Unexplained disturbance in body weight regulation: diagnostic outcome assessed by doubly labeled water and body composition analyses in obese patients reporting low energy intakes

J Am Diet Assoc. 1995 Dec;95(12):1393-400; quiz 1401-2. doi: 10.1016/S0002-8223(95)00367-3.


Subjects: Ten patients who had long-term disturbances in body weight regulation, were referred over a 3-year period for obesity evaluation, and reported low energy intakes (< 1,200 kcal/day).

Objective: To ascertain whether these patients had a low energy expenditure and thus reduced energy requirement, and/or whether they were misreporting their energy intake.

Design: Comparison of outcome measures in referred patients and in obese control patients who did not report low energy intakes and disturbances in body weight regulation.

Main outcome measures: Low energy expenditure was evaluated with serum thyroid hormone levels, resting metabolic rate (RMR), thermic effect of food (TEF), and total energy expenditure (TEE) by doubly labeled water technique. Misreporting of energy intake was evaluated by comparing patients' self-reported energy intake with energy intake estimated by doubly labeled water and body composition analyses over a 14-day period.

Statistical analyses performed: Low energy expenditure was considered present in a patient if RMR or TEE was more than 15% below predicted values according to results from the control group. Patient group TEF was compared with TEF results observed in the control group.

Results: All patients had normal serum thyroid hormone levels. Eight patients had RMR and TEE values within 15% of predicted values and were substantially underreporting their energy intake. One patient had low TEE (-19%) and a normal RMR, a finding that implies a low level of physical activity. This patient also underreported energy intake as estimated by the doubly labeled water technique during the study (-38%). The 10th patient had a low RMR (-23.2%) and TEE (-25.0%), the mechanism of which was uncertain. This patient's reported food intake over the 14-day period was accurate but was less than her long-term intake over months or years as suggested by doubly labeled water TEE estimates. The TEF response in patients was not significantly different from that observed in the control group.

Conclusions: Underreporting of energy intake from foods is a frequent finding in patients with disturbances in body weight regulation who are referred for obesity evaluation. Severe underreporting may be detectable by means of screening measures available to most dietitians. Low energy expenditure, due either to physical inactivity or to metabolic factors, is also observed. Modern evaluation methods provide new insights into patients with weight regulatory disturbances and at the same time stimulate important new research questions.

Publication types

  • Case Reports
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Body Composition
  • Body Weight / physiology*
  • Energy Intake*
  • Energy Metabolism*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Obesity / metabolism*
  • Self Disclosure