Ask the RD: How Does Adaptive Thermogenesis Affect Metabolism?

Sidney Fry, MS, RD
by Sidney Fry, MS, RD
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Ask the RD: How Does Adaptive Thermogenesis Affect Metabolism?

Losing weight is a common goal for many MyFitnessPal readers, and it’s a dynamic process that has its ups and downs. In fact, reaching a weight-loss plateau is common, and it’s not always a bad thing. How your body reacts to calorie restriction over time (aka adaptive thermogenesis) varies from person to person, which is why it’s a good idea to work with a registered dietitian or another healthcare professional who can help you create an individualized program that can be tracked in an app like MyFitnessPal. That being said, here’s what you need to know about the role adaptive thermogenesis plays in weight loss.


In short, adaptive thermogenesis is how your body responds to calorie restriction over time. The idea behind the concept is that, when you lose weight, your body adjusts by slowing your metabolism to conserve energy, which is why adaptive thermogenesis is also often referred to as “starvation mode.” What’s more, when you lose weight leptin levels are disrupted. Leptin, often referred to as the “satiety hormone,” inhibits hunger and regulates energy balance. Thus, these two factors (a slower metabolism and disrupted leptin levels) can result in a weight-loss plateau or even lead to gaining weight back.

Unfortunately, it’s unclear as to what exactly makes our metabolisms run consistently and more research is needed on the idea behind adaptive thermogenesis. However, the good news is there are a few things you can do to help maintain a steady, healthy metabolism.


1. Avoid yo-yo dieting.

It’s best to approach weight loss in a consistent, incremental way, rather than a fast, drastic change. Very few people can maintain super restrictive or extreme diets for long periods of time. The more extreme, the more likely the rebound. An average of 80% of people who lose weight tend to regain some, all or even more weight over time. A slower rate of weight loss — one with smaller energy deficits over a longer period of time — has a greater chance at long-term success. Many people fall victim to weight cycling without even realizing it … going in and out of keto, participating in an occasional extreme cleansing, going on and off Paleo every few months, etc. Regaining the weight offsets your body composition, thus negatively affecting your metabolism and knocking you even further from achieving your weight-loss goals.

2. Make sure to eat enough food. Especially protein.
Protein supports muscle growth, satiety and weight loss. It doesn’t spike blood sugar as drastically as carbohydrates can, so it’s important to include quality proteins at each meal to slow the absorption of sugar.

As a general rule, most people need at least 1,200 calories a day to feed their everyday activities, metabolism and bodily mechanisms. People who are more active and exercise regularly usually need more. A diet with too few calories may not only hinder weight-loss efforts, but could also make it difficult to meet your daily vitamin and mineral needs, and have an overall negative impact on your health. Moreover, depending on how much you are exercising, too few calories means not enough fuel to execute optimal calorie burn. Higher protein diets (those with more than 25% of total daily calories from protein) are associated with increased thermogenesis as well as satiety.

3. Incorporate resistance training.
When you lose weight, you tend to lose fat and muscle. Muscle is more efficient at burning calories than fat. Strength training and other bodyweight exercises that focus on building lean muscle mass can help support your metabolism so you’ll burn more calories at rest. Some good news for newbies: Lighter weights done with more reps can be as effective as heavier weightlifting.

About the Author

Sidney Fry, MS, RD
Sidney Fry, MS, RD

Sidney is a two-time James Beard Award-winning food and nutrition writer, editor and mom based out of Birmingham, Alabama. A registered dietitian with a passion for research and being proactive about health, she loves to eat, write, run and create simple, tasty meals with whole-food-based approach. Find out more from her website, Instagram or Twitter.


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