We often say our metabolisms are slow when we’re struggling to lose weight or we feel tired all the time. But is this actually a real thing? If you consistently feel tired, cold, or if you just can’t seem to lose those last few pounds, there is a good chance your metabolism has slowed down.
What can slow my metabolism?
Your metabolic rate is affected by several factors, and can fluctuate depending on the day. Boosting metabolism is a common concern for women and luckily there are some easy things you can do to help speed up your metabolism over time. Of course, weight issues are not entirely dependent on metabolic rate (if you are struggling with unwanted weight gain, it is very possible that other hormones are out of whack, which need additional support to help bring them back into balance).
We do know that metabolic rate and weight management is more than just calories in and calories out too. What you eat is important; empty calories will not help you lose weight and keep it off in the long term.
There are so many different things that affect your metabolic rate and you may require help from a nutrition professional to identify and address the factors specifically affecting you.
Some of the most common (and easily addressed) causes of why your metabolism may be slow are:
- low thyroid hormones
- your size and body composition
- your history of dieting
- your activity level
- lack of sleep
Low thyroid hormones
Your thyroid is considered the master controller of your metabolism. When there is an impairment of the T4 to T3 conversion, your metabolism slows down. The thyroid hormones (T3 & T4) tell the cells in your body when to use more energy and become more metabolically active. Ideally it should work to keep your metabolism just right. But there are several things that can affect it and throw it off. Things like autoimmune diseases and mineral deficiencies (e.g. iodine or selenium) can affect your thyroid.
Tip: Talk with your doctor about having your thyroid hormones tested for TSH, Free-T4, Free-T3, and thyroid anitbodies.
Body size and composition
Larger people tend to have faster metabolism because it takes more energy to fuel more mass. And a more muscular body will also have a faster metabolism because muscle needs more energy than fat, even at rest.
Since it’s not a good idea to gain weight to get a faster metabolism, you can do more activities that build lean muscle mass to help improve your overall energy expenditure (note that you may gain a few pounds in the process but you’ll look toned and fitter so try not to focus on the scale).
A great thing to do is to hit the gym! Pick up some dumb bells, resistance bands or kettle bells and start incorporating strength training into your weekly exercise routines.
Your history of dieting
Rapid weight loss can put the body into starvation mode, which drastically decreases metabolism to the point where the body will try to hang onto all the food you give it and turn it into fat for later. This is where fad diets and programs the promise a quick fix really break down – sure, you lose weight but your body doesn’t understand what’s happening and its sole concern is survival. As soon as you hit your goal weight and start eating normally again, your body acts like a packrat and stores as much fuel as possible to avoid starvation again – and your weight goes back up, often to a higher amount than before.
If you’re losing weight, try to go slowly – I know it’s frustrating not to see major improvements right away but in the end you’ll be way more likely to keep the weight off. Plus, you’ll be slowly establishing healthy eating patterns that will be manageable all through life. Fad diets that restrict food groups or macronutrients only work for so long because your body will start needing those nutrients at some point.
Your activity level
When you do cardio exercises, your metabolic rate temporarily increases as your muscles need more fuel to keep you going. Anytime you move, your metabolism kicks in to make sure your muscles have enough energy for the activity. Every little activity you do adds up – walk more often, take the stairs instead of the elevator, sit less.
Park farther away from the store; walk on a treadmill while watching TV or reading; do jumping jacks or squats during commercial breaks.
And, if you really want to boost your metabolic rate, add 1-2 HIIT classes to your workout routine! HIIT not only boosts your heart rate for a great cardiovascular workout but it also improves muscle strength.
Lack of sleep
Lack of sleep means less energy; less energy means less desire to move. Hence, a lowered metabolic rate. And, to top it off, less sleep increases your hunger hormone so you are more likely to give into cravings and eat more.
Set up a regular bedtime routine and get at least 7 hours of high quality sleep each night.