Doctor’s Orders: Avoid These Seven Mistakes That Slow Your Metabolism

A pair of runners.

A pair of runners. (Photo: Warren Little/Getty Images)

If you find yourself gaining weight or your weight loss efforts have slowed down to a crawl, it’s time to look at what may be the problem – your metabolism.

Metabolism, also known as basal metabolic rate (BMR) is the rate in which the body uses energy or calories to support keeping you alive such as our heart beating, blood circulating, respiration, temperature maintenance, nerve activity and so forth.

Each individual’s rate of metabolism varies for several reasons:

  • Age – BMR is higher when young and slows down with age as lean muscle mass declines and is replaced with fat mass
  • Body composition – The more muscle mass, the higher the BMR. Men tend to have more muscle mass than women thus men burn more calories and lose weight easier
  • Fasting/starvation/malnutrition – These lower BMR
  • Thyroxine – A hormone produced by the thyroid gland controlling BMR. The less thyroxine produced, the less calories you burn

Are there mistakes we are doing slowing down metabolism? There can be and here are seven things possibly keeping your metabolism in a slower gear:

  1. Not eating breakfast

Study after study has shown skipping breakfast is a bad idea when trying to lose extra pounds. During the night, our metabolism naturally slows down due to inactivity. Once awake, eat within about an hour to help speed up metabolism aiding in appetite control and satiety preventing a mid-morning hunger cycle and feeling sluggish.

Solution

  • Set out glasses, cereal bowls, spoons or anything else the night before to save time
  • Non-breakfast foods can be eaten. Leftovers from the night before, a handful of walnuts or almonds with dried fruit, or mix a smoothie of low-fat Greek yogurt and berries with a banana and juice.
  • Keep it light with whole wheat toast with peanut butter or poached or hard-boiled eggs with whole wheat toast and fruit.

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  1. Skipping or having inconsistent meal times

Your body will think it’s going into a starvation mode making it hold onto extra weight    since it has no idea when you’ll eat next. Your body also needs nutrients available throughout the day and the calories they provide for your body to function properly.

Solution

  • Have consistent meals at regular times during the day getting your body into a routine
  • Eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner with one to three snacks depending on individual needs
  • Meals don’t have to be large but at least eat a couple of different foods that come from either low-fat dairy, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts or seeds and lean protein like beef, poultry or fish
  1. Eating less than 1000 calories a day

Crash dieting usually does result in weight loss. However, it’s unsustainable and your body responds by slowing down metabolism as much as 30%. Muscle mass is often lost on very low calorie diets and is replaced with fat mass which burns less calories than muscle. Once you go back to a normal calorie level the weight returns because your metabolism has been slowed down along with reduced muscle mass.

Solution

  • Women should not go below 1200 calories a day and men should not eat less than 1500 calories a day
  • To find out your individual calorie needs based on age, gender, weight, height and

physical activity level, go to: http://www.choosemyplate.gov/myplate/indes.aspx

  1. Doing little to maintain muscle mass

Starting as early as in our 30’s, muscle mass can begin to decline and will accelerate as we age. Maintaining muscle mass is critical for maintaining metabolism as it requires more calories to function than fat mass. Each pound of muscle burns about 6 calories a day compared to only 2 calories a day for each pound of fat. The more muscle mass, the more calories you will burn even at rest.

Solution  

  • Strength training. Lifting weights can be done at any age and is crucial to slow or reverse muscle loss. If you’re a beginner, start off slowly with lighter weights and seek the advice of a personal trainer or gym for proper form.
  • Sufficient protein intake of 25-30 grams at each meal. This will provide available amino acids, the building blocks of protein, to help build muscle. Choose lean beef, poultry, fish, eggs, low-fat dairy, nuts, beans and tofu.
  1. Doing aerobic exercise infrequently

Aerobic exercise of either low to high intensity will boost metabolism as it elevates heart rate and gets the large-muscle groups of the body (legs, buttocks and abdomen) moving burning calories. The greater the intensity, the more calories burned maximizing metabolism for several hours after the workout.

Solution

  • Do at least 30-60 minutes most days of the week of aerobic exercise; workout sessions can be broken up throughout the day for convenience
  • If it’s been awhile, start off slowly and gradually build up
  • Aerobic exercise can include walking, jogging, dancing, playing tennis, soccer, bicycling or swimming.
  • Look for ways to be active. Take the stairs, go for a brisk 10 minute walk, dance to music, anything that gets you up and moving.
  1. Keeping meals as bland as possible

A compound called capsaicin responsible for giving spicy foods like chili peppers their fiery flavor, can also help generate heat raising body temperature and slightly raising metabolism by about 8%. It can also increase a feeling of fullness and may work as an appetite suppressant.

Solution

  • Consider adding jalapenos, habaneros, cayenne, garlic and chili peppers to foods.

A little can go a long ways so use a light hand when adding to a meal.

  1. Not drinking enough water

Up to 75% of Americans have chronic dehydration which can decrease BMR by 3%. Water is necessary for many chemical reactions in the body which help keep metabolism running smoothly. Also drinking one to two cups of water before a meal can create a fuller feeling resulting in eating less food.

Solution

  • Everyone has different water needs depending on size, body composition and activity level but at least eight 8-ounce glasses of water a day should be consumed
  • Don’t like the taste? Add lemon, lime, orange or cucumber slices or mint leaves to a pitcher of water in the refrigerator for a refreshing flavor.

Dr. Samadi is a board-certified urologic oncologist trained in open and traditional and laparoscopic surgery and is an expert in robotic prostate surgery. He is chairman of urology, chief of robotic surgery at Lenox Hill Hospital and a medical correspondent for the Fox News Channel’s Medical A-Team. Learn more at roboticoncology.com. Visit Dr. Samadi’s blog at SamadiMD.com. Follow Dr. Samadi on Twitter, Instagram, Pintrest and Facebook.

Doctor’s Orders: Avoid These Seven Mistakes That Slow Your Metabolism