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Is Your Metabolism Working Against You?

Is your metabolism working for or against you? If you find yourself doing all the right things, yet still unable to lose weight, it's likely your metabolism isn't functioning properly.

In this blog, we'll break down what the metabolism actually does for your body, what having a slow metabolism means, and how you can make sure your metabolism is working with you, not against you.

But first, what is your metabolism?

Metabolism is the chemical process by which your body converts the food you eat and drink into energy. Through a very complex process, the calories you ingest are combined with oxygen to release energy. This energy is then used to fuel a variety of bodily functions.

Your metabolism never stops working, even when sleeping or resting. It’s working around the clock to provide energy for basic functions like:

  • Circulating blood

  • Breathing

  • Growing and repairing cells

  • Digesting food

  • Regulating body temperature

  • Managing hormone levels

Everyone’s metabolism is working at a different rate. The difference between a fast and slow metabolism is the number of calories you burn to support the functions listed above. As we all know, the slower your metabolism, the fewer calories you’ll burn.

The number of calories your body uses to carry out these basic functions and support the organs and physiological systems is known as the metabolic basil rate (BMR), aka- the metabolism. Your BMR actually accounts for around 60-75% of your total daily energy expenditure.

The rate at which your BMR burns calories is dependent on several factors:

  • Your muscle mass → Building and maintaining muscle requires more calories than fat. The higher your muscle mass, the higher your metabolism.

  • Your age → As you get older and lose muscle mass, calorie burn will slow.

  • Your sex → Men are more likely to have more muscle and less body fat than women, making them burn more calories on a daily basis.

  • Your genes → Your genes will determine your muscle size, ability to build muscle, and ability to burn fat.

What causes a slow metabolism?

There are several factors that can lead to your metabolism slowing down, causing you to burn fewer calories throughout the day and potentially gaining or retaining weight. When your metabolism is out of balance or dysfunctional, it will not be able to work at 100% and thus will slow down. Lifestyle choices play a huge role in the health of your metabolism. Some of these lifestyle choices include:

You’re not eating protein right:

High protein intake can drastically increase the rate at which your body burns calories. This is because protein has a significant impact on the increase in metabolism that occurs after eating, known as the thermic effect of food (TEF). Eating protein can temporarily increase your metabolism by 20-30%, compared to 3% for fat and 5-10% for carbs.

Moreover, while weight loss inevitably causes the metabolism to slow, evidence suggests that higher protein intake can mitigate these effects. One study found that weight-loss diets with more protein will reduce the average daily energy expenditure by significantly less than diets with less protein. Another study found that you need to eat at least 0.5 grams of protein per pound of body weight to prevent your metabolism from slowing while losing weight.

But it is very important to NOT eat protein alone. Make sure that you are eating it with a complex carb or good fat.

You’re not doing enough strength training:

Several studies have demonstrated that working out with weights can increase your metabolic rate and prevent it from slowing. This is because strength training is the best way to build muscle, which will significantly increase the number of calories you burn while at rest.

Even better, studies have suggested that it doesn’t even take that much strength training to bolster your metabolism. One study found that weight training for only 11 minutes a day, 3 days a week, increased their resting metabolic rate by 7.4% and burned an extra 125 calories per day. In contrast, not doing any strength training, especially while aging or losing weight, can cause your metabolic rate to decline even faster.

You’re not sleeping enough:

We know that sleep is essential for optimal health. Several studies have found that inadequate sleep can cause your metabolism to slow and increase your risk of gaining weight. One study found that adults who slept for 4 hours per night for 5 nights in a row had a 2.6% decrease in resting metabolic rate.

Luckily, after a solid 12 hours of uninterrupted sleep, their slowed rate returned to normal. Another study found that prolonged sleep restriction and circadian rhythm disruption caused an 8% decrease in resting metabolic rate.

You’re eating too few calories:

This may seem counterintuitive, especially if you’re dieting to try and lose weight. But actually, eating too few calories throughout the day can lead to a major metabolism decrease. When you dramatically restrict calories, your body goes into starvation mode and slows how many calories you burn per day.

Research has demonstrated that eating fewer than 1,000 calories per day will have a significant impact on your metabolism. Other studies have shown that it doesn’t take 1,000 calories to impact your metabolism, eating between 1,100-1,400 can still cause your metabolism to slow. Interestingly, in these studies, even after raising the calorie intake of participants, the metabolism takes a while to reach normal levels.

You’re drinking too much soda:

Sugary drinks are detrimental to your health for a variety of reasons, raising your risk of ailments like insulin resistance, obesity, and diabetes. But, studies have found that drinking too much soda throughout the day can cause a serious drop in your metabolic rate. This is likely because most sodas contain high amounts of fructose.

You’re not active enough or are too active:

Being sedentary can lead to a significant decrease in the number of calories you burn per day. Sitting all day behind a desk can lead to negative effects on your metabolic rate. How many calories you burn per day through activity excluding exercise is known as non-exercise thermogenesis (NEAT). The number of calories you burn through NEAT varies from person to person and is affected by your genetics, hormones, and how active you are on a typical day. 15-30% of total daily energy expenditure is from non-exercise activity thermogenesis. Studies have found that a high amount of NEAT can burn up to 2,000 extra calories per day.

If you are over 35, then you need to be careful with the amount of stimulating exercise that you do on a weekly basis. Aerobic exercise daily without days in-between for recuperation will increase the breakdown of your tissues and decrease your metabolic reserve. This will cause you to age faster and damage your metabolism.

Can you improve your metabolism?

Experts agree that to a degree, you can manipulate your metabolism. And luckily, these lifestyle changes are easier to implement than you think. Here are several ways to boost your metabolism, backed by experts.

  1. Eat protein with every meal → We know that too little protein causes the metabolism to slow, so naturally, increasing your protein consumption will give your metabolism a needed boost. Moreover, eating more protein will help you feel full faster and prevent you from overeating.

  2. Drink more green or oolong tea → These two kinds of tea have been found by multiple studies to increase metabolism and fat burning. This is because green and oolong tea contains ingredients that will help you convert fat into free fatty acids, which will boost fat burning. The metabolism-boosting effects of these teas will also help counteract a slowing metabolism.

  3. Careful with high-intensity workouts → HIIT will burn a bunch of calories, and will also increase your metabolic rate even after you’ve finished your workout. HIIT has also been shown to help you burn fat at a faster rate. BUT if you already have a damaged metabolism by then you will want to only try HIIT once or twice a week. Yoga and moderate exercise will suit you better and promote the healing of your metabolism.

  4. Eating spicy foods → Most spicy foods contain peppers, which possess a compound called capsaicin. This compound has been found to boost metabolism. One study found that eating more peppers can increase the number of calories burned per day.

  5. Drink coffee → The caffeine in coffee has been found to temporarily boost metabolism. Moreover, coffee may also promote fat burning. Several studies have found that coffee can boost metabolism and lead to successful weight loss and maintenance.

  6. Drink plenty of water → People who drink water instead of sodas and other sugary drinks are more likely to lose weight and keep it off. Moreover, drinking more water can temporarily speed up your metabolism. One study found that drinking 17 ounces of water can increase your metabolism by around 30% for an hour.

  7. Do more weight lifting → If skipping the weight training causes the metabolism to slow, it makes sense that lifting weights will give your metabolism a boost. Lifting weights can help you burn more calories per day even while at rest, thanks to its metabolism-boosting effects. This is because weight lifting will help you build and maintain muscle.

How long does it take to improve your metabolism?

While some of these tips may cause quick metabolism boosts, others may take longer. Moreover, the amount of time it takes to repair your metabolism is impacted by factors like:

  • Diet

  • Activity level: too much or too little

  • Health status

The tips we gave above should not be looked at as a quick fix, rather they should be incorporated into a series of lifestyle changes to promote optimal health and achieve long-lasting effects.

How to know if you have a damaged metabolism:

Here are some of the most common signs that your metabolism is slow:

  • Ongoing fatigue

  • Weight gain

  • Continuous headache

  • Depression

  • Constipation

  • Dry skin, brittle nails, thin hair

The best way to know if your metabolism is damaged is through an organic acid test (OAT). An OAT evaluates the organic acids that are excreted in your urine, which will paint a metabolic picture of your overall health. Organic acids are byproducts of the metabolism, and because they cannot be reabsorbed by the body, they are a great way to show the health of your metabolism.

Moreover, an organic acid test provides comprehensive information about the entire body that you can’t get from blood work. It examines over 70 different markers that provide actionable information. Even better, an organic acid test is a simple urine test that you can even do at home! To learn more about organic acid testing at the Johnson Center, click here.

If you think your metabolism has slowed, know that it’s not permanent and there are solutions! At the Johnson Center, we will work with you to find out why your metabolism is slow and offer resolutions that work with your lifestyle.

For more information, click here to contact us. If you have any more questions about your path to optimal health, email our office at or call 276-235-3205.

The Johnson Center for Health services patients in-person in our Blacksburg and Virginia Beach locations. We also offer telemedicine for residents of Virginia and North Carolina!


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