Weight loss is generally seen as a positive thing. It can bring improved health, enhanced appearance and a host of other benefits, both physical and mental. However, your brain doesn’t necessarily see it in the same way. Your brain is more worried about keeping you from starving, making sure that you survive.
When you drastically reduce your caloric intake, the body starts trying to conserve energy by reducing the amount of calories you burn. This metabolic shift will keep you feeling hungry, sluggish and increase your cravings.
This can cause you to stop losing weight, and in fact, cause your body to hoard fat and increase weight gain. This phenomenon is known as the “starvation mode”. Starvation mode, simply put, is just the brain’s natural survival response mechanism to protect you from starvation.
Keep in mind that your metabolism slowing down is simply a natural response to a reduction of calories. Fortunately, there are a few things you can do to help prevent this from happening, so that you can continue to lose weight without torturing yourself or slowing down the process.
Here are 3 ways to combat a slowing metabolism when trying to lose weight
1. Raise Your Protein Intake
Protein is the king of macronutrients when it comes to losing weight. Having a high protein intake can both reduce your appetite and boost your metabolism by as much as 100 calories per day.
It can also slash cravings, reduce random, mindless snacking, and help you consume hundreds less calories throughout the day without even trying, due to its high satiety factor. Keep in mind that this includes just adding more protein to your diet, without consciously restricting anything.
A higher protein intake is also important to prevent any adverse effects of long-term weight loss. When your protein intake is high, your body will be less apt to break down your muscles for energy. This will help preserve your all too important muscle mass, which in turn will prevent a metabolic slowdown normally associated with weight loss through a reduction in calories.
2. Incorporate Resistance Exercise
One of the single most effective things you can do to raise your metabolism is resistance exercise. The obvious choice would be to lift weights, but bodyweight exercises can work just as well.
Studies have shown that resistance exercise, as in contracting your muscles against resistance, can have a major impact on your metabolic rate when you’re trying to diet or lose weight.
In one study, three groups of women were placed on a very restrictive calorie diet. Group 1 was instructed to not exercise at all, group 2 was instructed to perform aerobic exercise (cardio), and group 3 did resistance exercise. Study
The women who didn’t exercise and those who did aerobic exercise had both lost muscle mass, and had a significant reduction in their metabolic rate. However, the women who did resistance exercise maintained their muscle mass, strength and metabolic rate confirming that resistance exercise is the best approach.
3. Take a Cheat Day
Some people like to routinely include a “cheat day” where they take a break from their diet. On these days, they may eat slightly above maintenance, and then continue on with their diet the next day. There is some evidence that this can temporarily boost some of the hormones that normally down-regulate during a restrictive calorie weight loss program, such as leptin and thyroid hormone.
It may also be helpful to take a longer break, as in a few days or week if you’ve been dieting for a long period of time. Just make sure to be conscious of what you’re eating during this break. Eat at maintenance, or slightly over, but not so much that you start gaining fat again.
Just make sure you’re prepared to gain a few pounds back from the added food and increased water weight. This is completely normal, and nothing to get overly worried about.
Resistance exercise and keeping your protein intake high are two proven ways to reduce muscle loss and metabolic slowdown during weight loss. Taking a break from your diet periodically can also be a very beneficially tool for prolonged dieters.