Help! My Metabolism has Shut Down!

Studio 5 Health and Fitness Contributor, Melanie Douglass says there are plenty of things you can do to get it back on track… and get you looking and feeling your best.

1. Get Some Dairy

In 2004, researchers found that participants assigned to consume a calorie-restricted diet along with 3 – 4 servings of dairy per day (~1200 to 1300 mg of calcium per day) lost 70 percent more weight than those on a standard diet. Even though that’s a significant result, when it comes to calcium, more is not better; it’s really about getting enough (the recommended daily amount) calcium in your diet. Additionally, this particular study showed that it was “dairy foods” and not just calcium supplements that boosted the weight loss results. Calcium won’t accelerate your metabolism all by itself, but it’s an essential component in a healthy metabolism.

*Zemel MB, Thompson W, Milstead A, Morris K, Campbell P. Dietary calcium and dairy products accelerate weight and fat loss during energy restriction in obese adults. Obesity Research 12(4):582-590, 2004.

2. Get Some Sleep

Research studies have shown that sleeping less may lead to changes the hormones leptin and ghrelin. Leptin tells your body to stop eating. Ghrelin tells your body to keep eating. When you sleep less your brain sends signals that drop leptin levels, lower metabolic rate, and boost your hunger level. This scenario puts you at risk for weight gain—and that’s without eating any extra food. Yikes. Maybe it’s time to stop intentionally depriving ourselves of valuable sleep time.

Research conducted at Columbia University found the following:

6 hrs/sleep = 23% more likely to be obese than those who slept 7 – 9 hours.

5 hrs/sleep = 50% more likely

4 hrs/sleep = 73% more likely

3. Go for Spice

Capsaicin, a component in spicy foods like red hot chili peppers, jalepenos and cayenne can directly induce thermogenesis, the process by which our cells convert energy to heat. Capsaicin can also help to stimulate adrenaline release, giving your metabolism a little push and may even help suppress appetite. But capsaicin can become toxic, so don’t take it in a supplemental (pill/powder) form — just enjoy an extra dose of chili, peppers, black pepper, and ginger once in while. Eat a variety of foods to find the right balance.

4. Don’t Dip Too Low

If you’re trying to lose weight on a low-calorie diet, make sure you always consume at least 1200 calories per day. We need at least 1200 calories per day to fuel our vital organs and perform basic activities of daily living… if you dip lower than 1200 calories per day, you’ll confuse your body, slow your metabolism, and only set yourself up for more metabolic problems down the road.

5. Do a Few Mini-Workouts (and I mean mini… just 5 minutes!)

If a consistent 30 – 60 minute workout just doesn’t seem to fit into your day, then try doing random, whenever-it’s-convenient mini-workouts. I mean it. Five minutes at a time. If you have a moment, then do 5 minutes of jumping jacks, 5 minutes of climbing the stairs, 5 minutes of marching in place, or 5 minutes of push-ups. Pick something that will make your heart pump and go for it. Anything is better than nothing!

6. Eat 4 – 6 “SNACKS” (not meals)

We often hear that we should eat 6 smaller meals versus 3 large meals throughout the day… but using the word “meal” often sets us up for failure, because we immediately think of a meal and consume more food than is intended for “6 small meals”. When you eat more often, you eat less… a lot less. Think “snacks”. And aim for 4 – 6 snacks (about 200 – 300 calories each) throughout the day. A 200 – 300 calorie snack is simple, for example:

– 1 1/2 handfuls of almonds (~36 almonds)

– a bowl of high-fiber cereal with meal

– a slice of whole-wheat bread with 2 Tbsp. peanut butter

– a hefty green veggie salad – check this out, for just 243 calories, you get:

5 c lettuce

½ c tomatoes

½ c carrots

½ c celery

½ c broccoli

2 T regular dressing

In addition to eating less, more often, remember you have to start a regimen like this early in the day. For example:

7am / 9:30am / 12 noon / 2:30pm / 5pm / 7:30pm.

7. Get Pumping!

I saved the obvious for last. We all know we have to workout… but think about this:

A slow metabolism isn’t an excuse to skip workouts. It’s not a reason to complain, throw in the towel, or wait until the doctor figures it out. Any metabolism–slow, normal or fast–needs regular exercise! Not exercising when it’s a bit sluggish only worsens the problem.

When it comes a healthy metabolism, one thing stands supreme: strength training. It’s a fact of life; we all lose muscle as we age… starting in our 20’s. And muscle is the one thing that drives our metabolism to thrive. So fighting to keep our muscles is the best thing we can do to stay healthy and feel our best. Think of it like a long-term investment. You may not see an immediate change, but slowly and surely, you will see a change. Strength training can be so life-changing, that in one study, women who strength-trained for just 2 months regained 10 years worth of muscle loss. And the men? They regained 20 years worth of loss after just two months of training… now that’s powerful.

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