By Kate Robitello
Despite the meticulous calorie counting (using your iPhone app of choice as you of course try and savor every last bite of your allotted low calorie meals), hours of meal prep (and dishwashing, drying, repeat), and avoidance of “cheat days” (if everybody else is cheating on the weekends and you’re sticking to salads, you will definitely be skinnier by Monday, right?) do you find yourself having difficulty losing weight and keeping it off? Do the numbers simply not add up–you’ve created a massive caloric deficit and feel like you’ve done more squats than humanly possible, but the weight still remains? This unfortunate situation is a classic example of metabolic damage and proves that the calorie-in-calories-out theory is slightly flawed. But just slightly.
Why is this? Because our metabolism is highly regulated by hormones secreted by the pancreas and thyroid. The pancreas secretes insulin in response to rising blood glucose levels and glucagon in response to falling blood glucose levels, in order to raise blood glucose levels back up using glycogen, which is essentially stored glucose.
The thyroid hormones T3 and T4 dictate our basal metabolic rate or BMR, which is the amount of calories burned just to stay alive, not including any activity.
Leptin and ghrelin–our hunger and satiety hormones–also play a role, as do the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol, serotonin (the happy hormone) and even our sex hormones–estrogen, progesterone, androgen, and testosterone. Needless to say, the process of weight loss is not as simple as calories in, calories out. Our endocrine system is completely interconnected; therefore, if one component is off, the entire system gets out of whack and weight loss may be stalled until a balance is reached.
The best method to devise a solid solution to reset your metabolism is to get your levels checked. If there is an imbalance or deficiency, you can work with your physician to get your body back on track with proper supplementation and diet alteration. In addition to working with your doctor, here are my top four tips to get your metabolism back to where it should be.
Listen to your body
Honor your body’s hunger and fullness signals. Although using a calorie calculator has its place, this should merely be used as a tool to figure out your personal macronutrient ratio needs as well as general idea of calories to consume. If you find yourself frequently going over your “allowed calories” for the day, or even worse, in a constant state of hunger–then listen to your body, increase your calories slightly and eat more throughout the day until you feel comfortably full, but not more. Caloric restriction will almost always lead to inevitable weight gain down the road as starvation trains your body to store extra calories when eaten.
Eat vitamins and minerals
Consume foods that are nutrient- and calorie-dense. Constant hunger may be a sign that you are missing out on some vital vitamins and minerals. Get your levels checked! Increasing your consumption of leafy greens, healthy fats, and cruciferous vegetables is also recommended, as is an adequate intake of vitamin D3 (the sun is the best source, yet we don’t necessarily live in the “Sunshine State,” so supplementation may be needed).
Sleep more, stress less
Sufficient pillow time is absolutely essential for proper hormonal balance. Unfortunately, this is typically last on the list of priorities when it comes to holistic weight management; however, it will make the world of difference in your efforts.
Stress is also a huge factor. Stress produces cortisol, which leads to an increase in insulin and appetite. Ever wonder why shortly after receiving bad news you’re quickly craving the sweet snacks hidden in the pantry? What some label as “emotional eating” is actually caused by producing cortisol. Step away from the kitchen and meditate.
Evaluate your exercise plan
If you’re spending hours on cardio and not seeing results, there’s a reason (or two) why. First and foremost, we burn fat according to the percentage of muscle we have on our body. The more muscular we are, the more fat we burn. This does not mean that you need to train like you are entering a fitness competition; however, the combination of aerobic exercise and strength training is optimal for fat loss. High intensity interval training along with lifting weights are fabulous ways to increase lean muscle mass and even spend less time at the gym, or at least on the hamster wheel. I will also note that over-training is never a good idea, as this also leads to cortisol production and, as mentioned above, this increases sensations of hunger and therefore may actually hinder your results.
Above all, remain patient, don’t punish yourself, and enjoy the process of learning the ins and outs of your body’s unique needs!