The most commonly cited reason why people struggle with weight loss, and consequently gain weight fast, is due to a slow metabolism. Most would tell you they’ve cut back on food and increased exercise activity yet have no weight loss to show for it.
Do you think you have a slow metabolism? If so, read on.
Losing weight is such a ubiquitous subject, you’d have more luck finding treasure in a random beach somewhere far from civilization than to have one day where no one talks about weight loss. Because it’s such a popular topic, many websites, media outlets, and gurus try to cash in on the ever-growing and undying trend, usually to attract followers or to sell a miracle supplement or hardcore weight loss program.
Despite the rampant information dissemination and overload of weight loss topics, why is it that we, as a global population, continue to struggle with shedding off the excess fat? How come with all the supplements, workout programs, fitness videos, and even health podcasts available within just a few clicks of your phone or mouse, obesity rates are still climbing?
The answer might not be about what food we eat or how much we exercise, but about whether our body is aligned with our weight loss goals. What I’m trying to say is, maybe it’s not us per se, but our body that’s at fault for keeping the weight instead of losing it, and it does so by purposely maintaining a slow metabolism.
More often than not, a slow metabolism is the main culprit behind weight loss struggles. If so, then the key to solving all our weight loss woes lies in making our body run our metabolism on overdrive.
Before we go over some of the ways to speed up metabolism, let’s first go over what metabolism is and what it actually does.
You hear the word metabolism every day. It’s almost as normal as breathing at this point. You won’t be able to go a mile without hearing or reading the word metabolism, yet it wouldn’t be a surprise if you didn’t really understand this term.
Metabolism is described as all the chemical processes occurring continuously inside our body to keep us alive and your organs functioning normally. Metabolism is behind everyday chemical and physical processes such as breathing, repairing cells and digesting food. These processes all require energy, and the body gets energy largely from fat stores (1).
Now, the amount of energy the body gets from fat for maintenance is dependent on a lot of factors such as body composition, physical activity, and overall health. If you have more muscle, if you move a lot, and if you’re a healthy individual the body will draw more energy from fat over time. The amount of energy drawn from fat over time is defined as basal metabolic rate or simply BMR.
Our BMR accounts for anything between 40% and 70% of our body's daily energy requirements, depending on our age and lifestyle (2). From this context, you can say a "slow metabolism" is more accurately defined as a low BMR. You can actually calculate your BMR, but your best bet is using an app that incorporates the Harris-Benedict Equation (3).
How fast your metabolism is highly dependent on multiple factors. Body size, age, gender, genes, and upbringing all play a role in the speed of your metabolism.
Barring an actual doctor’s diagnosis, there really is no sure fire way to tell if your metabolism is slow or not. You can take the hints your body throws at you - putting on weight easily, you feel slow and tired, and your eating habits are sometimes good, sometimes not there at all - and work from there, but if you have an underlying condition that has slow metabolism as a symptom, it would be better to get professional help.
With all that said, if your last doctor’s appointment went pleasant other than the advice to lose a bit of fat, there are a variety of ways to naturally boost your body’s ability to burn fat.
1. Limit eating frequency. You see, there are people who think the body is like a furnace, and that eating multiple small meals a day can somehow keep the “fire” going in your belly. Unfortunately, the actual way your body works is a bit opposite to what that myth wants you to believe.
The body secretes insulin when you eat to facilitate the whole metabolic process, converting the food you eat to energy, managing blood sugar, and storing the rest as fat. Insulin is only secreted when you actually eat, and recent studies show the more insulin you secrete, the more you’re actually storing fat (8).
This is also made much more complicated when you have insulin resistance, a condition where your body needs to overproduce insulin to metabolize food. This explains why diabetics are almost always overweight, as they often need to inject insulin because the amount their body makes is just not enough to maintain their blood sugar levels.
What you want to do is when you eat, eat as few times as possible. This means you’re going to have to eat foods that are filling and healthy, but also just right. You want vegetables, protein, fat, and carbs in that order and only eating them not more than three times a day. It should also be noted that it’s better for your metabolism if you stop eating 2-3 hours before you sleep. After all, you’re going to lie down and rest for 6-8 hours give or take, what are you going to need that much food for?
2. Drink more water. The next time you feel hungry, drink a liter of water first. If you’re still hungry, then eat. Much like the first tip, you want not just to limit caloric intake, but also eating frequency by understanding what your body really needs. That stubborn hunger pang could just be you being thirsty and water has zero calories and additives, so it’s a pretty healthy drink. Not to mention the more water you drink, the less likely you are to overeat during meal time which also results to a faster metabolic rate (9).
3. Sleep better. As it turns out, the quality of sleep you get is related to how good your metabolism is. If you’re sleep deprived often, chances are your metabolism is slow. This is because your body thinks you need more energy to function, and so it slows down the fat burning process and goes to energy saving aka fat storage mode (10).
Sleep also does more than making us feel better when we wake up. It regulates our hormones, one of them being insulin. You remember that thing we talked about regarding insulin and fat storage? If your sleep is bad (like less-than-6-hours-and-feel-tired-when-you-wake-up bad), your body will try to compensate by overproducing insulin so it could, again store more energy than it expends (10).
4. Move more often. Needless to say, exercise does increase metabolism so you have the energy to finish whatever workout program you have in mind. However, what most people don’t know is that they can “exercise” outside the gym.
5. Try fasting. It may sound like we’re promoting some sort of diet, but we’re not. You know that thing with eating frequency? You can pair that with fasting which is essentially a prolonged period of time without food.