When it comes to weight loss, we’ve all heard of the classic “calories in” versus “calories out” theory, but research suggests there’s much more to it. Of course, the calories we take in and foods we eat are an essential factor in any weight management equation, but daily lifestyle habits are equally as important. Consider that friend who can eat just about anything without gaining a single pound or that person who has never touched a weight in their life but manages to rock a six-pack all year long. Give us the secrets!
What do they have that we don’t? Well, if we had to guess — they have a fast metabolism. Simply put, your metabolism is the rate at which your body expends energy (or, burns calories). The faster your metabolism, the more calories you will burn! If it feels like you’re at the opposite end of the spectrum and gain weight at the mere sight of food, this may be a sign that you have a slow metabolism.
But, before you stress (which may be one of the causes of a slow metabolism) we’ve identified the eight biggest lifestyle factors that may be contributing to a slow metabolism! Read on to find out what they are and how you can increase the metabolic burn.
8 Sneaky Habits That Contribute to A Slow Metabolism
#1 Stress Overload
When you stress, your body shifts into fight or flight and releases the stress hormone cortisol. “Cortisol and stress impact hormones and neuropeptides such as insulin, leptin, and NPY, which can cause increased food intake and body fat accumulation”, says Paula Sturm, a Registered Dietitian, Functional Medical Nutrition Therapist, Neuro Linguistic Practitioner, and the founder of Radically Nourished, a wellness practice offering a dynamic and functional approach to nutrition.
Studies show elevated cortisol levels can contribute to metabolic syndrome, a cluster of conditions that increase the risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes, says Sturm. Knowing stress is one of the sneaky causes of a slow metabolism, practicing stress management techniques may help fire up your metabolism and help you reach your weight loss goals.
Try these stress-busters!
Meditate: Try this Visualize Calmness Meditation with DeAndre
Practice Mindfulness: Practice being present in the moment, without worrying about the future or ruminating on the past, says Strum.
Take a Deep Breath (and keep them coming): Breathing techniques can shift your body out of fight or flight and into a reset, digest, heal state, says Strum.
#2 Not Eating Enough
This goes back to the calories in versus calories out phenomenon. While a calorie deficit is needed for weight loss, too few calories can be one of the causes of a slow metabolism. News flash: this is why extreme calorie deprivation diets don’t work!
We have to be cautious with reducing our calorie intake too much, says Strum. While weight loss requires a calorie deficit, our body still needs fuel to power our metabolism, muscles, and brain. If our body isn’t getting the calories and fuel it needs, it will start conserving energy in order to support the metabolic processes your body needs to function, rather than shedding the pounds you desire to lose!
Another factor to consider? Reducing our calorie intake too much can also backfire over time, says Strum. Eventually, we will be driven to refeed our body, which usually results in overeating and making food choices for less nutritious, highly palatable foods.
#3 Skipping Breakfast
While we’re on the topic of inadequate calories, is skipping breakfast one of the causes of a slow metabolism? Breakfast used to be deemed the most important meal of the day, but the rise in intermittent fasting has many rethinking their morning feast. So, when it comes to metabolism and eating breakfast, the question is simple: to eat, or not to eat?
“In my practice, I notice a far better outcome in weight, energy levels, and overall well-being when people eat breakfast. Generally people feel more satisfied and snack less often when they eat breakfast. Our bodies are meant to be more active and our digestive capacity is greater in the early part of the day. I find it best to maximize our natural circadian rhythms by eating more in the morning, tapering off quantity as we get toward the evening,” says Strum.
The takeaway? Listen to your body. If you’re hungry, eat! If you feel better fasting, do that. When it comes to breakfast, what may be more important than when you’re eating is what you’re eating — which brings us to our next point.
#4 The Wrong Type of Morning Fuel
Choosing a breakfast that consists of sugary cereal or a bagel with jam will guarantee a big blood sugar spike within 30 minutes of eating, says Strum. Shortly after, we feel hungry again and seek out snacks to raise our blood sugar back up. This cycle is a recipe for disaster when it comes to optimizing your metabolism! The constant rise and crash in blood sugar causes a lag in energy and concentration while hindering weight loss and metabolic function, says Strum.
Instead, Strum suggests keeping your meal balanced with protein, complex carbohydrates, color, and healthy fats. Small doses of nutrients spread out through the day keeps our blood sugar stable and allows our body to utilize the nutrients we consume!
Try These R.D. Approved Breakfast Ideas
Overnight Oats: Overnight oats and chia seeds soaked in coconut milk and topped with a scoop of high-quality protein powder, and blueberries.
Smoothie: A smoothie made with ½ banana, berries, almond milk, flaxseeds, protein powder.
Sweet Potato “Toast”: Topped with ½ avocado, an egg, and topped with fresh cilantro.
#5 Sneaky Sources of Sugar and Processed Carbs
While we often think of saturated fat as one of the main causes of a slow metabolism, studies show refined carbohydrates may be worse! These foods are notorious for creating blood sugar and insulin spikes, which is detrimental for weight loss, says Strum.
You may think you’re avoiding these sneaky culprits, but oftentimes these foods can appear in many unexpected places (think: spaghetti sauces, breads, granolas, and salad dressings). Read your labels, and keep sugars to no more than 4 grams per serving, says Strum.
#6 Lack of Protein
We hear it all the time — eat more protein. But, are you really eating enough? Protein is essential for more than just muscle growth — it helps with weight loss, too! Studies show increased protein intake can boost metabolism, increase satiety, and even prevent age-related muscle loss.
If you have a slow metabolism, you may want to look at your protein levels. Studies show protein has a high thermic effect, meaning it requires more energy to absorb and breakdown, thus increasing metabolic rate, calorie expenditure, and fat loss.
It’s important to note — weight loss and fat loss are not alike! Luckily, protein helps us shed the latter. Research suggests protein helps us conserve lean body mass during weight loss by maintaining muscle mass. This is especially important as we age. After 30, physically inactive people will lose between 3-5% of their muscle mass each decade, says Strum. This loss of muscle mass means we are losing tissue that burns calories and keeps our metabolism revving.
The best way to combat age-related muscle loss and a slow metabolism is to eat between 25-30 grams of protein per meal or 1.0-1.2 grams per kilogram of body weight, says Strum. It’s best to divide protein intake throughout the day for better absorption and utilization!
One of the biggest lifestyle culprits of a slow metabolism is dehydration. Yes, being dehydrated could derail your weight loss goals! We need enough water to help us burn fat, says Strum. Studies suggest simply being properly hydrated can increase both weight loss and fat loss, helping to keep your metabolism firing and shed unwanted pounds. If you’re not convinced, here’s another reason to pick up the water bottle. When we are dehydrated, we often mistake hunger for thirst! This leads us to overeat, further sabotaging our weight loss goals.
So, how much water do you need? Take your body weight in pounds and divide it in half. That’s how many ounces of water you want to drink daily, says Strum. If you are active, add a few more ounces of water to compensate for water loss during exercise!
What if we told you sleep may be just as important as diet and exercise when it comes to weight loss? It’s true — sleep deprivation is one of the major causes of a slow metabolism.
Lack of sleep can disturb your weight loss goals, leading to increased appetite, cravings, obesity, and risk of metabolic syndrome, says Sturm. Let’s take a look at the research. Studies suggest sleep deprivation can lead to a slow metabolism, due to your body conserving energy as a result of lost sleep. Prolonged sleep deprivation has even been shown to slow the metabolism by as much as 8% over a 5 week period! Your weight loss goals will really be a distant dream if you skimp on sleep.
Try These R.D. Approved Sleep Tips
Proper Sleep Starts The Moment You Wake: Get some sunlight in your eyes for a good 5 minutes, ideally outside. Our eyes have special receptors for sunlight — this practice helps regulate our circadian rhythm for the day.
Try Tart Cherry Juice: Some foods are naturally high in melatonin like cherries and pistachios. Drinking an ounce or two of tart cherry juice at night can help you sleep more soundly.
Try Journaling: Turn off the mind. Our mind chatter can prevent us from falling or staying asleep. Keeping a journal can help leave any worries on the page.
There you have it — the sneaky causes of a slow metabolism! As you can see, there are many reasons your metabolism may not be firing at a rapid pace, but luckily, a few lifestyle tweaks can change that. Now that you know the best hacks, rev up your internal engine and maintain the burn!