Hypocaloric diets cause a fall in resting metabolic rate that interferes with weight loss. To evaluate the mechanisms underlying this phenomenon, resting metabolic rate was measured sequentially in six healthy obese women on a weight maintenance diet (more than 2,300 kilocalories), after 15 days of an 800 kilocalories carbohydrate-free diet, and after isocaloric sucrose replacement for an additional 15 days. The carbohydrate-free diet produced a 21 percent decline in resting metabolic rate (p less than 0.005) as well as a decrease in circulating triiodothyronine (41 percent, p less than 0.02) and insulin (38 percent, p less than 0.005) concentrations. Plasma norepinephrine levels also tended to decline (10 percent, 0.05 greater than p less than 0.1). However, when sucrose was substituted, resting metabolic rate rose toward baseline values even though total caloric intake was unchanged and weight loss continued. The sucrose-induced rise in resting metabolic rate was accompanied by a rise in serum triiodothyronine values, but not plasma insulin or norepinephrine concentrations. Throughout, changes in resting metabolic rate correlated with changes in serum triiodothyronine levels (r = 0.701, p less than 0.01). In four obese women, a hypocaloric sucrose diet was given at the outset for 15 days. The fall in both resting metabolic rate and triiodothyronine concentration was markedly reduced as compared with values during the carbohydrate-free diet. It is concluded that carbohydrate restriction plays an important role in mediating the fall in resting metabolic rate during hypocaloric feeding. This effect may, at least in part, be related to changes in circulating triiodothyronine levels. Incorporation of carbohydrate in diet regimens may, therefore, minimize the thermic adaptation to weight loss.