Metabolic Health. It affects SO many areas of our overall health, energy and body composition. Yet it's still largely misunderstood. So first of all, let's define the metabolism. It's defined as a set of life-sustaining reactions in organisms. The main purposes of the metabolism are to convert food/water into energy to run cellular processes in the body, to convert food to building blocks of energy, and to eliminate metabolic wastes. Even while we are resting, the body needs energy to be sustained. Which is why we each have a resting metabolic rate - which dictates how much food we will need just to exist. This doesn't take into account individual activity levels. So all of that to say, a thriving metabolism = abundant energy, feeling better and maintaining a lean body composition more easily.
Be sure to take my Metabolic Health Quiz at the end of the article!
*The following should not be substituted for medical advice - if you have serious metabolic or hormonal dis-regulation, please seek medical advice*
Signs of a Healthy Metabolism
You find it fairly easy to maintain your weight
While there is some nuance to this, typically people with healthy metabolisms find it fairly easy to stay lean. Some people just naturally eat less and are very active, so while they may feel like it's easy for them to stay lean, it has a lot to do with their lifestyle. While others aren't as active, can eat more and seem to maintain weight regardless. These people probably have a very high resting metabolic rate, and have avoided some of the biggest pitfalls that lead to a less-than-healthy metabolism. Obviously if you're eating in a surplus and not moving consistently, you will gain weight. This doesn't have to do with your metabolism being off, this is just how it works. So be honest with yourself: are you being consistent on a week-to-week, month-to-month basis and STILL struggling to maintain a lean physique or lose fat?
2. Your body temperature runs warm
Body temperature is an easy way to gauge your metabolic health. If you're constantly cold, there is an underlying reason. Look to your body for signals like this.
3. You sleep well and have sufficient energy
If you are dragging, have inconsistent sleep, and rely on coffee or energy drinks to get through each day, this is a sign that something is off. If you're sleeping 7+ hours each night, your energy should not be dragging all day long.
4. You have a healthy appetite
I used to think it was a good thing to never be hungry, when actually this is a sign that your metabolism has adapted to little calories and therefore is not in an advantageous place. If you aren't waking up hungry, and never feel the need to eat, this could be an indicator of metabolic dis-regulation. This is why fasting is not ideal for everyone (women especially); but that's a post for another day!
5. You experience regular periods
Your hormones and metabolism are closely linked. This is why if you are being diagnosed with a thyroid disorder, irregular periods is often a symptom women report. If you're of reproductive age, you should be experiencing monthly periods. If not, seek medical advice, as this is a signal from your body that something is off.
Top Metabolism Disruptors
Unfortunately, dieting can become a viscous cycle. When someone starts dieting, they rarely do just one. It becomes an "on or off" mentality, and diets have been proved to rarely work in the longterm due to their un-sustainability. So the result? Many people living years of their lives in restriction. The reason this can be so destructive to the metabolism is because of what's called "Metabolic Adaptation". Metabolic adaption takes place as a result of limited energy. When less calories are taken in, over time the metabolism will down-regulate to adapt and conserve energy. Meaning, you literally slow your metabolism down over time. This is why so many people accidentally dig themselves into a hole with dieting that makes fat loss nearly impossible. And this is why fat loss efforts MUST be done strategically with re-feeds and without unnecessarily slashing calories extremely low. When my clients have fat loss goals, we NEVER pick a haphazard number of severely low calories for their deficit. We gather data on their current maintenance calories, and create a very MODEST deficit from there, with scheduled re-feeds to avoid metabolic adaptation. Trust me (and the research) - making sustainable nutrition changes will benefit you in SO many ways that "dieting" cannot.
2. Chronic Stress
Stress can seriously through your metabolism off. It affects the central nervous system, the gut, your hormones, and yes, your metabolic function. But stress isn't just mental or emotional. It's also physical. So one must take a look at the cumulative stress load in their life. These are some factors to consider for your stress load:
Are you a generally high strung individual?
Do you have a stressful job?
Are your relationships in turmoil or life-giving?
Is your home environment calming or stress-inducing?
Do you take days to slow down and prioritize rest?
How much sleep do you typically get?
Are you a "no days off" type of exerciser?
Do you typically gravitate towards high intensity or cardio exercise?
Do you start your day with caffeine instead of a nourishing meal?
Do you take the time for restorative activities such as stretching, yoga, meditating, journaling, prayer, time in nature, unplugging, etc?
Are you always being stimulated by your devices?
Stress adds up. If you are experiencing a high volume of stress in a certain season of life, it may benefit you to cut out stressful exercise such as HIIT or chronic cardio and switch things up to something slower. This worked wonders for me when I was constantly inflamed by my high stress lifestyle.
So, What's the Solution?
There are a lot of approaches you can take for metabolic restoration, which include things like reverse dieting, intuitive eating, shifting exercise methods, looking into mineral/vitamin intake, minimizing antibiotic/hormones/artificial chemicals in diet/lifestyle products, meditation/focusing on true rest, or even completely hitting pause on exercise, depending on the severity. Because this is not a one-size-fits-all answer and depends on many factors, I recommend working with a coach, such as myself, who is educated on this topic and won't just put you on a more restrictive regimen!
If you're reading this and think, "hmm, I think I may be struggling metabolically", just know there IS hope. I dug myself into a pretty bad metabolic hole through chronic dieting, intense exercise and a stressful life. But I also have learned the methods necessary to heal my metabolic and reverse the adaptation that occurred. If you'd like to take action to work on some of these issues in your own life, start by taking my Metabolic Health Quiz. This will give you an idea of if you really are struggling metabolically, or if you simply need to be more consistent/patient in your efforts. I hope this has been enlightening and helpful!