The dangers of fad diets on your weight loss journey
How Dieting Affects Metabolism and 5 Ways to Fix It

Metabolism is the process in which your body converts calories into energy, explaining why there is a lot of talk around how dieting affects metabolism. We have all tried dieting in an effort to shed some pounds, but what you may not know is that the constant dieting, caloric restriction, and overtraining are making it harder for your body to metabolize food. The more your weight fluctuates and the more you go through periods of extreme caloric restriction to binge eating, the more inefficient your metabolism becomes. And here is why.

Understanding Metabolism

how dieting affects metabolismYour metabolism is the rate at which your body burns calories for fuel. That fuel is what keeps you alive by pumping blood throughout your body, keeping your heart and brain functioning, and of course giving you the energy to perform your daily activities.

Your metabolism is made up of your basal or resting metabolic rate (BMR or RMR), your thermic effect of food (TEF), and your non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT).

  • BMR is how much fuel your body burns to keep your body functioning properly. This is how many calories you are burning when you are at rest.
  • TEF is the energy your body burns when you are eating and digesting food. Yet, TEF is so small it doesn’t have any real effect on your total caloric expenditure.
  • NEAT is the calories you are burning through exercise and daily activities

Everyone’s metabolic rate, or how many calories they burn per food consumption, is different. That explains why some people can eat a house and not gain any weight.

Entering Starvation Mode

The body’s preferred source of fuel is carbohydrates. When carbs are not readily available to burn, the body will turn towards your stored fat for energy, known as fat oxidation.

Yet, when you are restricting your caloric intake so severely (more than your body is routinely used to), your body does not know where to get its energy from. As a result, your body begins to act as if you are in starvation mode.

As I stated above, you need fuel to properly function and when that fuel is nowhere to be found, your body will begin to favor fat to be used as repositories. This is what triggers the starvation mode effect as your body enters a panic mode and begins to hold onto that energy for you to survive.

Essentially, your body is working to maintain the energy balance and prevent your organs from shutting down.

Metabolic Damage

Although your metabolism does not become physically damaged and there are methods in which you can control your metabolism to your advantage, the way in which you store and burn fat is altered as a result of yo-yo dieting.

The body’s response to periods of caloric deficits is to reduce the number of calories we burn, thus slowing the body’s metabolism (the rate at which you burn calories for fuel). So when you do reset your eating, your body is more likely to hold onto those calories and fat to prevent entering starvation mode again.

And yet counterintuitively, you become hungrier and have stronger food cravings as your metabolism slows.

This explains why every time you have tried dieting, you end up gaining back all of the weight and then some.

Steps to Fix Your Metabolism

If your body is going through starvation mode, you are likely feeling tired and fatigued, experiencing mood swings and low libido, having trouble sleeping, and/or dealing with digestion issues such as gas, constipation, reflux, bloating, etc.

None of these symptoms can be fun, especially if you aren’t even losing weight in the process! So what can you do to break this cycle and reset your metabolism?

1. See an endocrinologist

Lucky for you, we have one right here in our office! But if you are not local, we recommend finding a trusted doctor or health professional that has experience in understanding the endocrine system and dysfunctions. They may suggest treatments to help balance your hormones as well as monitor your diet.

2. Eat a healthy diet

The first step to resetting your metabolism is to consume more (wholesome) calories. After going through a period of caloric restriction, you want to begin to increase the amount of calories consumed, but you want to do so in a healthy way. If you turn to junk food, you will gain weight and it will be harder to lose in the long term.

3. Get plenty of sleep

Sleep is so important for your overall health. When you are not getting enough sleep, your brain and other organs can not function properly. Be sure you are getting a full 7 to 8 hours of sleep each night so your body has enough time to repair physically and mentally.

4. Stop skipping breakfast!

I know this isn’t the first time you have heard this, but breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Eating breakfast jump-starts the thermogenesis process (TEF) and thus your metabolism. By eating breakfast, you are fueling your body after that 7 to 8 hours of sleep you just got and giving you the energy to begin your day (no, only drinking coffee is not the same thing).

5. Exercise more, but not too much

Don’t skip out on moving, but also don’t overtrain, which can continue to damage your metabolism. If you are working to fix the metabolic damage, I recommend decreasing the intensity and frequency of your workouts to 3 to 5 days a week. Be sure you are giving yourself at least 2 rest days a week to help your muscles repair and rebuild.

Morgan Schaack, RD, LD
Morgan Schaack is a registered and licensed dietitian as well as a personal trainer. Morgan is particularly interested in bariatrics, medical weight loss, sports nutrition, ​and personal training. She is an active member of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics as well as a member of the Sports, Cardiovascular and Wellness Nutrition. Morgan is committed to helping patients achieve their weight loss goals through nutritionl and exercise counseling.
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