Anyone who’s struggled with losing weight can attest to lamenting about having a slow metabolism. In a desperate attempt to appease the Weight Loss Gods, you may devotedly forgo unnecessary calories and exercise to exhaustion; yet, your friend can voraciously devour copious amounts of food every hour without gaining any weight.
So what’s happening here? What are you missing? Nutrition Expert, Chandni Haldurai, takes us through a possible reason.
Well, word on the street is that your metabolism is supposedly ‘damaged'
The metabolic damage concept says that when you start a restricted-calorie diet (as well as excessively increasing calorie intake) your metabolism takes a hit, in the same way that your overall health deteriorates due to prolonged stress exposure.
It’s believed that over time, fluctuating calorie intake can cause a detrimental impact on the body’s ability to optimally convert food into energy. This results in weight gain/inability to lose weight and a host of other related symptoms in tow.
While it may sound like a plausible explanation to those irritating weight loss plateaus, metabolic damage is actually just a misunderstanding of the metabolic process itself, especially in regards to the weight loss process. Let’s delve further into what the real deal is with your metabolism.
Calorie Deficits Cause Metabolic Slowdown
In order to lose weight, you must create a calorie deficit. There isn’t any bypassing you can do here, as there needs to be some amount of cutting back the number of calories you eat and/or increasing your exercise frequency.
As you lose weight and cut back on calories, your body slows down on the number of calories it burns. This effectively lowers your metabolic rate and is called metabolic slowdown.
The key issue to understand is that while the metabolic slowdown is real, the metabolism is not damaged. Essentially, metabolic damage does not exist.
Metabolic Slowdown ≠ Metabolic Damage
Your metabolism slows at a gradual rate when losing weight and while the rate of slowing down is variable, it’s inevitable and also totally normal. This is why those last few kilos are usually a lot harder to lose. But it’s also a good sign that your weight loss progress is on track.
It’s also crucial to note that certain conditions, such as hypothyroidism, can slow your metabolism. However, this is a medical condition that requires proper diagnosis and treatment.
Factors Affecting Metabolic Rate
Being calorie deficit affects certain processes in our body. Let’s get a bit technical and dive into them all. Don’t worry, we’ve given our best shot at explaining them as simply as we could.
1. Decrease in Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR)
What is BMR? Your BMR is the number of calories you burn while at rest that your body uses for basic bodily functioning. This accounts for around 60-70% of calories burned on a daily basis, such as when you are couch potato-ing the entire day.
How does it affect metabolic rate? As you lose weight, the BMR rate also decreases, resulting in that slowed metabolism. This is because the body burns calories while simultaneously maintaining fat, muscle, and organ mass. So the less your weight is, the lower your BMR.
2. Decrease in Thermic Effect of Activity (TEA)
What is TEA? This refers to the number of calories your body burns when exercising.
How does it affect metabolic rate? Again, the number of calories you burn while exercising will keep reducing as you continue to lose weight.
If you’re exercising now and lose weight as a result, the number of calories you burn at your reduced weight will be lower than what it was when you started out, even if you exercise the same amount.
3. Decrease in Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT)
What is NEAT? These are the calories you burn as a result of non-exercise activities, such as basic daily movements and unconscious habits, like fidgeting, contributing to the slowdown of metabolism.
How does it affect metabolic rate? Whether you’re walking to the store, brushing your hair or playing a computer game, these mundane activities actually burn a significant amount of calories, depending on the person and your activities. NEAT also decreases during a calorie deficit (since it is an energy deficit) and, as a result, you tend to move less.
4. Reduction in the Thermic Effect of Food (TEF)
What is TEF? Calories burned during the digestion and absorption process of food are known as TEF.
How does it affect metabolic rate? You consume less when on a calorie deficit diet. Less food consumed means fewer calories burned due to TEF. Comparatively, it is a smaller contributing factor to metabolic slowdown than the others.
5. Metabolic Adaptation or Adaptive Thermogenesis
What is Metabolic Adaptation and Adaptive Thermogenesis? Both terms are interchangeable and used to define the additional level of slowdown that happens (in addition to the regular expected metabolic slowdown). It occurs because your body is primed for survival and will do anything to ensure its normal functioning under any condition encountered.
When you’re on a calorie deficit, the body doesn’t know it’s only temporary until you’ve achieved your fitness goal; it thinks you’re in danger of starvation.
So, the body will adapt to your weight loss attempt by turning to stored fat deposits as an energy source (this is positive and necessary for weight loss). It will also slow down the rate it burns off its reserves to ensure your survival.
How do they affect metabolic rate? Adaptive thermogenesis is responsible for up to 20% of the entire metabolic slowdown. Thus, if your weight maintenance intake is around 2,000 calories and you lose some weight after dieting, the actual intake would likely be around 1800 calories.
“So I need a higher metabolism for weight loss but losing weight makes my metabolism slower. What should I do?”
Here’s how you can Overcome Weight Loss Plateaus due to Metabolic Slowdown
Now that you know metabolic damage isn’t a real thing - and what’s actually occurring is a normal, natural slowdown of your metabolism - you can breathe a sigh of relief knowing that you aren’t doomed to remain at your current weight loss plateau forever.
The key here is to build a greater calorie deficit and/or increase your exercise intensity. Doing this will inevitably help you achieve your weight loss goals, no matter how slow your metabolism gets! Here are some ways you can go about breaking through a weight loss plateau.
You can also join engaging fitness classes and make your way to your fitness and diet goals, all from the comfort of your home with our cultpass LIVE sessions!