How slow metabolism can lead to weight gain

How slow metabolism can lead to weight gain

How slow metabolism can lead to weight gain

Some people do all the right things and still can’t lose weight. The problem may be a slow metabolism. (Yes, it’s real.) Now, medical science can help.

Elizabeth Millard
Last updated:
October 17, 2023
5 min read
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A ballet dancer from an early age, Annie had a long history of weight-loss regimes and yo-yo dieting, trying to maintain the physique she thought dancers should have. As she got older, these efforts led not only to a poor body image, but they also stopped working, especially after she stopped dancing due to injuries. But, like many former professional athletes, her metabolism had changed, resulting in added weight.

According to the Obesity Medicine Association (OMA), a slow metabolism might be the cause if you're diligent about following a healthy plan—including eating nutritious foods in the right amounts, exercising regularly, sleeping well, and managing stress—but you can't seem to lose weight. 

What is metabolism?

Before diving into whether a metabolism is sluggish or speedy, it's helpful to understand how this process is supposed to work. 

According to MedlinePlus, "metabolism" refers to all the processes that occur as your body converts what you eat and drink into energy and uses it for a range of functions. These include everything from circulating blood and repairing cells to regulating body temperature and digesting food. Even your breathing depends on your metabolism.

Your metabolic processes function at all times, even when you're sleeping or haven't eaten for a while. They're the main way you generate enough energy to keep moving.

What is a slow vs fast metabolism?

The minimum number of calories your body needs to function when you're resting— meaning you're not expending any energy through movement—is called your basal metabolic rate, or BMR.

BMR varies from person to person, but in general, it can give a heads-up on how quickly you burn calories in general. If you typically burn fewer than average calories, even when working out, then that's considered a slow metabolism. If you burn them at a quicker rate, that's a faster metabolism.

Differences in metabolism mean two people can eat the same number of calories, do exactly the same activities at similar intensities, and still be very different in terms of how many calories they're burning. That’s because their metabolisms may work at different speeds.

Sometimes, your metabolism can change, and you may not realize it until your weight-loss efforts aren't working. According to Rekha Kumar, MD, MS, chief medical officer at Found Health, former athletes or dancers like Annie often have the MetabolicPrint™ profile Slow Metabolism.™

"When you're an athlete, your metabolism is so high, but then you stop doing that degree of activity and your appetite doesn't change," Dr. Kumar explains. “So there's a mismatch between appetite and metabolism, which puts you into this equation of promoting weight gain. And it's not your fault."

What is MetabolicPrint?

Weight management isn’t just about calories in and calories out. A lot of factors—including many out of your control—can lead to weight gain and difficulty losing it. A family history of obesity, a slow metabolism, stress, poor sleep, depression, insulin resistance, or conditions like PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome) can all affect weight.

That traditional “eat less, move more” approach to weight loss doesn’t help everyone achieve lasting results because it doesn’t take into account the root cause of each person’s inability to lose weight. And it doesn’t reflect current science.

Over the last 30 years, researchers have identified over 400 genes or markers that may lead or are connected to obesity. Organizations like the National Institutes of Health and the American Medical Association recognize obesity as a complex, progressive condition. And people need tailored, strategic medical care to help manage it.

MetabolicPrint is Found’s proprietary metabolic health assessment engine that Found-affiliated providers use to help identify what’s causing someone’s inability to lose weight. MetabolicPrint profiles help clinicians develop personalized treatment plans that can include medication along with lifestyle changes.

Slow Metabolism is one of four MetabolicPrint profiles, which help pinpoint factors affecting weight management. Like a fingerprint, your profile is unique to you. It combines your medical and weight history,  biological propensity to carry overweight, age, hormonal status, medications, and other factors like sleep.

In addition to Slow Metabolism, the three other profiles are Mood Responses,™ which is eating triggered by emotions; Brain-Gut Disconnect,™ where the digestive system moves so fast people are frequently hungry; and Constant Cravings,™ or dysfunctional hunger regulation, where your brain doesn't signal when you're full.

Each MetabolicPrint profile has distinctive attributes that are useful in understanding what may be driving behavior and how to address those factors meaningfully. Here's more about Slow Metabolism, along with how Found can help.

How does a slow metabolism affect weight loss?

 Many factors can affect your metabolic rate, including your age and genes. But generally, if your metabolism is slower, you burn fewer calories, meaning those calories get stored as body fat.  That's why someone with a slow metabolism may have difficulty losing weight just by lowering their calorie consumption.

What is metabolic health?

The term "metabolic" is often used when talking about metabolism, and "metabolic health" refers to five specific risk factors: blood sugar levels, blood pressure, waist circumference, high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol levels, and triglycerides levels.

When these measurements move in the wrong direction, it can put you at higher risk for metabolic syndrome, a cluster of conditions that typically happen together, including heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes. According to the National Institutes of Health, up to one-third of U.S. adults have metabolic syndrome.

Improving the efficiency of your metabolism isn't just about weight loss or gain—it's an essential component of lowering health risks overall.

How does Found help address a slow metabolism?

Knowing your MetabolicPrint profile can lead to more targeted weight loss efforts because it addresses the root cause of the difficulty. Most notably, it can eliminate much of the traditional "one-size-fits-all" approach to treatment– often seen with anti-obesity medications. The cookie-cutter approach to treatment can be frustrating, especially since you may experience side effects but don’t see results. 

Targeted therapy based on MetabolicPrint profiles—which Found provides along with MetabolicPrint—can be much more effective because it can help determine whether Slow Metabolism is a dominant factor for you in weight management.

In a comparison of targeted therapy based on phenotypes compared to therapies that didn’t use phenotyping, researchers found that participants in the phenotype-guided group lost on average about 16% of their original body weight.  In comparison, the other group lost an average of around 9% of their starting body weight.

Found combines a targeted therapy approach with deep obesity medicine expertise and resources on meaningful habit shifts, as well as access to a supportive community, and all of that makes a huge difference, Annie says.

"Growing up, I've been through years of yo-yo dieting and a bad body image," she adds. "Found gave me the doctors, coach, community, and medication I needed; it handed me the toolbox, and I'm really grateful for that."

Found is among the largest medically-supported telehealth weight care clinics in the country, having served more than 200,000 members to date. To discover your MetabolicPrint and start your journey with Found, take our quiz. *Individual results may vary. 

Published date:
October 17, 2023
Meet the author
Elizabeth Millard
Freelance health journalist

Sources

  • Obesity Medicine Association. (July 20,2021.) 4 Metabolic Phenotypes to Aid in Weight Loss. https://obesitymedicine.org/4-metabolic-phenotypes-to-aid-in-weight-loss-obesity-medicine-association/
  • MedlinePlus. (July 21, 2022.) Metabolism https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/002257.htm#:~:text=Metabolism%20refers%20to%20all%20the,Circulating%20blood
  • Shulman GI, Petersen KF. Metabolism. In: Boron WF, Boulpaep EL, eds. Medical Physiology. 3rd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2017:chap 58. https://shop.elsevier.com/books/medical-physiology/boron/978-1-4557-4377-3
  • National Institutes of Health. (2023.) What Is Metabolic Syndrome? https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/metabolic-syndrome
  • Acosta A, Camilleri M, Abu Dayyeh B, Calderon G, Gonzalez D, McRae A, Rossini W, Singh S, Burton D, Clark MM. Selection of Antiobesity Medications Based on Phenotypes Enhances Weight Loss: A Pragmatic Trial in an Obesity Clinic. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2021 Apr;29(4):662-671. doi: 10.1002/oby.23120. Erratum in: Obesity (Silver Spring). 2021 Sep;29(9):1565-1566. Erratum in: Obesity (Silver Spring). 2022 Jul;30(7):1521. PMID: 33759389; PMCID: PMC8168710. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33759389/
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