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The Reduced Obese ARE Different

Holy crap, your body evidently does undergo internal changes if you’ve lost a lot of weight! I think I had heard it mentioned before that everyone has a ‘set point’ weight, the weight your body wants you to be. But I wasn’t sure if this was for real or just another fat person’s excuse like “I’m just big-boned” or “I have a slow metabolism.”

Well, according to a genuine, fancy-educated, doctor, Rudolph L. Leibel, head of Molecular Genetics at Columbia Medical School, it’s true. This post at 3fatchicks.com explains it in English. Basically, if you lose a lot of weight, your metabolism when you exercise will be only 80%-85% of someone of the same composition who never lost weight. This is because your body wants you to gain weight. Inversely, if you were to gain a lot of weight, you would start burning 15%-20% less calories when you exercise as your body attempts to lose weight again.

So, if a never-been-fat person and a person-who-lost-100-pounds of the same height, weight, and gender were to both run a mile, the previously-fat person would burn 15%-20% less calories than the never-been-fat person.

It should be noted that this decrease or increase in efficiency only occurs during non-resting energy expenditure. There are evidently three ways humans expend energy:

1) Resting Energy Expenditure – The energy you use just sitting around watching TV

2) Thermic Energy Expenditure – The energy you use to digest food, like that bag of popcorn you were chomping on while you were watching TV.

3) Non-Resting Energy Expenditure – The energy you use walking to the TV when you can’t find the remote. Damn it, where is the remote!

So, the old “I have a slow metabolism” excuse is only half true. I suppose the real question is how much your set point is affected by your genetics and how much of it is your environment.

As you have probably already guessed, all this could explain why people generally have no problem losing weight, but almost always gain it back. Your body actually works against you. It’s quite possible that reduced obese people are miscalculating how many calories they are burning during exercise and may be taking in more calories than they burn without even knowing it.

So, once I hit my goal weight it looks like my body is going to be just a bit fucked up. Joy! At least I know about it now. If I have to eat 15% less or run 15% farther than everybody else, so be it. It’d be nice if they could just figure out how to fix this problem though. They’re evidently trying stuff with leptin, the chemical that regulates hunger and is lower than it should be in reduced obese people.

I find it fascinating that such ground-breaking and important research is happening right now. There’s some person in a lab somewhere who as I type is doing experiments on fat rats. Go science geeks! You figure in a hundred years or so they might have this obesity thing figured out. Then our great-grandchildren can laugh at us and all the silly ideas we had about weight loss. Jerks. It’s not our fault we know almost nothing! We didn’t even discover leptin until 1994. Hell, the World Wide Web has been around longer than that.

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Mark • September 22, 2005 at 10:05 pm

This sounds really fishy to me. First of all, I’d say that most of the reduced people who balloon back up are not getting significant exercise over resting metabolism, and that’s the part that this theory says is unchanged. So to get an overall 15-20% difference in metabolism, the efficiency of the muscle metabolism would have to be massively different. —–

For instance, let’s say that a woman at her ideal weight would be 130 pounds: she’d need about 1,400 calories (at the rate of 11 calories per pound) for her resting metabolism. Then let’s say she has a sedentary job with 7 hours of office work and one hour of walking, she cooks dinner for an hour, she watches TV at night, and gets in 30 minutes of moderate calisthenics every day: this adds to about 600 calories, for a total of 2,000 calories a day. —–

If her overall metabolism is supposedly 15-20% more efficient, she’d only be using 1,600-1,700 calories compared to what a never-fat person would use. But that gap of 300-400 calories would come completely from the 600 non-resting calories, according to that theory. —–

In other words, the muscles would be 50-67% more efficient than normal muscles of the never-overweight person. That seems like we’re starting to get into the realm of perpetual motion machine claims or cold fusion or the like. —–

The doctor quoted was going off into discussions of cavemen and the mastodons and the like, so obviously he was mixing speculation with fact. It’s too bad he wasn’t clearly distinguishing which was which. —–

I think there are plenty of other explanations for yo-yo’ing, including the fact that the overweight have hard-to-break habits and cravings and the urgency of their weight is not as great a motivator when they are thin than it was when they were overweight. Occam’s Razor: we don’t have to search for complex theories when existing explanations suffice. —– (P.S.: Can you enable paragraphing or use of paragraph tags for comments?)


Mark • September 23, 2005 at 12:19 am

Thanks to this post, I now know the term “reduced obese” and can combine that with phrases like “energy expenditure” in Google searches. It seems like this guy’s theory is far from established. Here’s a quote that summarizes most of what I’m finding:

“An important clinical question is whether weight loss in obese persons causes an abnormal decline in energy expenditure, which could become an obstacle to long-term successful weight management. The answer to this question is not entirely clear because of conflicting data from different studies. However, the results from most studies support the notion that resting energy expenditure (REE) and total daily energy expenditure (TEE) in reduced-obese subjects are normal for their new body size and composition.”

( http://www.obesityonline.org/slides/slide01.cfm?tk=34&dpg=9 )


Mark • September 23, 2005 at 12:28 am

Hmmm, taking a closer look at the graph in the slide I linked to above, it does seem to support the general claim that REE is the same, but TEE is slightly reduced after weight loss, not 15-20% in this case, but it looks like a good 10% or so. (The mean BMI reduction was 31 to 23.)

I wonder why the speaker’s notes differ from the slide, unless the slide was meant to illustrate one set of the “conflicting data.” At any rate 10% means if a normal person can eat 2,000 calories, a reduced obese would eat 1,800 calories. Hardly an explanation for the 3FC commenters who are claiming 1,200 calories (or for Seth Roberts, who says he eats 1,200 calories).


PastaQueen • September 23, 2005 at 1:19 am

Well, I’m officially confused anyway :) I think I’ll just keep on doing what I’ve been doing and hope for the best.

I think I have the paragraph tags turned on now. I had HTML disabled, but I turned it back on. It doesn’t seem to show up when you hit “Preview” but still posts okay.


hopefulloser • September 23, 2005 at 1:46 am

Shit PastaQueen, I just spent 2 hours reading your archives ’till now. Your progress pictures are wicked and you look wicked too.


PastaQueen • September 23, 2005 at 11:09 am

Thanks for stopping by, hopefulloser! And double thanks for the compliments. Be careful though, flattery will get you everywhere :)


Dana • July 25, 2009 at 9:54 pm

That may depend on the method you use for weight loss. If you do it by undergoing a semi-starvation diet–and nearly every popular “healthy” weight loss plan is semi-starvation, by scientific definition–then of course your metabolism is going to slow down because your body thinks it is starving.

The latest thinking on obesity and eating, actually, which has obviously not filtered its way down to the masses yet, is that we eat more because we are obese, not that we are obese because we eat more. The body needs time to re-adjust after losing mass in a weight loss program because it’s accustomed to feeding more of itself than actually exists.

The other angle is hyperinsulinism. Most, if not all, obese people are afflicted with it. It is undoubtedly founded in metabolic/endocrine injury of some kind. That underlying cause is still there even if you lower your insulin and lose the weight, so all it takes is going back to your old way of eating and bam, you’re fat again.

If more weight loss candidates understood that a complete change in eating habits is required for long-term success, you’d see fewer people failing at dieting. Of course it would help if 99 percent of the diet plans out there were realistic about human nutritional needs. Most people attempting weight loss are going around undernourished and fat-starved. No wonder they fail.


Comments are now closed on all PastaQueen entries. The blog is an archive only so I don't have to deal with spammers. For fresh discussions please visit my new blog at JennetteFulda.com.

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Jennette Fulda tells stories to the Internet about her life as a smartass, writer, weight-loss inspiration, chronic headache sufferer, and overall nice person (who is silently judging you). She does this at JennetteFulda.com now, but you can still have fun perusing her past here.

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