve lost and maintained a 120+ pound loss), but I think it was more of a psychological dependency on this fat burning stack. Once I stopped taking them, I just had to figure out how much exercise I needed to do and how much I could eat to stay at a certain size.

      The best maintenance technique for me over the years (I’ve been around the same size for @ 5 years now) was a simple pair of size 36 jeans. I hate wearing tight pants, so once they started to feel a bit tight, I knew that I needed to not freak out and “consciously” eat a little less.

      I haven’t taken ephedrine since it was initially banned a couple of years ago, and besides not always being “wired” all the time, I haven’t noticed a real difference. I make my own caffeine pills (a hell of a lot cheaper btw) and take them before I train, but it’s for the energy boost (read: legal buzz) not fat loss.

      While the EC stack works, your hard and consistent work with your nutrition and exercise are the main reasons you’ve lost the weight.

      Don’t credit all of your hard work on supplements … and don’t fear re-gaining your lost weight because you are in control of your journey, and not the EC stack.

      • Paul Skavland
        9 years ago

        Awesome comment and I’d like to add that the same is true for me. The EC stack was very helpful to me when I was losing weight, but I decided I didn’t want to be on pills forever. I agree that after a certain point, for me, it became more of a psychological aid than anything else. I still drink coffee (Seattle native here!) but no more pills for me and I haven’t noticed any change since I stopped. (Tapered off over a period of two weeks and experienced a mild fatigue/tiredness but that ended quickly.)

        We have to always remember that ultimately, we’re still in charge of our bodies and our health. Even if someone does need to expend an extra ~400 calories or so per day, that could easily be accomplished by walking for about an hour. Not a huge problem. (And that hour could be broken up into several 5 or 10 minute bouts, too.)

    • Thanks, Jon, glad you liked the article!

  • This is very interesting and explains a lot of my own observations.

    I lost 90 pounds about 5 years ago. While losing the weight (on the UCLA RFO program – 920 calorie “fast” and lots of exercise) I could predict my weight loss each week within a tenth of a pound. I used a polar heart rate monitor to estimate calories out, and traditional BMR tables.

    Over the past 5 years and a massive exercise program I have increased my muscle mass by nearly 40 pounds (bicep from 12 to 16.5; chest from 40 to 46; etc.) and cardio 4 days per week.

    Yet the traditional equations for BMR and exercise no longer work. I have to adjust my exercise calories by about -35%(I tell the polar I am a 150 pound woman instead of a 215 pound man) and my BMR by -22% from predictions to maintain a stable weight.

    All this with a body fat percentage of 19%, less than half if my obese percentage.

  • Hi James, this is really a very illustrated experiment. I loved it! I think that, without changing our habits we could take care a little better of our weight. For example, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, or walking instead of taking the bus, or not eating carbohydrates after 6-7 pm, also drink a lot of water… Following this simple rules you can, not loose weigh, but maybe maintain what you have. That’s what I do!!

  • James,

    For someone losing a lesser amount of weight, (going from 10% BF to 6% BF) do you think the reductions in NEAT would be proportionally smaller? I’ve had some clients plateau at fairly low calorie levels, and I’m guessing there’s a rapid decrease in NEAT under a certain threshold.

    Excellent article and I’m looking forward to your book.


    • Armi,

      Yes, the reduction in NEAT would be proportionally smaller. Remember that NEAT will always decrease with fat loss since you have less weight to move around. However, the research also shows that the decrease in NEAT is greater than you would anticipate based on the weight change alone. I don’t know of any research that has looked at whether there are thresholds for greater drops. For example, does NEAT decrease more rapidly when someone goes from 10% to 6% body fat (essentially losing 40% of their body fat), versus someone going from 25% to 15% (also a 40% reduction)? This would be an interesting avenue of research to explore.

      • David Asprey
        7 years ago

        That would be an interesting study. I find NEAT extremely fascinating, and it seems to fill a lot of holes in the research on energy balance.
        Here’s another thought:

        I know high protein diets don’t produce greater weight loss in the long term, despite what might be expected from the higher thermic effect of food. Do you think a reduction in NEAT might be one of the compensatory mechanisms by which this effect is rendered null?

        thanks again 🙂

        • I don’t think the reduction in NEAT is a compensatory mechanism regarding high protein diets. I think it’s more simply an issue of adherence and “calorie creep.” Over time, people just become more lax about their dietary intake.

  • Easily said than done! You forgot to factor in the ache and pains associated with age. This may be the biggest factor why overweight people became overweight in the first place…tired, aching body. And when they try to lose weight, they regain them for 2 reasons: 1.) They can’t have so much energy expenditures because of tred aching body 2.) They are in celebratory mode that they have successfully lost weight, and that it could be done. They celebrate with food they’ve missed…Problem is the celebratory mode feels better than the dieting mode.

    So they get fat and regain their weight back.

    The only solution is to make the dieting mode a way of life…but since life is short, it’s not a pleasant way of life, for most.

    • James would I be right in assuming that that high amount of exercise wouldn’t HAVE to be done if calorie intake was monitored just as much as it was when dieting down?
      I also couldn’t guarantee to do that amount of exercise either (I know, bad!) however, I don’t see why long term weight maintenance can’t be achieved by still watching the calories??
      It may help people like the above poster was referring to.

      • You are correct that a high amount of exercise would not have to be done if you had very strict control of your calorie intake. Unfortunately, it is very difficult for most people to adhere strictly to low calorie intakes for extended periods of time, which is why high volumes of exercise become a necessity for many.

        • Thanks for the reply James.

          When you say difficult for most, are you referring mainly to keeping track of calories on a daily basis?(basically forever)

          Like I said above, I am not so sure I could guarantee to do that amount of exercise but I feel quite confident that I could keep up with watching the calories. Knowing that that would be an option as well is reassuring.

          Thanks again.

        • Just stumbled upon this great article. Very enlightening. It’s very difficult for me, at 48, to get that amount of exercise now. To burn 400 calories now requires a solid hour of heart pumping step aerobics with weight training added in circuits. I used to be able to do it five days a week. I can’t anymore. Between the calf microtears, the iliotibial band syndrome, and the arthritic knees, my body can no longer sustain that level of physical activity. Not to mention that I’m just plain tired the older I get. I’ve had to bring my exercise down to five days a week, 30-40 minutes of intermediate-grade activity, mostly low impact. Weight is up 10 lbs. over the past year because of it. In addition, having a hard time keeping my calories low as I’m struggling with hunger, even with a healthful unprocessed diet.

          Weight maintenance is very hard. It’s like your body fights you to regain. Although I feel more informed now, it certainly is disheartening.

          • Jackie
            6 years ago

            Am 59 and lost 45lbs 6 months ago. Lifestyle is the key – biking easier on the knees. Have found am more active on the NEAT level, simply because I’m not carrying around 45lbs of fat – getting the blood moving around my brain makes me feel younger AND able to catch the ‘activists’ (Grandchildren). On about 2000cals/day.

  • Hi, I know I’m kind of late for this article!

    I was just wondering if going from about 200 lbs and a fat percentage of around 19 – 20, down to about 176 – 180 lbs and a fat percentage of 10 – 12 would result in the same decrease in metabolism? I never considered myself “overweight”, but when I started to lose ab-definition I figured I wanted to lose some weight.

    I hope that going up to 200 lbs did not ruin my metabolism 🙁

    • I have been surprised that having been overweight since birth – that now I have gone from 210lbs to 165lbs (yo-yoing in between), I am naturally more active just in day to day life, so as I eat more on maintenance, (now 2000cals/ day as opposed to 1500 cals when dieting), I am not gaining. High intensity exercise is overrated – most can’t maintain it, just keeping off the couch is the answer.

  • Chris Jack
    5 years ago

    To what extent can the reduction in calories burnt be explained by a reduction in muscle fibre?

    • Hi, Chris,

      It would not be due to a reduction in muscle fiber. The researchers will often express the RMR in relation to lean body mass and they still find a reduction. Plus, muscle does not contribute much to resting metabolic rate (only 6 calories per pound of muscle).

  • Vanessa
    5 years ago

    Hi James,

    I found this to be very informative but I was somewhat confused by this article.
    Are you saying that people who lose weight, actually become less active than prior to losing weight?

    Why? I’m not sure I understand?

    Can we control our NEAT?

    Also, if we lose weight but not muscle, (or if we work to rebuild it), can we not have such a large reduction in calories?

    Sorry for the late question.

  • Vanessa
    5 years ago

    Hi James,

    I found this to be very informative but I was somewhat confused by this article.
    Are you saying that people who lose weight, actually become less active than prior to losing weight?

    Why? I’m not sure I understand?

    Can we control our NEAT?

    Also, if we lose weight but not muscle, (or if we work to rebuild it), can we not have such a large reduction in calories?

    Sorry for the late question.

    If you could help out, that would be great, I have found very few answers that I need on the net and even through nutritionists/doctor.

    • Hi, Vanessa,

      Yes, I am saying that people who lose weight become less active than prior to losing weight. The mechanisms are still not completely understood by researchers. Yes, you can control NEAT, but the research indicates you need to make a conscious effort to do so; otherwise, you will unconciously become less active. Building muscle will not stop this, as the decrease in NEAT has nothing to do with muscle mass.

  • When I was laid off in 2009, I dedicated my entire life to finding work and losing weight.
    At 5’8″, male, I successfully went from 205 to 175 in 2 months.
    I kept a detailed Excel spreadsheet log of everything I ate, even calculating calories by weighing the portions…very accurate and scientific. Also, I did at least 30 minutes of very hard HIIT mountain biking and/or weightlifting 30 minutes per day, 6 days per week.
    Then I found a job (many actually…in 2009 it was survival mode being laid off over 50 years old).
    Gradually, the weight came back as a result of sedentary work, stress, depression, anxiety, and no energy for exercise. Now I’m back where I started even though I’m exercising even harder. I’m actually gaining pounds even though I’ve never exercised harder in my life…a very athletic life in fact.
    The bottom line: I don’t think it’s realistic to survive in darwinian capitalism and have the energy to exercise enough coupled with low cal diet to keep the weight off.
    I lost the weight because I had the unemployed time to do it right.
    Capitalism and health are inversely proportional.
    Don’t beat yourself up due to the adverse effects of an evil system.
    I’ve developed more hate and anger as a result of this capitalist-fueled weight gain.
    Say what you will, but at least Bin Laden was slim, trim, and fit.

  • Vanessa
    5 years ago

    Hi James,
    Thank you so much for your answer. I hate to bother you…..Any tips for controlling NEAT?

    Also, have I ruined my metabolism by losing weight?

    Also, am I destined to gain the weight back as Gman suggests below my post?

    I noticed that you did corporate programs for weight loss, I’m assuming you can tell us a little about the success of these programs, if you want or have time?

    Thank you again! Your info is clearer, and you are more helpful than most people out there!

    • Vanessa,
      I’m obviously angry as a result of weight regain. I would suggest that you join a professional support group, have a professional nutritionist, and caring exercise trainers.
      If you gain back as little as 5 pounds (which I can do in a weekend), then go to war and engage all those “allies” I alluded to above. Fight back immediately by adjusting intake and increasing exercise. But don’t go it alone: leverage professional support aggressively.
      I’m going to lose again…I know I can. But this time, it must be sustainable, because losing the weight over 50 years of age is too grueling to do more than once in a lifetime, imho.

    • Controlling NEAT requires constant awareness, and making choices in your daily life that will result in accumulated activity. I also recommend a physical activity tracking device (like a Fitbit) so that you get an idea of how much you are truly moving around each day.

      You haven’t ruined your metabolism by losing weight. Losing weight will always result in metabolic adaptation, no matter who you are, however. This does not mean weight gain is inevitable, but it does increase the challenge in maintaining weight loss long term, and means it will require increased diligence.

      The program I was involved with was called 20/20 Lifestyles. You can see success stories here, and some program statistics here.

      Thank you for your positive comments!

  • Rahul Islam
    5 years ago

    Hello James Krieger. I want to inform you that I do not experience any weight regain tendencies that you are describing here in this article. This may be true if say you were overweight-obese during childhood and puberty where you have accumulated an excess number of fat cells where your set point may have ratcheted up. This may apply to Oprah Winfrey, in fact she also had hyperthyroidism which is also one of the reason she regained the weight.

    But when a lean individual gains modest amount of weight as an adult you only enlarge your fat cells rather than adding new ones. Like in my case I was a few kilos overweight according to my BMI from 21-23 years of age height 5″10.5, male.

    At 23 I became 88-90 KG. Before that I had always been at the lower-normal end of the BMI. I naturally dropped to 78 kilos when I finished college and university and gave up junk food and potato crisps. I gained the weight due to college-uni stresses, had lack of sleep in many days and had a very inactive lifestyle due to project works done at home. That combined with my computer game addiction.

    Anyway, I naturally dropped down to 78 kilos nearly 2 years ago, I stayed there for several months without any weight regain tendencies. Then I decided to lose more weight and dropped down to 62 KG BMI 19.3. Body Fat % 5.49. In fact initially I tried to maintain 64 kg, but I continued to lose weight 4 pounds in 1 month on what was supposed to be weight maintenance calories at 2200 with 2 hours walking. In the end I stopped counting calories and started to continue eating intuitively based on hunger/fullness signals.

    Here’s my own history of weight over the last 15 years.

    Rahul- 1999 Age 10 Rahul- 2000 Age 11 Rahul- 2001 Age 12 Rahul- 2005 Age 16
    Weight: 29 KG Weight: 38 KG Weight: 49 KG Weight: 74 KG
    Height: 140 CM Height: 150 CM Height: 157 CM Height: 175 CM
    BMI = 14.80 kg/m2 BMI = 16.89 kg/m2 BMI = 19.88 kg/m2 BMI = 24.16 kg/m2
    (Healthy weight) (Healthy weight) (Healthy weight) (Healthy weight)

    Rahul- 2007 Age 18 Rahul- 2008 Age 19 Rahul 2009- Age 20 Rahul 2010- Age 21
    Weight: 79 KG Weight: 82 KG Weight: 84 KG Weight: 86 KG
    Height: 179 CM Height: 179 CM Height: 179 CM Height: 179 CM
    BMI = 24.66 kg/m2 BMI = 25.59 kg/m2 BMI = 24.34 kg/m2 BMI = 19.35 kg/m2
    (Healthy weight) (Healthy weight) (Healthy weight) (Overweight)

    Rahul- 2011 Age 22 Rahul- 2012 Age 23 Rahul- 2013 Age 24 Rahul Feb 10 2014- Age 24-25
    Weight: 88 KG Weight: 90 KG Weight: 78 KG Weight: 62 KG – Present
    Height: 179 CM Height: 179 CM Height: 179 CM Height: 179 CM
    BMI = 27.46 kg/m2 BMI = 28.09 kg/m2 BMI = 24.34 kg/m2 BMI = 19.35 kg/m2
    (Overweight) (Overweight) (Healthy weight) (Healthy weight)

    Now as you can see over the last 9 months I have stayed exactly the same weight. If the body wanted to fight back and I had a declination in metabolic rate, I should’ve silently regained several kilograms by now. I don’t experience abnormal hunger. I have normal sex drive (erection), energy levels, body temperature, etc! But every time I step on the scale, I appear to weigh exactly the same!

    I believe it comes down to your body fat set point and the number of fat cells you possess. Because if I now consider my weight at 62 KG, 5″10.5 age 25 BMI 19.3 would be the equivalent of my childhood BMI. I was always very thin in fact in my early childhood days I was border-line underweight. My experience tells me that being overweight for 3-4 years did not have any negative impact on my body fat set point. I very easily dropped down without any plateau. Also another thing I want to point out is that when I did gain the weight over the last few years it took huge amount of calories somewhere between 3000-4000 even with sedentary lifestyle. Again pointing out that it’s not all about calories in vs calories out. Because with the way I was eating I should’ve become super obese.

    Now you might respond and tell me that 9 months of weight maintenance is not enough to draw any conclusions. But the fact of the matter is that if I had a decline in metabolic rate as little as 5% calories I should’ve rapidly regained a few kilos by now on the basis of intuitive eating! Over the last 9 months I don’t see increased level of hunger, my hunger levels are no different than before I lost the weight. This suggests that my body is happy with the weight loss.

    Best regards,

  • Yes! Finally something about lose weight in 2 weeks.

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