Energy metabolism, fuel selection and body weight regulation

Int J Obes (Lond). 2008 Dec;32 Suppl 7(Suppl 7):S109-19. doi: 10.1038/ijo.2008.246.


Energy homeostasis is critical for the survival of species. Therefore, multiple and complex mechanisms have evolved to regulate energy intake and expenditure to maintain body weight. For weight maintenance, not only does energy intake have to match energy expenditure, but also macronutrient intake must balance macronutrient oxidation. However, this equilibrium seems to be particularly difficult to achieve in individuals with low fat oxidation, low energy expenditure, low sympathetic activity or low levels of spontaneous physical activity, as in addition to excess energy intake, all of these factors explain the tendency of some people to gain weight. Additionally, large variability in weight change is observed when energy surplus is imposed experimentally or spontaneously. Clearly, the data suggest a strong genetic influence on body weight regulation implying a normal physiology in an 'obesogenic' environment. In this study, we also review evidence that carbohydrate balance may represent the potential signal that regulates energy homeostasis by impacting energy intake and body weight. Because of the small storage capacity for carbohydrate and its importance for metabolism in many tissues and organs, carbohydrate balance must be maintained at a given level. This drive for balance may in turn cause increased energy intake when consuming a diet high in fat and low in carbohydrate. If sustained over time, such an increase in energy intake cannot be detected by available methods, but may cause meaningful increases in body weight. The concept of metabolic flexibility and its impact on body weight regulation is also presented.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Body Weight / physiology*
  • Dietary Carbohydrates / metabolism
  • Dietary Fats / metabolism
  • Dietary Proteins / metabolism
  • Energy Intake / genetics
  • Energy Metabolism / physiology*
  • Feeding Behavior / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Obesity / etiology*
  • Obesity / metabolism
  • Oxidation-Reduction


  • Dietary Carbohydrates
  • Dietary Fats
  • Dietary Proteins