Your metabolism is about so much more than just burning calories. And supporting that metabolism is about so much more than diet and exercise.
That’s generally all we think about it though, right? Whether you have a fast or slow metabolism or if it’s slowing down as you get older.
Your metabolism is actually the total of ALL chemical processes in the body that maintain life. This is far more complex than just converting food into energy. This is what’s going on in your body 24/7 sustaining your life.
What’s included in the work of your metabolism?
- Yes, making energy, which we get from not just calories but nutrients in those calories
- Producing hormones and being able to convert them to active forms
- Digestion: breaking down your food, producing and utilizing enzymes, bile, absorbing nutrients, moving the contents through the intestines, etc. This is a huge job!
- Skin health
- Hair growth
- Maintaining fertility
- Emotional and mental health
- And more!
If you struggle with unwanted weight gain or the inability to lose weight, this is just one sign that your metabolism may need some support. But there are plenty of other ways that can indicate that need as well.
In order to better support your metabolism so that all those processes run efficiently, there are a few areas to address first:
Diet meaning the food you eat, not the diet you need to be on. This can be a little more complicated because sometimes it is helpful to spend time on a more therapeutic approach to eating that does remove certain foods while focusing on including others. But besides that, in order to have a healthy metabolism, you need to actually eat enough food. Low calorie diets have been around for a long time, and sure, you can lose weight if you chronically decrease your calorie consumption. Long term this is not a great idea for your metabolism though. There’s a reason why these diets are never really sustainable! Your brain is trying to survive; if you chronically decrease calories too low, your brain will slow down the output energy of your body.
My general diet recommendations:
- Start with three meals per day and a snack (but what about intermittent fasting?? Yes, this has its place but if you’re currently not sure you’re actually eating enough food or nutrients, don’t worry about fasting yet).
- Fill half your plate with colorful plant foods and include animal protein and healthy fats like butter/ghee, extra virgin olive oil, avocados, coconut oil, raw or dry roasted nuts/seeds.
- While I generally am not a fan of counting calories, it can be helpful to use a calculator like this one to make sure you’re actually eating enough. Your BMR is the calories needed to just be alive. So if you were literally going to just lay in bed all day and do nothing else, that’s how much you need to sustain those processes. Beyond that you can use the prompts to estimate your activity level to get an idea of how much you need to sustain all of that. For fat loss, a calorie deficit is going to be a good thing but this deficit should not be taken from your BMR!
Your diet is not just about eating calories. And it’s also not just about eating the right ratio of macros (protein, fat, carbs). Your cells – all those trillions of living cells that actually make up your body – need nutrients in order to function. Micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) are needed for all metabolic pathways that allow your body to burn energy, make hormones, digest and absorb food, have a healthy libido, sleep well, think clearly, maintain a healthy mood, and so much more! If you only focus on macros without the micros you can miss out on this.
My general micronutrient recommendations:
- As stated above, fill half your plate with colorful plant foods and including animal protein and the suggested fats
- Add in a high quality multi-vitamin (I’m really liking Designs for Health Complete Multi. You can find it here on Fullscript. Just register and click on my “favorites” and then “multivitamin”)
- eating “nose to tail” will help replete common nutrient deficiencies.
- Add mineral drops to water and use a high quality sea salt like Real Salt, Redmonds, or Celtic Sea Salt on your food.
Moving your body is good. We were meant to move and not sit all day! But, if your metabolism is damaged, you need to be aware that the exercise you’re doing is what your body needs. Chronic cardio or too much high intensity training can further deplete nutrient stores and continue a stress cycle in your brain and body that further damages your metabolism.
My general exercise recommendations:
- Include a mix of strength training, some cardio, as well as lower intensity movement modalities like yoga, pilates, walking, stretching, etc.
- High intensity isn’t necessarily bad or wrong for you but if you know your metabolism is struggling, I wouldn’t do it everyday!
- Make sure you’re paying attention to my recommendations for diet and nutrient density.
Oh buddy. We all know sleep is important, but truly, it really is. I know there are times in life when getting adequate sleep just isn’t going to happen (I’m looking at you new mamas!), and that’s ok! But when we do have some control over this we need to make it a priority. If your metabolism is struggling, skipping sleep for a high intensity workout probably isn’t the best idea! Sleep is when your brain and body are cleansing metabolic waste products. Your liver is doing a lot of important work during this time. Your digestive system is getting a break and your body is restoring itself.
My general sleep recommendations:
- Speaking to myself here as much as anyone else – Try spending at least an hour (or more!) before bed not staring at a screen. I know when I listen to this advice and read or listen to a book at night I sleep a lot better.
- Avoid eating a couple hours before bed. This allows your body’s energy to go toward that brain and body detox more so than digestion.
Another doozy. It’s hard to live in this world and not experience chronic stress. Your body has a physiological response to stress, whether it’s physical, emotional, mental, etc. This response requires nutrients so we end up burning through stores of those vitamins and minerals even faster. A diet lacking in these micronutrients alongside unmanaged stress leads to a depleted, sluggish metabolism. I’ve written before about the effects stress can have on the metabolism. Some phases of life are just going to be more stressful than others (again, I’m looking at you, mamas!).
My general stress management recommendations:
- Set boundaries with your time where you can. Avoid overcommitting if possible.
- Find time to spend outdoors, avoiding tv or social media if it ignites anxiety, anger, fear, etc., reading, journaling, walking, low intensity movement, deep breathing, and doing things that are fun are all ways to help signal to your brain that you are not constantly running from a tiger.
Healing a damaged or struggling metabolism can take time. It takes consistency in these areas! It can take years for the body to start showing the signs of a struggling metabolism so expecting it to change in a week isn’t exactly realistic.
Years of stress, inadequate sleep and movement, and under-nourishing our bodies leads to changes at the cellular level and with the microbiome. If you’ve been paying attention to these 5 areas but still feel you are struggling, let’s chat! We may need to dig in more to what your blood work is telling us. There could be some patterns of dysfunction that just need a little extra support. I’d love to help you simplify the steps of finding that support.