Effect of dietary adherence on the body weight plateau: a mathematical model incorporating intermittent compliance with energy intake prescription

Am J Clin Nutr. 2014 Sep;100(3):787-95. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.113.079822. Epub 2014 Jul 30.


Background: Clinical weight loss in individuals typically stabilizes at 6 mo. However, validated models of dynamic energy balance have consistently shown weight plateaus between 1 and 2 y. The cause for this discrepancy is unclear.

Objective: We developed 2 mathematical models on the basis of the first law of thermodynamics to investigate plausible explanations for reaching an early weight plateau at 6 mo.

Design: The first model was an energy-expenditure adaptation model and was applied to determine the degree of metabolic adaptation required to generate this plateau. The second model was an intermittent lack-of-adherence model formulated by using a randomly fluctuating energy intake term accounting for intermittent noncompliance in dietary intake to reach this plateau. To set model variables, validate models, and compare free-living weight-loss patterns to in-residence supervised programs, we applied the following 4 different studies: The US NHANES 1999-2004, Comprehensive Assessment of Long-term Effects of Reducing Intake of Energy (CALERIE) weight-loss study, the Bouchard Twin overfeeding study, and the Minnesota Starvation Experiment.

Results: The metabolic adaptation model increased final weight but did not affect the predicted plateau time point. The intermittent lack-of-adherence model generated oscillating weight graphs that have been frequently observed in weight-loss studies. The model showed that a 6-mo weight-loss plateau can be attained despite what can be considered as high diet adherence. The model was programmed as a downloadable application.

Conclusions: An intermittent lack of diet adherence, not metabolic adaptation, is a major contributor to the frequently observed early weight-loss plateau. The new weight-loss prediction software, which incorporates an intermittent lack of adherence, can be used to guide and inform patients on realistic levels of adherence on the basis of patient lifestyle.

Trial registration: ClinicalTrials.gov NCT00099151.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Twin Study
  • Validation Study

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Caloric Restriction / adverse effects
  • Canada
  • Cohort Studies
  • Diet, Reducing*
  • Energy Intake*
  • Energy Metabolism
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hyperphagia / metabolism
  • Hyperphagia / prevention & control
  • Male
  • Models, Biological*
  • Nutrition Surveys
  • Obesity / diet therapy*
  • Obesity / metabolism
  • Obesity / prevention & control
  • Overweight / diet therapy*
  • Overweight / metabolism
  • Overweight / prevention & control
  • Patient Compliance*
  • Recurrence
  • Software
  • United States
  • Weight Gain
  • Weight Loss

Associated data

  • ClinicalTrials.gov/NCT00099151