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Does metabolic compensation explain the majority of less-than-expected weight loss in obese adults during a short-term severe diet and exercise intervention?

journal contribution
posted on 2023-05-18, 21:30 authored by Nuala ByrneNuala Byrne, Wood, RE, Schutz, Y, Andrew HillsAndrew Hills

Objective: We investigated to what extent changes in metabolic rate and composition of weight loss explained the less-than-expected weight loss in obese men and women during a diet-plus-exercise intervention.

Design: In all, 16 obese men and women (41 ± 9 years; body mass index (BMI) 39 ± 6 kg m−2) were investigated in energy balance before, after and twice during a 12-week very-low-energy diet (565–650 kcal per day) plus exercise (aerobic plus resistance training) intervention. The relative energy deficit (EDef) from baseline requirements was severe (74%–87%). Body composition was measured by deuterium dilution and dual energy X-ray absorptiometry, and resting metabolic rate (RMR) was measured by indirect calorimetry. Fat mass (FM) and fat-free mass (FFM) were converted into energy equivalents using constants 9.45 kcal per g FM and 1.13 kcal per g FFM. Predicted weight loss was calculated from the EDef using the '7700 kcal kg−1 rule'.

RESULTS: Changes in weight (-18.6 ± 5.0 kg), FM (-15.5 ± 4.3 kg) and FFM (-3.1 ± 1.9 kg) did not differ between genders. Measured weight loss was on average 67% of the predicted value, but ranged from 39% to 94%. Relative EDef was correlated with the decrease in RMR (R = 0.70, P < 0.01), and the decrease in RMR correlated with the difference between actual and expected weight loss (R = 0.51, P < 0.01). Changes in metabolic rate explained on average 67% of the less-than-expected weight loss, and variability in the proportion of weight lost as FM accounted for a further 5%. On average, after adjustment for changes in metabolic rate and body composition of weight lost, actual weight loss reached 90% of the predicted values.

CONCLUSION: Although weight loss was 33% lower than predicted at baseline from standard energy equivalents, the majority of this differential was explained by physiological variables. Although lower-than-expected weight loss is often attributed to incomplete adherence to prescribed interventions, the influence of baseline calculation errors and metabolic downregulation should not be discounted.


Publication title

International Journal of Obesity










School of Health Sciences


Nature Publishing Group

Place of publication

United Kingdom

Repository Status

  • Restricted

Socio-economic Objectives

Public health (excl. specific population health) not elsewhere classified

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