I think the term “metabolic damage” itself poses a great deal of loaded questions. It’s almost like coming out of one’s shell after hiding something for such a prolonged period of time. How long have you been starving yourself? What are you doing that’s messing with your body? Are you secretly binging at midnight? When did you start lying to your personal trainer?
Many have opened up about their experiences with metabolic damage and their frustrations with stubborn body fat that just never seemed to come off after returning from a major fitness competition, event, or photo-shoot. However, a lot of experts have questioned the legitimacy of metabolic damage and dismiss it as a pardon for secretive laziness and gluttony.
When most people hear these words, they usually visualize calorie deprivation, overt physical exertion, and unexpected weight gain to follow. Most of the time, many individuals who supposedly–I say supposedly because we have to question the truth about metabolic damage here–experience metabolic damage after an extended time of over-exercising and under-eating to a certain threshold where the body will cling onto any consumption of food as fat, even if the amount does not reach an excess. In general, metabolic damage seems to last for at least one or two years, sometimes more, depending on how much depletion has occurred. No matter how long and intense someone workouts or how little and clean someone eats, the weight never comes off. In fact, one may actually find that these habits will enable them to put on more weight!
But just like anything else in this world, you have your skeptics on the other side. Many knowledgeable and credible people in the field of health, fitness, and nutrition combat the anecdotes with research, which demonstrate otherwise. Some starvation studies prove that there is no such thing as a “set-point” where your body stops losing weight, let alone start gaining weight. Pounds just keep dropping and dropping, though the rate may drastically slow down at some point. In certain cases, people argue that those dealing with metabolic damage are secretly overeating or not exercising.
How about citing some papers? Well, unfortunately, most of the scientific evidence has seen little to no signs of apparent metabolic damage. According to a paper conducted by the Medical Research Archives, the findings did not correlate with the hypothesis stating that the metabolism can be permanently damaged or decelerated from severe over-exercise or caloric restriction. Most of the subjects recovered to their normal weights in twelve weeks at slowest. As we can see, science isn’t exactly in favor of metabolic damage, but that doesn’t mean it should be disregarded.
However, what if you’re actually not secretly overeating and are finding time to exercise every single day, all while struggling with excess fat? What’s going on, and what can you do to fix it? There may be several confounding variables that are causing your weight gain that do have to do with your metabolism, but are not directly caused by a damaged metabolism. One example involves hormonal imbalances. Over-exercising and under-nourishment can really mess with your hormones, which play a huge role in digestion, weight, hunger, sleep, and hydration. Major blame can be taken on cortisol, the stress hormone that is known to increase appetite and prevent fat breakdown.
Lastly, do I think that metabolic damage is real? Yes and no. To me, metabolic damage can be seen more as prolonged metabolic suppression or prolonged dysfunction of metabolic hormones. Even so, I really cannot state whether metabolic damage is real and if its affects are legitimate or exaggerated. Personally, I have only experienced weight plateaus and stagnation, in which I’d simply try a new form of exercise to combat it. In actuality, I am most certain that the most common extent of metabolic damage would last for half a year at MOST and two to three months on average. There may be cases where people experience metabolic damage for an extensive period of time, but they are few and far between. For the most part, if you are experiencing unexpected weight gain or frustration in losing some stubborn pounds, it may be because you just need to re-evaluate your lifestyle and make a few changes.
To prevent “metabolic damage” from ever happening to you, there are several measures you can take:
- Avoid fad diets as much as possible. Stop eliminating food groups or entire macronutrients from your diet for the sake of reaching such a low body weight. Any cleanse should not be conducted on a regular basis, and if you see a weight loss program that promises a ten-pound weight loss in less than two weeks, steer clear.
- Find a sustainable lifestyle that ensures you eat as healthily as you can, exercise regularly, but also allows enough treats to keep you on track. Whether it is enjoying a slice of pizza once a week, having a serving of Oreos every night, or maybe even reserving a whole cheat day out of the week, sustainable looks different for everyone. Experiment for a bit to figure out what works best for you.
- Change up your routine if you feel stuck. This works best in terms of exercise, or even upping the calories for a span of two to three days and then taking it back to your original maintenance intake. Your body adapts to a routine after a period of time, so caloric expenditure decreases around that time. That’s why the last five to ten pounds are the hardest to lose! Rather than decreasing calories and increasing exercise even more, just try something different. You may actually grow to love another form of exercise!
- Don’t fixate so much on body image and physical exteriors. It is extremely tempting to compare yourself to models, Instagram stars, celebrities, and even other people in your everyday life. Your roommate may have the metabolism of a cheetah, but that doesn’t make you any less of a human being. We are all different, and that’s that. If looking at other people’s bodies just makes you more discouraged, consider taking time off of social media and stepping on a scale.
- If you’re going to lose weight, do so in a practical manner. Unless you have a deadline, it is a lot better to lose ten pounds over the course of two to three months rather than just a few weeks. Slow and steady wins the race, and here’s why: tweaks that are much less overwhelming have been proven to be kept much longer than drastic changes. Contestants from major weight-loss television shows or weight-loss programs often find themselves gaining all the pounds back, plus more, which proves how challenging it is to follow such strict plans. As anecdotal evidence, I maintained a relatively low body weight for over two years–one where I didn’t menstruate and could barely eat as much as I do now–and finally changed everything out of mental and physical exhaustion.
- De-stress as much as possible. If there is one central factor that can wreak havoc on your metabolism, it is stress in any form. When you find yourself struggling to exercise with all your might, walk up the stairs, or even just to get out of bed, then consider taking one or more rest days. Alternatively, you can step away from a regimented diet and enjoy one or two treats per week to see what happens. Your body was meant to live contently and not to be overworked. Give yourself a break!
Have you ever experienced something like metabolic damage?