7 Mistakes That Are Slowing Down Your Metabolism

I’ve never met anyone who’s said, “I wish I had a slower metabolism.”  But I have worked with hundreds of patients and clients who want their metabolic rate to be faster.  Most people want a faster metabolism because a higher resting metabolic rate allows us to enjoy the pleasure of eating more food without having to stress over gaining extra weight.  Additionally, if you are trying to lose weight, increasing your metabolic rate will help you lose it faster and keep it off longer.  The problem is that countless people are making daily mistakes, unknowingly to them, that are slowing down their metabolism.  

Luckily, once you’re able to identify the metabolism slowing mistakes, you are making it is 100% possible to tweak your behaviors to increase your metabolic rate and jumpstart weight loss.  Unfortunately, one major factor contributes to reducing your metabolic rate that you can’t control your age.  Every year we age, our metabolism slows down a little more.  However, there are plenty of factors that impact your metabolism speed, which is under your control.  


These factors include habits like what you eat, your exercise routine, how you sleep, and how you manage your stress.  When considered in relation to your metabolism’s speed, each of these habits you aren’t practicing is regarded as a mistake.  In this article, you will learn about 7 of these mistakes:

  1. You’re not performing strength training
  2. You’re not performing cardiovascular exercise
  3. You’re not drinking enough water 
  4. You’re not getting enough sleep  
  5. You’re not managing your stress levels 
  6. You’re not eating enough food 
  7. You’re not eating enough calcium 

The first mistake you will learn about is not performing strength training.  

Mistake # 1: You’re Not Performing Strength Training

Your metabolism’s speed is closely tied to your lean body mass or the amount of muscle you have.  After the age of 30, if you don’t exercise regularly, you will lose as much as 3-5% of your muscle mass each decade, which means you could lose up to 30% of your muscle mass over your lifetime1.  Since the speed of your metabolism is strongly correlated to the amount of muscle mass you have, this significant decrease in muscle mass can bring the rate of your metabolism to a turtle-like speed.  The only way to counteract this metabolic slowdown is to perform regular strength training.  

Strength training is performed when you participate in exercises that cause your muscles to work against an opposing force.  These types of workouts create microscopic tears in your muscles that, when healed, cause your muscles to grow stronger and larger.  By performing strength training at least twice a week, you will increase your muscle mass and increase your metabolic rate. 


Strength training can be completed using your body weight, tubing/bands, free weights, or plated exercise machines.  To design a metabolic boosting strength training routine, make sure to work all of your major muscle groups at least twice a week.  To learn more about creating a strength training routine that leads to a fast metabolism, please read 5 Surprising Benefits to Circuit Training

Mistake # 2: You’re Not Performing Cardiovascular Exercise 

Cardiovascular exercise, activities such as walking, jogging, swimming, and cycling, can have a significant effect on the speed of your metabolism.  When you perform cardiovascular exercise, you use excessive levels of oxygen and experience a breakdown of cells.  Therefore, after you are done exercising, your body must recoup oxygen and repair broken-down cells.  This recovery process, often called the “afterburn,” requires an increase in your metabolic rate for extended periods.  

Depending on how hard and for how long you exercised, you will experience an increase in your metabolic rate for up to 24 hours after completing your workout.  As you might have guessed, the duration and intensity of your workout will dictate how long your body will experience the “afterburn.”  Suppose you perform intense cardiovascular exercise for an hour or more regularly. In that case, you can significantly impact the speed of your metabolism, and even if you incorporate less strenuous and shorter duration exercise bouts, you will still experience a dose-related increase in metabolic rate.  

It is recommended that you perform at least 150 minutes of moderate or 75 minutes of vigorous cardiovascular exercise each week2. Walking or medium-paced biking are the most practiced forms of moderate-intensity cardiovascular exercise, while jogging, swimming, cycling, and group exercise classes are commonly performed forms of vigorous cardiovascular exercise.

 The duration of your cardiovascular exercise sessions can be divided into several shorter workouts over a week.  For example, you could perform 5, 30-minute walks each week to reach 150 minutes of moderate cardiovascular exercise. You can think about things similarly when considering vigorous cardiovascular exercise, by running, for example, 3 times a week for 25 minutes.  

Mistake # 3: You’re Not Drinking Enough Water 

Drinking plenty of water helps you avoid health issues, maintain brain function, and keep you from feeling lethargic.  Drinking water can also help to give the speed of your metabolism a big boost.  

Drinking adequate amounts of water each day has been shown to increase your metabolic rate3,4.  This increase in metabolism speed after drinking water happens due to your body expending energy to heat the water to match its core temperature.  To heat the water you drink, your body uses energy acquired from breaking down stored fat cells.  This process of breaking down fat cells, known as lipolysis, causes your body to expend extra energy, which, when done repeatedly, results in a greater metabolic rate.  

Studies show that individuals’ resting metabolic rate increases by 24-30% within 10 minutes of drinking water and that this increase in metabolism speed lasts for at least 1 hour after consuming water3.4.  To increase your metabolic rate through water consumption, plan to:

  • Drink cold water
  • Drink water throughout the day 
  • Drink 8-10 (8 oz) cups of water daily

Mistake # 4: You’re Not Getting Enough Sleep 

There is a growing body of evidence suggesting that sleep loss has a significant impact on your metabolism. Research has clearly shown that loss of sleep can negatively affect the hormones which regulate your metabolism5.  Specifically, sleep has been shown to play a prominent role in regulating leptin and ghrelin, which influence hunger. 

Leptin is one of the hormones your body produces that makes you feel satiated after eating, while ghrelin is a hormone that alters your body that it is hungry and in need of food.  If your metabolism is well-regulated, leptin levels go up, and ghrelin levels drop after we eat, signaling our brain to stop eating.  However, sleep deprivation can cause our metabolism to be dysregulated, leading to overconsumption and weight gain.  

Studies have shown that sleeping less than 7.5 hours a night can lead to metabolism dysregulation and subsequent weight gain6.  To keep your metabolism humming, aim to get at least 7.5-8 hours of sleep each night. 

Mistake # 5: You’re Not Managing Your Stress 

Stress has been long known to be a contributing factor to weight gain.  One way in which stress negatively impacts your body’s ability to maintain a healthy weight and to lose unwanted pounds is by slowing down your metabolism.  Every time you are stressed, your body releases cortisol, a hormone that slows down your metabolism.  

A study conducted by Ohio State University researchers examined women, their stress levels, and their metabolic rate.  Their investigation found that the women who reported one or more stressful events the day prior, on average, burned 104 calories fewer than women who did not report a stressful event7.  Burning less ~100 calories less every day may not seem like a big deal, but compounded over a year’s time, this comes out to an extra 11 lbs of weight gain and 55 lbs after five years of chronic stress.  

To avoid the metabolic slowdown associated with chronic stress, be proactive with your stress management strategies.  Integrate regular habits that have been shown to help manage and reduce stress like:

  • Exercise 
    • Cardiovascular, strength training and yoga all have a positive effect on stress levels 
  • Relaxation techniques
    • Meditation, mindfulness, deep breathing, and progressive muscle relaxation are just some of the relaxation techniques you can implement
  • Preferred activities 
    • Make sure to perform activities that make you feel relaxed and happy (take a walk on the beach, see a movie, curl up with a good novel, take a bubble bath, call a good friend) 

You can also try using these techniques “in the moment” when you feel your stress levels start to rise.  Just got yelled at by your boss?  Take a walk with a co-worker to vent.  Were you yelled at by your teenage daughter?  Take ten deep breaths while counting to four.  Using these techniques on-demand can help cut off the rise of your cortisol levels and keep your metabolism ticking along.  To learn more about how to manage stress eating, please read 4 Proven Steps to Stop Emotional Eating.

Mistake # 7: You’re Not Eating Enough Food 

Yes, you heard me correctly; you may have to eat more food to speed up your metabolism.  Eating fewer calories than your body needs is the most effective way to lose weight.  However, when taken to an extreme, calorie reduction can slow down your metabolism and sabotage your weight loss efforts. 

Numerous studies have displayed that following extreme calorically restrictive diets can slow down your metabolism by more than 20%8,9.  This slow down in metabolism occurs in people eating less than 1,000 calories per day and is most likely due to muscle mass loss.  

To ensure that you are eating enough calories a day, aim to consume at least 1,200 calories per day.  Additionally, be mindful of eating enough protein each day.  Eating enough calories, protein, and by performing regular strength training, you will be able to retain your muscle mass and metabolic rate.  

Mistake # 7: You’re Not Eating Enough Calcium 

In recent years it has become trendy to drink any milk; almond, rice, coconut, other than cow’s milk.  Besides, being much lower in protein, these alternative dairy products are low in calcium. This nutrient has been shown to support metabolism speed and weight loss.  

In a study which examined obese individual, people were divided into three groups who followed three different diets:

  • Group 1: Diet high in dairy
  • Group 2: Diet low in dairy but taking calcium supplements
  • Group 3: Diet low in dairy and low in calcium 

After six months, everyone in the study lost weight, but those in group one lost five extra pounds.  Additionally, those in group one lose the most belly fat.  Researchers believe that this additional weight loss is caused by the role calcium plays in regulating fat cell metabolism, as the more calcium there is in a cell, the more fat that cell will burn10.  

To increase the amount of calcium in your diet, consider adding low-fat dairy products such as low-fat or fat-free Greek yogurt, cottage cheese, or milk.  As I mentioned before, many cow’s milk alternatives are low in calcium, so if you prefer to drink non-dairy milk products, I’d recommend considering rice milk, which has 283 mg per serving. Please refer to the table below for more information: 

Type of MilkCalcium (mg) Calories Protein (g)
Cow’s milk (skim)300908
Almond (unsweetened) 0451
Soy (unsweetened) 19919
Rice (unsweetened) 283113<1
Coconut (unsweetened) 41460

Summary 

We all want to have a fast metabolism. However, we may be unknowingly be making mistakes that are slowing down our metabolic rate.  To make sure that you are avoiding mistakes that could be lowering the speed of your metabolism, make sure that you: 

  1. Perform a full-body strength training routine at least twice a week
  2. Perform at least 75 minutes of vigorous or 150 minutes of moderate cardiovascular exercise each week
  3. Drink at least 8-10 glasses of water each day
  4. Sleep at least 7.5 hours each night 
  5. Practice stress management techniques
  6. Eat at least 1,200 calories daily 
  7. Consume the recommended daily amounts of calcium each day 

By focusing on these habits, you will be able to keep your metabolism revved up, allowing you to enjoy food while losing weight.   To learn more about what habits you can adopt to increase your metabolism check out my latest book: Weight Lost: 5 Steps to Achieving Your Ideal Weight and Gaining the Life You’ve Always Wanted.

References

1. Harvard Men’s Health Watch (2016). Preserve your muscle mass: Declining muscle mass is part of aging, but that does not mean you are helpless to stop it.  Harvard Health Publishing.

2.  American College of Sports Medicine. (2013). ACSM’s guidelines for exercise testing and prescription. Lippincott Williams & Wilkins

3. Dennis, E. A., Dengo, A. L., Comber, D. L., Flack, K. D., Savla, J., Davy, K. P., & Davy, B. M. (2010). Water consumption increases weight loss during a hypocaloric diet intervention in middle‐aged and older adults. Obesity, 18(2), 300-307.

4.  Boschmann, M., Steiniger, J., Hille, U., Tank, J., Adams, F., Sharma, A. M., … & Jordan, J. (2003). Water-induced thermogenesis. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, 88(12), 6015-6019.

5. Sharma, S., & Kavuru, M. (2010). Sleep and metabolism: an overview. International journal of endocrinology, 2010.

6. Al Khatib, H. K., Harding, S. V., Darzi, J., & Pot, G. K. (2017). The effects of partial sleep deprivation on energy balance: a systematic review and meta-analysis. European journal of clinical nutrition, 71(5), 614-624.

7. Kiecolt-Glaser, J. K., Habash, D. L., Fagundes, C. P., Andridge, R., Peng, J., Malarkey, W. B., & Belury, M. A. (2015). Daily stressors, past depression, and metabolic responses to high-fat meals: a novel path to obesity. Biological psychiatry, 77(7), 653-660.

8. Fothergill E, Guo J, Howard L, Kerns JC, Knuth ND, Brychta R, Chen KY, Skarulis MC, Walter M, Walter PJ, Hall KD. Persistent metabolic adaptation 6 years after “The Biggest Loser” competition. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2016 Aug;24(8):1612-9. doi: 10.1002/oby.21538. Epub 2016 May 2. PMID: 27136388; PMCID: PMC4989512.

9. Müller MJ, Bosy-Westphal A. Adaptive thermogenesis with weight loss in humans. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2013 Feb;21(2):218-28. doi: 10.1002/oby.20027. PMID: 23404923.

10. Bruckbauer, A., Gouffon, J., Rekapalli, B., & Zemel, M. B. (2009). The effects of dairy components on energy partitioning and metabolic risk in mice: a microarray study. Lifestyle Genomics, 2(2), 64-77.

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