Attenuating the Biologic Drive for Weight Regain Following Weight Loss: Must What Goes Down Always Go Back Up?

Nutrients. 2017 May 6;9(5):468. doi: 10.3390/nu9050468.


Metabolic adaptations occur with weight loss that result in increased hunger with discordant simultaneous reductions in energy requirements-producing the so-called energy gap in which more energy is desired than is required. The increased hunger is associated with elevation of the orexigenic hormone ghrelin and decrements in anorexigenic hormones. The lower total daily energy expenditure with diet-induced weight loss results from (1) a disproportionately greater decrease in circulating leptin and resting metabolic rate (RMR) than would be predicted based on the decline in body mass, (2) decreased thermic effect of food (TEF), and (3) increased energy efficiency at work intensities characteristic of activities of daily living. These metabolic adaptations can readily promote weight regain. While more experimental research is needed to identify effective strategies to narrow the energy gap and attenuate weight regain, some factors contributing to long-term weight loss maintenance have been identified. Less hunger and greater satiation have been associated with higher intakes of protein and dietary fiber, and lower glycemic load diets. High levels of physical activity are characteristic of most successful weight maintainers. A high energy flux state characterized by high daily energy expenditure and matching energy intake may attenuate the declines in RMR and TEF, and may also result in more accurate regulation of energy intake to match daily energy expenditure.

Keywords: diet composition; energy expenditure; energy gap; energy intake; exercise; weight regain.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Appetite
  • Basal Metabolism
  • Diet, Reducing
  • Energy Intake / physiology*
  • Energy Metabolism / physiology*
  • Ghrelin
  • Humans
  • Hunger
  • Leptin
  • Life Style
  • Obesity / physiopathology
  • Obesity / therapy
  • Thermodynamics
  • Weight Gain / physiology*
  • Weight Loss / physiology*


  • Ghrelin
  • Leptin