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How to Avoid Lowering Your Metabolism When Losing Weight

When starting a new fitness and nutrition plan, many people have success with dropping those initial pounds but struggle with keeping the momentum. It is common to hit that plateau, where you are still on track with your exercise and diet plan but your weight loss starts to stabilize. If this sounds familiar to you, you’re not alone, AND there are strategies to avoid that plateau and continue with sustained, gradual weight loss. Keep reading to learn why plateaus happen and what you can do to avoid them in the first place.

The set point: what it is and what the science says

The setpoint refers to your body’s metabolic rate or the amount of energy it takes for you to simply be alive, excluding the extra energy you burn walking, exercising, and moving around. Your set point plays a role in determining how many calories you need to consume. As everyone’s body is unique, each person has a different set point.1 While your set point is partly influenced by your genes, it is also influenced by certain lifestyle behaviors, giving you some control over your metabolism.

With more weight on our body, our energy needs will generally be higher, as it takes more energy to move around with more weight. This means that as we lose weight, our metabolic rate tends to drop, which makes sense because our body is lighter. However, sometimes our set point will drop even more than expected, which can contribute to that plateau.1 When that plateau hits, it is common for people to try cutting back on calories or amping up the exercise, but there are only so many calories you can cut and a limited amount of time in the day to devote to physical activity.

How to avoid weight loss plateaus

Keep reading to learn five top tips for how to change your exercise routine (without making it longer) and how to eat right to keep your metabolism burning and to stay on the track for slow but steady weight loss.

1. Focus on strength training to build that lean body mass

While aerobic exercise is also important for overall health and can lead to faster drops in weight, incorporating strength training is key for sustainable, long term weight loss and maintenance. After strenuous muscle exercises, it can take up to two days for your muscles to repair- this is when the calorie-burning happens. When it comes to strength training, keep these tips in mind:1

  • Get in full-body workouts, focusing on the large muscle groups. Examples include elliptical, exercise bike, treadmill, pilates, and weights.
  • Do reps until your muscles fatigue. Working to your muscle’s fatigue doesn’t mean exhaustion, but you should feel them getting tired. Always be aware of your blood glucose levels and have your kit close by! The recovery process is what will lead to sustained calorie burning later.
  • Be okay with some initial weight gain. When you start strength training, your body will start building more muscle. As your body changes in composition and builds up that muscle, your weight may initially increase. Don’t be discouraged- you are setting the foundation for sustainable weight loss to come.

2. Fit that movement in!

Exercising doesn’t have to only take place in the gym– moving throughout the day can add up! This can be as simple as taking the stairs, going for a brisk walk during your lunch break, or doing some jumping jacks during commercial breaks. This movement in everyday life is called ‘non-exercise activity thermogenesis,’ or NEAT- bring a little more NEAT into your life! Guess what fidgeting counts! So when sitting surfing the internet, wiggle and jiggle, tap, and shrug! Move more anyway you can!

3. Keep it slow

Keep it slow. As they say, slow and steady wins the race, and this is not only true for the tortoise and the hare, but also when it comes to weight loss. In fact, research shows that those who have a gradual weight loss of 1 to 2 pounds per week are more likely to have success in keeping that weight off for the longer term. Link that weight loss to long term changes in your eating and lifestyle habits.2

4. Make sure you fuel with enough protein

Make sure your diet has enough protein. Some studies have found that following a higher-protein eating pattern aids with weight loss, helps you avoid losing lean muscle mass, and helps prevent that metabolic slow-down.3 Protein may also help contribute to that feeling of satiety, which can help you stay on track with your calorie goals.4 When it comes to protein, focus on lean proteins- think fish, beans, legumes, soy products, and lean poultry.3

Still have questions?

Meet with a registered dietitian to determine how many calories your body needs and to develop a realistic eating plan and exercise goals.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The Type2Diabetes.com team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

  1. Todd Miller, Stephanie Mull. 476. Preventing Metabolic Adaptation During Weight Loss - Google Drive. In: FNCE. Washington, D.C.; 2018.
  2. Losing Weight | Healthy Weight | CDC. https://www.cdc.gov/healthyweight/losing_weight/index.html. Accessed January 31, 2019.
  3. High-Protein Diets and Weight Loss - Today’s Dietitian Magazine. https://www.todaysdietitian.com/newarchives/1217p32.shtml. Accessed January 31, 2019.
  4. A Food Insight Series on the Power of Protein: A Peek at Protein and Weight Management - IFIC Foundation. https://foodinsight.org/a-food-insight-series-on-the-power-of-protein-a-peek-at-protein-and-weight-management/. Accessed January 31, 2019.

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