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Healthy Weight Center

Coming Off A Starvation Diet

03/12/2009

Question:

I am an 18 year old female who has recently stopped exercising due to lack of time and gained weight kept off for the past year through a rigid exercise program (running 10 miles 3-4 times a week or 1 1/2 hours of swim practice) and nonfat diet. I recently went on a starvation/even more severely restricted diet to lose that extra weight and I know my already slow (from the low calorie diet) metabolism has suffered. I`m at my goal weight, but I feel I am unable to stop this diet because of the possibility of weight gain. Is there any way I can speed up my metabolism or re-introduce food into my daily routine without gaining weight? Is it possible to reset your body`s set point, or is that theory even true? I do now have the time for exercise, but I`ve heard aerobic exercise will only lower metabolism more.

Answer:

A healthy lifestyle that includes a nutritionally adequate diet and moderate exercise is the only way to achieve optimal wellness. Since you cannot continue to maintain your health on a severely restricted diet, you need to add nutrient dense foods in small portions. Use the Food Guide Pyramid as a guide to the number of servings and the serving sizes that are recommended to obtain all of the necessary nutrients (including vitamins, minerals, protein, and calories). Exercise is the other component of any healthy lifestyle. A moderate, not excessive, amount of aerobic and anaerobic exercise is recommended to obtain cardiovascular fitness and to maintain lean body mass. In regard to your metabolic rate, adding nutrient dense foods back into your diet slowly and adopting a reasonable exercise program will benefit your health without detrimental effects on your metabolic rate. Also, lean body mass is related to metabolic rate, so anaerobic exercises that preserve/enhance muscle mass are beneficial to metabolic rate. By the way, the latest research indicates that you may be able to reset your set point; however, the theory has not been proven. I think you would benefit from a consultation with a registered dietitian who can examine your daily habits and develop an individualized plan for you. For more information about diet and exercise and for a list of local dietitians, visit the American Dietetic Association`s website. 

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Response by:

Bonnie J Brehm, PhD, RD Bonnie J Brehm, PhD, RD
Professor of Nursing
College of Nursing
University of Cincinnati