Is your metabolism broken?

Science by Dr. Ben Bikman

There’s a popular reality show where people are tasked with losing as much weight as rapidly as possible, and they go through extreme starvation and extreme exercise. Not surprising, this reality show had people lose a phenomenal amount of weight very quickly.

What was disturbing is what happened after the show ended. Virtually all of these people gained the weight back and often much more. These people effectively “broke” their metabolic rates [1].

Our metabolic rate is typically coupled to our body weight [2]. When someone starts to gain weight, their metabolic rate will actually go up. And if they lose weight, their metabolic rate will go down. So as these people were losing an incredible amount of weight through starvation, their metabolic rate went down as they lost weight—that’s what it’s supposed to do. However, as they started gaining weight again, their metabolism didn’t match it; It didn’t come back up with this incredible yo-yo, this incredible bounce back up in body weight. This shows that they had broken their metabolic rate.

The takeaway is that it’s essential to learn how to manage your macronutrients in a smart way. When you control carbohydrates, and focus on protein and healthy fats, you’re keeping your insulin in check. By doing so, your metabolic rate can be almost 300 calories per day higher than that of someone who’s tipping their macros in the other direction: less protein and fat, more carbohydrates, higher insulin [3]. Again, that approach will slow down your metabolic rate.

If you want to try to play the numbers game, when it comes to calories, focus on managing your macros in a way that prioritizes protein and fat. That can literally accelerate your metabolic rate up to about 300 calories higher than it would be otherwise.



1          Fothergill, E., Guo, J., Howard, L., Kerns, J. C., Knuth, N. D., Brychta, R., Chen, K. Y., Skarulis, M. C., Walter, M., Walter, P. J. and Hall, K. D. (2016) Persistent metabolic adaptation 6 years after “The Biggest Loser” competition. Obesity (Silver Spring). 24, 1612-1619

2          Westerterp, K. R. (2017) Control of energy expenditure in humans. European journal of clinical nutrition. 71, 340-344

3          Ebbeling, C. B., Feldman, H. A., Klein, G. L., Wong, J. M. W., Bielak, L., Steltz, S. K., Luoto, P. K., Wolfe, R. R., Wong, W. W. and Ludwig, D. S. (2018) Effects of a low carbohydrate diet on energy expenditure during weight loss maintenance: randomized trial. BMJ. 363, k4583