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Healthy Weight Center

Am I Gaining Weight Because of My Metabolism?

03/11/2009

Question:

I am 22 years old and the doctor told me that I might want to lose some weight when I was 15. I went from 193 lbs. at 15 years old to 125 when I was 18. I was exercising about 2 hours a day and I was eating about 2000 calories a day. Then during my sophomore year of college I was very busy and I began skipping meals sometimes only eating 800 calories a day. I noticed that even though I was eating considerably less, I was starting to gain weight and I had to buy new clothes. This did not make much sense to me seeing that I was exercising so much and eating a healthy diet low in fat. Now, no matter what I do I cannot seem to lose weight and I still exercise for about 2 hours a day and I only eat about 600 calories a day. It is very frustrating. I was wondering if by eating such a low calorie diet I had caused my metabolism to slow down leading to the weight gain. If this is the problem, is there any way that I can fix it? Also, are there any other reasons why I might be gaining so much weight even though I am eating healthy and exercising for 2 hours a day 7 days a week?

Answer:

Dear 22-year-old,

 I think you hit the nail on the head when you stated that your reduced calorie diet has created a slower metabolism. Your body is essentially in survival mode. When there is a lack of calories in the diet, our bodies naturally become more fuel-efficient. Our bodies do this to ensure that vital organs are provided with enough energy to function properly. Ideally we want our whole body (muscle and organs) to be a calorie-burning furnace. In a starved-state, muscle metabolism slows down so that vital organs can utilize the calories.

Many health/wellness centers now own a piece of equipment called a MedGem. This is a small device that measures RMR (resting metabolic rate) using a method known as indirect calorimetry. Subjects breathe into this device for approximately 5-10 minutes before a measurement is generated. It is good practice to create a calorie deficit in order to lose weight; however, I believe your extreme calorie reduction is working against you. In addition to weakening your metabolism, 600 calories is not enough food to supply adequate nutrients to promote optimal health. Yes, nutritional supplements can be used to combat this issue; however, supplements undoubtedly neglect positive attributes of real food. Additionally, supplements do not taste as good as real food, and they are much more costly.

I'm curious to know what kind of exercise you are doing? When individuals exercise, their metabolism increases while the workout is taking place due to the increased muscle activity. It is important that you get in both aerobic and strength training. You might consider consulting a certified personal trainer to assess your current exercise routine.

What happened to your sleep schedule starting your sophomore year? Did you start getting less of it with your busy schedule? Lack of sleep can create hormonal issues that will contribute towards weight gain. You may need to assess your sleep. Sleep requirements vary from person to person. If you are sleep-deprived, it might be contributing.

If you have further questions I would encourage you to get in touch with a local dietitian.

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Response by:

Angela Blackstone, RD, LD
Staff Dietitian
Metabolic Surgery Program
Wexner Medical Center
The Ohio State University