Blame It on My Metabolism

Health Writer

I'm eating less... I'm tracking my calories... Exercising most days of the week... I'm sleeping seven to eight hours a night... I did give up my soda habit… So why am I losing weight so slowly? A small new study from Harvard Medical School confirms what many of us in the sectors of dieting and obesity have suspected: You may just have a slower metabolism.

Tests and results

The study of 12 obese men and women was a controlled study, done in a laboratory setting. For the first three weeks of the study, participants were given enough calories to maintain their weight. However, within that three week period, there was variability in terms of calories. Each person spent either a total of four days of fasting or doubling their day’s calories. One these unique feeding or fasting days, the researcher measured "use of energy," commonly known as metabolic rate.

Researchers noted that some subjects on fasting days had a bigger decrease in energy use (metabolic rate) than others. These individuals also experienced a smaller increase in energy use when food was doubled, which means they would more likely hold onto extra calories. These subjects were labeled as having a thrifty metabolism, meaning they** conserve energy**.

Other subjects had what was termed a spendthrift metabolism. These participants burned more energy in both scenarios.

After the three-week period of maintaining their weight, subjects were then given a low calorie diet to follow for a full six weeks. In the final two weeks of the study, the subjects went back to the (original) steady-state diet, with days of fasting and overfeeding. Researchers found that during the calorie-cutting phase, the thrifty metabolism-designated subjects lost less weight then those who were considered to have a spendthrift metabolism. This suggests that even when limiting calories, those who have a metabolism that conserves energy, may have a harder time shedding extra weight.

Stay on trackPatients who are struggling with weight loss often tell their doctor or nutritionist that they are trying really hard to lose their excess weight. But sometimes they’re not being completely truthful with themselves or their clinician. That’s why** honest journaling** is considered a cornerstone of a committed weight-loss program. Writing down what you are eating, and how much, is the only way to keep track of calories being taken in. Also, writing down the amount and types of exercise or fitness activities you engage with, is the best way to track calories being used or burned. Chronic dieters often ignore the little tastes that happen throughout the day, that extra helping at lunch, the liquid calories, or the nibbles of someone’s dessert. Often, they'll also over-estimate their calorie burn during exercise. But sometimes, physiology may be diminishing their committed efforts. This study suggest those individuals may be the owners of a sluggish metabolism.

Doctors who viewed this study had a similar reaction to mine. We have all known reliable individuals who were honest in their food and exercise journals, and yet seemed to have the deck stacked against them when it came to steady or reasonable weight loss. Knowing that this may be your particular lot in life, still means that you will lose weight, if you reduce calories sufficiently and introduce moderate to vigorous exercise on a daily basis.

If you are struggling with obesity and have a sluggish metabolism, you probably do need to more closely track calories and choose nutrient-dense, filling foods that sustain you or give you a “filling bang for your calorie buck.” You may also be an individual who should get up and move around many times during the day, especially if you sit at your desk for much of the day. You might also consider eating the bulk of your calories during the daytime, since you are more likely sedentary during the evening hours. This will help prevent that thrifty metabolism from hanging onto extra calories. Don’t let your sluggish metabolism define your weight. You can outsmart a sluggish metabolism** You might also enjoy reading:**

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