Time and time again I see people struggling to lose weight eating very few calories and doing tons of cardio. What gives? Shouldn’t the pounds be dropping? Well, not if your metabolism has been damaged through a faulty fitness lifestyle. Here’s what you need to know about your metabolism and how to fix it.
What Causes a Broken Metabolism?
To put it simply, a damaged metabolism is typically caused by prolonged excessive calorie restriction combined with excessive physical activity. You might be wondering why in the world your weight isn’t budging if you’re eating 1000 calories and doing hours of cardio every day. After all, you know that you need a calorie deficit to lose weight, and you think it’s obvious that your deficit is more than enough.
And that there is the problem – your calorie deficit is more than enough. However, it would be prudent to understand that this calorie deficit is only on paper, as your true energy deficit is little to nothing due to metabolic adaptations.
I continue to explain why it’s so important to eat enough calories to lose weight. Your goal should be to eat as much food as possible that still allows you to drop body fat.
When you don’t eat enough, important metabolism regulating hormones begin to down-regulate. Hormones such as thyroid and leptin start to lower to create homeostasis in the body. Not only that, but muscle tissue begins to break down and be used for energy. This reduction in lean body mass also slows your metabolism since muscle is very metabolically active – “eating” fat and burning calories at all hours of the day.
What about all that cardio you’re doing? Surely it’s burning calories. Well, yes, but just as your body adapts to lower calories, it also adapts to exercise. It quickly will expend fewer and fewer calories doing the same amount of physical work. Eventually, you’ll need more and more exercise to get the same effects.
The two main causes of a broken metabolism – severe calorie restriction and excessive exercise, cause a negative feedback loop that “requires” you to eat less and less and exercise more and more to maintain your pace of weight loss. Obviously, you can only do so much before you end up sick, tired, or injured, and end up giving up.
How to Speed Up Your Metabolism and Get It Back to Normal
Alright, now that you know what causes a broken metabolism, let me tell you what you can do to get it back to normal. First and foremost, you must not overly cut your calories. I realize this point is after-the-fact, but it’s important to understand so that it doesn’t happen again.
Second, if you are doing hours of cardio every day, it’s time to cut it back. An hour a few days a week is more than enough, and I’d much rather see people doing intense strength training 3-5 days a week and leaving the additional cardio as a back-pocket weapon for when weight loss truly stalls.
Next, it’s time to slowly start adding calories back into your diet through a process called reverse dieting. Over the course of weeks and months, you need to start adding 20-50 calories into your diet here and there. The key to getting your metabolism back to normal without fat gain is to do this slowly, just as you should have done in the opposite direction when you were trying to lose weight – hence the term reverse dieting.
Adding just 50 calories to your diet a week for 10 weeks will result in an extra 500 calories each day, and I think you might be surprised that somewhere along the line your weight loss actually starts to pick up again. In order to do this right you will have to put the worry of weight gain out of your mind.
Your Maintenance Calories are Not as Low as You Think
Trust me when I tell you that your maintenance calories should not be 1,000 calories, even though your weight is neither increasing or decreasing at that amount. As you increase your calories, those important metabolism regulating hormones will begin to up-regulate. Thyroid hormone will increase, leptin levels will be at levels that won’t signal starvation, and muscle tissue will start to be spared or even increase.
For this to work, you must be patient. Metabolic damage usually occurs from years of binge/purge cycles, also known as severe dieting followed by an even bigger period of overeating. Slow and steady wins the fat loss game.
The longer you take to lose your fat, the more successful you will be in the long term. Calorie deficits only need to be 10-20 percent lower than your maintenance cals to be effective. Anything more and you start to veer into dangerous metabolism destroying territory. Take care of your metabolism, and your fitness lifestyle will be much more enjoyable and easy to maintain.