Do You Have A Slow Metabolism ? (Part 1 &2: Underestimating Food Intake)

We’ve all heard someone mention how they gain weight much quicker than others, and have a more difficult time losing fat as well.

From the outside looking in it may appear that this person has been cursed with a slow metabolism, but for many people this isn’t actually the case.

If you feel cursed with a “slow metabolism” this blog might bring to light that you’re not cursed, and have been making some small mistakes that you can avoid from here on out.

I would also like to add the caveat that there are people who have diagnosed medical conditions, and take medications that can make fat loss more difficult.  

When someone doesn’t know they’re consistently eating more calories and larger portions than they need it’s very easy for people to underestimate their food intake on a daily basis.

Seemingly small daily mistakes can add up over the weeks, months and years and only make you more frustrated and looking for reasons why fat loss is happening when you think it should be.

Before we can discuss fat loss and the metabolism it’s important to discuss a hot topic for some people... calories.

Whether you want to count them or not just know that they count when it comes to fat loss, and you have to be in a calorie deficit to lose body fat.

But we don’t just eat calories, we eat food and there are lot of different things that impact and drive our dietary habits beyond calorie content that we’ll discuss later.

Why calories count for your fat loss

The diet someone chooses to use for fat loss can differ from person to person based on their personal preference.

Paleo, vegan, high carb, low carb, flexible dieting or ketogenic diets can all work.

There are a multitude of of different diets that people use to achieve fat loss, and what matters most is finding something you can stick with, and doesn’t feel overly restrictive.  

No one single diet is magic when it comes to fat loss, and they all adhere to one specific principle to help elicit fat loss which is creating a calorie deficit.

This means that you expend more calories than you take in through food on a regular basis.

As an example low carb and low fat both eliminate an entire category of macronutrients which makes it easier to eat fewer calories.

Vegan and paleo limit food choices and focus on high satiety natural foods, which keeps you fuller for longer and creates a calorie deficit without counting or tracking.  

A calorie deficit can be created by changing food choices on a diet, tracking calories or macros or using basic portion awareness.

You can also move more throughout the day and expend far more calories that most people would think logical, I wrote a blog on the topic HERE.  

The difference in effort it takes to remove 300 calories from your food compared to trying to burn off an additional 300 from movement definitely favors just trying to eat a little less.

People like to argue whether fat loss is all about calories or quality of food, but it’s really both of them.

You can eat too much of a healthy food and exceed your calorie needs very easily. Take nuts and nut butters for example, they’re a healthy and tasty food, but also contain a lot  of calories for 1 tbsp, and are very easy to overeat.

Regardless of what people say you can still over consume calories from a healthy food and entirely stall out fat loss and even gain body fat.

By consuming mostly whole foods like protein, vegetables, fruits, starches and healthy fats you’ll  stay fuller for longer and it’s an easy way to create a calorie deficit.

The point here is that no matter where your calories from they count, and you’ll need to create a calorie deficit for fat loss to happen.

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1.) People regularly leave out food they're eating:

This isn’t an attempt to be deceitful by any means, but most people really aren’t aware of the amount calories their food contains, or literally forgets some of the food they've eaten throughout the day. 

There’s study after study that show people unintentionally under report the amount of food they’ve eaten for the day when asked to recall their intake  or do a food journal.

Sometimes those participants underestimate their calorie intake by upwards of 40%, however even dieticians still miss the mark by 223 calories per day as well.  

If you think you’re eating 2,000 calories but you’re really eating 40% more than that it would be 2,800 calories a day.

That’s an extra 5,600 calories over the course of the week or 1.6 pounds of theoretical fat, while we know that not all that would go into fat stores, it goes to show small mistakes can add up to large frustration due to misreporting.  

That 500 calorie deficit per day you set to lose one pound per week at 2,000 calories  is completely gone, and your weight may even start creeping up.

All those little snacks you ate that you forgot about, or the food samples at the grocery store and the bites you ate while making dinner all add up in the long term, especially if your fat loss has stalled out for a long period of time.  

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2.) Portion sizes:

Most people were raised with the clean your plate mentality, and when that applies to eating your salad or brussel sprouts it’s not a problem.

When the clean your plate mentality comes to more calorie dense foods that are easy to overeat these larger portions make you normalize a greater consumption of food, nut for hunger reasons but because of habit.  

It doesn’t help that most of the foods we buy in packages at the store, and portions at restaurants have increased in size over the years.

This only normalizes the behavior of overeating even more.  

If you’re using bigger glasses, larger bowls and plates and this influences the amount of food you eat on a daily basis too.

An identical portion of food on a smaller and larger plate looks smaller on a large plate,  and larger on a smaller plate.

Brian Wansink the author of Mindless Eating and Slim By Design showed repeatedly that if people are served more food they will eat more food without noticing or feeling more satisfied than they would with a smaller portion.

3.) Mindless Eating:

As a society we’re more distracted than we’ve ever been with have unlimited access to information,videos and social media platforms that we derive joy from.

We’re flat out addicted to our devices, and this isn’t to point a finger but I’m just trying to raise awareness of how this can impact your eating habits.

These distractions will lead you to eat in a much quicker fashion without pausing or putting the fork down.

You can eat an entire meal in less time than it takes your stomach and brain to communicate and send the signal that you're full (roughly 20 minutes)

when was the last time you took a full twenty minutes to eat a meal and truly ask yourself am I really hungry for the next bite ?

When you eat too quickly it becomes very easy to eat more than you need, and consume excess calories.

When people eat in front of a T.V. they no longer base their meal duration on hunger, but on the length of a show to know when they’re done eating.

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4.) Even food labels can be wrong:

If the majority of your foods are coming from packages that have food labels you could be eating more than you think in terms of calories.

The FDA is responsible for the labeling of calories on a food package, however the actual calculation of the calories/macronutrients of a food is up to the food manufacturer.

For this very reason the law allows food labels to be incorrect by upwards of 20% for the actual versus claimed calorie or macronutrients on a food with a label…

As an example a 100 calorie snack pack may really contain 120 calories, and while this may not seem big if that person has 3 of those 100 calorie snack packs per day that’s 60 calories a day and an extra 420  calories a week, and that’s just from a small snack pack.

5.) The Hyper Palatability of foods

When we discuss hyper palatable foods I’m referring to foods that hit on the reward center in your brain as a way to encourage you to eat more of that food.

This mechanism used to be critical for our survival as a way to help us gorge on calorie dense fatty and sweet foods when they were available to store body fat in case of a famine.

The problem is these days we have hyper palatable sweet and fatty food available every waking minute of every day.

Now that these sweet and fatty calorie dense foods are around every minute of every day it leaves us at odds with our biological drives to eat for survival, and the struggle to not get obese.

These hyper palatable foods can also increase your mood for a short period of time due to stimulation of the reward center in the brain,

However when your mood returns to normal, and if you end up in a worse mood and want to feel better you’ve now created the connection between mood and food.

This is when you’re main motivation for food consumption is no longer physical hunger, but to achieve a certain feeling or alleviation of a negative mood state.

Maybe you set out to just have a bite of that cookie, ok ok I’m just going to have one cookie. Then that one cookie turned into a full sleeve.

You just set out to have few handfuls of buttered popcorn but then 15 minutes later you’ve eaten the whole bag…..

This food for your could be something totally different seemingly healthy like almond or peanut butter.

Honestly I can easily over do it with peanut butter! and have in the past before I realized this and decided to only get it at certain times and not at others.

Whether we want to admit it or not there’s specific foods that stimulate the reward pathway in our brain, and encourage us to overeat.

These foods will be different for folks. For me it might be peanut butter but for someone else it might be corn chips, ice cream, pizza or bread/pasta.

This leads perfectly into another large point that most people neglect when it comes to calorie awareness which is your food environment.

6.) Food Environment factors:

We make over 200 food related decision every single day, many of which we’re entirely unconscious of many of. This is why mindless eating is important to pay attention to.

How can you can you easily alter and change your mindless eating habits ?

By changing your food environment.

Let’s say you come home after an especially stressful and long day at work. You’re hungry, tired, stressed and don’t want to make any more decisions.

Right there on the countertop in your kitchen there’s a basket with cookies and potato chips. At this point the likelihood of you dipping into that basket is especially high.

However, what if you came home and instead of the cookies and potato chip basket there was a bowl of fruit with apples, bananas and oranges on that countertop.

Well then your options would be to have a couple pieces of fruit that would tide you over until dinner and keep you much fuller for a fraction of the calories, be higher in fiber and satisfy that sweet tooth of yours.

This is a perfect example of how your food environment can shape your choices without any thought.

Here’s a few ways to positively alter your food environment:

1.) Keep fruits and veggies in plain sight: Put fruits and vegetable in a basket on the countertop where you’re likely to walk by. Have a vegetable tray or chopped up veggies and fruit in the front of the fridge, or freezer where you’ll see them. Get lots of different colored fruits and veggies to make them enticing. No one ever wrecked their health eating too many colorful vegetables!

2.) Keep Easy High Protein Foods In Your Fridge: Make sure your fridge is stocked with easy to grab high protein options like cottage cheese, greek yogurt, deli meat or leftover cooked meat. Toss in some pre cut vegetables like carrots, jicama and sugar snap peas for some color texture and fiber!

3.) Make The Kitchen Less “Lounge Friendly”: when it comes to the actual arrangement of your kitchen making it a less lounge friendly area will help you to spend less time in there mindlessly munching when you’re not actually hungry.

To reduce the lounge-ability of your kitchen remove furniture, take chairs away from kitchen island, ipads and place the TV’s, small desks, computer or Ipads elsewhere.

4.) Half Plate Rule: At each meal and especially at social events, making sure that at least half your plate is filled with vegetables or fruit. This will ensure you’re staying full, getting enough plants in and still able to enjoy social outings while staying on track.

5.) Assess Work And Other Food Environments: Position the sweets jar or designated doughnut area as far away as possible at work. Put sweets in a jar that isn’t see through and don’t hover by the snacks you’re trying not to eat. Drive home a different way to avoid fast food restaurants or take a walk during lunch to prevent overeating or unnecessary snacking on junk food. Find ways to make your food environment work for you, not against you.

In Part 3 of this series we're going to look at some of the metabolism adaptations that take place when someone constantly yo yo diets, or is an aggressive calorie deficit for too long without a diet break.