What is Metabolic Adaptation?

Feb 21, 2022

Has this ever happened to you? You begin a diet, cut calories and start to lose some weight. After a little while, your body suddenly stops losing weight. You’re still eating the same number of calories and exercising the same amount but nothing is changing.

What has happened is called metabolic adaptation. It’s the process by which the body alters how efficient it is at turning the food you eat into energy. Basically it’s our body's biological process in response to starvation. If you’re thinking, “Well I’m just dieting, not necessarily starving.” A diet or “deficit” is the closest we’ll get to famine or starvation. Our body doesn’t understand that we are just trying to shed a few pounds or that this will be temporary. So it responds by adapting to the lower calories (over a period of time) and slowing down your metabolism.

Now what usually happens when you hit a plateau and stop losing weight? Most people will think they need to cut more calories. Eat less to see more results. So again, the body adapts to become more efficient at using less calories. So again, what happens? Decrease calories even more and again the body adapts. Before you know it you're now eating 1100 calories and have created an 1100 calorie metabolism. Meaning your body is now efficiently running at 1100 calories so when you eat more than that (and you will because no one can live off of 1100 calories), your body will store the excess calories.

Let me give you an exact example. Let’s say Jenny is eating 2000 calories at the start of her diet. She starts her diet at 1700 calories and loses some weight but then after a few months, progress stalls. So she drops her calories to 1400 and loses just a few more pounds but it stalls again after another month. Drops another 200 calories down to 1200 calories and again the same thing happens. She’s now at a point where she’s not losing any weight because her body is holding on to every calorie as a means to keep her bodily systems functioning.

This survival response is why so many people who have been dieting for a very long time often say, “I can’t lose weight!” It’s because the metabolism has adapted to chronically low calorie consumption. Besides the frustration of not losing weight, you’ve now also majorly messed up your hormones, gut health, thyroid, and you might even see weight GAIN.

So how do you avoid metabolic adaptation?

The simplest answer is to NOT diet all the time. The more complex answer is to have a long-term plan for dieting. Don’t just go into it blindly thinking, “I’ll just cut calories or try this fad diet and lose weight.” Ideally, you should have diet breaks planned in, possibly carb cycling to avoid metabolic adaptation, reverse diet and maintenance phases included. Sounds confusing? I get that which is why I created a whole course on planning your diet for a full year to AVOID your metabolism from adapting. Check it out here or feel free to email me at [email protected] if you’re interested in some 1:1 coach support!


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