People always talk about metabolism but what does it actually mean?! Your metabolism is all of the processes which go on inside your body to keep you alive and functioning as a human. This includes digesting the food you eat into macro and micro-nutrients as well as using these nutrients to generate energy in your cells. So what does it mean to have a slow metabolism? In reality, your metabolism can’t be fast or slow, it just is what it is. Actually what people mean when they say this is that their metabolic rate is low. To “speed up your metabolism” you want to increase your metabolic rate.
Your metabolic rate is the rate is how quickly you burn energy to fuel all of these processes. Your basal metabolic rate (BMR) is the amount of calories you burn at total rest and your total energy expenditure (TEE) is your BMR plus the energy you burn through daily activity, exercise and digesting foods. If you have a “slow metabolism”, your BMR is lower than optimal meaning that your body is in energy conserving mode and burning less calories at rest than it usually would. Slowing down your metabolic rate is actually a survival mechanism as it makes your body more efficient and able to keep functioning when less food is available. However, it isn’t the most enjoyable state to live in! A low metabolism affects the way your body functions and can prevent you from thriving and feeling your best.
Sometimes a low metabolic rate can be caused by being underweight, especially if you take extreme measures to get there. But if you are trying to lose weight to get into the healthy range, you want your BMR to be as high as possible so that you can lose weight whilst still eating plenty of food and getting all of the nutrients you need. It’s much easier to lose weight if you are maintaining your weight at 2000 calories compared to 1500 calories as you have that bit more wriggle room. And when your body is in a low metabolic state, it wants to hold onto it’s fat reserves to keep you safe. So if you feel like you’re doing everything right and the scales aren’t budging, a slow metabolism could be to blame. Read on to find out some of the signs of a low metabolic rate and tips for how to increase your metabolism.
Signs of a slow metabolism or metabolic rate
- Feeling cold, especially in your hands and feet
- Low energy, fatigue or lethargy
- Weight gain or difficulty losing weight
- Dry, cracked skin and lips
- Digestive issues e.g. bloating, gastroparesis
- Thin hair or hair falling out more than usual
- Sleep problems or insomnia
- Hormonal imbalance, irregular period, no period
- Low sex drive
- Brain fog, difficulty concentrating or lack of clarity
- Getting sick often
- Feeling weak and/or stiff
Yes all of these things can be related to a low metabolism.. crazy I know. Of course there are other causes for these symptoms so you should always get checked out by your doctor, but if you have ruled out anything else then maybe a low metabolic rate is to blame. When I experienced this, I felt like my body was shutting down and it was terrifying. My sleep was terrible, I felt like a zombie all day, my digestion was a mess and my hair became brittle and thin. I had no menstrual cycle at all and zero sex drive either. Not much fun. I didn’t realise at the time just how many of my problems were related to the fact that my metabolism had tanked and once I followed a protocol to speed it up my symptoms gradually went away!
How to speed up your metabolism
I want to start by saying that we are all born with a different genetic rate, some people naturally have a “fast metabolism” and others tend to hold onto weight more easily. That’s not what I’m talking about here. I am talking about when your metabolic rate is slowed down and you experience any or all of the symptoms above. If your metabolism is low you might just not feel like yourself, like your energy has been zapped and you’ve lost your natural vibrance. There are many potential reasons for a slow metabolism, but here I am going to focus on one that we can do something about: stress. This can be physical stress due to calorie restriction or over-exercise or psychological stress. Any of these can put your body into a state of survival mode and cause your metabolism to slow down. The way out and to speed up your metabolism is to help your body feel safe and relaxed again. How can you do this? Try out the protocol below for a month and see how your body responds…
Even if your goal is to lose weight, if you think you have a slow metabolism, I’d suggest you focus first on getting your metabolism healthy. Fixing this first will make it much easier to lose weight down the line and keep it off. If you are on a restricted diet, take a break. Stop counting calories or macros. Stop weighing your food. Don’t restrict any food groups, eat plenty of carbohydrates, fats and proteins. Focus on mainly whole foods but don’t stress out about eating some processed foods too. Basically you want to flood your body with energy and nutrients so that it feels a state of abundance. You can include meat and fish but you can also do this on a vegetarian or vegan diet. Go for energy dense foods such as bread, potatoes, dairy, chocolate, nut butters. Focus less on high water, high fibre foods such as fruits and vegetables. Don’t worry this is only for the short term! Allow yourself to eat till you feel fully satisfied but don’t stuff yourself when you aren’t hungry. Listen to your body and it will tell you what it needs.
If you are currently following an intense exercise regime, please give yourself permission to take some time off. It might seem counter-intuitive to stop exercising to speed up your metabolism and yes you do burn calories through exercising. But exercise, especially chronic cardio can actually decrease your BMR and make your body more efficient at using calories. To speed up your metabolism you want to increase the amount of energy you burn at rest. Especially if you have been doing endurance exercise or high intensity interval training, let your body heal any underlying injuries and relax any built up tension. This is even more important if you are feeling chronically stiff and sore as it is a sign your body is feeling stressed and overloaded. Keep moving your body but try walking and gentle yoga or any other easy going activity that you like instead. Have fun and let go of any pressure to perform, burn calories or change your body. As your metabolism starts to improve and you feel better, you can add in some resistance training to build muscle which will help to boost your metabolic rate even further.
Remember that this isn’t forever.. this is a protocol for helping your body to heal itself and your metabolism to recover. As you start to feel better and have more energy you can start to switch things up, maybe with the foods you eat or by adding in more exercise. But let this process be guided by your body rather than your mind.
This is a big one! If you are feeling stressed, anxious and on edge your metabolism is highly likely to suffer. Stress alone can be enough to prevent you from losing weight, so if you feel like you have tried everything and nothing works, take a look at your stress levels and you might understand. Identify the major stressors in your life and figure out a plan, maybe with a coach or therapist, for how you can reduce your stress from these things. If you are stressed about losing weight or comparing yourself to others, ask yourself why? Purge your social media of any accounts that make you feel down on yourself and replace them with interesting or uplifting things instead. Try to bring more relaxing activities into your day whether that is meditation, deep breathing, creative projects, reading, playing with your pets.. anything that helps you to get into a calm and relaxed state. Making relaxation a priority part of your every day self-care routine is a key step to getting your metabolism functioning optimally.
This goes hand in hand with relaxation. There have been so many studies showing the impact of lack of sleep on the metabolism. Poor quality sleep is a stress on your body and can cause your cortisol levels to spike, putting your body into that energy conserving mode and making you more likely to gain weight. Not getting enough sleep has also been linked to changes in blood sugar control and release of the hormones that regulate appetite. Ever noticed that you crave more sweets and caffeine after a bad night’s sleep?! To speed up your metabolism, make sure you are getting as much sleep as you need to feel refreshed and energised. If you are struggling with sleep, try out my tips on dealing with sleep disturbances, especially taking care of your sleeping environment and having a solid evening routine to help you to relax and wind down. If you have chronic insomnia and signs of a low metabolism, focus on the tips here and you might just find your sleep improves naturally along with your metabolism.
How to know your metabolism has increased
Keep track of how you are feeling throughout this process. Look out for changes in your energy levels, sleep and motivation for life. Notice if you are feeling warmer and more relaxed, maybe your hormones and hunger levels become more balanced. Celebrate any small wins you observe and don’t worry if you gain a bit of weight along the way. You are in this for the long haul and setting your body up for future health and success. Enjoy the process as much as you can and take the chance to focus on other areas of your life outside of health and fitness. Pay attention to the signs from your body and when it tells you it is ready to start exercising again or to eat lighter foods, you can start to make gradual changes but remember to always let your body lead the way.
Over you to you…
I hope you enjoyed this post on signs of a low metabolic rate and how to speed up your metabolism. Let me know in the comments below your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.
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