Signs of a low metabolism and potential causes

People always talk about metabolism but what does it actually mean?! Your metabolism is the sum of all of the processes which go on inside your body. Everything it does 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. In this post I will share the common signs of a low metabolism and some potential causes.

What does it mean to have a low metabolism?

So what does it mean to have a low 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. Your metabolic rate is the amount of energy you burn per unit of body weight to fuel all of these processes. Therefore, when you say you want to “speed up your metabolism”, you really mean you want to increase your metabolic rate.

Most people who say they have a low metabolism mean that they can’t lose weight. Or that they can’t maintain a healthy weight without intense exercising or strict dieting. In order to lose weight, your energy expenditure must be greater than the amount of energy in the food you eat. Your total energy expenditure is made up of:

  1. Your basal metabolic rate (BMR) is the amount of calories you burn at total rest
  2. The energy you burn through daily activity and digesting the food you eat
  3. Energy burnt through workouts or exercise that you do

To increase your energy expenditure you therefore need to increase the amount of activity you do or your BMR. If you have a “low metabolism”, it means your BMR is lower than optimal. A slower BMR means that your body is in energy conserving mode and burning less calories at rest than it usually would. This can make it difficult to lose weight or maintain weight, even on a low amount of calories.

The two graphs below show a comparison between someone with a healthy metabolism and someone with signs of a low metabolism:

We can see that for the person with a healthy metabolism, the proportion of the total energy burned via the BMR and activity are much higher. The low metabolism example burns less energy through BMR and activity and does more targeted exercise to create the same total energy expenditure. I have made both charts add up to 2000 calories for comparison. I hope this makes sense!

In short, someone with a healthy metabolism burns more calories just through living. Whereas someone with signs of a low metabolism has to work harder by exercising more or eating less!

Problems with a low metabolism during weight loss?

It’s much easier to lose weight if you are maintaining your weight at 2000 calories compared to 1500 calories. If you are already eating 1500 calories or less to maintain your weight, creating a calorie deficit means eating very little food! Less food = less nutrients. If you are trying to lose weight to get into the healthy range, you want your BMR to be as high as possible. Having a high metabolic rate means that you can lose weight whilst still eating plenty of food and getting all of the nutrients you need.

Additionally, when your body is in a low metabolic state, it wants to hold onto it’s fat reserves to keep you safe. A low metabolism is especially associated with the storage of fat around the mid-section. So if you feel like you’re doing everything right and the scales aren’t budging, a slow metabolism could be to blame. There are also other signs of a low metabolism which can make life unpleasant. More on that in a moment!

Why do we get a low metabolism?

Slowing down your metabolic rate is actually a survival mechanism as it makes your body more efficient. A low metabolism means your body is able to keep functioning when less food is available e.g. in winter or times of famine. However, it isn’t the most enjoyable state to live in! Having a low metabolism affects the way your body functions and can prevent you from thriving and feeling your best.

Some of the common causes of a low metabolism include:

  • Under eating
  • Restrictive dieting
  • Eating metabolism suppressing foods
  • Over exercising
  • Chronic or intense stress
  • Drinking too much water
  • Too many raw foods
  • Poor quality breathing
  • Not getting enough sunlight

Read on to find out some of the signs of a low metabolism!

Common signs of a low metabolism

If you can relate to the examples above, perhaps you have also experienced some of the signs of a low metabolism below. Of course there are other causes for these symptoms so you should always get checked out by your doctor. However, if you have ruled out anything else then maybe a low metabolism is to blame.

  • Feeling cold, especially in your hands and feet
  • Basal body temperature below normal
  • 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. You might notice some similarities between the signs of a low metabolism and symptoms of hypothyroidism. This is because the two are in fact closely related. Researcher Broda Barnes dedicated his life to studying symptoms of low metabolism and subclinical hypothyroidism. His work is very interesting even decades later!

He mainly focused on one of the signs of low metabolism that can be measured, basal body temperature. A low basal body temperature indicates a reduced metabolism as the body is creating less heat. The normal body temperature range for women is 36.1-36.4°C (97-97.5°F) before ovulation, rising to 36.4-37.2°C (97.6-99°F) after ovulation. the temperatures represent readings taken from the armpit or mouth which can be up to 0.5°C lower than the core body temperature.

Think about animals with a low metabolism such as reptiles and sloths. Or animals who hibernate in the winter. Their body temperatures are much colder with animals that have a higher metabolic rate such as mice or birds. The animal with the highest basal metabolic rate, i.e. energy burned per unit weight is actually a hummingbird. Which do you relate to more?!

Signs of a low metabolism that I experienced

When I experienced a low metabolism, I felt like my body was shutting down and it was terrifying. My sleep was terrible and I felt like a zombie all day. My digestion was also 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. But once I followed a protocol to speed it up my symptoms gradually went away!

Summary of signs of a low metabolism

I hope you found this article interesting. We covered the basics of metabolism, potential causes and signs of a low metabolism to look out for. If you think you have a ow metabolism, stay tuned for future posts where I will share how to increase your metabolism through simple lifestyle changes.

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