TT W15D3: How to Fix a Depressed Metabolism

I just got this Q&A in a newsletter from Erik Ledin of LeanBodies Consulting today and thought I’d share since I did something very much like this over the winter myself.

While it pains me to admit to any sort of error in judgment, I, too, had spent much too long at a deficit considering the amount of exercise I was performing regularly, and I knew I had to get my metabolism back to normal again before I found myself in that sad, hungry place where an 1800 calorie day with a full hour of hard exercise would still cause me to store fat. After reading a how-to on this topic by Dr. John Berardi, I systematically started to increase my intake while maintaining the same workout schedule until I had reached 2300-2400 calories per day. My scale weight steadily climbed until I reached 144-145 lbs because I had indeed slowed my metabolism down a bit through several consecutive rounds of caloric restriction with almost no planned maintenance periods in the past year.

But finally the weight gain stopped and I found that I was stabilized at that generous 2300-2400 range for over a month.

Only then did I start another fat loss cycle, this time with a much more moderate amount of calorie restriction. I now average 1700 calories a day with my zig zag of 1550 and 1850 calories, and I am steadily losing fat without shedding any muscle.

I’m not saying that the process was fun–seeing the scale move UP is really not amusing–but it was necessary. If you’ve been undereating for six months or more now, give some thought to taking a month or two to reset your metabolism. I think you’ll be surprised at how much stronger you will be and how much easier fat loss will go once you have revved up your body again.

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Question:

I’ve been dieting for several months now and at first things were great but it seems like I’m not losing any more weight. I keep my calories pretty low, I’m doing lots of cardio, I’m eating clean foods still and yet, my progress seems to have stopped altogether. Someone told me I might have messed up my metabolism with all my dieting, and they know a lot more about this than I do. If that’s true, how do I fix it?

Answer:

Damage to one’s metabolism is a very real phenomenon … and these days extremely common place. The relieving thing is that it’s generally repairable. First off, you need to lose the short term thinking and adopt a longer term mindset.

Even though this might go against ‘common wisdom’, you’re going to have to eat more, at least for a little while. You might find it hard to wrap your head around this concept, but trust me, it’s necessary. However, just ramping right up to an appropriate caloric intake isn’t necessarily the right approach for everyone. There is more than one way to approach the repair but I’d suggest you do it in steps – systematic and regular increases. This has the benefit of one, allowing you to gradually get used to eating more food, two, potentially preventing some fat regain, and three, maybe even causing some fat loss. So one approach is to take your present intake and just add 10-15% or so to it every week until you hit maintenance intake. Then you need to stay at maintenance for a couple of weeks before even considering going back into a caloric deficit. Might you gain some weight at maintenance? Maybe, but some will surely be water, muscle glycogen, etc. Again, long term versus short term thinking. You need to correct the problem before you can move past it. Two weeks at maintenance will make further fat loss much more likely when you return to a caloric deficit. Planned diet breaks are one of the most underrated dieting strategies out there.

With a depressed metabolism you can generally assume somewhere in the neighbourhood of 14x bodyweight is going to be around maintenance. It might be a bit lower depending on how severe your caloric deficit has been and for how long, but keep in mind that metabolism is only going to slow so much. It doesn’t shut off. The generic numbers are 14-16x BW depending on metabolic issues. So, take the low number for yourself. Even if it’s still slightly low it’s a big increase from your current intake. It’s an approximation, but so are the more complicated equations.

When you return to dieting, take a moderate approach and shoot for approximately 12X bodyweight which is close to a 20% caloric deficit. Stay there for a couple weeks, assess your progress, and make adjustments as needed. If you’re getting leaner and your measurements have decreased, stay there. If you’re not, try decreasing calories by another 10% and reassess again two weeks later. Remember, all these general caloric recommendations are just approximations; they’re starting points. Everyone’s a bit different, so the key to long term success is being able to trouble shoot your program.

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TODAY’S WORKOUT
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– TT Core B (10 min)
– TT Intervals (Treadmill) (19 min)
– YF Flexibility (30 min)
– Forza routines (30 min)

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TODAY’S EATS
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1) 1.25 c. WW cereal, 1/2 c. light soy milk, 3 egg whites
2) 1 c. light soy milk, 1 c. green tea, 1/2 scoop whey, 1 small apple
3) 3 oz. chicken breast, 1 c. mixed veggies, 1 oz. pecans
4) 1/3 c. 1% cottage cheese, 1/2 c. SF/FF strawberry yogurt, 1/2 c. grapes
5) 3 egg whites, 1 whole egg, 1 c. mixed veggies, 1 orange
6) 1 c. light soy milk, 1/2 scoop whey, 1/2 oz. walnuts

Supps: 1 multivitamin, 1 calcium 600+D, 6 fish oil caps, 1 serving l-glutamine

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