You have been trying for a few weeks (or months) to lose weight, but the scale isn’t moving the direction you expect. You decide to meet a naturally thin friend for lunch. She orders a burger (with fries!) while you sit there with your salad. Oh the unfairness that she eats whatever she wants and never gain weight! Meanwhile, you struggle to lose even an ounce. The question of, “why is my metabolism so slow” enters your mind daily. And with good reason! Let’s take a look at how to know if you have a slow metabolism, and what to do about it.
What is Metabolism?
Metabolism is the collection of chemical reactions that happen every day to keep you alive. All of these reactions require energy or calories. Your metabolism influences how many calories you use in a day.
The thing is, many of us have been led to believe we have a lot of control over our metabolism. But, we actually can’t influence it that much. A large portion of metabolism is used for basic biological functions such as breathing, heart beating, digestion, and thinking. This is called your resting metabolic rate and there isn’t much you can do to change it. How many calories your body uses for all those activities has to do with your age, gender, genetics, and weight. It is very rare that someone has a metabolism that is radically slower than someone with similar characteristics as them, but there are a few things that can slow it down. How do you know if your metabolism is “slow” compared to other people?
Do You Have a Slow Metabolism?
If you think your metabolism might be slow, here are eight signs that you could be right (1):
You are exhausted
Being constantly tired could be a sign of a slow metabolism, especially if you are getting at least 8-10 hours of sleep a night. Your body is simply not able to keep up with the demands of the day and may be unable to process nutrients from food correctly.
You have gained weight
You have eaten and exercised the same for a long time but you have been slowly gaining weight. Or you seem to just look at a cheeseburger and put on five pounds. Hormonal problems and a sluggish thyroid are all common causes of a slow metabolism that can also lead to weight gain. Also, people with slow metabolisms may have difficulty with insulin resistance, which can lead to blood sugar issues and weight gain (2).
You crave sugar like crazy
Out of control sugar cravings can indicate insulin resistance, which is also linked to metabolism problems. When your body is unable to use insulin correctly, it cannot get sugar from the food you eat into the cells where it needs to go and be used for energy. This means the cells think they are starving, making you crave sugar. Also, another cause of slow metabolism, hypothyroidism can make you crave sugar.
You are cold all the time
Keeping you warm is one of the main purposes of your metabolism. If you are always cold, this could be a sign of poorly functioning hormones, a symptom of hypothyroidism, and a slow metabolic rate.
You are forgetful
If your body is not metabolizing food properly, it’s no surprise you might be forgetful or your brain might feel “foggy” and you may not be able to think clearly.
Your digestion isn’t great
Your metabolism starts in your gut where you break down food. If you are slow to digest food or are feeling bloated or uncomfortable after eating, it could be a sign of a food intolerance that may affect your metabolism.
Your skin is flaky and you are losing your hair
Dry skin and hair loss are signs of thyroid problems. If your skin is always dry and flaky no matter how much you moisturize, you may have unaddressed hormonal issues or nutritional inadequacies due to the inability to properly metabolize food. Also, hair loss could be an indication of a hormone imbalance, particularly if you are a woman and it is occurring around the top of your head.
You have an underlying medical condition
Thyroid or hormone problems can lead to a slow metabolism. Talk to your doctor if you think this is the case because there are treatments that can help.
Now that we have seen a few of the symptoms of a slow metabolism, how can you get it back to normal?
How to Speed up Metabolism
As we mentioned, your metabolism is mostly out of your control. But, you can try to boost the number of calories you burn to see if it will help, particularly if you are trying to control your weight. Here are a few things you can do to speed up your metabolism:
- Focus on strength training. Muscle burns more calories than fat. So, adding a bit of muscle can help increase your overall metabolism.
- Exercise regularly. Exercising helps you burn more calories all day, even when you are not actively doing it (3).
- Increase your daily activity. So many of us sit all day, we barely get the opportunity to burn calories. Consider a standing or treadmill desk or just take short walking breaks throughout your workday.
- Eat enough. Under eating can slow metabolism, so make sure you are eating enough calories each day.
- Eat metabolism boosting foods. Although these foods are not miracle workers, hot peppers, cinnamon, and coffee can help speed metabolism.
- Stay hydrated. Dehydration can slow your metabolism. Drinking just 16 ounces of water can speed it up by 30% (4).
- See your doctor. If you think hormones are the culprit, then talk to your doctor. He or she may have a few suggestions to help.
It can be frustrating when you feel like you are doing everything right to lose weight and something you have little control over (your metabolism) is getting in the way of achieving the results you want. The important thing is to be patient with yourself, address any medical concerns, and stay focused on your health.
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