Years of dieting might not damage your metabolism, but it can change the way your brain regulates your weight.
The human body has evolved to be very adaptive. During periods of famine, it has mechanisms to store energy as fat. Losing weight can become more challenging if you have stored fat for a long time or repeatedly gained and lost weight.
Much of this has to do with your resting metabolic rate (RMR) - the rate at which you burn calories when at rest. It represents about 60 percent of the energy you need to stay alive.
The remaining components vary depending on the individual. Digesting food takes 5 percent to 20 percent of your energy.
Physical activity can easily outpace your RMR if you are very active. Even activity such as fidgeting burns calories. All of these energy expenditures can add up to a lot of calories burned.
Other things can slow your energy expenditure. When we eat less, our energy level drops, reducing the calories burned and, in time, your RMR.
Age, genetic makeup, sex, how much and how long you have carried extra fat, medication and stress all contribute to reducing your metabolism as well.
Your metabolism is constantly changing and can be very complicated. The trick is to work with your body to keep your metabolism at a level that allows for good health.
Some suggestions to raise and keep your metabolism high are:
- Adjust your expectations to reduce stress and set realistic goals. A 3,500-calorie deficit is needed to lose 1 pound. If you eliminate 500 calories a day, you should lose 1 pound each week. But it's not that simple, because as you lose weight, your RMR goes down because it take less energy to move your body. The more weight you lose, the slower your RMR.
- Eat plenty of protein. It takes more calories to digest, by far, than carbs or fat, and it keeps you feeling full longer and promotes lean muscle growth.
- Eat a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, whole-grain carbs and healthy fats.
- Create an environment that supports healthy eating. Get rid of processed foods and unhealthy temptations.
- Increase movement; the more, the better.
- Sleep well and manage your stress, which increases the hormone cortisol, encouraging your body to hold onto fat.
- Practice self-compassion and allow yourself flexibility. If you make a "bad" decision, forget about it and move on. Rigid dieting causes stress. Enjoy some favorite foods in moderation. If you can't stop eating a temptation once you've started, don't start.
Studies have shown it can take up to seven years to turn around a slow metabolism. Yo-yo dieting also can make your body even more sensitive to hormones and neurotransmitters. These can cause your metabolism to be as much as 15 percent less than normal. Increasing your metabolism will take time, but it can be done. Slow and steady wins the metabolic race.
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