Losing weight, for many people, is a difficult and lifelong challenge. Between yo-yo dieting, starvation, exercise gadgets and “miracle” pills, you probably have tried just about anything to drop those extra pounds. And when none of your efforts work, it almost seems hopeless.
But what if being overweight was not entirely your fault? What if your body was working against you in a sense making weight loss more of a challenge than most? People with a slow metabolism may fall into this category.
Metabolism: What is it?
When you hear people talking about their metabolism, they sometimes confuse it with how many calories they burn. That refers to your basal metabolic rate which can be calculated through a special formula designed separately for men and women. Metabolism is a two-step process on how food is processed in your body.
The first part is called a catabolic reaction. When food enters your body, it is too big to pass through your digestive system. The catabolic reaction breaks those pieces down into smaller ones so that they can travel more easily through your system and then each of those small pieces can go to where they need to—your organs and your bloodstream.
After that comes the anabolic reaction which involves using these pieces to form new tissue and take care of your body with all the important nutrients that they have.
What’s Your Speed: Fast or Slow?
For some fortunate people, their metabolism is fast which means they can eat large quantities of food and still manage to stay at their same weight. Their body just metabolizes food at such a fast rate that they keep eating and eating without worrying about weight gain. This can be both good and bad—especially if they are eating foods that are high in fat and sugar.
They may not put on weight, but they are still doing their bodies any good by eating foods that are unhealthy and can lead to health issues down the road.
On the other hand, people with a slow metabolism have the opposite problem. Their bodies take such a long time to break down the food that there is a delay in the body receiving the fuel it needs. It also means that come your next meal or snack, your body may still be trying to metabolize what you ate a few hours ago.
Symptoms and Effects of a Slow Metabolism
Aside from not being able to lose weight, a slow metabolism has other negative effects. Chronic fatigue is one symptom. After all, if your body is taking long to metabolize food, which means that your body is not getting the fuel it needs to sustain itself. The result is that you are tired all the time.
High cholesterol and high blood pressure are also two symptoms of a slow metabolism. You may also find yourself sweating excessively and exercise has nothing to do with it. It will be a problem regardless of what you are doing. Poor circulation and fibrosis are other known effects as well.
Finally, a slow metabolism can cause high blood sugar because the body is not properly digesting food. This can lead to type 2 diabetes which can lead to more serious health issues if it is not taken care of.
Can You Fix a Slow Metabolism?
The good news is that if you do find you have a slow metabolism, there are things you can do to speed it up. A few lifestyle modifications are all that is required to get your metabolism working a little faster than it is.
One of the easiest ways to speed up your metabolism is to start an exercise program if you are not already on one. Aim to exercise most days of the week, but make sure your program includes both cardiovascular exercise and weight training. The more muscle you have, the higher your resting metabolic rate will be because each pound of muscle uses about six calories a day (fat only burns two calories).
Your cardiovascular activity should also be more than just a stroll around your neighborhood. In order to really make your metabolism pick up some steam, you need to engage in more intense forms of exercise. Start sprinting, conquer some hills on your bike or try some high-intensity interval training that incorporates both weight training and cardiovascular exercise together. This is the most overall effective way of jump starting your metabolism.
There are specific types of workout programs, like circuit training, that are referred to as metabolic training because they are designed for just that—increasing your metabolism.
Circuit training often involves a group of six to ten exercises (cardiovascular and resistance training) that are done one after the other with little to no rest. After you complete one round of all the exercises, you take a short break and then repeat the circuit at least two more times. Your heart rate will be elevated through much of the program which is what you want to fix your slow metabolism.
Another part of the equation is your diet. Increase your protein while lowering sugar and processed food intake. Protein keeps you full but it also keeps the metabolism high and repairs the muscles you have been working so hard to build.
Certain foods like those that are spicy are also said to give metabolism a hearty boost as well as drinking black coffee and green or oolong tea. While these are only short-term boosts, if they become a constant in your diet, they can have stimulating effects each day. And do not forget that getting enough sleep at night is also imperative as a lack of a good night’s sleep slows down metabolism.
You do not have to wave the right flag and surrender at the hands of a slow metabolism. Sure, if weight loss is your goal, this can be frustrating, but it does not have to be your excuse not to hit your weight loss goals.
According to Dr. Donald Hensrud, a preventive medicine specialist with the Mayo Clinic, “If you’re concerned about slow metabolism and your weight, talk to your doctor about healthy changes you can make.”
By making these easy lifestyle changes, you can fix your slow metabolism and be on your way to a healthier you.
Craig Ballantyne, CSCS, MS
Certified Turbulence Trainer