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Resistance to Exercise-Induced Weight Loss: Compensatory Behavioral Adaptations


Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise: August 2013 - Volume 45 - Issue 8 - p 1600–1609
doi: 10.1249/MSS.0b013e31828ba942
Applied Sciences

ABSTRACT In many interventions that are based on an exercise program intended to induce weight loss, the mean weight loss observed is modest and sometimes far less than what the individual expected. The individual responses are also widely variable, with some individuals losing a substantial amount of weight, others maintaining weight, and a few actually gaining weight. The media have focused on the subpopulation that loses little weight, contributing to a public perception that exercise has limited utility to cause weight loss. The purpose of the symposium was to present recent, novel data that help explain how compensatory behaviors contribute to a wide discrepancy in exercise-induced weight loss. The presentations provide evidence that some individuals adopt compensatory behaviors, that is, increased energy intake and/or reduced activity, that offset the exercise energy expenditure and limit weight loss. The challenge for both scientists and clinicians is to develop effective tools to identify which individuals are susceptible to such behaviors and to develop strategies to minimize their effect.

1Division of Endocrinology, Metabolism, and Diabetes and Division of Geriatric Medicine, School of Medicine, Anschutz Medical Campus, University of Colorado, Denver, CO; 2Cancer Prevention Fellowship Program, National Cancer Institute, Bethesda, MD; 3Center for Physical Activity and Weight Management, University of Kansas, Lawrence, KS; 4Department of Kinesiology, School of Public Health and Health Sciences, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, MA; and 5Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation, School of Exercise and Nutrition Sciences, Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane, AUSTRALIA

Address for correspondence: Edward L. Melanson, Ph.D., Anschutz Medical Campus, University of Colorado Aurora, MS 8106, 12801 East 17th Ave, RC1 South RM 7103, Denver, CO 80045; E-mail:

Submitted for publication November 2012.

Accepted for publication February 2013.

This review summarizes the symposium “Behavioral Compensation to Exercise: Do We Eat More and Do Less?” presented at the 2012 American College of Sports Medicine Annual Meeting in San Francisco, California.

© 2013 American College of Sports Medicine