7 Steps to Recover a Slow Metabolism

1 October 2020
Andy Tait

I have written this article for people who have either just finished a weight-loss phase and want to return to maintenance and undo any metabolic adaptations that occurred, or for people who have been trying to lose weight for a long time and are struggling because they feel like they’re so restrictive with their diet but still the weight isn’t shifting. I myself have experienced this same yoyo style of dieting with much frustration when it seemed like nothing was working. If you feel like you fit the description of either of these then I welcome you to read on.

This article should not replace the guidance of your medical professional. If you are worried about your health, hormones, or any other medical condition then you need to see your family doctor.

Contents

  • Introduction

  • What is a Recovery Diet?

  • Step 1 – Calculate Calories

  • Step 2 – Eat at Maintenance

  • Step 3 – Optimize Macros

  • Step 4 – Additional Calories

  • Step 5 – Track Metrics

  • Step 6 – Focus on Physical and Mental Training

  • Step 7 – Stop and Reflect Conclusion

Introduction

When you go through long periods of trying to trim down and lose weight, your metabolism adapts by reducing your calorie expenditure. This is an evolutionary measure to ensure you’re kept alive when food is scarce.

This is generally the case whether you have lost weight or not during this period. You could have done a few months of dieting and lost a significant amount of weight. Or, you could have been trying to lose weight for the past few years but have struggled because you’ve been over-restrictive followed by overconsumption, which leads to you not only not losing weight, but perhaps even gaining weight!

In both of these scenarios, you will have experienced some metabolic adaptation which has reduced your calorie expenditure. This, in turn, means that to maintain weight, your body needs fewer calories.

 

Too restrictive on a diet.jpg

 

 

This can understandably lead to frustration when trying to get leaner because now you have to eat even fewer calories to lose weight. You were already struggling to lose weight, perhaps even doing extra cardio in an attempt to burn more calories. Not surprising so many people feel like their efforts are pointless leading them to give up.

Sometimes it’s better to take a step back and look at the long-term picture for your health, and your fitness goals. For example, it may be beneficial for you, in the long run, to hit pause on your weight-loss goals to focus on increasing your metabolism. It has decreased due to either chronic dieting, yoyo dieting, or simply just a weight-loss phase coming to an end. Once you have done this and maintained weight for 3-6 months you can again reignite your goal of weight loss if you wish, this time around it might be much easier for you to achieve the results you want.

When calorie intake is reduced, you’re robbing your body of nutrients. This is going to lead to you feeling overall more lethargic and stressed.

It’s time to play the long game and reverse the metabolic adaptation from where it is now back to a healthy range. This is going to help you maintain weight, and lose weight in the future, all while providing your body with enough nutrients to function optimally and feel energized.

This is where the recovery diet comes in.

 

What is a Recovery Diet?

A recovery diet is where you actively try to reverse reductions in metabolic rate due to dieting down. This is done by adding calories back into your diet on a gradual basis so that you can maintain weight while eating more food.

In essence, you’re trying to undo the negative effects your metabolism has experienced by reversing the cycle. You will add calories into your diet and you will experience metabolic adaptation, but this time increasing your metabolic rate.

Won’t I gain weight?

Not necessarily, although, there are a few scenarios where you would gain weight.

  1. When you’ve been restricting food intake and/or carbohydrates, your body has a reduction in weight due to there being less glycogen (carb) storage within the body. For each gram of glycogen stored, 3 grams of water are stored with it. This isn’t a bad thing at all but it will have an effect on your scale weight.

    So as you add extra food back into your diet, you could see an increase in body weight due to this extra glycogen storage. This is not fat storage so you needn’t worry.

  2. The other scenario is that you increase too many calories and that leads to you storing the excess as fat. This is why you need to add calories very gradually back into your diet. When done correctly, your body will start to burn more calories which will give you more energy. You will be using this extra energy whether you realize it or not.

Who is a recovery diet for?

A recovery diet is for someone that has either just finished a fat loss phase returning to maintenance, or someone that has been chronically dieting for any period of time between a few months to a few years. This will generally be the person that is caught up in the over-restrict and over-consume yoyo cycle.

Who is a recovery diet not for?

It is not for someone who is already maintaining a healthy weight and consuming the needed amount of calories for their body.

It is also not for someone who just believes that they have a slow metabolism without actually ever tracking calories. Perhaps this is someone that wants to lose weight but doesn’t understand calories and macronutrients. If this is you, then your first bet would be to read my metabolism article and start tracking calories so you can get a deeper understanding of the currency of the food you’re eating. This can be eye-opening!

Here are the 7 steps to get you started on your recovery diet…

 

Step 1 – Calculate Calories

First of all, you need to understand how many calories you’re currently eating on a daily basis. Calorie calculators, although can be a good starting point for most people, will probably overestimate your calorie requirements. This is because your metabolism has adapted which no calculator can account for.

The most effective way to do this is to track your calorie intake and your body weight to see how your current diet is impacting your weight.

You should track for 3-4 weeks to get some good data before making any adjustments unless of course, you’re really struggling with energy and hunger while simultaneously losing weight. If this is the case then you can add calories into your diet to maintain weight. I will discuss how soon.

If you’ve already been tracking calories and you know how many you’re currently eating then you can move on to step 2 right away.

 

Step 2 – Eat at Maintenance

By this point, you know how many calories you’re consuming and how that’s impacting your body weight.

I suggest that you either add in or subtract calories from your current level of intake to ensure you’re eating enough to maintain your body weight. If you’re already maintaining weight at your current calorie intake then move on to step 3.

If you’re losing weight then you need to add calories into your diet. You can calculate this by taking your average weight loss (in pounds) for the last 2-3 weeks, multiplying it by 3500 (calories in 1lb fat), then dividing it by 7 days. You would then add these calories either to your current target or on top of your average calorie intake for the last few weeks.

Here is an example:

  • Week 1 – average weekly calorie intake 2100 – weight loss 0.5lb

  • Week 2 – average weekly calorie intake 1998 – weight loss 0.3lb

  • Week 3 – average weekly calorie intake 2050 – weight loss 0.8lb

The average daily calorie intake for 3 weeks was 2049 ((week 1+2+3)/3)

Average weight loss for that same period was 0.53lb per week ((week 1+2+3)/3)

Now we have that data we can calculate how many calories to add back into the diet to bring to maintenance.

  • 0.53lb x 3500 = 1855 calories per week to add back

  • 1855 / 7 = 265 calories per day

  • 2049 + 265 = 2314 calories per day needed for maintenance (approximately).

 

Step 3 – Optimize Macros

Your next task is to ensure that you’re hitting the minimum macronutrient requirements for your body to function properly.

These minimum suggest amounts are:

  • Protein – 0.35g per pound of bodyweight

  • Fat – 0.25g per pound of bodyweight

  • Carbohydrate – 0.5g per pound of body weight (technically there is no minimum carbohydrate requirement, but 05g/lb is a suggested minimum for a balanced diet).

For someone who is 190lb, this means that they should be consuming a daily minimum of:

  • 66g protein = 264 calories (66 x 4 cals per gram of protein)

  • 48 fat = 432 calories (48 x 9 cals per gram of fat)

  • 95 carbohydrate = 380 calories (95 x 4 cals per gram of carbs)

This gives a total of only 1076 calories per day. For an individual that weighs 190lb, this is probably not enough to function day-to-day. Please note that this is not the minimum calories per day but the minimum required macronutrient level for your body to function properly. You shouldn’t have all macros set at the minimum because your body requires more calories than this. Hence why calorie calculation came before step 3.

The optimum macronutrient ratio is first of all something that you enjoy, secondly is set to provide your body with enough nutrients to maintain (or gain) muscle mass.

Take your maintenance calories and reverse engineer your macros targets. We will use our example from step 2 which was 2314 calories per day.

We will calculate macros based on the same calculation from my weight-loss article.

Remembering that:

  • 1g Protein = 4 calories

  • 1g Carbohydrate = 4 calories

  • 1g Fat = 9 calories

Recommendations are:

  • Protein – 0.8-1.2g per pound of body weight

  • Fat – 20-30% of total daily calories

  • Carbohydrate – the remaining balance

We will use:

  • Protein – 1g per pound of body weight

  • Fat – 25% of total daily calories

  • Carbohydrate – the remaining balance

We know that our 190lb person they have 2314 calories per day to eat.

  • Protein intake is 190g – (760 cals)

  • Fat intake is 64g – 2314 x 25% = 579/9cals = 64g

  • Carbohydrate is the remaining (2314 – (760p+579f))/4cals = 244g – (975 cals)

It’s up to you what your macros are, just so long as they’re between the minimum required amounts and optimal. Remember that you should allocate your macros so that they fit your calorie target.

 

Step 4 – Additional Calories

If you weren’t previously hitting the minimum required macro amounts then doing this should make you feel much better after a few weeks of tracking with these numbers.

If you have been chronically dieting or just finished a weight loss program then you should be able to increase your daily caloric intake gradually but still maintain weight.

Remember that with additional calories comes more gut content, and more carbs mean more water storage, neither of which is a bad thing. So you may experience some body weight gain, but this is probably not fat, just so long as you’re gradually adding in calories. You may also feel less stressed with extra calories, this may even decrease your body weight as cortisol will reduce which is something that also causes the body to store water. These are things to consider as they can both happen simultaneously.

 

Healthy food and calories.jpg

 

 

I recommend adding calories every 2 weeks. The additional time will help you understand if you are indeed maintaining weight without the risk of gaining fat.

As per my metabolism article, you will know that as you add in calories you will subconsciously start to move more, it will cost more calories for your body to digest food and you will have more energy for exercise. This could cause your body weight to even decrease after additional calories have been added.

Ok here’s what you’re waiting for…I suggest adding 50 to 100 daily calories every 2 weeks.

How should you add these calories?

These additional calories should come from fats and/or carbohydrates. That is with the understanding that you’re already consuming 0.8-1.2g per pound of protein.

Again it comes down to your preference, do you want to eat more fat or carbohydrate?

If you’re someone that trains regularly then you will get more bang for your buck by adding in additional carbohydrates. This will provide you with better fuel and recovery for your workouts.

Example:

Current intake:

  • Calories 2314

  • Protein 190g

  • Fat 64g

  • Carbohydrate 244g

New intake (+ 2 weeks):

  • Calories 2414

  • Protein 190g

  • Fat 68g (+4g, 36cals)

  • Carbohydrate 260g (+16g, 64cals)

 

Step 5 – Track Metrics

It’s important to track some metrics when doing this because you want to ensure that you’re not undoing any fat loss progress you’ve made. Nor do you want to be gaining fat. I suggest that you track the following:

  1. Daily Bodyweight

  2. Body Measurements

  3. Stress

  4. Lethargy

  5. Sleep Quality

  6. Hunger

Daily Bodyweight

This is probably the most important because you’re trying to maintain weight. Although as I stated before you can expect some change due to hydration. The more you have been restricting carbs the more of an effect adding carbs back into your diet will have. Again, this isn’t a bad thing because the extra nutrients are going to make you feel so much better.

I suggest that you track your weight daily, or at least 4 times a week, then take an average at the end of the week. This will ensure that any daily fluctuations in weight are negated and so that you can see a true picture of your body weight changes week to week.

Body weight scales.jpg

Body Measurements

Taking a few measurements around the abdomen, chest and hips can help you determine if you’re gaining body fat as a result of additional calories. They may change week to week but ideally, they will on average remain pretty similar.

 

Stress

Taking note of your stress levels each week is a good idea because higher stress equals higher cortisol which equals more water retention within the body. So if your weight increases this could be why. The same goes if eating more calories helps to reduce stress, sometimes this can cause a loss in body weight.

 

Lethargy

Measuring your energy levels will help you determine if you’re feeling the physiological benefits of the extra calories you’re eating.

 

Sleep Quality

If you’re not sleeping well it can also cause an impact on your body weight. Less sleep generally means more stress on the body and you can expect some body weight gain due to water retention. If eating more calories helps you sleep because you’re not going to bed hungry then you may lose some body weight through stress reduction.

 

Hunger

Hopefully, if you’re adding mostly calories from whole foods into your diet you will feel more satiated. A diet as a whole should be around 80% whole food and 20% whatever tickles your fancy.

All of these metrics should give you an understanding of how your body is adapting to the additional calories. It will also help you in your decision-making to continue or to hold at a certain number of calories for a prolonged period.

 

Step – 6 – Focus on Physical and Mental Training

Learn to improve.jpg

 

 

This is the perfect time to stop obsessing about “weight loss” and to start focusing on your training performance. The additional calories should give you so much more energy and regardless of the style of training you do, you’re going to perform better, hit PRs more often, and recover better.

Not only that but you need to spend some time getting to grips mentally with maintaining your body weight, and being happy with the way you look regardless of what the scale says.

It’s completely fine to have weight-loss or weight-gain goals, but chances are unless you learn to love yourself now then you still won’t when you’re lighter or heavier.

 

Step 7 – Stop and Reflect

As I said, there will be an adjustment in body weight with extra calories due to increased gut content and glycogen storage. This can be daunting when the scale increases as a result. It can take several days for your body weight to readjust each time you add these calories in, so you need to be patient.

Additional energy for the body should increase the number of calories you burn within the day. Hopefully, you notice the benefit through improved training and everyday activities.

I’d love to tell you that this could go on forever and you can keep adding calories, but there will reach a point where your body will start to have an excess of energy and will look to store it as fat. It’s recommended that you increase every 2 weeks and stop increasing when there seems to be an ongoing average weekly increase in your body weight. If this happens, you can make a slight reduction and try to keep the weekly average weight very similar.

As you know, weight can fluctuate daily by 1-4lbs, sometimes more. This is especially the case for women on their menstrual cycle. I suggest that when you’re ready to maintain weight and calorie intake you aim for an average of + or – 1%. This means for someone that is 200lb their weekly average weight could be + or – 2lbs, so anything between 198 and 202 would be a good place to maintain weight.

Another consideration is that you will need to adjust your calorie intake based on any changes in your activity levels. An example of this would be if you were to move to a new home which causes you to drive to work instead of walking. Or if you were to get a new job in construction where you had previously been working in an office.

Both of these scenarios would require you to adjust your calorie intake because the number of calories being used by the body has changed.

 

Conclusion

This guide will help you whether you’re using it to bring yourself back to maintenance calories post weight- loss phase, or if you’ve experienced a decrease in metabolic rate due to months or years of going through the cycle of over-restricting and over-consuming calories.

So often I see people get so caught up in wanting to lose weight that it feels like they’re constantly on a “diet”, regardless of if they’re losing weight or not. The more time you spend dieting down or over-restricting your calories, your body is going to adapt to ensure that you’re kept alive when there are fewer calories entering your body. The result is a reduction in calorie expenditure, this can often mean that in order to achieve your weight loss goal you either need to consume even fewer calories, or do extra exercise. Where does the cycle end?

You can’t be on a weight-loss diet for the rest of your life. You’ll either soon not weigh anything at all, or you’ll be super frustrated at your lack of results, diminishing energy levels and increased hunger.

Use this guide to help you in the long run. Bring yourself back to an amount of food/calories that you’re maintaining weight. Then start to add additional calories every 2 weeks in an attempt to bring your metabolism back up. You’re going to be able to eat more food, have more energy to train and live your life, and it will be easier in the future if you do decide you want to lose weight.

If you have any questions regarding this article then please leave a comment below and I will get back to you. Much love,

Andy

Aka “CoachTaiters”

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Teresa
Teresa
2 years ago

Hi,

This has been really insightful. I had been restrictive dieting for over 10 years, over the years my weight yo-yoed, there was only one time I gained a lot of weight, but the majority of the time I had a normal BMI.

I noticed that every time I tried to eat normally my weight ballooned, so I had my RMR tested, it came back significantly lower than it should be for someone of my age and size, which was 800kcal – it was estimated that it should have been roughly 1500.

Beginning at a normal BMI I started the All In approach to recover my metabolism, eating as many calories as I wanted, I ate roughly 2500 for a a couple of weeks but my dietitian told me this was too much. I had gained a lot more fat, but now I have dropped my calories to 1700 /1800 and on the odd day eating 2000 a day.

Now I am at a weight I really don’t like, I want to lose it but I also don’t want to slow down my metabolism. I wonder if I continue eating this amount my metabolism will catch up? Or if I should reverse diet starting at 1700 and hope later it will catch up then.

I have been eating at a higher amount for just over 2 months now, I went from 1300kcal to 1700kcal.

Do you have any suggestions of what the best approach would be?

Thank you!

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