Why is my metabolism slowing down?
As a health coach, I often hear women ask desperately, “Help! Why is my metabolism slowing down?”
This question is usually followed up by a story about how she recently turned 40. And although she has always been able to eat pretty much whatever she wanted, she’s just not getting away with that anymore.
Her weight is creeping up. She’s noticing more of a pooch in the belly than there used to be. Her body doesn’t feel like the one she’s know her whole life.
The good news is that there are natural metabolism boosters that can help you feel like yourself again.
What is metabolism?
First of all, let’s make sure we understand what we’re talking about. Metabolism is the common word used for the scientific concept of the rate at which you burn calories.
Even when we’re just sitting around doing nothing (does any woman actually do that?!), our bodies need energy for basic life processes. These basic processes include breathing, brain function, regulating hormones, and cellular function.
The amount of calories we burn through these basic life-sustaining functions is called our basal metabolic rate.
You can use an online calculator to find your basal metabolic rate. This is good information to have because it gives you a baseline for how many calories your body needs each day.
Your basal metabolic rate is unique to you, and it stays consistent throughout your adult life.
How many calories do I *really* need each day?
The total amount of calories your body uses each day, however, can vary drastically depending on your activity level from one day to the next. This means that while your basal metabolic rate stays consistent, your total daily calories burned varies from day to day.
Mathematically, it looks like: Basal Metabolic Rate + Activity Expenditure = Total Calories Burned
The calorie requirements for your activities beyond sustaining life are regulated by hormones. Because each person’s hormonal profile is different, each person’s calorie requirements are different. Factors such as genetics, age, gender, and body composition also affect calorie requirements.
Okay…I get the math… so why is my metabolism slowing down?
For women, the onset of menopause—the years referred to as perimenopause—are the time during which sex hormone levels decline. The primary hormones concerned are estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone. Estrogen is one of the key hormones that affects metabolism.
Thus, the metabolic rate of women decreases as women move through perimenopause because of the naturally lowering levels of estrogen. It is just part of being human that as you age and your estrogen levels decrease, your metabolism slows down, too.
Furthermore, these hormonal changes affect both how (and where) women store fat. Because your body wants to ensure you have plenty of energy stores available at all times, it now deposits fat around your middle. Your body can easily convert that fat to energy.
So if you are a woman over 40 who has noticed her metabolism slowing down or an increase in fat around the abdomen (belly fat), you can thank your hormones!
Are hormones the only thing to blame?
The reality is, however, your metabolism has been slowing for years. As people age, we are typically less active. Furthermore, we require less energy for growing. Couple those two realities, and we just do not require as many calories as when we were younger.
While we cannot alter the normal physiological changes of perimenopause that lead to a slowing metabolism, there are several lifestyle changes you can make to buffer the decline. From increasing daily activity, to making dietary changes, to getting better sleep, you can be in control of boosting your metabolism.
Are there any natural metabolism boosters?
In short, YES!
By making a few simple changes, you can rev your metabolism again. What you’re really doing is encouraging your body to balance hormones. Keeping your hormones and blood sugar balanced is a natural metabolism booster because your body is working most efficiently.
Popular magazines share “easy” ways to speed up your metabolism, from drinking more green tea to eating raw celery, intentionally making yourself cold. But like most “easy” answers, they aren’t the perfect way to speed up your metabolism.
Each of these theories is based on thermic effect. The idea of the thermic effect is that your body has to use calories to make heat that converts to energy.
Specifically, the thermic effect of food is the measure of calories required to eat, digest, absorb, and eliminate what you eat. Your body has to use calories in order to process the food you eat. And things like raw celery burn more calories to digest than they have.
But who wants to eat nothing but raw celery all the time?
What should I eat if I notice my metabolism slowing down?
Scientific studies show that of the macronutrients, protein causes the greatest positive effect on the thermic effect of food. It can increase your metabolic rate by 15–30%. Carbohydrates only provide a 5–10% increase, and the least change is from fats at 0–3%.
This means that eating more protein can boost the thermic effect and burn (slightly) more calories– thus offering a very short term metabolic boost.
While you should not rely on the thermic effect of food by eating protein to speed up your metabolism, protein consumption often helps you feel more full. This sense of feeling satisfied can prevent you from overeating.
Studies also show that eating more protein can also reduce the drop in metabolism often associated with age. As we age, we naturally lose muscle mass relative to total body mass.
Protein is an essential building block of muscle. In order to even maintain the lean muscle mass you do have and prevent further slowing of your metabolism, consuming enough protein is key. Women over 40 need muscle, and protein is essential to build that muscle.
Even better, gaining lean muscle mass through strength training can speed up your metabolism.
What is the best way natural metabolism booster?
Realistically, the most meaningful way to speed up your metabolism is to increase your daily activity. The harsh reality is that most people are not nearly as active at 45 as they were at 25. And while the hormonal changes of perimenopause do have a real effect on metabolism, you can’t just blame Mother Nature.
Taking control of your daily physical activity levels can have a clear, quick result of boosting your metabolism. Whether we’re taking the stairs, stepping away from our desks for a coffee, or sweating it out in a hot yoga class, we’re expending energy. Physical activity caloric expenditure is the best way for you to burn calories.
After a strenuous workout, we continue to burn more calories than we would while at rest – and that’s the third phase, or what’s called excess post-exercise oxygen consumption.
When it comes to counteracting weight gain, these two phases – the ones related to physical activity – are the most important. Your best bet for burning more calories throughout the day is to increase your levels of any kind of activity, be it running or walking.
Mindful eating can help combat a slow metabolism
In addition to getting less active as we age, our bodies become less sensitive to cues that convey nutritional needs. This means paying attention to how we eat becomes even more important.
It seems that the communication pathway between the hunger hormones and brain gets a little confused as we get older. This dulling of our natural appetite control system allows us to overeat. A good way to be more mindful of how full you’re getting is to eat smaller meals and go back for more only when you’re still hungry.
When we sit down with a large plate of food, we don’t allow our body the chance to give us the “I’m full” message. This can contribute to overeating.
Even though you may notice your metabolism slowing down, it’s not the end of the world! Honor your body for where she is on this journey, and get her up and moving. You’ll feel better for it!
Karen Shopoff Rooff is a certified health coach. The Well Balanced Women blog is for educational purposes only and is not medical advice. Please discuss your health issues with a licensed medical practitioner.
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