Here’s the science behind when your weight loss hits a plateau

Kevin Hall, a National Institutes of Health researcher, found that people's appetite increases as they lose weight, to the point where it partially or entirely negates their effort to lose in the first place.

Prepare for the day when your scale’s digits freeze, signaling the arrival of the weight loss plateau.

Kevin Hall, a National Institutes of Health researcher specializing in assessing metabolism and weight change, examined when weight loss usually ceases depending on the strategy people use to lose pounds. His study was published on Monday in the medical journal Obesity, CNN reported. 

Hall used data from high-quality clinical trials of various weight-loss strategies to break down the plateau into mathematical models to understand why people stop losing weight when they do.

Ozempic, Wegovy, weight loss drugs,
An NIH researcher found when weight loss might stop based on the method used to shed pounds. (Adobe Stock)

Hall discovered that the doubled time it takes to reach a plateau accounts for a portion of the effectiveness of gastric bypass surgery and novel weight-loss medications like Wegovy and Zepbound

According to CNN, the body regulates weight by balancing the calories we eat and burn. The urge to eat more arises as we burn off calories and use up our stored energy.

Hall’s research notes that people’s appetite increases as they lose weight to the point where it partially or even entirely negates their effort to lose in the first place.

To explore the trajectory of weight reduction using calorie restriction alone, Hall re-created the weight loss seen in the CALERIE study by randomly allocating 238 adults to either two years of eating as they usually would or a 25% calorie restriction diet. Funded by the NIH, CALERIE, an acronym for Comprehensive Assessment of the Long-term Effects of Reducing Intake of Energy, took place between 2007 and 2010.

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Adults in the calorie-reduction group dropped, on average, 16 pounds. The group that stuck to their regular diets put on roughly 2 pounds.

Despite maintaining their efforts for two years, the CALERIE research participants’ weight loss ceased at the 12-month point because their hunger increased to compensate for the weight loss.

Hall’s model participants whose diets began at 2,500 calories per day would need to reduce their daily caloric intake by little more than 800 to see the weight reduction shown in that study. Their bodies reacted by telling them to increase their daily caloric intake by an estimated 83 calories for each kilogram of weight lost.

One kilogram is approximately 2.2 pounds. According to Hall’s study, for every 2.2 pounds of weight participants lost, their appetite increased by 83 calories daily. On average, the participants reported a weight loss of 7.5 kilograms, or 16 pounds, meaning that at their lowest weights, they felt the need to consume 622 more calories daily than before they started their weight loss journey.

However, they weren’t genuinely consuming 622 additional calories each day; rather, that represents the increased hunger they were experiencing while maintaining their initial 800-calorie deficit.

Hall said participants were still making a solid effort to eat less after the trial. Still, they could only reduce their daily calorie intake by roughly 200 instead of the 800 they had aimed for, and their weight reduction stopped as a result, CNN reported.