Perhaps you have been feeling more tired than usual lately. Maybe your digestion seems a bit “sluggish”. Your skin feels dry and you’ve been craving sugar. These are all signs of metabolic weakness or a slowing down of your metabolism. Let’s dive into how this can happen and for each cause I give simple to implement tips on how to increase your metabolism.
What is Metabolism?
Metabolism is the word to describe all the complex biochemical reactions in your body. It’s how you take in nutrients and oxygen and use them to fuel everything you do. It’s pretty damned important and as such, we need to look after it.
Your body has an incredible ability to grow, heal, and keep you alive. And without this amazing biochemistry, you would not be able to be you.
- Metabolism includes how the cells in your body allow:
- Activities you can control such as walking, running or exercise
- Activities you can’t control: your heartbeat, wound healing, processing of nutrients & toxins, etc
- Storage of excess energy for later
Putting all these processes together so that they work just right is incredible but if the conditions aren’t in balance it can mean that your metabolism is either too slow or too fast.
Which brings us to the “metabolic rate”.
This is how fast your metabolism works and is measured in calories. THAT WORD! That word that we love to hate.The calories you eat can go to one of three places:
- Work – exercise and other activity
- Heat – from all those biochemical reactions
- Storage – extra leftover “unburned” calories stored as fat.
The more calories you burn as work or creating heat the fewer “leftover” calories there are to store as fat for later and the easier it is to lose weight and keep it off.
There are several ways to measure metabolic rate. One is the “resting metabolic rate” (RMR) which is how much energy your body uses when you’re not being physically active.
The other is the “total daily energy expenditure” (TDEE) which measures both the resting metabolic rate as well as the energy used for “work” like exercise, throughout a 24-hour period.
What things can slow my metabolism?
Metabolism includes all of the reactions in your body that use nutrients and oxygen to create energy. There are lots of factors that affect how quickly or slowly it works. Your "metabolic rate” is measured in calories.
We now know that metabolic rate is much more complicated than the old adage “calories in, calories out”! In fact, it's so complicated I can only list a few of the common factors that can slow it down.
Examples of common reasons why metabolic rates can slow down:
- low thyroid hormone
- a history of on and off dieting
- size and body composition
- activity level
- LACK OF SLEEP
- Stress levels
We'll briefly touch on each one below. It is so much more than the old “eat less and exercise more” principle.
Low thyroid hormones
Your thyroid is the master controller of your metabolism. When it produces fewer hormones your metabolism slows down. Some of your thyroid hormones tell the cells in your body when to use more energy.
Ideally, they would work to keep your metabolism just right. However, issues like autoimmune diseases and mineral deficiencies can throw them off balance. Two of the most common minerals are iodine and selenium.
To keep these minerals at optimum levels include some of the following foods into your diet each day to help balance your thyroid hormones and increase your metabolism.
I eat 3 brazil nuts every morning when I get back from my walk. Boom! Daily selenium is taken care of.
If you prefer try my Selenium-Rich Chocolate Chia Seed Pudding Recipe which is perfect as a dessert or a breakfast.
Psst! - there's also a recipe for Dark Chocolate Brazil Nut and Coconut Bars on the same post.
Foods containing iodine: Kelp, wakame, kombu, organic strawberries, organic yoghurt, cranberries.
Foods containing selenium: Brazil nuts, sardines, turkey, spinach, chicken.
Talk with your doctor about having your thyroid hormones tested.
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start seeing the scales move in the right direction!
Your history of dieting
When people lose weight their metabolic rate often slows down. This is due to the fact that the body senses that food may be scarce. It adapts by trying to continue with all the necessary life functions and do it all with less food.
While dieting can lead to a reduction in fat it carries, unfortunately, it can also lead to a reduction in the amount of muscle you have. As you know more muscle means faster resting metabolic rate.
- Make sure you're eating enough food to fuel your body without overdoing it.
- Build muscle by including bodyweight or resistance exercises into your weekly exercise regime.
Your size and body composition
In general, larger people have faster metabolic rates. This is because it takes more energy to fuel a larger body than a smaller one.
However, you already know that gaining weight is rarely the best strategy to increase your metabolism.
Muscles that actively move and do work need energy. Even muscles at rest burn more calories than fat. This means that the amount of energy your body uses depends partly, on the amount of lean muscle mass you have.
Tip 2: Do some weight training to help increase your muscle mass. Start small with only a few reps and build up to heavier weights and more reps.
Which leads us to...
Your activity level
Muscles that actively move and do work need more energy than fat does. So the more lean muscle mass you have the more energy your body will burn and the higher your metabolic rate will be. Even when you’re not working out. Woohoo.
Build that lean muscle mass and it will keep you looking lean and toned.
This is why weight training is often recommended as a part of a weight loss program. Because you want muscles to be burning those calories for you.
When you lose weight your metabolic rate often slows down which you don’t want to happen. So you definitely want to offset that with more muscle mass and cutting down simple carbohydrates like sugar and grains.
Increase your heart rate
Aerobic exercise temporarily increases your metabolic rate. Your muscles are burning fuel to move and do “work”. This doesn't mean you need to go crazy and start running or doing fast gym workouts. Aerobic activity can be as simple as a brisk walk up the nearest hill.
Even little things can add up. Walking a bit farther than you usually do, using a standing desk instead of sitting all day, or taking the stairs instead of the elevator can all contribute to more activity in your day.
Tip 3: Incorporate movement into your day. I often will run on the spot rather than stand and wait for the jug to boil or my toast to cook. Any amount of activity is better than none.
Eat the right foods for good digestion
Your body also burns calories to absorb, digest, and metabolize your food. This is called the “thermic effect of food” (TEF).
You can use this to your advantage when you understand how your body metabolizes foods differently.
Fats, for example, increase your TEF by 0-3%; carbs increase it by 5-10%, and protein increases it by 15-30%. By trading some of your fat or carbs for lean protein you can slightly increase your metabolic rate.
Studies have also shown the TEF of highly processed foods as being substantially less that of whole foods, which makes complete sense. A doughnut which is high sugar, high fat and therefore high carbohydrate will turn into energy easily and so will increase your TEF very little. Wholefoods, on the other hand, take a bit more digesting and release energy into your system slowly increasing your TEF more.
Couple that with the fact that course food may even pass through your body without even being digested so the calories will be lost out the other end and you are on to a win.
Another bonus of protein is that your muscles need it to grow. By working them out and feeding them what they need they will help you to lose weight and keep it off.
For a super simple protein recipe try my Lemon Herb Roasted Chicken Recipe. It ticks all the boxes.
Lack of sleep
There is plenty of research about the influence that sleep has on your metabolism. The consensus is to get 7-9 hours of sleep every night.
I have written a lot about the benefits of a good night’s sleep. Probably because it can elude me at times too. This is one area to work hard on maintaining but in doing so try not to get stressed or you will find yourself in a vicious circle. See my latest post on sleep (it does refer to midlife but really the concepts are the same at any age) - How To Get A Better Night's Sleep In Midlife
Tip 4: Create a calm nighttime routine that allows you to get into bed in a relaxed state in time for 7 hours of sleep. Ideas to do this are:
- keep lights low
- turn off electronics
- have a warm nighttime drink
- chat quietly with your family
- do some journaling
- do a short restorative yoga routine that promotes sleep. Here is a gorgeous one with relaxing music by my favourite yoga teacher Adriene - Yoga For Bedtime - 20 Minute Practice
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And so finally we come to:
Stress - metabolism's worst enemy!
Stress really is the Big Kahuna for messing up our body's processes and slowing your metabolism.
It is important to keep stress to a minimum. If you find your stress levels getting a little high, try some regular meditation. Even 10 minutes will help. There really are some gorgeous meditations online. Check out this post for some of my faves - Free Guided Meditations For Better Health In Menopause
Although a little cortisol, the stress hormone, can increase your metabolism chronic stress can cause weight gain, depression and fatigue.
Tip 5: Check out my Selenium-Rich Chocolate Chia Pudding recipe. This recipe contains Brazils which is are a rich source of selenium which can support thyroid function and help with sleep problems.
Other ways to reduce stress are to:
- exercise regularly
- avoid caffeine, alcohol and smoking
can become slow for many reasons but it is fairly simple to increase it with the tips I have given you. As with anything in health the best remedy is a holistic approach. My personal approach to remedying a health issue is to tackle it in small increments. Change something in your diet this week. Next week maybe add in a short meditation. Ten weeks equals ten changes for the better and that's ten habits you didn't have when you started. Imperfect action is better than no action.
Do you know if your metabolism is slow?