7 Healthy Things Slowing Down Your Metabolism

Written By


Expert Reviewed By

Dr. Lauryn Lax, OTD, MS

Dr. Lauryn, OTD, MS is a doctor of occupational therapy, clinical nutritionists and functional medicine expert with 25 years of clinical and personal experience in healing from complex chronic health issues and helping others do the same.

Metabolism 1080X675 1 | 7 Healthy Things Slowing Down Your Metabolism

“Metabolism” is a buzz word in health and fitness world—defined as the rate at which your body processes or breaks down the foods you eat and water you drink and converts it into energy.

After all, everyone wants MORE energy and a faster metabolism? Right?

  • Marketing gimmicks for protein powders or fat-burners tell you their product is the secret to “firing up” your metabolism.
  • Facebook and Instagram ads taunt you to join a program to “speed up your metabolism.”
  • Oz tell you to drink coffee and cold water, chew on sugar-free gum and lift weights to “enhance your metabolism”
  • And your personal trainer swears if you just eat six small meals to “boost your metabolism”

However, despite your efforts to follow the advice of these messages— “eating clean,” working out and taking care of yourself—something is still “off” with your metabolism.

You simply look at a plate of cookies and gain 5 lbs.

You rarely have an appetite—OR you’re constantly hungry, and trying to fuel your body with six small meals per day of “clean foods.”

You workout 5 to 6 days per week—and try to blend HIIT with cardio and some weight circuits.

And no matter how many calories you burn in a day, nothing ever seems to budge.

Your body stays stuck.

You can’t put on lean muscle. Shed unwanted pudge around your mid-section. Or really get the energy you think you should have.

What gives?!

The answer: There’s more to the story than just clean eating or exercise….

Here are 7 healthy things that may be slowing down your metabolism (and what to do about ‘em):

7 Healthy Things Slowing Down Your Metabolism

  1. Artificial Sweeteners. Artificial sweeteners have long been touted as the “healthier” alternative to sugar. Found in sugar-free alternatives—from protein powders and bars, to ice creams, yogurts, Diet Soda and coffee creamers—artificial sweeteners are the no-nonsense solution for busting your sweet tooth and abstaining from the 3-pounds of sugar most Americans consume every week. Not so fast though! Your body views artificial sweeteners similar to sugar as far as the insulin response and digestive distress artificial sweeteners bring upon the body—foreign chemicals your gut has no idea how to digest. Studies (1, 2) show that artificial sweeteners alter gut bacteria—inviting more bad than good guys into your digestive tract. Why this matters? When you have bacterial overgrowth or “dysbiosis” (imbalanced gut flora) going on “down there,” the REST of your body’s cells, systems and organs take a hit because they are UNABLE to fully digest and absorb healthy nutrients you do consume. Bacterial overgrowth in the gut has been associated with unwanted weight gain, increased anxiety, thyroid dysfunction, IBS and bloating PCOS and hormone imbalances, and metabolic disturbances.Question: What about stevia?! Stevia has become known as the “healthy, natural artificial sweetener alternative.” But not so fast! Most people consume the processed version of stevia—not the true, raw green leaf stevia like the plant version we find in nature. If you do consume stevia, exercise moderation still and reach for the green leaf stevia plant (not Truvia, or stevia added into diet sodas, bars and powders, etc.).
  1. Drinking Coffee
    “Drink coffee to rev your heart rate and boost metabolism”—Advice that sounds good in theory, however, not all coffee is created equal and it may be doing more harm than good if “boosting your metabolism” is your goal. For starters, the standard coffee most Americans drink in their 2 to 3 cups per day is full of gluten-cross-contaminating proteins. In other words: Your Starbucks coffee is one of the most cross contaminating foods with gluten. Why this matters? While not every single person on the planet is allergic or intolerant to gluten, there is no question that gluten is a sticky protein substance that is more difficult for you gut to digest than many other food sources. When we eat a steady diet of gut-irritating foods, we can provoke an inflammatory response (in our gut) that in turn leads to things like leaky gut, bloating, allergies, skin breakouts and, once more, a sluggish metabolism. Since inflammation causes a “stress response” in the body, it also signals an increase in cortisol (your stress hormone) to come to the rescue. Your body is pretty resilient and able to deal with stress, but over time, if chronic stress ensues, your cortisol levels can remain elevated. And we all know what happens when we are stressed for a long time? A slowed metabolism. The LAST thing your body wants to do when it’s “running from a bear” or dealing with inflammation fires is digest your food, balance your hormones or give you energy in other areas (outside the stressor at hand). Lastly, coffee itself is a natural cortisol “booster”—it spikes insulin (1 , 2, which, in turn, spikes cortisol (stress hormone). No matter if you drink caffeinated or decaf brews, the insulin response and cortisol response is still impacted. Once more, Enter: Stress. Enter: Metabolic disturbances (when we generally consume more than one cup of quality coffee per day).
    Gut Check In: Do I need coffee to function or can I keep it to one and go about my day? #moderation
  1. Safe Sex
    Safe sex is good. Pretty skin is good. Regular periods are good. But when we take birth control pills for any one of these goals, our metabolism and gut health may experience side effects. Birth control pills inject four times the amount of estrogen into a woman’s body that she naturally produces. While this jolt of estrogen does its “job” to help a woman prevent from dropping an egg she normally would, or doing other things (like clearing up a skin breakout or suppressing the symptoms of amenorrhea), over time, too much estrogen doesn’t do a body good. Ideally, your hormones—including cortisol (stress hormone) are in yin and yang (balanced). However, when any one of our hormones is too high or too low, the other hormones are impacted as well—particularly cortisol. We’ve talked some about stress already, but essentially when your cortisol is imbalanced (either too much or too little) than your “metabolism”—the efficiency at which ALL OTHER BODY PROCESSES are conducted and perform—is disturbed. Additionally, birth control pills have been linked with altered gut flora and bacteria , leading as well to metabolic disturbances since your cells, organs and digestive system as a whole is impaired from functioning at its peak.
  1. Orange Theory Fitness, CrossFit, Marathon or Bootcamp
    Exercise does a body good—but too much of a good thing or too little of a good thing—cannot be a good thing. If you haven’t gotten the picture yet, your body desires balance for optimal metabolism (for instance: It can handle some coffee, but not too much coffee; the occasional packet of stevia is ok—but frequent artificial sugar consumption is not ideal; etc.).When we are “out of balance” (i.e. a slow metabolism), we must look to our other body systems that maintain balance (such as our hormones, cortisol levels, gut health and thyroid) for insights into what may really be out of balance.A common “phenomenon” I see in my own practice are women who come to me that eat SUPER clean and workout regularly—but, for whatever reason, their metabolism is “slow.”
    No matter how many days per week they train, or take 1-2 rest days ,and eat “balanced meals” something is not “working” right. “I don’t get it,” they say! And for some, sometimes the answer is as simple as mixing up their exercise and making sure they are not under recovering from exercise (i.e. eating enough, sleeping enough, etc.). Although change or doing something differently can be scary, if we continue to do the same things—and expect a different result—somethings not working.Enter: Variety and the “just right” challenge for yourYou are not Kathy, Sarah, Cindy or Heather. So Kathy, Sarah, Cindy or Heather’s body and workout is not necessarily the workout or balance for you. Kathy may be able to run 5 miles several days per week and not struggle with her metabolism, Sarah may be a bad ass CrossFitter and “see the results” she wants to see, Cindy can kick butt at Orange Theory Fitness and chisel her arms, abs and thighs with ease or Heather loves her outdoor bootcamps, but you, my friend, have a unique body and if you find yourself stuck on the same routine with little to know results, it may be worth considering mixing it up to do something different.“So what should I do!?”We’ve all heard “chronic cardio”  is “bad” because it “raises cortisol” and makes you stressed. But a person can be just as unhealthy with CrossFit, Orange Theory Fitness, Bootcamps, strength training or Barre for all that matters if we overdo it (i.e. stress our body), under-eat, eat gut-irritating foods, or don’t vary it up.ALOT of fitness magazines and trainers will tell you that you should “lift heavy weights to boost metabolism”—while many women claim, “Weight training makes me bulky!” or “I don’t want to look like a beast.” Listen up—weight training affects lean body composition and muscle development to not only boost your metabolism, but also promote healthy bone structure and energy. That said, the benefits of resistance training on your metabolism are really only significant if you are;
    a.) Lifting appropriately for your body type (you don’t have to over exert yourself);
    b.) Eating enough quality fuel  to support muscle growth in the first place;
    c.) Supporting your gut health to digest your fuel in the first place; and
    d.) Varying your exercise routine up (not doing the same ol’ same ol’ weight circuits, or neglecting other aspects of your fitness).When we look to our genes and how we are WIRED to move, we observe four primary types of movement that humans have always known— Strength (lifting heavy loads), Power/HIIT style training (occasional short bursts of power movements), Endurance/Low-Intensity aerobic activity (walking, not-all-out cardio) AND Daily Lifestyle Movement (just living your life).Hence, if we over do it in any one mode of fitness, we get away from our body’s innate wiring for variety and our body learns how to adapt, stall progress and keep spinning its wheels in what it knows best.In short: Mix it up. (And don’t fear lifting weights that are challenging for you. Having more muscle, coupled with the ebbs and flows of training, “boosts” metabolism because those muscles of yours need fuel to repair, build and stay in tact! More than likely, you can still enjoy your CrossFit, Orange Theory, morning runs or Bootcamps, but mix it up too. Aim to lift at least 2-3 days per week, and pick weights you can move for 6-12 reps over 3-5 sets).
    Bonus: Check out my Thrive Life Project coming soon—inclusive to daily workouts that will challenge you to move in a variety of ways—lean muscle growing included—without the feared “bulk”).
  1. Ketogenic Diet.
    Low carb diets are the “in thing” right now—particularly Ketogenic (high-fat) diets. And “going Keto” can be great for some people. However, just like we’ve talked about what happens to our metabolism when our body gets out of balance in our other points, the same can be said for many of the mainstream Ketogenic dieting approaches, unbeknownst to many adherents. Many women start off strong on a Keto diet—perhaps shedding unwanted pounds, lifting their brain fog or increasing energy, but then 30-90 days in…they hit a wall. The eating philosophy that was working so well for them suddenly stops working, and they just don’t get it! Ketogenic diets are often referred to as a “therapeutic diet” and can work wonders—in the short term—for helping an individual “re-set” their body when it has become out of balance (i.e. blood sugar swings, slowed metabolism, hormone imbalances, etc.). However, for those individuals who already had a healthier lifestyle prior to Keto, or who were already obsessed with every single food that they ate or their exercise routine prior to Keto, I find they often hit a roadblock. some common mistakes that many women run into that further slow the metabolism include:) Not eating enough and accidental dieting (simply because they feel fuller);b.) Not eating enough fat (considering half an avocado, a handful of nuts and maybe some grass-fed butter on their broccoli to be more fatc.) Having imbalanced hormones and cortisol levels prior to beginning a Ketogenic diet, and further perpetuating these underlying issues by dietingd.) Increased constipation, nauseas when consuming fats or bloating and gas (i.e. digestive issues as they have a hard time breaking down fats, and have eliminated many fiber-rich “bulk” foods that help them “go.”Check out this post  for more info on Keto “gone wrong” and Keto “gone right” to help make Keto work for you if you do choose to try it.
  1. Six Small Meals Per Day
    “Eat six small meals per day,” #saidMostTrainers. The theory goes that if your body is constantly grazing and your digestive system is going, then it must mean that your metabolism is revving and more frequent meals will train your body to digest and use energy faster. The problem? There is no scientific evidence supporting this bro-science claim. Quite the contrary, less frequent balanced meals (three meals per day) compared to higher frequency grazing and snacks per day have been shown to increase metabolism and balance glucose (blood sugar) levels in the body. When we eat every 4-6 hours, three times per day, as opposed to six times per day every 2-3 hours, it allows our body and digestive system to actually process the food it’s eaten, as well as supports healthier blood sugar levels. Since your digestive system is not continually being worked (causing blood sugar levels to rise and then fall), your body actually is able to adapt to more balance and sustained energy over time. (Are you sensing a theme? More balance=the just right balance for a healthier metabolism). Above all, the most important thing to consider? How do you best DIGEST your meals? For some, smaller, more frequent meals can actually be more beneficial for their digestion. For others, three balanced meals per day, do a body good—and actually promote better digestion.
  1. Egg Whites, Chicken Breast, Olive Oil & Broccoli
    You can be eating clean, but if you’re not absorbing or digesting your nutrients than your metabolism will back fire. If you lack digestive enzymes, enough stomach acid or a healthy liver/gallbladder, then the break down of your nutrients doesn’t happen at their peak. And, over time, your hormones, organs and other cells get deprived of the nutrients they otherwise could have if you were able to digest your food well.In other words: The calories or foods that really count are those extracted by your digestive enzymes as well as the trillions of bacteria in your intestines. People whose gut health is better at digesting their proteins, fats and carbs will typically have a “faster” metabolism. However, if your friend seems to “eat whatever she wants” (including a steady diet of McDonald’s, pizza and Ben & Jerry’s), she may also have the opposite problem. Other people who’s gut bacteria is overgrown, fermenting or rotting food in their gut may seem like they have a “hollow leg” and can eat whatever they want, but over time, poor digestion or bacterial overgrowth equally comes with a whole host of side effects mentioned previously that you may not see with your naked eye (i.e. IBS, anxiety, ADD/ADHD, hormone imbalances, infertility, PCOS, thyroid dysfunction, autoimmune conditions, allergies, skin breakouts—just to name a few).

The bottom line:

There are TWO key themes in each one of these “7 healthy things” that slow down your metabolism:

  1. Stress & Cortisol
  2. Poor Gut Health (which in turn leads to increased stress and “metabolic” disturbances)(pull quote)

    Fun Fact: About 5 lbs. of bacteria reside in your intestine – your digestive system is teeming with them.

Try as you may to “fix” your metabolism with clean eating, fitness and dedication alone, until you address the underlying factors that govern your wonky metabolism (your gut health and stress levels—physical and mental) in the first place, you will continue to run in circles trying to make your metabolism budge.

The good news? You don’t have to go it alone!

If you think you need help healing your metabolism or your gut, click here

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