“Hey Coach Tim, my metabolic rate is way too fast. It’s just way too easy for me to lose fat and keep it off. How can I slow down my metabolism? Help!!” said NO ONE. EVER.
Okay, I’ve had more than a handful of clients—so-called “hard gainers”—who’ve had trouble gaining weight, and we’ve had to “trick” the body by implementing some metabolism-dampening tactics. But by and large, very few people are gung-ho for a slow metabolism. Quite the opposite, as about 99.9% of the people I meet are chomping at the bit to “boost” their metabolisms.
That’s why it shocks me that these eager beavers are, more often than not, guilty of at least one of the following metabolism sins, which are surefire ways to smolder the remaining embers of the calorie-burning fire.
8 Slow Metabolism Mistakes
Don’t Drink Enough Water
Pretty much everyone knows that drinking plenty of clean water and staying properly hydrated is crucial for virtually every aspect of human health and performance. Considering that the human body is about 60% water, you’d better believe optimal hydration is key to a humming metabolism. In fact, just a minor drop in hydration can significantly reduce metabolic rate. Yet, a good chunk of folks only drink about 32 ounces of water a day. At best, that’s about HALF what most people should be drinking (8 – 10 eight-ounce glasses per day).
Don’t Eat Enough Protein
It’s no secret that increasing protein intake and sticking to a high-protein diet is a highly effective nutrition strategy for improving body composition, performance, and appetite control. Most people have heard that protein boosts metabolism and increases satiety—meaning it helps reduce hunger and cravings.
While those are indeed true, one of the most powerful effects of a high-protein diet is its capacity to maintain (and even build) lean body mass and preserve metabolic rate when dieting for fat loss. You see, any ol’ reduced-calorie diet can lead to weight loss. However, if you’re not eating enough protein (or using a special protein-sparing type of diet), a significant portion of the weight you lose is metabolically active fat-free mass.
The result is a slow metabolism (like molasses in January). On the other hand, when you up your protein intake (to at least 0.6 grams per pound of bodyweight per day), you protect your calorie-burning fat-free mass. That means you preserve your metabolic rate and you look better to boot!
Don’t Eat Enough PERIOD
What’s a four-letter word that’s synonymous with slow metabolism? I’ll give you a hint: it starts with “D” ends with “T”…
It’s true, dropping calories and losing weight is a surefire way to turn down the heat of your calorie-burning metabolism. These effects can be both acute (thanks to metabolic adaptations) and long-lasting. And they’re especially prominent when you focus only on the scale and weight loss.
On the other hand, when you focus on “quality weight loss,” which means dropping fat and maintaining (or better yet, building) lean body mass, that’s a different story. In fact, when you combine a high-protein diet with the right type of exercise (hang on, more on that in just a second), you can preserve metabolic rate while dropping fat!
Need to get ready for a wedding? Time to get in shape for summer? Need to drop a few pounds before you go on that beach vacation?
What’s your solution? Cut carbs, of course. While this is most people’s go-to strategy for rapid weight loss, it’s a surefire recipe to a slow metabolism.
While there are some folks who are especially sensitive to reductions in carb intake, the truth is that it’s not cutting carbs by itself that smolders metabolic rate. The mistake most people make when they cut carbs is that they dramatically cut calories at the same time.
And while that can be an effective way to see the numbers on the scale go down in the short-term, this is rarely quality weight loss.
Typically, extreme approaches like this leave you face-to-face with the double-edged slow metabolism sword of radically cutting calories and losing vital, calorie-burning fat-free mass.
Don’t Lift Weights
For years and years, the “usual” weight-loss approach has emphasized a number on the scale. It’s been beaten into our heads, and it’s been reinforced by relatively misleading measurements, such as the body mass index (BMI). A rather poor indicator of how fat you are.
In recent years, after repeating a new mantra to ourselves over and over, we’ve finally started to see a paradigm shift to “quality weight loss,” which emphasizes body composition changes. That is, losing body fat and building and maintaining lean body mass. And while all exercise increases metabolism, lifting weights is the single-most-effective strategy for protecting muscle mass, strength, and function.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s a good idea to include “cardio” (and interval training may be most efficient), which is very effective at burning calories during exercise. But strength training can reverse the effect of aslow metabolism and the number of calories you burn for up to 72 hours after a single exercise session.
Oh, and if you’re really looking to slow metabolism, move less (not more). All kidding aside, according to the American Heart Association (AHA), exercise can’t undo the damage being sedentary does to our health. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t exercise. What it does mean, according to the AHA, is that you should “sit less, move more.”
As obvious as it may be, increasing your daily movement and spontaneous activity (such as fidgeting, parking farther away, taking the stairs, etc.) is one of the most overlooked strategies to boost your metabolic rate.
Eat More Processed Foods
Has anyone ever told you it’s a good idea to eat more heavily processed foods and highly refined ingredients, like added sugar, flour, and vegetable oils? If so, turn the other way and run.
If you want to look like the average American, a fail-safe strategy is to eat like one. The typical Western diet is composed of upwards of 70% processed foods—notably an abundance of calorie-dense, nutrient-poor “foods” and beverages. And it has been implicated in contributing to the myriad of health and metabolic challenges our society faces today.
Here’s another interesting tidbit about processed foods. Research shows your body burns about 50% fewer calories metabolizing a meal made up of processed foods compared to a whole-foods-based meal of equivalent caloric content. In other words, eating more processed foods puts you at a metabolic disadvantage and deteriorates metabolic health as well.
Don’t Get Enough Sleep
Sleep is important—very important—but for one reason or another, many of us think we’re the exception. Everyone else needs 7 – 9 hours of sleep, but we’re “good” skating by with 5 – 6 hours of sleep (or less) on a regular basis. Sure.
Here’s the deal. Even missing out on a good night’s sleep every once in a while can mess with your hormones and metabolic health. For instance, sleep deprivation can dysregulate cortisol and circadian rhythms, impair carbohydrate tolerance, reduce insulin sensitivity, and even kick your hunger hormones out of whack (e.g., higher ghrelin and lower leptin).
Not surprisingly, not getting enough sleep typically results in overeating, making poor food choices, skipping workouts, and moving less overall.
And check this out. Researchers at the University of Chicago found that folks who slept 5 ½ hours per night lost 55% LESS body fat and 60% MORE calorie-burning fat-free mass than participants who slept 8 ½ hours a night. That’s despite both groups eating the exact same diet.
Still not convinced that sleep is important for YOU and YOUR metabolism?
Whether you’re facing personal conflicts with family and friends, juggling personal finances, dealing with a stressful work environment, struggling with a poor self-esteem, caring for a loved one, or trying to balance work and home life, the fact is that most of us consider ourselves to be “stressed” and “busy.” Oddly enough, many of us take exceptional pride in it.
Reality check: Chronic stress can have some pretty nasty effects on metabolic health. Stress is associated with weight gain, as it acts as a double-edge sword to fight your best weight-loss efforts. On one hand, excess stress (or inability to cope with stress) upregulates fat storage—especially belly fat, which is the most dangerous. On the other hand, stress often leads to overeating and poor food choices, especially calorie-dense “comfort foods.”
If this describes you, take a chill pill. Even better, take a vacation. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen clients take a trip and lose weight. As shocking as it is to them, the truth is that this is not an unexpected phenomenon at all.
If you’re struggling with a slow metabolism, take an honest inventory of your behaviors and lifestyle choices. If you’re guilty of any of the metabolism-killing sins discussed above, maybe it’s time to make some adjustments.