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How Do I Know If I Have a Slow Metabolism?

I’m even pretty sure it’s why I did so badly on the SAT in high school

When it comes to producing reasons for why your body isn’t composed precisely as you’d wish, the most convenient excuse is always connected to some sort of deficiency in your genetics. Ask anyone: All of us have the potential to be Olympic athletes, professional basketball players and Mr. Olympia-winners; we’re merely inconvenienced by the fact that we weren’t graced with the formula for an ideal bone structure at the point of conception. In lieu of winning the genetic lottery, we’re relegated to being afterthoughts in all endeavors related to physical exertion.

Aside from the more rational genetic advantages (or disadvantages) relative to success in certain fields of athletics — like height, bone length, muscle bed thickness and so forth — is metabolism. Any insufficiency in the rate of our fat burning can be hastily blamed on the possession of a slow metabolism — after all, it couldn’t possibly be owed to a shortfall in effort, or a lack of adherence to a healthy diet. This statement makes two presumptions: 1) That a slow metabolism is purely the product of genetic misfortune; and 2) that there’s nothing anyone can do to accelerate a slowed metabolism.

What is my metabolism anyway?

That’s an excellent place to start, and a critical question to ask if you’re going to truly understand what it means for your metabolism to be slow or fast. 

Your metabolism is the process through which your body converts calories into energy. It’s really that simple. If you have a fast metabolism, your body will effortlessly convert the calories you ingest into energy — storing few, if any, of those calories as body fat — and making you the envy of everyone else standing in the Golden Corral buffet line. If you have a slow metabolism, it will seem as if your waistline will further inflate itself every time you so much as look at an Oreo.

What causes a person to have a slow metabolism? Is it just genetics?

As I mentioned before, that would be a convenient excuse, right? But in reality, your size, gender and age all directly influence your metabolism. This means if you’re young, have male DNA and are naturally large, chances are that you’re going to burn more calories at rest than a short, older woman. 

Furthermore, the presence of muscle tissue on your body increases the number of calories you’re able to burn even when you’re not exercising, because muscle burns more calories at rest than fat. Therefore, it doesn’t really matter from a metabolic standpoint if you were genetically blessed with a potential for natural muscle growth that dwarfs the capabilities of most other mortals, or you happen to have collected those muscle fibers slowly over time as the result of diligent training. If the muscle tissue is present, it’s going to grant you an accelerated metabolism.

A genetically derived thyroid condition also might be a natural contributor to a slow metabolism due to its ability to naturally modulate your hormone levels. Otherwise, your metabolism can be slowed by anything from a shortage of water and carbohydrates to inadequate sleep, a stressful lifestyle and air temperatures that are consistently too warm. 

To be fair, I’m not altogether dismissing the notion that you may have been handed the short end of the genetic stick. What I’m implying is that you’d better make sure that certain other aspects of your life are perfectly aligned before you go faulting your genetics for a slow-burning metabolism that’s capable of being quickened.

Okay, fine! But how can I know if I actually have a slow metabolism?

The consensus seems to be that self-diagnosing a slow metabolism begins with a few standard, telltale signs. 

An increase in body fat can be a sign of a slow metabolism, especially if it’s accompanied by flaky skin, thinning hair, chronic fatigue and feelings of depression. Obviously, every malady on this list can be attributed to a multitude of factors. However, if you find yourself experiencing several of these symptoms collectively, and you’re not engaged in any of the recommended behaviors that would typically cause an improvement in your metabolism, you might legitimately be suffering from a metabolism that’s on the sluggish end of the spectrum.

Now, before you go jumping to any erroneous conclusions, please be aware of the fact that, again, you probably need to be experiencing two or more of these symptoms simultaneously before you allow your brain to form the thought that your metabolism might be naturally slow. Even then, you’d better make sure all other explanations are off the table before you make that big of a leap. 

In other words, your thought process should move as slowly and deliberately as the metabolism you’re so sure is keeping you lagging.