If you have a hard time trying to lose weight, despite following strict diets, counting calories, and strength training, chances are you have a slow metabolism. But metabolism extends far beyond weight loss and staying skinny—it’s actually the core underlying principle that dictates the function and health of your entire body.
This is because the flow of energy through your cells and their ability to create a lot of energy easily and efficiently while producing helpful by-products dictates their state of health.
Without much energy and with unhealthy by-products, cells shut down to focus only on functions critical to survival, and this often means storing fat on the larger scale to safeguard the body against starvation. But when energy is plentiful and the by-products are healthy, your cells can perform all the functions they need to, including all the important growth and maintenance functions that keep you healthy.
And while many many doctors rely solely on blood tests to determine metabolism and health, these aren’t always reliable. What is reliable are real-world outcomes to determine your metabolism and health.
What is Metabolism?
Metabolism is defined as, "The chemical processes that occur within a living organism in order to maintain life" (Oxford Languages). Metabolism is typically separated into three parts:
- Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) - The number of calories your body burns in order to maintain homeostasis
- Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT) - The number of calories you burn throughout the day doing small, negligible activities like walking, talking, breathing, eating, digesting, etc,.
- Exercise - The number of calories you burn doing activities that we typically do account for
A "slow metabolism" is typically referring to a decreased or low basal metabolic rate, as this is the only piece of metabolism that is not directly proportional to your activity level. Having a low metabolic rate is a direct result of your body using fewer calories in order to maintain homeostasis.
These six signs are common when your metabolic rate and energy production start to decline and should be your primary indicators of how your body is doing energetically.
1) Cold Hands and Feet and Metabolism
When your body is producing energy inefficiently, it’s doing this through what we call the stress metabolism. This involves high levels of stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol, which tell the cells to produce energy quickly, but inefficiently, resulting in a lower total energy status and production of those unhealthy by-products we mentioned before, like lactic acid. Adrenaline and cortisol have vasoconstriction effects in the body, meaning that they tighten blood vessels to reduce blood flow to less necessary parts of the body — like the extremities — in favor of the more important areas like the muscles and brain.
LEARN MORE: Balance Your Cortisol Levels With This Meal Plan
Because of this, whenever you have cold hands, feet, ears, tip of the nose, etc., it means you’re relying on adrenaline to produce energy instead of thyroid (which can also mean you have elevated levels of lactic acid). As time goes on, this increased adrenaline continues to push thyroid hormone down, causing your body to rely more and more on the stress metabolism instead of the healthy metabolism. Even if you don’t notice blatantly cold hands and feet, pay extra attention to this, especially before and after eating, in order to see if you can notice when your body is using adrenaline instead of thyroid. Most people who have sluggish metabolism symptoms, even when they say they don’t have cold hands and feet, usually realize that they just haven’t been paying attention to it.
2) Low Waking Body Temperature
When you first wake up in the morning, your stress hormones are usually lower, allowing you to measure your true healthy metabolism levels without the added adrenaline. Because of this, your waking temperature is often indicative of how much healthy thyroid metabolism you have as a baseline.
Ideally, you should wake up around 98.6 degrees F orally (37 degrees C), or around 98 degrees under your armpit (36.6 degrees F). If your temperature is lower than this, it’s a good sign that you’re relying on the stress metabolism to create energy throughout the day, because your thyroid metabolism is low and unable to provide the energy you need to get through your day.
*Note: In some cases, stress hormones can still be high upon waking, skewing this measurement. Because of this, it’s also helpful to measure your temperature before and after meals. Ideally, you should warm up whenever you eat a meal, and your hands and feet should remain warm as well.
3) Infrequent Bowel Movements
Because metabolism and blood flow are connected through the action of adrenaline and thyroid, a low metabolic rated is usually connected to poor gut health. This a two-way street in that poor gut health often causes a slow metabolism, and a slow metabolism often perpetuates poor gut health. When the gut is healthy, you should have regular bowel movements each day, or at the very least, every other day.
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Not to get too graphic here, but your bowel movements should also be full, soft and easy to pass. If you’re dealing with constipation, diarrhea or even simply only having bowel movements once every two to three days or more, this is a good sign that your gut health and metabolism are poor.
4) Faded Edges of Your Eyebrows
When your healthy metabolism is low and your body is simply performing the bare minimum functions to survive, energetically expensive functions, like hair growth, are reduced in a low metabolic state. This is often the root cause of full-fledged balding, but we can see a quicker and less extreme version of this in your eyebrows. When the edges of your eyebrows are faded, it’s a sign that you have a rather low metabolism and are relying on adrenaline, resulting in less hair growth on the sides of your eyebrows.
5) Bags Under Your Eyes
Because your body is only supplying energy for survival functions, your total body energy is low, and this often means fatigue and poor sleep. This also means poor blood flow to the skin and a constant “tired” look indicated by bags under your eyes, as if you’re constantly being deprived of sleep (spoiler alert: you actually are, as sleep is never sound with a slow metabolic rate or, stressed state).
6) Slow Growing Nails
Finally, very similar to hair growth, nail growth is another area that is energetically expensive but not necessary for survival. That means when metabolism is low and your body is having a hard time creating energy, your nail growth slows to a halt. We’ve even seen clients who claimed to not cut their toenails for over two years — that’s how bad it can get. Ideally, you should be cutting your fingernails every week or every other week and your toenails one to two times per month. If it’s slower than this, it might be a indicator of a low metabolic rate.
Bonus: What Exercise Looks Like With A Slow Metabolism
Exercise is one of the most difficult areas to progress in when you are in a low metabolic state. Hitting personal records when resistance training, or trying to gain any kind of muscle mass becomes nearly impossible. Depending on the type of training that you are already adapted to, if you are in a low metabolic state then you might want to think about dialing back on the exercise. Exercise is a stress on the body, and when we are already in the stressed state pushing our bodies harder can do more harm than good. Simply walking around 10,000 steps a day, and if you feel like it, doing some minimalist bodyweight training might be all you need to do while you are healing you metabolism.
Do You Experience Any Of These Slow Metabolism Signs?
Remember that a slow metabolism isn’t necessarily just due to genetics or not eating enough. Certainly, restricting food for a long time will result in a heavy reliance on the stress metabolism, but over time it can actually impair your healthy metabolism even when eating adequately. Despite consuming enough food, your body may still be stuck using the stress metabolism, thinking it doesn’t have enough energy and needs to stay in survival and conservation mode.
The slow metabolism symptoms include:
- Cold Extremity Temperature
- Infrequent Bowel Movements
- Faded Edges Of Your Eyebrows
- Bags Under Your Eyes
- Slow Grow Nails
If you have any of these symptoms, your health will improve drastically by taking the appropriate actions to lower adrenaline, increase thyroid and boost your metabolism.
#1 Why is Your Metabolism Important?— طعام صحي (@Healthy3am) March 13, 2018
Your metabolism works as the driving force behind your body. It provides you with enough energy to keep your body moving and functioning each day. If you look up metabolism in a dictionary it is described as a life sustaining function.