Metabolic adaptations during negative energy balance and their potential impact on appetite and food intake

Proc Nutr Soc. 2019 Aug;78(3):279-289. doi: 10.1017/S0029665118002811. Epub 2019 Feb 19.


This review examines the metabolic adaptations that occur in response to negative energy balance and their potential putative or functional impact on appetite and food intake. Sustained negative energy balance will result in weight loss, with body composition changes similar for different dietary interventions if total energy and protein intake are equated. During periods of underfeeding, compensatory metabolic and behavioural responses occur that attenuate the prescribed energy deficit. While losses of metabolically active tissue during energy deficit result in reduced energy expenditure, an additional down-regulation in expenditure has been noted that cannot be explained by changes in body tissue (e.g. adaptive thermogenesis). Sustained negative energy balance is also associated with an increase in orexigenic drive and changes in appetite-related peptides during weight loss that may act as cues for increased hunger and food intake. It has also been suggested that losses of fat-free mass (FFM) could also act as an orexigenic signal during weight loss, but more data are needed to support these findings and the signalling pathways linking FFM and energy intake remain unclear. Taken together, these metabolic and behavioural responses to weight loss point to a highly complex and dynamic energy balance system in which perturbations to individual components can cause co-ordinated and inter-related compensatory responses elsewhere. The strength of these compensatory responses is individually subtle, and early identification of this variability may help identify individuals that respond well or poorly to an intervention.

Keywords: EE energy expenditure; EI energy intake; FFM fat-free mass; FM fat mass; Appetite control; Body composition; Energy expenditure; Energy intake; Negative energy balance.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Appetite / physiology*
  • Body Composition / physiology*
  • Body Weight / physiology
  • Energy Intake / physiology*
  • Energy Metabolism / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Obesity / metabolism
  • Obesity / physiopathology
  • Weight Loss / physiology*