Nutrition and Metabolism was my favorite class in school. Learning about the complexities of the human body and how nutrition provided the building blocks for daily function was truly fascinating. In short, your metabolism is a set of bodily reactions that convert nutrients into energy (catabolism) and build components of cells for use or fat storage (anabolism). When it comes to weight management, having an efficient metabolism is important because this allows you to burn energy at a higher rate than you may be storing it as fat cells. The truth is, however, that you could be doing more harm than good, if you are not giving your body the tools it needs to function well. This can look like a plateau during your weight loss journey, regaining of weight lost, or a lack of results. If you tend to fall in this category, let’s review some ways that you might be killing your metabolism without realizing it:
Not meeting your nutritional needs
Think of our bodies as Ferraris that require the best premium fuel to function. Eating a nutrient dense diet with many fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins is important because this provides all of the cofactors and building blocks for our metabolism to function optimally Different food groups offer different nutrients, so it is very important to have nutrient density through a diversity of healthy foods each day. Additionally, eating enough nutrition is vital to preventing our metabolism from slowing down. When we do not meet our nutritional needs, or eating too little, we are more at risk for muscle loss which is partially responsible for a slower metabolism. This is seen through a decrease in resting metabolic rate (RMR) which tells us how many calories we are burning at rest. This phenomenon is known as metabolic adaptation, or a reduction/slowing of RMR, that our bodies revert to as a survival mechanism. This can happen when we are eating a major caloric deficit below our metabolic needs to try and lose weight quickly. Research shows that the greater amount of metabolic adaptation actually predicts a decrease in the amount of weight and fat mass that can be lost. This was also seen in a study that followed contestants from the Biggest loser who prioritized a caloric deficit close to 1300 calories per day4. Contestants with the highest amount of weight loss, also experienced the highest amount of metabolic slowing and were more likely to gain back weight they had lost. So what does this tell us? Metabolic changes are very sensitive to a major caloric deficit. Understanding where your RMR is at baseline can be quite helpful to base a nutritional plan off of. This is how Nutrition Healthworks dietitians can help you, by measuring your metabolism through one of our metabolic tests and providing a custom meal plan that fits your needs.
Not getting enough sleep
The other area of your daily routines that might be influencing your metabolism is your sleep routines. It is recommended that adults get at least 7 hours a day, but experts suggest getting more like 8-9 hours daily is more optimal. Working an evening shift or having other sleep ailments can influence total duration and quality of nightly sleep.
It has been observed that disruptions in healthy sleeping patterns influence energy expenditure and glucose metabolism in individuals, which greatly influences risk of developing obesity, diabetes, or cardiovascular disease. The key with sleep is building healthy sleep routines that consistently support your metabolic function. Sleeping less than 7 hours a night on a consistent basis is a major blow to your metabolic response. One study showed that 5 days of sleep insufficiency increased energy requirements in individuals, leading them to eat more and gain more weight compared to a control group.
Lastly, when looking at how you might be killing your metabolism, it is important to consider your activity levels. Even if you are getting exercise a couple days a week, being sedentary for prolonged periods of time is hard on your body. Physical inactivity, defined as sitting for 13.5 hours and having less than 4,000 steps a day actually counteracts the metabolic effects from acute aerobic exercise up to an hour. Even adding some brief activity breaks throughout a daily sitting routine is metabolically beneficial compared to not having breaks.
In summary, it is important to recognize how some of these daily factors could be preventing your metabolism from functioning optimally. Consider how proper nutritional intake is key to supporting a healthy metabolic function. If you have questions about your metabolism or want to get your metabolism tested, reach out to one of our Nutrition Health Works dietitians today!
MS, RDN, LDN
Kelly is a Licensed and Registered Dietitian Nutritionist with a passion for helping individuals and families. She completed her Bachelor’s Degree in Food Science and Human Nutrition from the University of Florida before moving to Saint Louis to complete her Dietetic Internship and Master’s degree in Nutrition and Dietetics at Saint Louis University. READ MORE
- ⦁ Ravussin E, Burnand B, Schutz Y, Jéquier E. Energy expenditure before and during energy restriction in obese patients. Am J Clin Nutr. 1985;41(4):753-759. doi:10.1093/ajcn/41.4.753
- Martins C, Roekenes J, Gower BA, Hunter GR. Metabolic adaptation is associated with less weight and fat mass loss in response to low-energy diets. Nutr Metab (Lond). 2021;18(1):60. Published 2021 Jun 11. doi:10.1186/s12986-021-00587-8
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