It’s become the norm to drastically cut calories in order to lose weight. Yet as a nutritionist and health coach, I know this method doesn’t work out in the long term.
I began to research why so many calorie restricted diets were failing…
If you don’t eat enough calories to support normal body functions and activities then your metabolism can drop, leading to less overall calorie burn when exercises.
So how can you eat more calories and lose weight? The key is to focus on foods that are high in fiber, protein, and healthy fats. In addition, you need to drink enough water, and incorporate both strength and cardio exercise on a regular basis.
Reject the old diet mentality of restricting your calories and open your mind to ways you can eat more to encourage weight loss. Finally!
Need a workout program? Get 3 free workouts on Fitbod right now.
5 Signs Your Metabolism is Decreasing
You may have heard about the term metabolism before. Many people refer to it in terms of weight loss struggles, and rightfully so. Metabolism is the way your body breaks down and uses energy from food (calories) and how your body uses that energy.
Metabolism includes the number of calories you burn at rest to do things like breathing and keeping your heart rate going. It’s also influenced by physical activity and daily activities such as cooking and cleaning.
In general, when our metabolism decreases, we don’t burn calories as effectively – meaning we are more prone to gaining weight. According to Mayoclinic, weight gain is a complicated process that also includes our genetics, hormones, diet, sleep, stress, and activity.
How do you know if your metabolism is decreasing? Pay attention to some of these signs:
TROUBLE LOSING WEIGHT
Since metabolism determines how effectively our bodies use and store the energy we get from food, a slower metabolism may encourage you to gain weight and make it hard to lose weight. Even if you have been eating a healthy diet and exercising, you may struggle to see the scale drop. In a sense, your body is “fighting” against starvation.
When your body is burning calories at a decreased rate, it can lead to lower energy and fatigue. This is because your body isn’t getting the fuel it needs, so as a result it slows down in order to conserve the energy for vital organs like your brain. Low metabolism can also manifest in a lack of motivation to exercise.
Research suggests that when our bodies get stressed, it uses stores such as glycogen, in order to provide quick energy to get us out of a dangerous situation and back to safety. In the short term, we may lose our appetite and have reduced body weight due to these decreased stores. But chronic stress can lead to slower metabolism. It can also make us crave and overeating foods, such as the high-fat and sugar ones – hello ice cream!
Speaking of overindulging in fatty and sweet foods; it’s normal to have sweet cravings from time to time but intense cravings may be a sign that your metabolism needs some extra nutrients and support. Our adrenal glands help our metabolism function well. If our adrenals are taxed, after chronic stress for example, it can cause more sugar cravings.
Brain fog is that fuzzy feeling in our minds. Those times that are difficult to concentrate during work, school, or conversations. This can of course also be influenced by having a bit too much alcohol, being dehydrated, getting a poor night’s rest, or straight boredom. It can also be a sign that our metabolism is sluggish. Since our brains require nutrients and energy from the food we eat, a slow metabolism can impact our alertness.
Related Article: Can You Lose Weight Without Sweating? (Yes, Here’s How)
Why Eating More Helps with Weight Loss
Calories are basically energy that we get from food and use for body functions that keep us alive, well, and physical activity. We get calories from macronutrients: carbohydrates, fat, and protein. In general, if we eat less calories than we burn over time, we’ll lose weight. However, weight loss is not as simple as calories in, calories out.
Although a lower calorie diet plan can work for some people, calorie needs vary depending on body composition, weight, height, age, sex, activity level, fitness goals and even things like gut bacteria and hormones. In theory, if we burn more calories than we consume, we’ll lose weight, but our bodies are very well adapted to help prevent us from starving.
Learn more about how to calculate your specific calorie needs here: How To Eat When You Are Not Working Out? (Step-by-Step Guide)
If you restrict too many calories too quickly, or lose
weight too quickly, it’s been theorized that your body can go into what’s called starvation mode. This is a decrease of metabolism in order to conserve calories and to prevent starvation. You’ll have a decreased number of calories burned and feel more hungry, tired, and have food cravings.
Related Article: How To Lost 5lbs In A Month (The Healthy Way)
Our metabolism is also influenced by our body composition. According to Mayoclinic, strength training can help you manage or lose weight and increase metabolism to help burn more calories.
When we go on a drastic calorie reduced diet, particularly when we don’t incorporate strength training into our weight loss routines, we can lose muscle mass. Research suggests that this muscle loss is particularly likely if your diet is low in protein and not combined with exercise.
THERMIC EFFECT OF FOOD
Eating more of the right type of foods can actually increase burn. The thermic effect of food is the energy (calorie) needed to digest, absorb, and transport food. Some foods have a higher thermic effect, meaning they use more energy for our bodies to break down.
Rev Up Your Metabolic Rate with More Food
Currently, there’s no specific and accurate way to test calorie burn at a given meal but studies suggest that certain foods can help your body burn slightly more calories.
MORE NATURAL, LESS PROCESSED
Research suggests that when people eat a diet containing more highly processed foods (chips, microwave meals, pastries, cakes), they ate more calories and gained more weight, compared to people who ate more whole, healthy foods.
When food is processed, it gets partially broken down. This makes it easier for calories to be absorbed. For instance, when we chop, blend, or cook foods, we may take in more calories. In one study men who consumed whole peanuts absorbed almost 40% less fat versus the peanut butter, peanut oil, or powdered peanut version.
Studies suggest that we absorb less calories from foods with more fiber. Nuts for instance have been shown to be absorbed at about 20% less calories than expected. One reason for this calorie discrepancy is that food calorie calculators don’t take into account that fiber is not absorbed by our bodies.
Another possible reason is that fiber feeds healthy gut bacteria. When healthy bacteria are properly fueled, some studies have suggested that it can have a positive influence on decreasing BMI, weight, and fat mass.
Did you know that it takes about three oranges to make one cup of juice? Think about the ease of downing a glass or orange juice versus chewing through three oranges. An example of how high fiber foods can result in more energy to break down. Other high fiber foods include wholegrains, fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts and seeds.
Similar to fiber, studies show that protein is helpful for both the thermic effect of food and for increasing satiety. After a meal, the macronutrients rank as follows when it comes to the amount of energy they take to burn: protein, carbohydrate, fat.
Studies suggest that higher protein diets can increase satiety hormones (GLP-1, peptide YY) and decrease appetite hormones (ghrelin) that make us feel more hungry. This means if your goal is to lose weight, replacing refined carbs and fat with protein, may reduce some hunger and cravings.
Whenever possible, aim to get protein from whole food sources instead of supplements such as creatine. Healthy sources of protein include low-fat dairy (milk, yogurt, cheese), eggs, poultry, fish, lean beef, legumes (beans and peas), soy.
Caffeine is a natural stimulant that comes from foods and drinks such as coffee, some teas, and chocolate. It’s also added to energy drinks sodas, and is used as a supplement. It’s known as a fat burner because it can slightly increase the metabolic rate.
A study review concluded that caffeine may help encourage weight reduction. But just like any drug or stimulant, our bodies can develop a resistance to it, so it may not work effectively in the long term.
Learn more about caffeine and other fat burners here: How Do Fat Burners Work? (And, Are They Actually Effective?)
SOME HERBS AND SPICES
Some herbs and spices have been shown to slightly increase resting metabolic rate, or how much our bodies burn at rest.
Turmeric was suggested to reduce weight and the hormone leptin which regulates calorie balance.
Chili supplements for a month resulted in a small (50 calorie) increase in calorie burn per day.
Ginger has been suggested to increase calorie burn and help control appetite.
Looking for a workout program? Try using the Fitbod App, which will design your program based on your logged training data and goals. The workouts will adapt automatically to your levels of recovery and rate of progress. With over 600 movements and exercises videos, you can be sure to perform the movements correctly for optimal results. Take the guesswork out of your workouts. Try 3 free workouts on Fitbod.
Fitness: One of the Healthiest Ways to Boost the Burn
Exercise gets your metabolism revved up. Recent research shows it may be even more efficient than previously thought in terms of burning fat and using food as energy.
Cardio exercises (running, jogging, swimming) are some of the most effective calorie burners and metabolism stimulators. For an extra calorie burn boost, try interval training. This means going at your max for a period of time, then activity recovering. For instance, doing an all out sprint for 20-30 seconds then active recovery of a light jog for three to five minutes.
Everybody is different, but if you’re not used to exercising, work up to about 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity for weight maintenance, and do more per week for weight loss.
Related article: Burn 500 Calories Working Out At-Home (30-Min Workouts)
Strength training is more effective than cardio at building muscle. Muscle is more metabolically active than fat tissue, meaning it helps our body burn more calories at rest. In fact, studies show that metabolism naturally decreases with age due to a decrease in muscle. Strength training can help preserve muscle and increase resting metabolic rate.
Aim for doing strength training for two to three times a week for muscle maintenance. Need help creating a workout plan? Let the Fitbod App do the work for you (click for 3 free workouts)!
Related article: How to Workout Twice a Day For Weight Loss (Ultimate Guide)
METABOLIC RESISTANCE TRAINING
Metabolic resistance training blends some of the best workouts to burn calories and build muscle. It includes exercises such as P90x, CrossFit, and HIIT. It works by maxing your body through a blend of strength training and aerobic exercise. Just keep in mind that since it’s such a challenging workout, it’s not advisable if you’re new to exercise or haven’t done it in some time.
Related article: Metabolic Resistance Training: 3 Benefits (And, 1 Problem)
A solid workout can bring on a boost in metabolism, but remember that a workout alone won’t keep that metabolism high. The key is to keep moving during the day. When it comes to metabolism, sitting at your desk all day is similar to sleep. The more you can get up and move around, the more calories you’ll burn.
Go for a walk or bike during your lunch break. Encourage your colleagues to do a plank challenge during the afternoon slump. Try jumping jacks or push-ups every hour.
JUST DON’T OVERDO IT
Excessive exercise or repetitive workouts without adequate rest days can lead to injury and slowed metabolism. Also doing the same type of workout for an extended period of time can lead to a plateau, making it so your body doesn’t burn calories as effectively.
Too much cardio, without strength can lead to muscle breakdown and ultimately lead to reduced metabolism. Intense workouts, such as HIIT or metabolic resistance training are not good to do on a daily basis because they can put the body into a stressed state.
It’s possible to eat more calories and lose weight and can even be a healthier, longer lasting approach. It all comes down to eating enough calories, focusing on healthy foods, and incorporating regular exercise.
Foods that are high in fiber and protein and healthy fats can help boost metabolism. Incorporate both strength and cardio exercise on a regular basis without overdoing it.
Find the best type of exercise and a plan that will set you up for success. Balance your plate and keep your fitness up to date with Fitbod (click for 3 free workouts).
About The Author
Lisa is a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN) with over 15 years of experience in nutrition, fitness, and mental health coaching and education. She studied Foods and Nutrition at San Diego State University and earned a Master of Science in Holistic Nutrition at Hawthorn University.
Having certifications and experience in group exercise, intuitive eating, coaching and psychotherapy, and digestive wellness, she’s enthusiastic about the relationship between the body and mind.
She’s dedicated to helping people understand how to implement healthy habit change, while gaining a deeper understanding of what makes them feel their personal best.