How To Repair Your Metabolism | Reversing the Effects of Undereating
When it comes to nutrition, most of us have heard about metabolism and know that it can impact our weight. Sometimes our metabolism might be running a little fast, sometimes it might run slow, or maybe your metabolism is just a little out of whack. But what exactly is your metabolism and how does it work?
In short, your metabolism is a combination of all the processes going on in your body at any given time. The foods you eat provide your body with energy that’s necessary for optimal health; to support day-to-day activity, maintain or grow muscles and support vital cellular functioning.
There are many words used to describe a metabolism that isn’t working right. Metabolic damage, starvation mode, and weight loss resistance are some of the most common ones. Regardless of the term that’s used, if you’re not giving your body enough calories or being consistent with your macronutrient breakdown, then your metabolism can stop working properly which can be disastrous for weight loss.
So how exactly does your metabolism work and is it possible to repair your metabolism?
First, let’s talk about what metabolism is and how it functions. There are five main components that make up your metabolism. Additionally, each of these components can be affected if you don’t get enough calories throughout your day.
The five main components of your metabolism are:
1. BMR (Basal Metabolic Rate)
Your BMR is the number of calories your body burns to perform its basic functions like breathing and your heart pumping blood around your body. You might find it somewhat surprising that your BMR typically accounts for about 70% of your total daily energy expenditure. That means that if you were to do nothing all day, your body would still be using about 2/3 of your daily caloric intake, simply to keep it functioning optimally.
The average adult American women has a BMR of 1,400 calories, whereas most men are at 1,800 calories. These are just average figures and we’ve found that women can range anywhere between 1,200 – 1,600 calories and men between 1,600 and 2,000 calories daily.
2. RMR (Resting Metabolic Rate)
Your RMR is pretty similar to your BMR, in that it measures minimal body functions. RMR extends to the synthesis of organic compounds like building muscles. People with more lean body mass (i.e. more muscle) typically have an RMR that is 5% higher than non-athletic individuals. If you’re not eating enough to support your muscles, this will lower your RMR and you will burn fewer calories at rest.
Both your BMR and RMR are affected by age, body composition, height, sex, climate and hormone status. They can both be improved by getting the right amount of calories and macronutrients for your body.
3. TEF (Thermic Effect of Food)
This is the energy expended in the digestion, breakdown, and absorption of the foods you eat. Chewing, swallowing, producing enzymes necessary to breakdown foods, all require energy and therefore will burn calories. Protein in particular, has the highest thermic effect of the three macronutrients, as it take your body more energy to process it and store it. This is why it is often cited as “the best macronutrient”, and people are encouraged to eat more protein than is really optimal.
If you undereat or do something like a juice cleanse, you are decreasing your overall caloric output and lower your metabolic potential.
4. EA (Exercise Activity)
This basically accounts for the amount of deliberate exercise you do like running, weight lifting, or hitting your local CrossFit class. EA can easily vary from person to person and even from an individual’s day-to-day depending on their routine. If you’ve ever felt yourself dragging at the gym or struggling with recovery then you’re probably not sufficiently fueling your activity or you’re not giving yourself the right kind of fuel.
Although EA can account for between 10-30% of a person’s daily energy expenditure, check out our article on why focusing on consistency with your nutrition is more important than trying to burn extra calories from exercise.
5. NEAT (Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis)
This is the most variable part of energy expenditure from person to person. It includes all energy expended for the activities you do that aren’t eating, sleeping, breathing or exercising. NEAT activities typically include household chores, standing instead of sitting at your desk, chasing after your kids, fidgeting & doing the groceries!
If you’re someone that rarely sits still you could be burning as much as 2,000 calories a day from NEAT! Increasing your NEAT is an easy way to burn some extra calories on rest days or if you’re not able to make it to a gym. Here are some ideas for you:
- Park your car far away from the store entrance;
- Carry your groceries in a basket and carry your bags back to your car;
- Walk for 10 minutes after every meal;
- Wear a watch to track your daily steps and set yourself a goal to reach;
- Always take the stairs;
- Stand instead of sitting at work or set an alarm for every 30 minutes to get up and move.
All of these aspects of your metabolism can be heavily affected if you undereat. Not only will underrating lower your metabolic output, it can cause hormonal imbalances, water retention and fat storage.
Fixing Metabolic Damage
So now that we have a better understanding of our metabolism, let’s talk about how we can repair it. Here are a few tips for fixing metabolic damage.
For most of us, rest is crucial when it comes to metabolic recovery. If you haven’t taken a week off your vigorous training schedule in the last year then your body needs it! Many people struggling with weight loss plateaus find themselves there because they drastically cut their calories and increased their exercise at the same time. Metabolic damage starts to set in the longer you hold on to the belief that cutting more calories and doing more exercise is the only solution to losing more weight.
To reverse the effects of this damage, apply an eat less, exercise less approach for 2 to 3 weeks. Stay away from the intense workouts and opt for walking or some light weight training. Remember, you can also up your NEAT and burn a tremendous amount of calories that way instead. The goal here is to try your best to reduce stress and restore balance to the neuroendocrine system.
2. Eat more
After you’ve spent some time resting, the next approach is to start eating more. We know that eating more sounds counterintuitive but as we’ve already explained, increasing your calories will actually help to increase your metabolic output and increase your daily energy expenditure. Reverse dieting is a method that you’ll want to implement slowly and incrementally. It is typically recommended that you combine eating more with a routine training schedule so that your body is well primed for the extra fuel. We also recommend ensuring that you are supported by a coach or someone who is experienced with reverse dieting methods.
3. Fats and Carbohydrates
Fat intake is important for hormone function especially testosterone which promotes muscle growth and fat burning. Moderate amounts of fat will prevent starvation cues and promote metabolic function. Additionally, Carbohydrates are also essential for an elevated metabolism as they spare the body from using protein and fat as a source of fuel, allowing them to perform their vital functions. We can help you with calculating the right balance of macronutrients for your body with any one of our Lifestyle Memberships. If you’re already tracking get some reassurance that your numbers are right for you with our macro double check.
Remember when it comes to your body, patience is key. It may take a while for your metabolism to be restored, so trust your body and trust the process. Working with a coach is a great way to help you manage your expectations and reduce the frustration that often comes with weight loss. Time and consistency will pay off in the long run, trust us! We’ve been there.
Regardless of age, sex and current body composition, we believe that you can entirely reverse metabolic damage with your nutrition. If you allow your body to rest and avoid undereating, your metabolism will gradually heal. As to how long that takes, well it depends how much damage has been done! But if you are patient and get the support you need, we believe it will happen for you.
Have you been successful in reversing the effects of metabolic damage? We’d love to hear your story! Please comment below or reach out to us in our free Facebook group the Own Your Eating Tribe.