If you’ve ever had a hard time losing weight, you’ve probably wondered if a slow metabolism is to blame. After all, you eat a healthy diet and get plenty of exercise, so why aren’t results showing on the scale? Don’t worry. Your sluggish metabolism isn’t set in stone. Women often find they can boost their metabolism with simple changes to their body composition, sleep habits, hormone levels, eating frequency or daily activity levels.
How Does My Metabolism Work?
Understanding how your metabolism works is the first step to changing it. Your metabolism isn’t a switch or a dial that that can be adjusted with a single lifestyle change. Instead, it’s a series of complex processes that happen inside your body to turn food into energy so your cells can function properly.
A person with a “fast” metabolism is someone who needs more energy and therefore burns more calories at rest and throughout the day. Someone with a “slow” metabolism burns fewer calories at rest and during the day. Because your metabolism isn’t one process, but rather a series of interconnected processes, there are many different reasons that your metabolism might be “fast” or “slow.”
Age, gender, body size (height and bone structure) and family history can influence your metabolism, but these are things you can’t change. Fortunately, there are things you can change to boost your metabolism and reach your goal weight.
5 Reasons Your Metabolism Is Slow
So how do you turn up the heat on your metabolism to burn more calories? These are some of the most common causes of a slow metabolism. See if any of them look familiar. Then try a quick fix or long term solution to get your calorie-burning machine working more efficiently.
1. Body Composition Changes From Weight Loss
Believe it or not, weight loss causes your metabolism to slow down. How unfair is that?! Studies have shown that people who gain and then lose weight burn fewer calories than people who never put on weight in the first place. Scientists believe that a change in muscle mass may be one part of the problem.
Quick fix: Gain muscle as you slim down. By improving your body composition, you can improve your metabolism. Try to do strength training workouts at least 2-3 times per week to beef up your muscle mass. Then be sure to eat plenty of lean protein at meal time to help build and maintain strong muscles.
Long term solution: Use scientific research as an incentive to reach and stay at a healthy weight. Avoid yo-yo dieting and quick weight loss programs that cause your weight to bounce up and down. The damage it does to your metabolism isn’t worth it.
2. Flawed Eating Frequency
Not eating often enough can cause your metabolism to slow down slightly. Some experts call the condition “starvation mode.” But this is a tricky metabolism problem to fix because researchers also know that increased eating episodes can cause you to eat too many calories during the day. So how do you find the right balance for a healthy metabolism?
Short-term fix: Eat often enough to avoid getting overly hungry and binge eating. Many dieters find that eating every 2-3 hours is helpful. But measure your food portions to make sure that you’re not eating too much. If you are trying to lose weight, make sure you reach a calorie deficit every day regardless of the number of times you eat.
Long-term solution: Design meal plans that take your specific lifestyle and daily schedule into account. Make sure that you are eating the right number of calories each day and divide your food budget into the meal frequency plan that works best for you.
3. Sitting Too Much
Sure you work out, but what do you do during the hours that you’re not at the gym? NEAT, or Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis, is a fancy word that scientists use to describe the calories you burn during your non-workout hours. NEAT plays a big role in your metabolism. In fact, scientists say that it can be responsible for up to 30% of your total daily calorie burn. When you boost your NEAT, you can speed up your metabolism by up to one third!
Quick fix: Banish sedentary behavior. Reduce the number of hours that you watch television, sit on your computer or even sit at your desk. Target 1-2 sedentary behaviors each week and replace them with active habits. Walk while you chat on the phone. Fold laundry while you watch the morning news. Stretch while you sit at your desk. Even fidgeting burns more calories than sitting still.
Long-term solution: Invest in a fitness tracker. Brands like Fitbit provide users with a dashboard that allows you to see when your lazy hours are likely to occur. Study the patterns for a few weeks and then put a plan in place to move more during those targeted hours. Schedule a walk with friends, take the dog for a stroll, or set activity reminders to move more at the office.
4. Poor Sleep
You might imagine that getting less sleep can make your metabolism more sluggish, and it might. But some researchers have found that you may burn up to 5 percent more calories when you struggle to stay awake after a poor night’s rest. But here’s the problem: we often overeat to make up for the energy dip. And women are more likely to participate in sleepy overeating than men.
Quick fix: Create a bedtime routine that encourages 7-8 hours of sleep. Charge electronic devices away from your bed, avoid nighttime computer work and try not to get into bed until it’s time to shut your eyes.
Long-term solution: If simple routine changes don’t help you sleep better, consider making more adjustments to your bedroom design. Get rid of the television, invest in black out shades or consider investing in a new mattress or mattress pad to get a better night’s rest.
5. Hormone Hazards
Hormone levels play a big role in your desire to eat and your metabolism. Thyroid hormones can change your metabolic rate. Hunger hormones like ghrelin, leptin, and several others can influence how much you eat during the day. And hormones like cortisol can change where the excess calories are stored.
Quick fix. Increase activities that promote calm and reduce stress in your life. Activities like meditation and mind/body classes can boost leptin and reduce cortisol to healthy levels. Or simply take a 5-minute break three times a day to close your eyes and breathe deeply.
Long term solution: Hormone levels will change during your childbearing years, throughout the stressful career-building stage, into menopause, and beyond. Connect with your doctor and ask for help testing and regulating your hormones if you feel that your levels are off.
So there you have it! While your metabolism depends on many factors, there are lifestyle changes you can make to speed it up so you’re burning more calories—even at rest.
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