Are you eating enough? Chances are, if you are not, you may be slowing down your metabolism. #thestruggle (of chronic under-eating) is real.
On paper, you think you are eating healthy. My Fitness Pal tells you that you are. You follow a general healthy template of clean eating, vegetarian, paleo—or something in between. So why the heck is your metabolism slower than ever?
- No matter how much you workout, nothing changes.
- You’re very rarely hungry, OR You’ve recently become more hungry (but you’re freaked out about actually “giving in”)
- You may have even gained some unexplainable weight, or feel like you’re “holding on” to your weight in different stubborn places on your body
“What gives?!” you cry.
Yesterday on the blog, we talked all about the idea that your “healthy diet” and workout routine MAY be messing with your metabolism. Today, in Part 2, we’re digging deeper into WHAT TO DO ABOUT IT, if you’re metabolism has slowed down.
How to SLOW Down Your Metabolism
Chances are your version of healthy is not currently your body’s version of health and (you may not like to hear this now), but you’re not doing yourself any favors by:
- Counting your calories meticulously
- Sticking to 1200-1500 calories every day
- Running most days for your fitness routine
- Avoiding fat (or counting that quarter of an avocado as your fat for the day)
- Avoiding starchy carbs
- Fearing bananas (and other fruits)
- Not allowing yourself to eat after 8 p.m. OR restricting all day, then binging at night
- Purging any foods you do eat that are not on your “good list”
- Restricting your food intake to see how little you can get by with in a day (less then 25 fat grams? 5 fat grams? 0 fat grams?)
- Weighing and measuring your food—and not budging outside those lines (even when you feel hungry)
But isn’t that what I am supposed to do to be fit and healthy?
Reality check: You’ve been lied to.
Although these tactics may seem like they work for a little while (you drop a few pounds, you get compliments on being so ‘healthy’, you clear up the inflammation from your former sugar and junk food diet)…the longer they go on…the more your metabolism starts to…Slllllllloooooowwwwwww dowwwwwwwwnnnnnnn.
Your metabolism thinks:
- “Oh no. I guess she must be in the middle of a deserted island somewhere, with little access to food—and having to work hard to keep alive…
- I guess I am going to have to make due with what I’ve got, and use what she does feed me to the best of my ability…”
During this time, your cortisol levels rise (i.e. stress hormone) to keep you alive and well. And your body goes into “fight or flight” (stress mode), where it holds on tightly to all that it’s got. It also craves things like sugar and caffeine and the healthy fats (you are depriving it) to keep it going. Or, it has you obsessing about your food more than you used to because you’re not getting enough of it.
As time goes on, and you still are not giving up the reins (or listening to those hunger fullness cues), it goes into an even deeper hole, often times:
- Supressing your hunger-fullness cues and appetite (It’s learning to survive off less, remember?)
- Losing your period (Hello, the last thing it wants it to put a baby through this).
- Storing fat when it can—to use for future reserves.
- Eating off your hard-earned lean muscle (Or not building it in the first place—as you hit plateaus in the gym).
- Make you think even more and more about food (Hello, it’s not getting enough here—so of course it’s going to make you think about it because it’s hungry)
- Making you more obsessed with exercise (Cortisol likes exercise). Every time you get your “high” with a workout, it feeds your elevated cortisol levels—and your body can feed off of more cortisol (Rather than the food it craves)
- Messes with your digestion and elimination (Elevated cortisol suppresses stomach acid, making it uncomfortable to digest foods—or the same amounts you used to eat. It also causes more constipation, bloating and gas.)
- Occasionally “spiking” a feeling of insatiable hunger—that no matter how many raw veggies, or Crystal Light, or berries, or boiled chicken breast you eat…it’s still not enough (It’s missing something…ahem…healthy fats).
- Thyroid issues can come into play (Your thyroid regulates your metabolism…but when you decide that YOU are smarter than your body, and you are going to tell your body what to do, your thyroid decides to shut down)
Need I go on?
In short: Stress from not eating enough, working out too much and not listening to your body are the culprits for a sluggish metabolism.
So What to Do About It?
Here are 5 things you can do today to get you started today:
Are you eating enough? Chances are, if you’ve had the diet mentality for quite some time, your concept of “eating enough” is skewed. As a baseline, from a caloric perspective, 1800-2000 calories is a minimum amount for the woman who is moderately active (ie. Not sitting on the couch all day). More if you are active, in recovery, or have an even higher metabolic threshold. (Read: Every BODY is different). Society and My Fitness Pal would have us believing that 1200 calories is the “ideal” amount for health—Buuuuuzzzzzz. Wrong. Calories aside, no need to count calories here! Checking in, is all about checking in.
- How does your food make you feel? Keep a food log for the day, and in that food log you are going to be a sleuth—a detective.
- No need to write down calories or measurements of food
- Simply write down what you eat
- note your level of hunger-fullness before and after your meal (on a scale of 1-10, 1=famished, 10=stuffed).
- In addition, record any physical, emotional or mental feelings you experience (cravings, headaches, dips in energy)
- At the end of the day (or days—up to 3), evaluate any patterns you notice. Do you crash every day at 3 pm? Get hungry every morning at 10 a.m.? Are you rarely, if ever hungry? Eating a yogurt for breakfast, granola bar at 4 p.m. and chicken and broccoli for dinner and calling that “sustenance”?
- Reality check girl: Your body needs fuel—and plenty of it.
Adding in “more food” can feel daunting—especially when fear or doubt sinks in (Seriously? Eat more?!) . Where do you even start? (Especially if you’ve grown accustomed to eating very little). Think: One thing at a time. You may be aware you need more fuel. Consider adding it in to the meals you are already eating—a half an avocado, instead of one-fourth; a little more chicken breast, instead of your scant 3-ounces; a protein or fat-based snack (like coconut butter, guacamole with plantain chips, turkey rollups and a handful of almond, chicken salad, an apple with creamy almond butter, more ideas here), to tide you over from noon to dinner at 7 p.m. when that headache or sleepiness strikes.
Less is More.
You hear it, but don’t believe it. Seriously? Such a thing as exercise doing harm than good? It really all depends:
- Are you pushing yourself to go to the gym or run most days because you “have to”?
- Do you find yourself thinking about the food you are earning, or the ability to “live with yourself” another day when you’re working out?
- Feel sluggish, apathetic or bored with your workouts—like you’re going through the motions?
Less most certainly could be more—giving your body and mind a much needed break. Remember, when our body is stressed, it’s going to fight with all its might to help us out (by slowing down our metabolism for survival). When we workout more, we just keep this perpetual cortisol response going—spiking our stress even more as we plod along on the treadmill or wakeup at 5 a.m. to squeeze in our 6 mile run. “Less is more” doesn’t mean you have to quit working out altogether, but instead try a different approach:
- Get off the hamster wheel. Cardio is really only stressing your body out more.
- Take a time out from your current routine for one week and replace it with walking, hiking and maybe a few days of bodyweight or strength days (it may be hard, but tell yourself your metabolism is worth it)
- Reframe exercise. View exercise as “movement”—rather than a formal militant 60-90 minute exercise session. Your body doesn’t know that word—it just knows movement.
- Vary it up. As you come back to the gym or fitness routine—seek to keep your metabolism guessing. Integrate varied levels of intensity and energy system demands each day—including lots of walking or hiking, heavyish lifting, some high intensity, play and rest
- Lift heavy things. Strength training boosts metabolism for hours after a workout is complete (Granted you are not beating your body down still with that mandated daily StairMaster routine; Bootcamp, spin and yoga marathons in the same day ; Or other crazy exercise routines you force yourself to follow). Perform compound movements—like squats, presses, pulls, rows, lunges, deadlifts, and twists to get the best overall full body workout a few days per week. Sign up for Thrive’s Bikini Mindset Program for a guided program for your workouts, lifting weights and nutrition.
- Make a pact with yourself to only do things that make your spirit (and your body) come alive (instead of weigh you down—physically or mentally)
Mental stress is impacting you just as much as physical stress. “Stress management” is one of those “rah rah” pep talk things you know you need, but how do you realistically incorporate it? Get grounded. Do your metabolism a favor by taking a T-O (time out) to slow down and reset everyday—integrating a daily practice for mind-body connection:
- Download the Headspace app for daily guided meditation (even just 5-minutes, closing your eyes and focusing on your breath)
- Fill your mind with an inspirational podcast or play list while getting ready in the morning
- Set an alert reminder on your phone to ‘pray’ or ‘be present’ every day at noon—or whatever time you decide
- Connect with others. Meet with a girl friend for a coffee chat or walk and talk date. Plan to attend one social or educational event in your to-dos—outside of work and routine. Even consider getting a mentor, working with a coach or counselor for 100% you time for hashing and processing the things on your heart.
- End your day by reflecting and journaling your 3 ‘gratitudes’ for that day
Whatever it takes to realign your body and mind to “not sweat the small stuff” and to listen to your heart. I’ll say it again: When we are less stressed, our body (and metabolism) have room to once again work for us, not against us.
It never hurts to get an outsider’s perspective. Especially when our mind (and bodies) are pretty good at playing tricks on us when we are in survival mode. Consider making an appointment with a nutrition or functional medicine professional who gets it, and can help you realign your metabolism with you. Why go it alone? I’d love to chat with you about what a customized nutrition blueprint looks like, or help you connect to a resource that can help you where you’re at.
Frustrated in particular with your quest for body fat loss or stubborn weight gain answers?
Check out Thrive’s Building a Bad Ass Body for an unconventional approach to hacking your metabolism (some things most nutritionists, doctors and trainers won’t tell you).
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