Have you been counting calories meticulously, hitting the gym, getting plenty of sleep, and still not seeing the scale budge? It may not be your fault; your inability to shed those stubborn pounds could be because of a sluggish metabolism.
Your metabolism is the process by which your body burns energy for basic bodily functions such as your heartbeat, brain function, and breathing. Since your metabolism burns food for fuel, those with a fast metabolism can seemingly eat whatever they want and not gain weight, while those with a slow metabolism have to work that much harder to lose or maintain their weight.
Here are some of the biggest symptoms of a slow metabolism. If you experience any of these, be sure to visit your doctor to get your thyroid tested—you could have hypothyroidism, or an underactive thyroid, which is ultimately responsible for your metabolism. In the meantime, be sure to check out the 55 Best Ways to Boost Your Metabolism.
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The biggest sign of a slow metabolism is unexplained weight gain. If you’ve been eating well and exercising and still packing on the pounds, it could be your metabolism.
“[Gaining weight] very frequently goes unnoticed and is blamed on a presumed sense of increased appetite particularly among women,” explains Mashfika N Alam, MBBS, general practitioner at Icliniq. “This is commonly associated with hypothyroidism, which slows down the basal metabolic rate because of a lack of thyroid hormones which are essential to body’s metabolic activities.”
Not only can a slow metabolism make you gain weight, but it can also make it super difficult to lose weight even if you’ve been counting calories and exercising extremely diligently. Dr. Alam says you may have an inability to lose weight “despite eating a balanced or restricted diet.”
With your body burning energy at a slower rate, this will cause you to feel fatigued more frequently. Aside from weight troubles, fatigue is the most common sign of a slow metabolism says Heather L. Hofflich, DO, endocrinologist and professor of medicine at UC San Diego.
When your metabolism is slow, your cells aren’t as active as they should be, which means they aren’t getting the proper blood supply. “As the skin fails to gain vital nutrients… the skin loses its luster,” Dr. Alam says. Also as your body tries to conserve heat, you don’t sweat as much. This can impact your skin, leaving it feeling dry and cracked.
Similarly to how a slow metabolism affects your skin, you may also notice changes in your nails due to lack of nutrients being absorbed by your body. Some common changes include more brittle nails and increased ridges to your nails, says Susan Besser, MD.
The same processes that impact your skin and nails also affect your hair. A slow metabolism can impact your hair’s ability to grow and regenerate. Dr. Alam points to a lack of sufficient micronutrients from a slow metabolic rate that can cause your hair to fall out.
When your thyroid hormones are out of whack, which happens with an underactive thyroid, this can trigger headaches or even migraines.
Too little thyroid hormone, which regulates your metabolism, can cause a poor memory and make you forgetful.
Being cold all the time is a symptom of hypothyroidism, which also slows down your metabolism. If you’re cold all the time, odds are your thyroid isn’t as active as it should be—and neither is your metabolism. “Heat is generated with body’s metabolic activity,” Dr. Alam says. A slow metabolism can lead to a decreased core body temperature, she says, which is another sign of hypothyroidism.
Low levels of thyroid hormone could mean low levels of sex hormones like testosterone, which may impact your ability to get in the mood. To help boost your sex drive, check out the 20 Best Foods for Your Libido.
Since hypothyroidism slows down processes in your body, it’s no surprise your mood can take a hit, too. Depression has been linked to a slow thyroid, and therefore a slow metabolism.
If you’ve noticed your heartbeat slowing down, it could be because of a slower metabolism. “Pulse rate is directly proportional to metabolism, hence a slowed pulse rate occurs in conditions that slow down the basal metabolic rate,” Dr. Alam says.
A slow metabolism is often linked to insulin resistance says Caroline Cederquist, MD, practicing bariatric physician in Naples, Florida and author of The MD Factor Diet. “ [Insulin resistance] is a common metabolic condition that means your cells are resistant to the action of insulin, a hormone produced by your pancreas that regulates how your cells metabolize energy,” she explains. “If your body is resistant to insulin that causes chronically slow metabolism.”
One sign of insulin resistance is a constant craving for sugar and carbohydrates. Since your body isn’t properly utilizing insulin, your cells can’t absorb the glucose in your body, leading to sugar and other carb cravings, she explains. The problem is, the more sugar and refined carbs you eat, the more your body can’t process them, and the more likely you are to pack on excess fat, experience energy slumps, and feel fatigued.
“The most common cause of slow metabolism is a thyroid disorder (hypothyroid). The thyroid gland is the ‘master control gland,’” explains Dr. Besser. “It helps to regulate other hormonal functions including reproductive hormonal functions. If the reproductive hormones aren’t being produced normally, menstrual problems can occur.” If your cycle is irregular or you are experiencing more cramping than usual, be sure to visit your doctor.
Having trouble going to the bathroom? A slow metabolism can impact other processes of the body, including how often you hit the restroom. “With slower metabolism, the bowel transit time is slower too,” Dr. Besser explains. “It takes longer for food to travel through the GI tract and be properly digested, thus constipation occurs.”