Having a good metabolism is essential to achieve our weight loss goals and maintain good health. But many of us hit roadblocks on our weight loss journey and make mistakes that inadvertently slow down our metabolism.
Metabolism, in simple words, is the rate at which the body converts the food and drink we consume into usable energy.
The good news is that we need not remain helpless and take these changes lying down but by deftly identifying these mistakes, we can take quick remedial actions to rev up our body’s metabolism and get past the slump.
What And When You Eat Can Slow Down Metabolism
Very Low-Calorie Diets
Eating fewer calories might feel like the most obvious way to lose weight. Although eating in a caloric deficit is a foundational principle of weight loss, at times this can backfire.
When the body notices a dramatic reduction in food consumption, it begins to burn fewer calories to save up in case of starvation. So even though you might achieve significant weight loss initially, over time you will begin to regain the weight which renders your efforts counterproductive.
A study was conducted among overweight women between the ages of 30-54 years who were placed on a very low-calorie diet of 420 calories per day for a period of 4 to 6 months. Although they lost weight at a steady rate, their resting metabolic rate slowed down significantly. Even five weeks after increasing their calorie consumption, their metabolic rate remained much lower than it was before the study (1).
In a 2009 study conducted in Louisiana among overweight participants, the participants were asked to eat 890 calories per day. It was observed that their total energy expenditure had dropped by 633 calories at the end of 3 months (2).
A 4-day study was conducted in Japan among 32 participants where half of them were asked to consume 1462 calories per day and the other half were asked to consume 1114 calories. The resting metabolic rate of the first group dropped by 6% and that of the second group dropped by 13% which is more than double the reduction (3).
Drastic reduction in calorie intake for long periods of time can adversely affect our health and weight loss efforts. You can opt for marginal calorie reduction added to daily exercise to prevent a dip in your body’s metabolism.
Summary: Going on very-low-calorie diets for long periods of time can significantly slow down your metabolism and hinder your weight loss efforts and overall health.
It has become a trend to skip breakfast these days because everyone seems to be in a hurry or too busy. Sadly, this may be the very habit that is responsible for slowing down your metabolism.
Currently, the old adage “eat breakfast like a king” may be under scrutiny, but breakfast continues to be an important meal when it comes to kickstarting your metabolism and should not be ignored.
According to studies, a healthy breakfast can help boost your metabolism (4). The main goal should be to focus on the nutrient value of your breakfast rather than just consuming empty calories under the garb of breakfast.
Low glycemic index foods like oats, whole-grain bread are a great choice. Adding protein in the form of eggs and chicken is another great alternative. Sugary cereals are best avoided (5).
Summary: Ensuring to eat a healthy breakfast containing low glycemic foods and good quality protein can help kickstart your metabolism.
Eating Inconsistently at Odd Times
The downside of living busy lives is the lack of routine and order when it comes to our eating habits.
According to a 2012 Hebrew University study, mice fed high-fat foods in an irregular pattern showed a higher increase in weight than mice that ate a similar diet on a regular schedule. Researchers seem to conclude that eating at regular times every day trains the body to burn more calories between meals (6).
The best way to avoid binges and feel happy throughout the day is to eat frequent, similar-sized meals. Fluctuating between low and high-calorie meals may cause you to feel less happy about your bodies in comparison to eating meals packed with a similar number of calories from meal to meal.
Even while doing intermittent fasting, where you limit your food intake to a limited time window and fast the rest of the day, it is best to keep the eating window towards the first half of the day and avoid nighttime eating to keep our body’s metabolism from slowing down (7, 8).
Summary: Disorderly eating habits like inconsistent meal times, binge eating, night time eating can cause disruptions to your metabolism. Rather eating at regular times everyday and similar portions might boost your metabolism.
Not Enough Protein
Eating sufficient protein is extremely helpful in keeping you full and in addition, it can significantly improve the rate at which you burn calories (9).
The energy required to digest, absorb, and dispose of ingested food differs based on the food composition and is called the thermic effect of food.
Studies show protein has a higher thermic effect than carbohydrates or fats. Eating diets high in protein increase the metabolic rate by 20-30% as compared to 10-15% for carbs. This metabolic increase after consuming fat is less than 3% (10).
The metabolic rate certainly slows down when we transition from weight loss to weight maintenance. But increasing protein intake significantly reduces this.
In a 2012 study conducted in Boston, participants were made to follow one of three diets to maintain a 10-15% weight loss. Those who consumed a high protein and low carbohydrate diet recorded the lowest decrease in the resting metabolic rate. Their daily energy expenditure reduced by only 97 calories compared to 297–423 calories in those consumed less protein (11).
Summary: Eating insufficient protein can cause a lowering of metabolic rate especially in the maintenance phase of weight loss. Since protein has a high thermic effect, eating a diet rich in protein can keep you feeling full and also increases your metabolic rate.
Too Much Fat Intake
You might have noticed that the once-notorious ingredient fat is now being recommended by many wellness and fitness influencers and is gaining popularity and high-fat diets are in.
However, there is still overwhelming research to suggest that people on high-fat diets may be at risk of developing heart disease even though their HDL or good cholesterol levels are high (12).
According to researchers at Virginia Tech, eating a high-fat diet may alter the way your body processes nutrients. 12 men were asked to be either a standard diet or a diet high in saturated fat for five days. Changes to insulin sensitivity were measured though muscle biopsies.
They found that levels of endotoxins almost tripled in those who consumed the high-fat diet within one hour after their meal and they also lost some ability to metabolize glucose. The ability of our muscles to metabolize glucose is crucial to insulin sensitivity, metabolism, and even risk of diabetes (13).
Summary: Eating a high-fat diet can lower metabolism by altering the way your body processes glucose and other nutrients.
Very Low Carb Diets
All of us know at least one person who swears by the low-carb diet and has lost a ton of weight by lowering their carb intake significantly. While it is true that eating too many carbs can cause weight gain and other problems, eating too little carbs for too long is not ideal either.
A study conducted by the University of Chicago where 23 obese women were randomly assigned to a low-fat or low-carb diet. Although women eating a low-carb diet lost more weight, they also recorded a dip in their resting metabolic rate. Adding aerobic exercise was helpful in bringing it back up (14).
Also, on achieving your ideal weight through a low-carb diet it is recommended to reintroduce some healthy carbs like full-fat dairy, legumes, and whole grains. Since the body’s metabolism has already been lowered by eating fewer carbs over a long period, their addition may cause disruptions to your metabolism further slowing it down.
On a side note, eating a low-carb diet over an extended period of time is not only unsustainable, but it also prevents the body from receiving essential nutrients through foods like fruit and grains.
Summary: Eating a very low-carb diet over time slows down metabolism and also restricts the intake of essential nutrients by eliminating a whole food group.
Your Activity Levels May Slow Down Metabolism
Sitting is the New Smoking
People with desk jobs are the ones most likely to burn fewer calories in the course of the day and when compounded with a sedentary lifestyle can cause weight gain.
It may sound quite absurd that a harmless activity like sitting can cause so much damage including metabolic dysfunction. But we are referring to persistent sitting for long hours without activity which has led researchers to make such a strong claim and equate it to smoking (15).
An easy way to avoid the harmful effects of sitting too long is to take several quick activity breaks during your workday which will force you to get up and move.
Research also shows that alternating between sitting and standing at the workplace is especially beneficial in burning more calories for overweight people (16). Another option could be to invest in a standing desk to get more activity in your day.
Summary: Sitting for long periods of time is a sure way to lower your metabolism. Alternating between standing and sitting can help burn more calories at your workplace and boost your metabolism.
Sedentary Lifestyle/Lack of Exercise
Leading a sedentary lifestyle can be a major reason why your metabolism is slowing down. This should come as no surprise since the lesser movement you make, the fewer calories that your body needs to spend.
Regular exercise or playing a sport significantly increases the number of calories you burn, but even incorporating basic activities like standing more, climbing stairs, and cleaning can help you burn more calories. These kinds of everyday activities are referred to as non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT).
Studies show that getting more NEAT could burn almost 2000 more calories a day (17).
Summary: Insufficient activity during the day can negatively affect our metabolism. Common daily activities like walking, standing, and fidgeting are essential to get enough movement throughout the day and burn enough calories.
Avoiding Strength Training
Most often, people are quick to add cardio activities like walking and jogging to their workout routines and skip strength training. Not including weight training can cause your metabolic rate to decrease and even cause loss of muscle mass as you age.
Studies show that even 10 weeks of strength training improves resting metabolic rate by 7%. It even increases muscle mass and reduces fat significantly (18).
Several studies show that strength training increases muscle mass and even prevents the lowering of metabolic rate following weight loss.
In one study, women who did regular strength training retained muscle mass, lost weight, and also had a higher resting metabolic rate. Those women who did other forms of exercise lost weight but also lost muscle mass and had lower resting metabolic rates (19, 20).
Summary: It is important to not neglect strength training in order to keep our metabolism high through weight loss and even as we age.
Your Sleep Routines and Stress Levels May Slow Down Metabolism
Poor Sleep Quality
High quality sleep is extremely important for good health but is often one of the most neglected aspects of our health. In fact, recent research has linked lack of sleep to various diseases like diabetes, heart disease, and depression. Even your quality of life is greatly affected when you don’t sleep enough (21).
You might have experienced a lack of energy and general sleepiness when you’ve not got enough sleep for a few continuous nights. In fact, even a single night of disturbed sleep can cause us to move less the next day and we end up burning fewer calories (22).
Lack of sleep is also linked to reduced metabolic rates. In a 2015 study, participants who slept for 4 hours for 5 days showed a 2.6% decrease in their resting metabolic rate. After a recovery sleep of 12 hours on the 6th day, their metabolic rate returned to normal (23).
One of the ways to ensure we don’t compromise on getting quality sleep is to closely monitor our food intake before we go to sleep. It is recommended to steer clear from alcohol, fatty foods, coffee, and chocolate at least 2 hours before bedtime.
Summary: It is important to prioritize getting high-quality sleep during the night instead of sleeping during the day to avoid slowing down your metabolism.
Disrupting your Circadian Rhythm
Our metabolism is closely linked to our internal clock because it controls the cells which are directly responsible for ensuring our body is burning enough calories to keep functioning well. So when our internal clock or circadian rhythm is disrupted, it causes a lowering of metabolism (24).
Many of us try to sleep during the day in order to make up for lack of sleep during the night but this might have a worse effect because it can disrupt your circadian rhythm. Studies have shown that prolonged sleep deprivation, along with circadian rhythm disruptions, can reduce your resting metabolic rate (25).
Even crossing over time-zones can cause this effect because it takes a few days for our body to settle into a new rhythm.
Summary: Disruptions in your circadian rhythm caused by travel or disorderly eating and sleeping habits can affect the cells that are responsible for keeping your metabolism up and you will burn fewer calories.
Stress can cause havoc on our bodies. Firstly, stress releases certain hormones that can lead to disorderly eating. This can include eating too much, eating at odd times, or eating too little. All of which are known to cause a slowing down of metabolism (26).
Secondly, chronic stress can cause disordered sleeping habits which are closely linked to metabolic disorders (27).
Finding ways to relieve stress which don’t involve eating or drinking is recommended to avoid a dip in our metabolism. Choosing a hobby is another popular method that many people are turning towards in order to cope with stress.
Summary: Chronic stress can be detrimental to our metabolism by causing disorderly eating and setting in bad sleep habits.
Foods That Slow Down Metabolism
Foods that are contaminated with pesticides are called conventional produce. Studies show that eating such foods causes our metabolism to dip (28).
A Canadian study showed that people who had higher levels of a type of pesticide called organochlorines had a lower metabolic rate and a more difficult time losing weight (29).
Another study in China showed that pregnant women with high levels of pesticides in their blood gave birth to infants with low birth weight (30). This could be due to metabolic dysfunction caused by pesticides.
It is best to avoid conventional produce and opt for organic foods.
Summary: Eating conventional foods could be causing your metabolism to slow down. Instead, switch to organic produce which is increasingly becoming popular because of its various health benefits.
Diabetes, insulin resistance, and obesity are often linked with high consumption of sugary drinks (31).
50% of table sugar is fructose which is the main culprit when it comes to the ill effects of sugar. High-fructose corn syrup which is used in many sweet beverages has 55% fructose and is extremely detrimental to health. Often, it is extremely easy to underestimate the amount of fructose in a drink and we end up allowing our body to be subject to the damage that ensues.
A 10-week study among obese men who consumed 25% of their daily calorie intake in the form of sugary beverages, experienced a significant drop in their metabolic rate (32).
Added to that, studies also show that high fructose consumption decreases physical activity and increases fat storage in the belly and liver. It is not helpful for losing weight (33).
Consider switching to water as your preferred choice of beverage at all times.
Summary: Drinking beverages containing high fructose reduces metabolic rate and also detrimental to your weight loss efforts.
Lack of Vitamin D
Vitamin D is essential to keep our metabolism revved up because it helps preserve muscle tissue. Unfortunately, almost 50% of people worldwide do not get enough vitamin D (34).
One study conducted by the University of Washington showed that women who had sufficient vitamin D along with reduced calorie intake and exercise routine lost more weight than those who didn’t (35).
90% of our total daily recommended amount of Vitamin D of 400 IU is found in 3.5 ounce serving of salmon. Even exposing your bare torso to direct sunlight for 30 mins can give you 10000 IU of vitamin D.
Summary: Skimping on your daily vitamin D needs can lower your metabolism and prevent weight loss.
Drinking Water Containing Fluoride and Chlorine
Drinking enough water is crucial to keep the body hydrated and the metabolism chugging along. In fact, increasing your water intake might be the easiest means to boost your body’s metabolism (36).
However, it is important to take a closer look at the kind of water you are drinking. Chemicals like fluoride and chlorine are used to treat water. Both chemicals in treated water supplies meddle with normal thyroid function (37).
When your thyroid is inactive and sluggish, your metabolism slows down and can sometimes even become dysfunctional (38). It is best to stick to filtered water whenever possible.
Summary: Drinking enough water is important to prevent the slowing down of your metabolism. However, avoid drinking water treated with fluorides and chlorine which can slow down metabolism by negatively affecting your thyroid function.
The Final Note
Small yet rectifiable mistakes can slow down your metabolism and may cause weight gain over time. Having a high metabolism is crucial to keep up with our energy needs to keep performing our day to day activities and keeps us feeling great.
Most of these mistakes require small lifestyle and behavior modifications which can make a remarkable difference in our energy levels and overall health.
If losing weight is your goal, then it is important to be mindful not to give in to these habit patterns in order to achieve your goals and keep the weight off.