Is a slow metabolism stopping you from losing fat and living a leaner, healthier life?
Do you feel like you’re a victim of a slow metabolism?
Could it be you’re not losing weight because your parents didn’t swimming in the right gene pool? Have you been handed the worst genetics known to man, meaning you’ll struggle to lose weight forever?
Or is it nothing to do with genetics? Is there something else at play you can actually control so you can finally make the progress you’ve been striving so hard for?
Never fear. I have the answers for you.
So read on and get the facts behind metabolism. And get the practical advice you need to make the lean life, a reality.
Slow Metabolism: It Starts With Calories
When we’re looking at metabolism the first place we need to start is calories. Because as you know by now, calories are king.
Yes there’s other things to consider in the process that are important. But it’s the energy balance equation that matters most, particularly if the goal is weight and fat loss.
And the energy balance equation is made up of two component parts.
You have calories in, ie what you eat and drink.
And then you have the calories out, ie how much energy your body uses to do what you ask of it during the day.
This may be an over simplification of the process. But despite other complexities, everything still boils down to this. If you can get your head around energy balance then achieving your goals gets that bit easier!
Do you really know how many calories you're consuming?
Calculating the calories you consume is a bit easier or us to measure. Unless you’re eating our every evening tracking how many calories you eat every day is easier than it has ever been.
Ok. So you might find it a bit of a ball ache to look at the food labels and type foods into MyFitnessPal. And yes, there's a degree of inaccuracy in food labels and the app. But it's way better than the alternatives. And is it REALLY that much of a problem to track your food?
I mean it’s not like you’re being asked to burn a puppy, is it?
It just requires a little bit of what a lot of people can’t be bothered with… And that's EFFORT!
However, I always think that if you REALLY want that flat stomach, and those abs then you have to expect a little effort. And I bet you spend longer searching through Instagram for the latest memes to share with your mates. Am I right?
Basically, pull your finger out and track what you’re eating. It doesn’t have to be forever.
How to calculate how many calories you're burning
So judging how many calories you’re eating is relatively easy. The hard part comes in measuring how much you’re actually burning every day.
There are so many different variables at play, it’s kind of impossible to know exactly. But you can get close enough to make the progress you need.
To get to that estimate a good place to start is understanding how your body uses calories every day. So let’s walk through that now…
Basal Metabolic Rate
First up we have your Basal Metabolic Rate or BMR for short. Now that may sound a bit technical, so let me make it real simple.
Think about BMR as your couch potato calories. And by that I mean, if you were to sit and watch Game of Thrones from start to finish you’re still going to use calories. Although, I’ve no idea why anyone would want to do that. Seriously, start at season 5 nothing happens before then.
Your body needs energy (ie calories) to carry out normal functions in the body. So you’ll need to feed it a certain amount of calories in order to function.
As a quick aside, sustained periods of dieting under BMR would not be advised. You’re likely to be so hungry that chewing on the leg of your desk at work might seem appealing. Plus you run the risk of your body not operating optimally.
Short periods of time below BMR are fine though and you wouldn’t see any adverse effects of this.
Oh and I should mention at this point how to calculate all this is covered my free eBook '7 Steps to Correcting Your Nutrition Plan', which you can download by going here. So be sure to grab that if you want the extra detail.
After BMR comes NEAT or Non Exercise Activity Thermogenesis. Ok so they might seem like 4 random words mashed together, but there is some practical meaning. NEAT is the amount of activity you do during the day that isn’t defined specifically as exercise.
So this might be taking the dog for a walk, mowing the lawn, going to a coffee shop to write a podcast, you know… that type of thing.
All that stuff still requires energy and therefore counts towards your calories out.
Obviously, this type of activity can be very difficult to estimate. And it probably varies from day to day. For example, a working week in the office may be very low in NEAT as you’re sat on your butt for most of the day. Whereas when it comes to the weekend you might be running around the park with the kids or busting some moves on the dance floor!
So generally speaking you would estimate how active you are on a typical day and go from there.
NENAT (Trademark Mac-Nutrition Uni)
Next up you’ve got NENAT. It’s like I’m shitting the acronym dictionary today isn’t it. NENAT stands for Non exercise, non activity thermogenesis. This is like NEAT but is related to the subconscious movement you do throughout the day. So if you fidget throughout the day, drumming your legs under the desk or being hyperactive in general, this is all adding to your NENAT.
Calories burned making the gains...
Ok, so we’re nearly there… Two more elements to consider. The 4th element of the equation is the calories you burn through exercise. So if you’re weight training or spending hours sweating away doing cardio, you’re burning calories.
And you’ll need to factor this into the equation. And we’ll be coming on to some of the complications with that in a second.
The Thermic Effect Of Food
The last piece of the puzzle and the last TLA (that’s Three Letter Acronym for the uninitiated) is TEF or Thermic Effect of Food. In a nutshell this is the amount of calories your body uses digesting and absorbing the food you eat.
This is where you hear some people talk about foods such as celery having negative calories. They’re claiming that it takes more energy to eat the celery than the usable energy you’ll actually get from it.
Now I’ve never bothered looking into the science behind that claim. Because I have a life and have more important things to worry about than the thermic effect of a celery stick.
The key piece of information you need to know here is that protein has the greatest thermic effect, then its alcohol, carbs, and fat in that order. But having said that you shouldn’t worry about adjusting food intake to account for that. Simply focus on controlling calories, maintaining high protein intake and eating foods you enjoy. Because it’s that adherence factor that becomes crucially important.
Now we know what makes up the energy balance equation, what does this all have to do with understanding more about your metabolism?
Patience. We’re getting to that bit…
What is a slow metabolism?
The common idea of a slow metabolism relates to a struggle to lose weight.
For example, there's always that one person in the office who's stick thin despite eating a boat load of food. And they never seem to stop troughing like a pig.
Seriously, they might as well attach a bucket of food to their head with a bit of string and just graze all day.
Whereas you feel like all you have to do is look at a cake and you’ve put 3 pounds on… Which leaves your diet consisting of a lettuce leaf, a sprinkle of dust, with a side of disappointment and a dollop of misery!
You must simply have a slow metabolism, right?
Everyone else is just genetically blessed with the fastest metabolism of all time.
So therefore dieting is shit, losing weight is shit, and you might as well throw in the towel and just eat cake, right?
Well hold on there my friend… All is not quite as it seems…
Think back to energy balance...
Think back to the energy balance equation… Yes you’re seeing her eat high calorie crap at work, but what about the things you’re not seeing?
Is that person in the office not eating very much for the rest of the day? Therefore minimising the calories in?
You might both go to the gym 3 times a week, but what about everything else?
Are they much more active than you? Do they have a slightly more active job? Instead of being sat down all day are they constantly on the move?
At home, instead of sitting in the garden with, feet up sipping on G&Ts and watching repeats of Ally McBeal, are they taking the dogs for a walk, mowing the lawn, or walking to school to pick up the kids?
There’s probably a myriad of different things that you’re not seeing, which is causing them to have a much higher energy expenditure. Or it may be the case they're just having a shit load of great sex, who knows?
So you can see that it’s probably not the case you’re a victim of bad genetics, it’s more lifestyle factors that are at play here.
There’s always a but…
When you go through a weight and fat loss phase your metabolism does slow down. This is a natural thing that happens. But don’t panic. You just need to know how to deal with it.
People often ask how do they speed up their metabolism. And the easy answer is ‘eat more’ and gain weight. It’s true, if you eat more and increase weight, you’re metabolism will speed back up again.
But I’m going to take a wild educated guess that you don’t want to do that right now… Am I right? Thought not.
This slow down in metabolism can take greater effect when you lose more than 10% of your original body weight. As this is the point where metabolic adaptation can occur.
What does this all mean in practical terms?
Well, it essentially means that your body gets used to the lower amount of calories you’re giving it and becomes more efficient with energy.
For example, the body will down regulate NENAT without you realising. So you’ll fidget a bit less and naturally move a little less than normal.
And it’s also true that a person who’s lost more than 10% of their body weight is likely to have a slower metabolism than someone of the same weight who hasn’t had to diet in the same way. Because your body has been through this adaptive process.
And this could explain the difference between you and someone you’re comparing yourself against.
How to fix your slow metabolism
So what can you do to combat this and keep making progress?
The best thing to do is make a conscious effort to move more. Now it’s going to be pretty hard to force yourself to fidget, so forget that.
But you could actively increase your NEAT. And this is where activity trackers can be really useful. Because they make you consciously aware of how much you’re moving.
So look at your step count on a daily basis and push yourself to get a couple more thousand steps in during the day, because it will make all the difference.
Never use the calories burned to judge food intake because they’ve proven to be pretty inaccurate. Just us it as a prompt to be more active.
This is often the best way to combat the slow down in metabolism.
After that, you may be looking at increasing cardio in the gym or cutting a few more calories out of your diet, if the makes sense to do so.
The bottom line on your slow metabolism
In summary, you’re probably not the victim of a slow metabolism. It’s more likely to a host of lifestyle factors influencing the situation. However, the are medical conditions, such as those related to thyroid function, which you would need to see a doctor about.
Remember, it’s perfectly normal for your metabolism to slow down during a weight loss phase. And if you’ve lost a significant amount of weight then you are likely to have a slower metabolism than that of a person of the same weight who hasn’t dieted in the same way.
It’s also not a good idea to constantly compare yourself to others. Their journey is not yours and you don’t know what they’re really doing on a daily basis to influence the energy balance equation… I believe the phrase is “row your own boat.”
In practical terms your best bet is to consciously make an effort to move more. Set yourself a step count target and maintain it through your weight loss phase.
So there you have your simple and straight forward guide to understanding why you may have what you perceive to be a “slow metabolism.”
If you want to know more about calories and how to calculate what you need, then I highly recommend you download my free eBook ‘7 Steps To Correcting Your Nutrition Plan’.
Whether your goal is to lose fat, build muscle, or both you need to understand calorie intake, protein requirements, meal timing, supplements and a whole host more. So this eBook gives you all the information you’ll ever need to know in one very simple guide.
Just follow the 7 steps in the guide and you’ll be on track and heading in the right direction in no time.