Eating six small meals a day will not speed up your metabolism. In fact, it might even mess with your body’s ability to burn calories.
There are a lot of little things that dieters do to lose weight quickly that end up sabotaging their health (and waistlines) in the long run. A recent study followed obese participants from the weight loss TV show “The Biggest Loser” for up to six years, and found that 13 of the 14 contestants examined had slower metabolisms during and after the show than they did before. As a result, many of them have gained back the hundreds of pounds they’d lost during taping, which involves intensive dieting and exercise.
Extreme calorie restriction, juice “cleansing,” and overtraining can all cause the body’s metabolism to go haywire—and even do permanent damage. Pretty scary news for anyone who’s trying to desperately lose some extra “fluff.” But it’s not just people trying to drop weight who might have a problem. If you’re constantly low-energy or always battling a cold, you might have a dysfunctional metabolism.
Here are four common signs you’ve sent your metabolism reeling, and how to get a reset.
1. Skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis
Clinical dry skin diagnoses like eczema and psoriasis can be painful and uncomfortable. Even the most emollient lotions and oils don’t offer relief for some sufferers, and rough patches can crop up at completely random and inopportune times (like right before bathing suit season).
Allergens and irritants can trigger an outbreak, but studies have found a strong correlation between eczema and insulin resistance, a condition common in patients with metabolic syndrome. Metabolic syndrome is name for a group of risk factors that raises your risk for heart disease and other health problems, all of which have to do with a dysfunction metabolism. It seems that as the body loses its ability to break down and appropriately use carbohydrates and sugar for energy, skin cells don’t get the hydration and nutrients needed to stay healthy.
2. Inability to handle stress
Stress is a pretty normal part of life. It’s not just the sense of urgency that you feel when a work deadline is looming—anything from a challenging workout to not getting enough rest to emotional turmoil can trigger stress in our bodies.
Usually we can bounce back from these events easily, and don’t even really notice that they’re bothering us. But if your body has a hard time recovering from everything, whether it be a seasonal cold or a particularly demanding day at work, adrenal fatigue—often a symptom of a metabolism problem—could be to blame. Adrenal fatigue happens when the body is constantly exposed to stressors and the adrenal glands pump out cortisol and other hormones to cope. Over time, the body stops responding to these hormones, so the adrenals make even more … And end up basically wearing themselves out, leaving the body poorly equipped to manage stress. Another common symptom of adrenal fatigue is weight gain, because excess cortisol causes an increase in belly fat.
3. Can’t lose weight
Seems obvious, but weight loss and metabolic function are intrinsically tied. Slashing calories in order to lose a little more weight—to minimal results—is incredibly frustrating. But if there’s something funky going on with the way your body processes and uses energy (calories), it’ll be really hard to drop pounds. Living on a low-calorie diet messes with your metabolism because your body will think that you’re in danger; check out the recommendation for average calories per day here. Basically, if your brain believes that you’re in the middle of the woods literally starving, it will tell your body to stop using extra energy in an attempt to conserve calories. And that’s the opposite of what you want, right?
The first step is to stop stressing the body by limiting calories and instead to focus on eating whole, real foods (not fake sugars and diet foods) that help nourish you.
4. Erratic sleep patterns
There are a whole host of things that through your sleep cycle off: anxiety, stress, digestion, inflammation. But if you’re constantly battling fatigue but can’t seem to fall asleep at night, it could be that your metabolism could use a reset. A study completed by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine links irregular sleep patterns to subpar metabolic function, especially among midlife working women.
How to fix it
If any of these signs seem familiar, it’s worth heading to the doctor to confirm whether or not your metabolism is off, and make sure there’s not a greater issue at play. The general takeaways to prevent metabolism issues: Don’t crash diet, don’t exercise like crazy, and don’t starve yourself if you’re trying to lose weight. In moderation, exercise and healthy eating are amazingly effective ways to balance hormonal levels and jumpstart your metabolism.
Need a little help? We created a five-day detoxifying meal plan that’s loaded with healthy, nutritious foods that will leave you feeling vibrant and energized. Try it, or any meal plan that has a balance of healthy fats, protein, and vegetables, to take a little stress off your body, allow it to bounce back, and start working even better than before.
Illustration by Karley Koenig