“But my metabolism is too slow”– The excuse of many many yo-yo dieter out there. The truth is, your metabolism is something that you can actually control.
Human metabolism, for me, is fascinating, and the more I learn about it, the more I realize that everything is connected. The knowledge about how our bodies work is constantly evolving with more and more data is available to scientific studies, so every day we have a better understanding about the function of human body. There are factors of course, that you just can not control when it comes to your metabolism, your genetics or your age for example. There are people whose body will respond better to certain diet methods, while others will adapt slower. However, there are a bunch of things that you can consciously do to improve your metabolism, and set it up for success.
Firstly, it is important to understand what the term metabolism means. Metabolism describes several processes and chemical reactions that your body goes through every minute of every day, in order to “stay alive”. In simpler words, it’s when the body converts food, oxygen, and water into energy. During these processes our body burns calories and creates energy. The Basal Metabolic Rate, or BMR is the rate in which your body completes these processes while at rest.
There is something important to mention here. A lot of people think that by burning calories, we burn fat, and this is a total misconception. Let’s say, you are doing some sort of cardiovascular activity every day. Biking for example. The primary energy source of our body is glucose, meaning that the first calories that your body will use are from the recently consumed carbohydrates in your system rather than the calories in your stored fat. There are many factors involved for your body to burn stored fat, but one thing never changes, you have to be in a caloric deficit. This doesn’t mean you suddenly just drop a 1500 calories of your daily intake and eat lettuce and tomatoes all day. You have to do it a smart way, otherwise your body and mind will just get exhausted and you will reach the opposite effect.
Low calorie diets can be extremely stressful on your body on a long run, and it will only lead to increased cortisol levels which often leads to packing up even more body fat. Before you getting into dieting, your have to make sure that your metabolism is healthy. That is why, when you hire a coach, they will ask you a million questions of your current diet, perhaps macros, your health and exercise history, etc… If your coach is not interested about this information, then you probably should look for someone else. Because it is the in depth information that is relevant when it comes to coaching someone. This is why online calculators are unreliable, as they don’t take your personal data into account. In theory they do work, but they never be specific to you as an individual, and I can not stress it enough how different and unique everybody is.
When you are restricting calories for a long period of time, your metabolism keeps adapting to the given conditions, in order to survive. Being in deficit for a long time will take you to a stall, a phase of plateau, and that is when you have to restore that metabolism, if there is nowhere to go from there. Just imagine, you are already eating 800 kcals a day (which is by the way well under my recommended subsistence level), then what are you gonna drop?
Our metabolism is very dynamic. Plateau doesn’t mean your metabolism is damaged, or too slow. When your body don’t respond to a combination of certain amount of food intake and cardiovascular activity, it simply means it has adapted to the given conditions, which means that you actually set a new maintenance level to your body. Yes, I meant maintenance. It is a misconception that every individual has a static or set maintenance level. As your body adapts, your maintenance level constantly changes too.
My recommendation for all my new clients and to everyone in general, is to start a food diary. Write it for at least two weeks, to see roughly how much you are currently eating. From there you should be consistent for about 2-4 weeks. You should choose an amount of food of balanced protein, carbohydrates and fats, that you fell comfortable with. A state where you are not starving but not overstuffing yourself either. It is hard to say a general number, because this will be different to each individual, but whats important is that you feel “happy” about the amount you are eating, and just keep it strictly consistent for a few weeks. It makes your life way easier if you work this out together with a professional.
During this period, you should also be conscious about your water intake. For women this will be minimum 2 liters a day, for men it could be higher, but again, it depends on several factors, such as your activity level. Try to keep it roughly even every day.
An other very important point is your cardio. The same “idea” that applies to your caloric intake, applies to cardio. If you are already doing a crazy amount of cardio, there is a point, when you wont be able to increase it anymore. Just imagine, if you already doing an hour of cardio at the start of dieting, you would end up doing maybe close to 3 hours a day by the end of it.
If you already doing a tremendous amount of cardio, then I would recommend you start dropping it in a pace that you comfortable with (some people just stop doing cardio straight away), to a minimal (or none) amount, while you are gradually increasing your food to an amount that you are comfortable with, monitoring your water intake.
When you do this, and truly focusing on consistency every single day, you will set your BMR to a healthy level, where your hormones are in balance, your mood is boosted, your energy levels are up, your brain performance is on point, and your sleep is good.
And yes, you might experience some scale weight increase, but this how you are putting your body in the right position to start a successful diet. This is the point, where we will be able to gradually cut your caloric intake, and slowly increase your cardio, while achieving goals, that you might never managed before.
Does this sound like a long process for you? Well, it is. You have to be in it in the long run. Do not forget, you are primarily doing it for your mental and physical wellbeing. A beautiful body composition just comes with it! For some people this process might be quicker than for others. Generally speaking, recovering metabolism takes just as much of time, that the period you have been in an extreme deficit. If you have been restricting calories for 6 months, that it can take up to 6 months to bring it back to a healthy level, and if the goal is weight loss, then drop again. In some cases more than one cut/reverse cycle is needed, especially when we are talking about loosing bodyfat that has been packing up for years and years on your body.
It has to be done properly. You can not just jump in again, start yo-yo dieting, not caring about your mental and physical health, because, well that is why they call it yo-yo dieting. You will eventually end up at the point where you started from, or even deeper, and there is only a period of time until you can stretch your body’s abilities this way. After a few runs it will not respond by loosing a few pounds, which is most likely water weight. It will respond with metabolic illnesses, such as low or high blood sugar, kidney problems, or sometimes even metal health problems.
And what comes after? When you reach the body composition you desired, you will do the exact same process backwards. Good news! This means that you don’t have to live in caloric deficit, subtracted from them carbs and fats all your life in order to keep your “dream body”. As you are able to set up your metabolism to loose weight, you are able to set it up to keep a certain body composition, with eating all the foods you want. Reversing out right from a low calorie diet is crucial to your balanced health and overall happiness. It is not rocket science, but it requires very precise monitoring, it has to be controlled. In the end of the day, you don’t want to just throw all your results away.
Takeaway: no matter how many years gone by, living in a yo-yo diet circle without reaching your goals, you can still “reset” your metabolism and reach your potential, but you have to accept that food is fuel, thats needed for your body and brain to function. The old fatloss perception, according to which a person has to bedeprived from consuming carbs and fats in order to loose weight is wrong. The idea that as of tomorrow, you will not eat any bread or pasta, only salad because that is the only way to lose weight is wrong. Food is good. Protein is good. Carbohydrates and fats are good. Stop being afraid of eating. – Lita