Updated: Aug 8, 2021
Weight loss can feel overwhelming, especially if you’re cutting calories but still not losing weight. You may be tempted to blame this on a slow metabolism, completely beyond your control. However, there is good news. A slow moving metabolism can be improved with a few decisive adjustments to your lifestyle.
Metabolism is the process by which your body converts oxygen, food and drink into energy.
What you eat, drink and how much you move ultimately has a direct and powerful effect on your metabolism and your weight.
This is true even if you genetically gain weight easily or lose weight slowly. In short, your habits of food and movement are the main factors in weight management. The good news is these factors are both within your power to manipulate.
Reducing how much you eat may be part of the equation when trying to lose weight. However, it isn’t the only factor you should consider. For instance, sometimes you need to eat more, not less, to get your metabolism working more efficiently.
For others, movement is the primary missing link.
Some may need to look at how much they eat and how much they move - and adjust both.
Regardless of your current lifestyle, habits, body type or predisposed genetics, we have five recommendations that will improve your overall health and improve the function of your metabolism.
Tip 1: Establish how many calories you need to eat
Eating to many calories in a day will cause you to gain or maintain your weight
Not eating enough will slow your metabolism down. To low of calories can also cause you to maintain or even gain weight.
You determine how many calories you need to eat be finding our how many calories you burn.
1) Establish how many calories you burn each day (not just active hours).
As a Nutritionist, I can say that without knowing what a person is burning each day, I can give only educated estimates of caloric needs. When I know how many calories they actually burn each day, I can truly customize their nutrition plan.
To find out how many calories you burn, we recommend using a tracker that monitors your heart rate and weight. There are many watches, rings and apps that will perform this function. Whichever you choose, make sure it doesn’t just monitor your heart rate when you tell it to. It needs to monitor your heart rate all day.
As fitness professionals, we personally use and recommend our clients use FitBit. The simplicity of their product is quite genius (in our opinion). It tracks heart rates all day, allowing the user to see how many calories they use from midnight to midnight. With this information, we can establish a pretty accurate daily caloric need to get and keep the metabolism hot and burning body fat.
2) Determine the right number of calories you should eat to lose, gain or maintain weight.
A caloric deficit allows the body to utilize body fat for energy, rather than giving it more food. When losing body fat, you need a caloric deficit.
Remember, too little calories can actually slow down your fat-burning engine while too many can stop weight loss or cause gain.
Reducing calories too aggressively will slow your metabolism down.
While aggressive caloric deficits can cause weight loss in the beginning, eventually you will plateau, stop losing and gain the weight back when you start eating normal again. The long-term health effects and loss of muscle can be devastating and make keeping the weight off very, very difficult. This is one reason most people who diet aggressively gain back more weight than they lost.
Here’s how you bring it together:
Take the number of calories you burn each day, then use our deficit guidelines to determine how many calories you should eat. Your food amount should adjust according to your activity level each day.
Caloric Deficit Benchmarks
500 daily deficit = One pound a week or four pounds a month (Conservative)
750 daily deficits = One and a half pounds a week or six pounds a month (Intermediate)
1000 daily deficit = Two pounds a week or eight pounds a month (Aggressive)
Total calories burned all day: 2800 (established through heart rate tracker)
Total calories needed in food: 2050 (established through food journal)
Total Daily Deficit: 750
Consistency of this deficit (per the example) will keep a body healthy, while yielding a 6-pound loss per month OR a total of 72 pounds a year!
Your personal goals, gender, current health, current activity level and relationship with food should determine which deficit goal you set.
FitBit also has a feature in their app that allows you to journal your food. It provides macro and nutritional information, plus it keeps a running total of calories burned vs calories eaten. As you consistently keep your caloric ratio at a reasonable deficit, your body will use excess body fat for fuel.
Tip 2: Move More
If you’re eating fairly healthy already, how do you create a caloric deficit? That's easy, you move more!
Rather than restricting your food to extremes, you need to move your body more to burn more at the energy end of metabolism. Remember, metabolism is the process of energy balance between nutrition and movement. We are not meant to sit and starve. We are meant to move and thrive.
A frustrating cycle many experience is maintaining body weight, rather than losing.
If your food is right and you're working out regularly, you may still need to move more.
I had a personal experience just a few weeks ago that really illustrates how easily this can happen:
"This particular day I was required to sit and do office work all day (sound familiar). I exercised that morning. I ate clean food all day and didn’t overeat. Because I wear a tracker and journal my food, I know how many calories come in and go out of my body.
All the sitting made it difficult to get a caloric deficit of even 500 calories.
Why? Because even though I worked out and ate well, I was sitting the rest of the day. If I were trying to lose weight, it wouldn’t happen under these circumstances. Restricting my calories is not the answer. I want to preserve muscle and keep my metabolism fired - I needed to move more in between office work or after. I just needed a little more to get a deficit."
A few suggestions to incorporate more movement without adding another workout:
Evening walks or cardio
Go for a walk during your lunch break
Put an upright cycle in your office and spin for 10 minutes each hour
Park further at the grocery store or mall
Engage in activities with your kids
Clean out your closets or other home projects
Take up an active hobby that interests you
It doesn’t have to necessarily be another hour in the gym, but you do need to move. Our bodies are not meant to move for an hour, then sit for 23. Our "office chair to couch lifestyles" is what’s hurting our metabolism, far more than genetics.
A few suggestions to incorporate during your gym time:
If you work out three days a week, add in a fourth
If you are extremely active but see a plateau happening, consider changing your workouts to get your metabolism burning. For instance, switch from strength training to HIIT, or from HIIT to Circuits. Muscle confusion is a great way to move more!
Also lift weights first and do cardio at the end of your workout.
Tip 3: Eat More Metabolism boosting foods
Many foods boost your metabolic rate. Research the ones you like and then eat those.
Too often we focus on what not to eat, and don't consider what we should eat. Many fruits, vegetables, spices, seasonings and proteins not only provide life sustaining nutrition, but can get things burning hotter than ever.
We encourage you to take a little time to research metabolism boosting foods and start gathering recipes. Add them to your daily diet.
A few of our favorites we recommend:
Spinach / broccoli / carrots
High protein foods such as: turkey, lean beef, white meat chicken
Low-fat Dairy (in moderation)
Grapefruit (check for compatibility with medications you may be taking)
Tip 4: Drink More Water
Water improves your metabolism and weight loss functions. Drink plenty of H2o every day.
Water is greatly underestimated when weight loss strategies are being considered. Water is a natural detoxifier, and our bodies not only crave it but we need it to stay alive. Water replenishes our body, revitalizes concentration and improves brain function, hydrates our organs, refreshes and brightens skin, energizes muscle, improves moods, and yes, improves metabolism and weight loss functions.
Another good reason for increasing water is it can provide a “feeling full” effect. We’re less likely to needlessly eat or snack if we feel full.
Choose water before other drinks! While soda and other sugary drinks cause cravings and add empty (and sometimes harmful) calories, water does neither of those things, but actually counters them. Avoid sugar-free sodas and drinks when water can be substituted.
How much water is enough?
TIP: Divide your body weight in two. The number you are left with is how many ounces of water a day you should aim for.
Tip 5: Sleep More
The Mayo Clinic says in multiple publications there are definite links between obesity, weight gain, high body mass index (and more) due to sleep deprivation. We have shared links below, including a link to sleep guidelines, for your reference.
During sleep, our hunger hormones balance. This helps us not crave carbs and caffeine the next day.
Dr. Zerasky of Mayo Clinic stated, “research suggests an association between sleep restriction and negative changes in metabolism”. One reason for this is sleep duration effects the regulation of the hunger hormones – leptin and ghrelin. This can cause cravings for high carbohydrate foods and excess of caffeine products.
Lack of sleep also denies our body time to heal and recover. During sleep the body releases vital hormones that promote muscle recovery and metabolic balance.
If you are having trouble sleeping, we have some suggestions:
Creating a relaxing bedtime ritual. Take a warm shower, turn electronic devices off and even start dimming lights early. This can help with the natural release of melatonin (a very important sleep chemical). Reading a quiet book can also help.
If trouble persists you could talk to your doctor about medications of even better, natural supplementations, such as GABA. This can be purchased as a supplement but is already in our body naturally. It can help with relaxation, sleep and should only be taken when needed or otherwise directed by your doctor.
Combining the right foods, a reasonable caloric deficit, enough daily movement and getting enough rest is the combination you need to get things running strong in your favor. Regardless of where you are now, these are areas you can decide to effect. Your body will thank you!