The metabolism always seems to be blamed for why people can’t lose weight, have health issues, and are unable to get the results they want. While I agree that it is certainly a contributing factor to those frustrations, the real culprit is actually not your metabolism.
It’s you and your lifestyle.
Of course, genetics play a small role in your metabolic rate. Still, I’ve found that people default to blaming their genetics for avoiding facing the harsh reality that their metabolism directly reflects their habits and behaviors.
As much as the media and some uneducated personal trainer at the local Globo gym want to push the idea that your metabolism isn’t working or that it’s broken… It’s simply just not true. Chances are they are just trying to sell you something or fear-mongering you into buying their program.
Let’s set the record straight by first understanding what metabolism is.
The basic definition of metabolism is this: The entire network of physical and chemical processes that occur throughout the body that provide cells with energy to maintain life.
If your metabolism were broken, you’d be dead. It's physiologically impossible.
People are likely referring to a concept called metabolic adaptation when they say your metabolism is broken.
Metabolic adaptation is the body’s survival mechanism to ensure we have enough energy to perform essential functions.
The metabolism is flexible, and it is adaptive, meaning it can adapt up, or it can adapt down depending on the signals you are sending it.
Let’s explore 6 of the many factors that can affect your metabolic rate.
1. Chronic Stress
Your nervous system controls your body… Think of it like your body’s operating system. It is divided into two parts: the sympathetic nervous system (SNS), which is commonly referred to as “fight or flight,” and the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS), which is referred to as “rest and digest.”
Overactivity of the sympathetic nervous system can lead to several health conditions, weight gain, and metabolic dysregulations.
Stress factors broadly fall into three categories:
1. Physical Stress
- Over-exerting, Under-Recovering
- Hormonal imbalances, Health Conditions, Inflammation
- Nutrient deficiencies, Undereating, Overeating, Dehydration
- Sleep deprivation, Over-stimulation
- Sedentary Lifestyle, Overweight, Obesity
2. Psychological Stress
- Emotional (fears frustration, anger, grief)
- Cognitive (information overload, a sense of being out of control, anxiety, panic)
- Perceptual Stress (beliefs, roles, attitudes, world view)
3. Psychosocial Stress
- Relationship difficulties (spouse/partner, family, employer, coworkers)
- Financial difficulties
- Lack of social support
Not all stress is bad stress. Good stress is healthy for your body and brain. However, constantly living in a high-stress, “fight or flight” state is a ticking time bomb. There is only so much you can manage until something has to give.
2. Not sleeping enough
Because sleep is intricately connected to various hormonal and metabolic processes, sleep deprivation can significantly impact glucose regulation, insulin sensitivity, hormone balance, appetite control, weight management, and metabolic function.
I get it… Sleep is often one of the first things on the chopping block when you are a busy professional with an overflowing plate of responsibilities.
But understand this one thing….
Sleep is the first domino of health.
Quality sleep improves everything: Energy, focus, cognitive performance, mental clarity, mood, decision-making, etc.
The inverse is also true… Poor sleep makes everything else more difficult: increased food cravings, low energy, poor workout performance, decreased productivity and cognitive performance, less mental clarity, less discipline, poor mood, and poor decision-making.
Skimping out on sleep to punch in a couple of extra work hours is not the move. As a performance-driven individual, think about how much more you could accomplish if you woke up every day on top of your game.
3. Always trying to lose weight or losing weight too fast
This factor is two-fold.
Your body is wired for survival. It is always scanning your environment for potential threats or dangers. Interestingly enough, your body cannot distinguish between the threat of being chased by a tiger and the threat of not consuming enough food.
When dieting, your brain interprets a reduction in calories as a danger to the body, a possible sign that famine has begun. As a result, your metabolic rate downregulates to conserve energy.
Additionally, if there are not enough calories coming in, you may be at risk of losing lean muscle tissue. Muscle is more metabolically active than fat, which burns more calories at rest. Therefore, when we lose weight too quickly, our body may decrease our resting metabolic rate by off-loading “expensive” muscle tissue to conserve energy. Said differently, your body gets good at getting rid of hard-earned muscle and storing unwanted body fat. Yikes!
Strategies to avoid this include proper nutrition periodization, sufficient protein intake, diet breaks, and lifting weights.
4. Doing too much/not taking rest days
Exercise stresses your body and causes damage to the muscle tissues. This is a good thing when paired with proper recovery. This is how muscle is built.
However, your body cannot recover from exercise-induced stress if you aren’t taking days off, sleeping enough, or eating the proper diet.
Understand that your muscles do not grow when you are working out. They only grow when the body is allowed to rest and recuperate. Failing to do so can make your training futile and stall your progress.
5. Not eating enough protein
Protein is found in every cell of the human body. It is the main component of muscles, bones, hair, skin, and nails. Protein is made up of amino acids that help to grow, maintain and repair different tissues in the body. Over time, a lack of protein can make you lose muscle mass, which decreases your strength, increases the risk of injury, and slows your metabolism.
6. Avoiding carbohydrates
Carbohydrates help support thyroid function. T4 is the unusable, inactive thyroid hormone. For it to be used by the body, T4 must be converted into the active thyroid hormone, T3. However, for this conversion, your body needs glucose derived from carbohydrates. Without sufficient carbohydrates, the body does not have enough glucose readily available, potentially slowing this conversion and thyroid function.