The causes of a slow metabolism can be varied. There are three main ways our bodies expend energy, or calories:
- Resting metabolic rate—the energy our bodies use throughout the day to maintain basic functions, such as breathing and pumping blood.
- Thermogenesis—the energy required to digest, absorb, transport, and store the food we eat.
- Physical activity—the energy our bodies need to complete both planned exercise and non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT), which can include things like walking up a flight of stairs or washing the dishes.
Of these three factors, your resting metabolic rate accounts for most of the calories you burn in a day. It’s the resting metabolic rate that gets the blame when someone says that they’re struggling to lose weight due to having a “slow metabolism.”
Of course, weight changes are influenced by many complicated factors, and an inability to lose weight can’t be blamed on a slow metabolism alone. However, we do know that to lose weight, you need to burn more calories than you consume in a day, which is where your metabolism plays a role.
You’ll find plenty of tips online on how to speed up your metabolism and burn more calories; what gets less attention are the ways you may be inadvertently causing your metabolism to slow down. If you’re doing any of the four things below, you may be reducing the rate at which you burn calories and sabotaging your weight loss efforts.
Not Eating Enough
While you need a calorie deficit to lose weight, cutting your calorie intake too dramatically could backfire. A sudden decrease in calories sends the signal to your body that you’re starving and that you need to slow your metabolism to conserve energy. One study of women who ate 420 calories a day for four to six months experienced a significant decrease in their resting metabolic rates. While they increased their calorie intake over the next five weeks, their resting metabolic rates remained lower than they were pre-diet.
Metabolic adaptation can occur even with diets that aren’t as extreme. Another study, which looked at 48 overweight individuals, found that following a diet of 890 calories per day over the course of three months caused participants to burn 633 fewer calories per day, on average, than they did before the diet.
Rather than embarking on a crash diet to lose weight, it’s better to work with a nutritionist or weight loss doctor to customize an exercise and meal plan that works for your body.
Just as severely limiting your calorie intake can affect your metabolism, so can eating on an inconsistent schedule. Researchers believe that because many metabolic processes in our bodies occur on a 24-hour cycle, an inconsistent eating schedule can disrupt your body’s internal clock. There’s some evidence to back this up: a 2012 study from Hebrew University found that mice who ate high-fat foods on a sporadic schedule gained more weight than mice who ate a similar diet on a consistent schedule, suggesting that the mice on a sporadic feeding schedule burned calories at a slower rate.
Not Getting Enough Sleep
Research has linked sleep deprivation to a decrease in the amount of energy your body uses at rest and an increase in the likelihood of weight gain. To make matters worse, even partial sleep deprivation (defined as sleeping less than 5.5 hours a night) can cause a decrease in an appetite-suppressing hormone. This means that sleep-deprived individuals are more likely to overeat and consume more calories than they burn in a day.
Sitting for Too Long
Sitting for long stretches has been linked to an increased risk for serious health conditions such as obesity and heart disease, and having a slow metabolism may be at least partly to blame. When you sit, you limit your muscle contractions and burn fewer calories than you would if you were more active. Many health and fitness experts are now recommending that office workers who sit for most of the day make an effort to stand and move around at least once an hour. Even low-intensity activities, such as walking around the building or stretching, can help combat the negative impact a sedentary lifestyle can have on your metabolism.
Weight Loss Is Complicated: Enlist the Professionals
While your metabolic rate affects the number of calories you burn, it’s a mistake to think that “speeding up” a slow metabolism is all it takes to lose weight. There are many other factors, including your diet and level of physical activity, that will influence your weight loss journey and overall health. The best way to set yourself up for success is to work with a doctor who can develop a personalized weight loss plan. Contact Diet Doc today to speak with a doctor about steps you can take to meet your weight loss goals.