There’s one thing you can be sure about your metabolism – it’s always changing. I often hear women over 50 tell me that they used to have a fast metabolism and now they can’t eat anything without gaining weight. Or, that everything they used to do when they were younger has simply stopped working.
So what happened? Did your metabolism slow down so much that you’ll never be able to lose weight? Did you “wreck” your metabolism by going on all those crazy diets when you were younger? Are you sentenced to having to work out 2 hours a day for the rest of your life just so you can barely fit into your jeans?
The good news is no, none of that is true. But you do have to change your lifestyle if what you’re doing now isn’t working for you. That’s your metabolism telling you it’s time to change things up.
YOUR METABOLISM CHANGES FREQUENTLY
Our metabolism is constantly changing to create balance and keep you healthy. It functions best when the energy you’re taking in (the calories you consume) is balanced with your energy going out (exercise and daily activity).
When you achieve this balance, you maintain your weight, you don’t experience hunger or cravings and your energy levels are constant throughout the day.
A quick note on calorie calculators…
Calorie calculators are tempting to use because they appear to help you achieve this kind of balance. They allow you to enter in a few numbers and it tells you how many calories you need per day to maintain or lose weight. The problem with this is that your metabolism is not a calculator. Think of it more like a barometer and thermometer, constantly reacting and assessing the current conditions.
YOUR METABOLISM AND STRESS
Next, let’s talk about the role stress plays in maintaining a healthy metabolism.
Our metabolism responds to stress. Too much stress and the metabolism slows down so that we can conserve energy. Your body responds to stress as a danger to your health, and the job of your metabolism is to keep you healthy.
When you think of stress, you may be thinking of being overworked, having relationship troubles, or money problems. Those all affect your metabolism and mental stress takes a toll on your body so it does need to be managed with healthy stress-reducing methods such as meditating, journaling, engaging in hobbies or whatever else it is that helps you relax. However, there are other types of stress that have a direct impact on your metabolism too.
Under-eating can cause your metabolism to slow down because the body starts trying to conserve energy and slows down the rate it burns calories since it doesn’t know when it will be nourished again.
Over-exercising can cause spikes in cortisol levels and lowers testosterone which is associated with weight gain and increased belly fat (a common problem, especially after menopause).
Not sleeping enough can cause hormonal imbalances, particularly the ones that regulate our appetite. This can cause overeating and therefore, weight gain.
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR WEIGHT LOSS?
The typical weight loss protocol is to eat less and exercise more. The exact combination that’s stressing your body out. Now imagine subjecting your body to this over and over again throughout the years, as many women do thanks to false information and poor advice being spread by the diet industry.
The result is a quick drop in body weight, usually in the form of muscle (your metabolically active tissue), and a rebound weight gain (in the form of body fat, not muscle) when you go off this unsustainable diet and exercise plan and go back to your “old ways”. A lot of times you’ll put on more weight than you took off leaving you with a higher percent body fat and an even slower metabolism.
HOW TO EXERCISE FOR A FASTER METABOLISM
Like I said earlier, not only does over-exercising produce too much stress, it produces too much cortisol. You know that “belly fat” hormone you’re always hearing about…
But here’s the thing, some cortisol is ok, necessary actually because it helps you build muscle. It’s when you produce too much that you run into trouble. The solution? Keep your workouts intense but short. Intense enough to build the muscle you need to keep you strong (and boost your metabolism!) but short enough (20 - 30 minutes is fine!) to keep those cortisol levels down.
Another way to keep your metabolism up without increasing stress is to keep your body moving throughout the day with low-intensity activities such as walking, yoga, stretching, or playing with your dog.
A BALANCED METABOLISM
When you bring into balance your nutrition, exercise, rest, and stress levels your metabolism will let go of stored body fat. You’ll see the scale start to move in the right direction and you’ll have more energy and fewer cravings.
But don’t expect everything to stay the same. Your metabolism is constantly changing based on your needs, lifestyle, stress levels, and age. This is called metabolic adaptation. Your metabolism has adapted to your current level of activity, stress, and calories. Your job is to stay a step ahead of this adaptation. The best way to do this is what I like to call staying on the edge of dieting. Eat less and exercise less while managing your stress and recovery.
WHAT TO TRY WHEN YOUR METABOLISM SLOWS DOWN:
- Increase calories if you find you're getting too hungry
- Decrease calories if you’ve had a significant weight gain
- Make sure you’re getting 7-9 hours of sleep per night
- Make sure you have enough rest between workouts
- Change your macronutrient breakdown
- Practice stress management if your stress levels have increased
- Drink plenty of water throughout the day
The metabolism can be tricky and it can take some time to learn exactly what your body needs. Because we are all so very different from one another this isn’t just a matter of following the science. It’s also an art. Be patient, track what you’re doing and adapt as needed.
Lisa Swanson is an ACE Certified Health Coach, Personal Trainer and Orthopedic Exercise Specialist as well as a certified AASDN and PN level 1 nutritionist
978-222-9992 | www.bodyandsoulcoaching.com
Balanced | Adaptable | Sustainable | Effective
for women over 50