Ever think to yourself, “I used to be able to eat whatever and not gain any weight. What happened?” The answer is that your metabolism has shifted. Or maybe you eat a balanced diet high in fiber, portion the amount of food you take in with the energy you put out, work out several days a week, but still find yourself unable to get rid of those stubborn pounds.
I get a lot of questions from both men and women, generally over the age of 35, about how to fix a slowing metabolism. “Metabolism” seems to be a big goal-blocking factor we immediately blame when dealing with any weight issues. But, do we know what our metabolism is or how it works?
88% of Americans are dealing with some type of metabolic dysfunction. That would imply many of us don’t even know we’re suffering, or worse, setting ourselves up for the conditions that result from these metabolic conditions. Every time I read these stats, I get more passionate about what I do and helping people optimize their bodies.
There are 50 million Americans with autoimmune diseases,115 million who are sleep deprived, 240 million who are overweight or obese, and 130 million who are diabetic or pre-diabetic. Over 50% of our population is insulin resistant, pre-diabetic, struggling with PCOS and Type-2 Diabetes, and 43% of Americans are clinically obese.
It is known by most nutrition and healthcare professionals that the predominant issue is our Western food culture and the food we’re eating. From processed foods and high sugar diets, to never giving our bodies a break from the constant consumption, here is your metabolism explained and a guide to supporting a healthy metabolic rate at any age.
WHAT IS METABOLISM?
Your “metabolism” is what influences your body’s resting rate energy needs. It refers to the process of converting food and calories, into energy. When your body is at rest, it is burning energy to maintain organ function and processes like circulating your blood, repairing muscle, generating and repairing cells, balancing hormones, and moving nutrients to the right places. This is called your “basal metabolic rate”. Basal metabolism accounts for 60-70% of your ability to burn energy and doesn’t slow with age. Approximately 10% is needed for digesting food, and 20% for physical activity.
So, what does that have to do with weight loss, exercise, or the food you need to eat? Well, giving your body time and the right fuel to renew itself is incredibly important to weight management. Metabolic flexibility is a new term that covers studies of how our metabolism affects health and disease. Having poor metabolic flexibility is associated with Metabolic Syndrome, Type-2 Diabetes, and Cancer.
What Factors Affect Your Metabolism?
Several factors affect your Metabolic Rate:
Body Size & Composition
If you’re a bigger person, or have more lean muscle mass, the energy you need from food will be higher.
Typically, we gain fat mass and lose lean muscle mass as we age. This affects the energy your body needs and explains what many consider a “slowing” metabolism.
Some people are born with higher or lower Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR). There are also genetic conditions that can affect metabolic rate.
Hormones from your thyroid glands are responsible for your BMR. I often say, “Your gut and your hormones rule your life.” You want to be mindful and take care of these two departments of your body. Imbalanced hormones can be the result of a lack of sleep, stress, or an undiagnosed condition such as PCOS or thyroid issues.
If you feel like you’ve gotten sufficient rest and you’re living a balanced and healthy lifestyle but have experienced inexplicable weight gain, I would recommend asking your health practitioner to run a simple blood test that measures your hormone levels. The solution may be as easy as adjusting your diet and adding supplements to support your adrenal system.
If you’re healing from a wound or fighting off infection, your BMR is slightly higher during that time as your body works to right itself.
Lack of sleep is one factor you might not have thought would affect your metabolic rate. However, insufficient sleep has been clinically linked to weight gain. This affects hunger-regulating hormones such as leptin, which tells us when we are full, and ghrelin, which tells us when it’s time to eat. Not getting enough sleep can also spike our cortisol levels, a stress hormone that can cause inflammation. For more information on creating an evening routine and optimizing your sleep, read this blog post SLEEP 101.
Another factor in having an optimized metabolic rate is gut health. There are more microbes in your body than there are in human cells. Every one of our health needs is unique. No two people have the same biochemistry due to microbiome and other environmental factors. What your body needs to optimally function will require some testing. If you’re feeding your microbiome processed, sugar-rich, high-fat foods – then those “bad” bacteria will be controlling you. Don’t feed the monsters! Feed your healthy microbes!
Your gut is constantly sending messages to your brain along the vagus nerve that affects your mood, cravings, focus, and signals sent to other systems in your body. Your microbiome diversity is a root cause of many chronic disorders and inflammatory conditions, so resetting your gut health should be a priority.
If you are eating too much or too little of one macronutrient, you may be causing an imbalance in your gut microbiome. The health of your gut microbiota is very important for digestive health, but also your overall well-being. This delicate ecosystem also plays a crucial role in brain health and immune function. Keeping your gut microbiome balanced with vegetables and fruit, fiber, whole grains, fermented foods, and high quality prebiotic and probiotic supplements can help.
Learn more about a healthy gut from my blog and these IG LIVE conversations:
- Holistic Health & Healing from Inflammation
- How to Age Well with Dr. Frank Lipman
- Foods for Gut Health & Avoiding Leaky Brain with Dr. Gundry
Maybe you’ve heard that restricting caloric intake over long periods can damage your metabolism. That’s actually true! Caloric restriction is what most of the modern weight-loss diets ask of us. Now we know that “dieting” is a short-lived and unsustainable way of keeping our body at a healthy, optimal weight for ourselves. These diets usually allow you to eat whatever you want, as long as you stay under a certain amount of calories per day. Allowing all kinds of processed foods, sugar replacement products, high-fat foods with inflammation-causing, gut-damaging effects can cause trouble for your metabolism.
Your body truly needs whole, nutrient-dense foods to have a healthy metabolism. The recommended daily macronutrient breakdown is 45-65% carbohydrates, 20-30% fat, and 10-35% protein. Meals that are full of fiber-rich, wholesome foods, or foods that are considered to contain a low energy density are more satiating than a processed meal. Balanced portions of nutrient-dense vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats, and proteins will leave you feeling happy and full.
How to Reset a Slowing Metabolism
The cornerstone of my Culinary Alchemy® program is to learn to tune into what your body needs. I use food to nourish and support both your physical body and your energy centers. This may be different from what other people are doing.
To develop a healthy relationship with diet and exercise, I recommend a daily practice in which you check in with yourself to see how you are feeling and what you might need on that day. Simply sit in a quiet place, free from distractions, and ask yourself, “what do I need today?” If you are exhausted, then a hardcore workout may not be for you on that day. You might want to opt for a gentle yoga class. If you are feeling anxious, you might need to eat a more grounding breakfast than the day before. Your body knows exactly what it needs to thrive, all you need to do is listen.
Include more exercises that burn fat and build muscle. Try some HIIT workouts where you’re using your core, upper body, and lower body at the same time. Add a few weight lifting days to your weekly routine. After all, the more lean muscle mass you have the greater your BMR.
Vitamin C, Vitamin E, and Vitamin D, B6, B12, and Folate are all proven to support a healthy metabolism. Vitamin D helps eliminate metabolic waste and reduce inflammation. As you age, the way your body absorbs vitamins and minerals can shift. It is a good idea to visit a doctor or nutritionist to get your vitamin and mineral levels checked every few years. That way you can make educated decisions about how to supplement. There are a lot of confusing marketing messages out there surrounding supplements, but you really want to supplement only where you are vulnerable or have deficiencies.
Green tea is rich in antioxidants, and specifically EGCC, which support your body’s efficient use of energy. Green tea contains a compound called epigallocatechin gallate, which may increase the calories and fat you burn. It was shown that three cups of green tea could increase your chances of burning an extra hundred calories a day.
Dietary fiber is indigestible and thus helps us move food through the body without having to do as much work. You burn more energy digesting high-fiber foods and they also make you feel fuller longer.
Rest periods are where the magic happens. Your body digests and repairs during rest periods. Periods of fasting allow your body to heal, and your muscles grow during periods of inactivity. I find oftentimes people who find their health plateauing are in a constant state of trying to add more, when really they need to build breaks into their regimen. I usually recommend allowing for at least one rest day as well as one fasting day, assuming your health allows it.
Your body needs change as you age and also with the seasons or with your menstrual cycle. Sometimes a plateau may be nothing more than a cyclical shift. Tracking how your body feels throughout the month in relation to your nutrition and fitness plan can help you understand your personal cycles. It is also important to listen to your body. Learning to eat and move intuitively, as your body needs at the moment, rather than doing what you feel you ‘should’ be eating or doing, is one of the best ways to support your health.
Learn about a flexible metabolism and intuitive fasting in my conversation on Instagram LIVE!
Intuitive Fasting & Metabolic Flexibility with Dr. Will Cole
We can often blame our weight on a slowing metabolism. Or maybe we think that other people are just genetically gifted to keep the same weight. But there are a lot of factors that can affect our metabolism. With the right attitude, diet, and approach we can maintain not just a healthy body but a metabolism that works with us.