Why Dieting Hammers Our Metabolism

By Unite Fitness Retreat Dietician, Brooke Bouwhuis

Lift weights, it’s good for your metabolism they say.  Guess what?  They are right.  Preserving and improving our muscle mass is a key step in having a healthier metabolism.  It also feels good and it’s exciting to see the pin move or the plates add up as your body gets stronger.

Walking counts.  From the far stall at Costco, the library or even the clinic to see the doc.  Steps add up.  Steps to build muscle and burn calories.

Ok, so exercise is a no brainer.  When we exercise it boosts our metabolism as we burn calories and build muscle.

Where does the disconnect come between exercise, dieting and metabolism?

Each time we go on a diet it teaches our body to adapt better to the next impending famine (diet).  The rain came, the flood hit or drought happened kind of famine that we read about in history – only this famine is happening in our body.

When the famine comes, metabolism will slow down.  The more drastic the diet, the more it pushes the body into being more efficient with each and every calorie.

Fueling metabolism is kind of like keeping that campfire going.  To have the best fire, you have to continuously add logs to keep the fire toasty warm.  It’s a similar process in our body.  We need to eat enough calories so our body won’t slow down its metabolism.

When we voluntarily restrict what we put in our body, our cells don’t know it’s a conscious choice you are making.  Our bodies simply think it has to manage its calories better and switches to more of a survival mode slowing down our metabolism AND increasing food cravings.  Wow, thanks a lot body!?!

This cycle is rough to say the least.  With each diet our body gets better and better and utilizing every last calorie while inconveniently gaining more when the diet is over to protect itself from starvation mode.

To make matters worse, when we are deprived food we become completely preoccupied and overeat when given the chance. Signal diet fail, horrible self-esteem and a rotten mental cycle about willpower when intense biological cravings win over starvation.

Biologically several things happen when voluntarily starving yourself.

Did you know low-calorie diets double the enzymes that make and store fat in the body?  Chronic dieting also slows how much weight is lost each successive time.  Your metabolism slows allowing your body to be more efficient at reducing how many calories you actually burn.

When you lose a lot of weight quickly, it’s usually water weight.  The water that is bound to muscle cells is released when your body uses muscles as fuel.  When you lose muscle mass, you lower your metabolic rate.

So, what should we eat to keep our metabolism in tip top shape?

How can I eat and not make my metabolism go wonky and at the same time find my healthy weight?

  • Eat enough calories so your body isn’t in a constant state of hunger.
  • Enjoy piles of veggies and fruits…like 50-70% of your plate full of plants.  Plant foods have antioxidants, phytochemicals and fiber and people who eat more plants have lower risks of many chronic diseases, especially cancer.  Plants fill you up and give your body the phytonutrient power it needs to keep winning.
  • Clean protein – that means grass fed, organic, free- range and wild caught. Yes, these foods do cost more so if you can afford it, do it.  Don’t feel guilty if it’s too much for your wallet either.  Clean protein also means you are avoiding processed foods high in sodium, and artificial additives and preservatives (think bologna and hot dogs). Remember, protein helps keep you full longer. It also provides the building blocks to build muscle while fueling your metabolism all along the way.
  • Enjoy healthy fats like avocado, coconut, nuts, seeds, olive oil, coconut oil and avocado oil. Every cell in our body needs fat. Fat tastes good and it helps our body be satiated after eating.  When we are satisfied and full it keeps us from snacking on junk that isn’t good for us.
  • Drink enough water every day. Not soda, diet soda or juice?  Water.  It’s cheap, easy to find and essential for our survival.
  • Stay away from heavily processed crap food.  In general, processed food has fewer nutrients and a lot more sugar, fat and sodium than we need or want.

Dieting will hammer our metabolism but eating well and consistently long term will keep your metabolism working for you and not against you!