“Metabolism” is a word that gets thrown around a lot in the context of weight loss. We think we have a fast metabolism if we lose weight quickly or can sit down and eat a pint of ice cream without putting a dent on the scale. We think we have a slow metabolism if we can’t lose weight, no matter what we do. By the time we hit the “slow metabolism” phase, most people have exhausted every diet under the sun with little result. So what do you do if you have a broken metabolism? And more importantly, is it fixable?
In reality, metabolism accounts for all the chemical processes that happen inside of your body in order for you to keep on living. That’s it. Food, fat storage, and muscle development are all a part of many other functions that make up the big chemical machine we know as metabolism.
Inside your body are thousands of chemical processes and dozens of hormones that try to make sense of your physiology to keep it working harmoniously. Naturally, your genetic makeup and environmental factors also contribute greatly to what happens to your body.
But is it possible to muck your metabolism up enough to the point that it doesn’t work anymore?
Can You Fix A Broken Metabolism?
Metabolism isn’t like a bone that can physically break in half, but it can get disrupted. When your metabolism gets disrupted, you’ll notice changes - some subtle and some profound. Subtle metabolic shifts include feeling hungry shortly after eating something much more sugary that you usually do, or feeling tired when you don’t get enough sleep. When you avoid eating something with excessive sugar or when you get a reasonable amount of sleep, your appetite will probably go back to normal or you’ll feel less tired and more energized.
Profound metabolic disruptions, especially when it comes to weight gain or fat storage, are often the result of lasting lifestyle changes that are not beneficial to your body. Remember, your body’s knee-jerk reaction to nearly anything it perceives as a threat is fat storage. A “threat” to your body could mean that it’s constantly lacking the energy it needs that it would otherwise get from calories.
Inside of your body is a control center made up of dozens of hormones. All of the hormones in your body like to sit in homeostasis with one another. In other words, they like to be in balance. When they’re not in balance, things get kind of wonky. What we eat, what we don’t eat, how much we sleep, how much water we drink, how much exercise we get, how we handle stress, and so much more affects the balance of these hormones. When they fall out of balance, let’s say, because you crash dieted and cut your calories too low, your body will send signals to other hormones to lower the “thermostat” on your body, ensuring that when you do eat a normal amount of calories again, you’ll gain the weight back quickly…usually with a few extra pounds to spare.
Age & Metabolism
As we age, our hormones change. When it comes to hormonal changes and age, most women think of menopause - or the profound drop in the hormones estrogen and progesterone, marking the end of a woman’s reproductive years. Men also experience hormonal changes as they age. Testosterone, for example, drops an average of about 1 to 2% a year after the age of 30. Women also lose valuable testosterone through menopause as this hormone is primarily made in the ovaries.
In terms of a woman’s body, the drop of estrogen, progesterone and testosterone can certainly disrupt metabolism to the point where a woman might feel that it’s broken. Remember, though, this is a normal change or transition. Even though many women experience weight gain through their 40s, 50s and 60s - it’s not a rite of passage and there is certainly a lot that can be done to help buffer the effects.
Often times, when women experience weight gain around the time of menopause or during the years afterward, the impulse is to diet, cut calories or burn calories by doing lots and lots of cardio. Very rarely do these approaches help anything. More often than not, this only leads to more fat storage, a greater disruption of hormones and the increased perception of a broken metabolism.
Fixing a Broken Metabolism
While you can’t physically break a metabolism, you can certainly disrupt it. Sometimes the disruption is minor, and may only need a small correction to get back on track. Sometimes that disruption is major, and could take months or years to get back on track.
The key to correcting a broken metabolism is to stay consistent with healthy habits. You may need to stay consistent for months, but the end result is almost always rewarding.
The problem is, most people refuse to stay consistent. Most people want results now. If the weight doesn’t start coming off after a couple of weeks, it’s time to throw in the towel and try a new approach. Truthfully, there is only one approach that works for your body at any given time. All other “approaches” or diets will only make weight loss that much harder.
Healthy Lifestyles Habits That Fix Broken Metabolisms
Positive lifestyle habits bring balance to your hormones, your body’s systems and to your overall metabolism. If you do not stay consistent for a lengthy period of time, your body will not get the benefits, and more importantly, you will not see the results. While seeing the results is not nearly as important as the overall health of your body (so you can live a long, healthy and medication-free life), when we humans don’t see results quickly, we are inclined to shift gears too fast. This is because we’ve been shoved a crapload of awful diet advice for decades. Decades! You have to be conscious about making consistent changes that benefit your body in the long run.
Alternatively, there are always plenty of medications, surgeries and macronutrient-void diets that anyone can turn to at any time for a quick fix. Mind you, medications, surgeries and horrible diets all have side effects that are usually none-too-pleasant.
The habits that work include:
Cut out refined sugar
Refined sugars can be found in sweet or savory foods - from cookies, candy, soda and juices to salad dressings, crackers and store-bought soups. Read your labels. Under carbohydrates is a subcategory called “added sugars”. Try to avoid as many foods as possible with added sugars. This may mean adjusting the go-to foods you’ve always eaten, but it’s well worth it.
Eat higher fiber foods
If refined sugars are the devils of the carbohydrate world, higher fiber foods are the angels. Eat high fiber foods, and eat lots of them! Fruits, vegetables and whole grains are a good start. Eating plenty of carbs flies in the face of fad diets, like keto, but trying to avoid these nutrient-rich foods deprives your body of the vitamins and minerals it needs.
You don’t need to join a gym to strength train, and depending on your current fitness level, all you really need to do are bodyweight movements, such as squats, wall squats, bridge poses, lunges and planks (for the beginner). If you're already very fit and have cardio workouts coming out of your ears, then it’s time to shift gears to lifting more weights. WHY? When you strength train you: increase your body’s natural growth hormone (HGH), testosterone (yes, we women need this, too, for muscle), regulate estrogen, strengthen ligaments, tendons and bone! All you need to do is three days a week/20-minutes a session of strength training. As your fitness base grows, do more.
Do cardio, but you don’t need to do it excessively. It is so important just to get up and walk. Adding a little bit of cardio or movement into every day of the week keeps your heart healthy, your mind clear and a focus on the goals that are important to you.
This list is not exhaustive but a good place to start. After you get into a rhythm of cutting out refined sugars, eating more fiber, strength training (even a little bit) and doing a reasonable amount of cardiovascular activity, then you can move on to other areas of your life, like prioritizing sleep, not eating too late at night, getting picky about eating healthy fats only and cutting back on caffeine.
There is always something each and every one of us can do to improve our way of living. The key to success is not doing the "thing" - whatever it is - once or twice. The key is doing the thing you're trying to improve every single day.
For example, we all know that water is important for us to drink. Most of us don't drink enough. If we focused on drinking enough water for one day, we'd probably see not much of an improvement in our lives other than getting well acquainted with the bathroom. But if you drank enough water each and every day, you'd notice improved digestion, clearer skin, and a boosted metabolism (one glass of water boosts your resting metabolism by up to 30% for one hour!).
The payoff of doing healthy things is always good, but the payoff of doing healthy things consistently is great. Devote more time to living your best life. It's one of the best fixes to a broken metabolism!