How Much Exercise is Needed to Maintain Weight Loss?

I have some bad news and some good news. But, as always, the bad news comes first.

If you have lost a significant amount of weight, it will undoubtedly be harder for you to maintain your new weight than it is for someone of the exact same weight and body composition who was never overweight.

What do I mean by this? Let’s assume that you’ve just lost 50 pounds and now weigh 150 pounds with 30% body fat – a reasonably “good” percentage for someone your age. Your friend, who may or may not have PCOS, also weighs 150 pounds with the same percent body fat. For ease of comparison, we will assume that you also do the same amount of daily physical activity – you sit, you walk, you sit some more – pretty typical for the twenty-first century.

Let’s guesstimate that your resting metabolic rate (the number of calories you burn, if you’re sitting at rest all day) is around 1500 – we multiply your bodyweight in pounds by 10 for a rough estimate. Then we multiply that by 1.6 to account for the additional calories you burn from a day’s worth of average physical activity for a total of 2400 calories per day.

Here’s the problem. Your friend can eat her 2400 calories per day and her weight bounces up and down the normal 2-3 pounds, but long term it stays the same. You, on the other hand, for reasons we don’t fully understand, can only eat 1900 calories per day to keep from gaining weight. If you eat the same diet as your friend, you’ll gain an extra pound every week (500 calories per day x 7 days = 3500 calories, which is the energy content of a pound of fat) and within a year will have regained every pound you lost.

You didn’t overeat; your body has simply become super-efficient and now under-burns calories. This is exactly what the Persistent metabolic adaptation 6 years after “The Biggest Loser” competition study showed us. Contestant metabolic rates averaged 500 calories per day lower than similar sized people who had never lost weight.

It doesn’t seem fair, but that’s the way it is. This problem is further compounded by the fact that when you’re only eating 1900 calories per day, you will most likely be hungry almost all the time. Except in rare cases, your appetite center doesn’t adjust well to this fact and still expects to consume 2400 calories to maintain your 150-pound body. This is absolutely, unequivocally unfair, right?

So, what can you do? What’s the “good” news promised at the beginning?

It turns out that you can exercise the 500-calorie daily deficit away, rather than starving for the rest of your life. How much? Roughly an hour per day at moderate intensity – oh, come on, it’s not that bad! And the only side effect is that you’ll be even healthier than you ever imagined. In a future post, I’ll show you just how easy this can be.

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