Metabolic Damage: Why Does Your Metabolism Slow Down After A Diet?

Metabolic Damage Why Does Your Metabolism Slow Down After A Diet
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Many people believe that their metabolism is negatively affected after a restrictive diet. We called it metabolic damage. The typical sign that we believe we are in metabolic damage is when we are no longer able to eat like how we used to eat before the diet.

It leads most of us to feel hopeless when we suspected that our body is in ‘starvation mode’. Worst, those that suffered in the so-called ‘metabolic damage’ have no choice, but to continue eating lesser and lesser in order to cope with it.

Hey, tough soul. I’m Alyssa.

If this is what you constantly asking:

“I think I’ve got metabolic damage. I have no choice now but to eat less.”

If this is you, then you need to know that this is just a misconception. However, once you know the true nature of metabolic damage really is, there is a way to revert this.

In this post, I will be discussing metabolism in regards to diet change, as well as the best way to increase calorie intake even though you think you had been in ‘metabolism damage’.

Does your metabolism actually slow down after dieting?

It’s true that those that had been on a diet need to eat lesser to avoid weight regain. This does not come out from no reason. A person that ongoing on a 450 deficit diet for two months, might find out their maintenance calories currently is only 1500kcal instead of 1800 before their diet.

Obviously, their TDEE after diet tends to become lower after dieting. Seems that is a straightforward hypothesis that their metabolism had slowed down. However, that isn’t the whole story.

Norwegian University of Science and Technology did a study regarding metabolic damage. The finding for the studies is that our BMR only decreased by about 5% because of the overall weight decrease. However, the most significant change actually came from your NEAT, which decreased by about 40%.

TDEE before and after diet
TDEE before and after dieting

Most of the time, we assumed that it’s our BMR that decreases after the ‘starvation mode’. However, if you look closely at the TDEE distribution above. Surprisingly the difference doesn’t come from the BMR, instead, it’s the other three components in the TDEE that decreased: NEAT, TEF & EAT.

The Truth Of Metabolic Damage

Surprisingly studies had found that people that is ongoing a calorie deficit diet tend to move less without noticing themselves.

This means, out from the time when you are trying to do more cardio or extend your gym hours to burn more fat. The rest of the time, when you will found you are lethargic to do anything, your total physical activities throughout the day will decrease subconsciously.

Most of us like to think of this as ‘metabolic damage’ or so-called ‘starvation mode’. You will think that means the body will be more effective in storing fat after dieting because it had started to dysfunction and your metabolism had slowed down.

No, our metabolism won’t damage. The body doesn’t get revengeful once we eat less, it won’t start acting ridiculously and said ‘alright, I’m broken and torn, I’ll slave all calories once you eat them. I’ll behave badly and make you fat.’

It is Just Metabolic Adaptation

Your BMR is the most important thing your body tries to hold because it’s so important! It will save as much energy as possible to sustain your basic body function. Therefore what it could do to you is that it tries to align other small factors to help you adapt to a lower calorie intake (you won’t notice it at all).

Instead of thinking our metabolism is ruined due to decreasing calorie intake, think of it as trying to adapt to the new calorie. Not only your TDEE will decrease, but what happens during this time also because your body is currently at a lower set point.

During this time, if you immediately jump back to your normal maintenance calories, it will perceive that ‘maintenance calories as ‘excess calories’ therefore storing them into fat.

Why Did Our Metabolism Slow Down After a Diet?

Let’s imagine this scenario. Someone had been successfully dieting and losing a few pounds and wish to take their calorie intake back to their normal diet. My answer is: should they immediately return to their previous calorie intake?

The answer is don’t.

Most people go wrong because they return to their exact same calories before they diet, and guess what– they always ended up gaining weight!

The real reason is that during this time, your maintenance calories are no longer the same.

Although I mentioned that our BMR will not affect as much as the other three components in TDEE due to lowered calorie intake. However, don’t forget now you have a lighter weight. Therefore your BMR will always tend to be lower.

Maintenance weight before and after diet.
The nearer you reach a lower weight, the closer your maintenance calories,

Another reason also that if someone does not follow the right way for weight loss, especially those that go for a restricted diet, it always tends to impact their lean mass! The typical restricting diet and too much cardio often time will cause a decrease in muscle mass. Body composition is also another factor that determines your metabolism. From this, we could predict how easily an untrained individual turned to have lower metabolism due to lack of muscle mass.

Body composition is the most critical factor in determining absolute RMR in neutral energy balance.

Anastasia Zinchenko & Menno Henselmans

How to Deal With Metabolic Adaptation

From the model above, we can predict that person will continue losing weight until the end of week eight, which is the plateau that we always mentioned.

How long will the deficit become closer and eventually your weight loss hit a plateau?

This will depend on how aggressive your calorie deficit is and the total length when you dieting.

The more drastic you make changes in your diet, the faster you’ll hit a plateau. Therefore most fitness gurus will suggest a more healthy approach to weight loss making a small deficit and constantly adjusting your calories over time.

Of course, the above is the best scenario. However, for those that have problems with metabolism–chances are you are already in a calorie deficit over a long time and you think that you are in a helpless situation. Don’t worry.

In fact, studies had stated that there will be no permanent effect on your BMR (basal metabolic rate) even after a prolonged time of calorie deficit.

There is your solution: reverse dieting.

Increase Your Food Intake Gradually by Reverse Dieting

The difference between reverse dieting instead of suddenly increasing calorie intake to a normal level is that the theory of letting your body slowly adapt to a higher calorie intake therefore you could minimize the fat gain.

I wanted to mention this Minessota Experiment because it did a good job by experimenting how our body responds in increase food intake after calorie restriction. This is what they did, after the subjects are ongoing 24 weeks of severe calorie deficit, these people had separated into 4 groups to refeed them with higher calories in 12 weeks(half of their dieting period). These 4 groups are differentiated by the rate of calories introduced during the reverse diet.

Data of refeeding and weight gain in Minessota Experiment
After 24 weeks of extreme calorie deficit, these individuals were separated into 4 groups for refeed.

The group that adds in calories gradually, gains less fat and appears less impact on their weight. However, the group that increase their calories directly gained more weight.

From the experiment above, we know that a reverse diet is the best solution to deal with lowered metabolism due to dieting. At the same time, by incorporating resistance to build more lean mass. You could actually revert the so-called ‘metabolic damage’ and return to your previous calorie intake as close as possible.

If you are interested in learning more about reverse dieting, check out my blog post here!

Final Thought

Here’s some takeaway from today’s discussion:

Your metabolism will not damage due to extreme calorie restriction. Often time we hate metabolic adaptation because it makes slimming down harder than it is supposed to be, however, think of another way–it’s hard for you to gain weight too.

Always remember your body will try to adapt to whatever things you give, you just need to make things gradually. So start increasing calories and trust the process. Over time, your metabolism will soon adapt to a higher calorie intake and guess what–not much effect on your weight!

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