my metabolism is broken
August 20, 2008 5:22 PM   Subscribe

How can I get my metabolism back up?

Basic states: Female, 28, weigh about 160 lbs, height 5'3". For what it's worth, I also poop regularly - usually once or twice a day.

My metabolism is slow. It's been slow for a long time. Is there any way I can (healthily) rev it up?

A little over a year ago, I moved out of suburbia, sold my car, and moved to a new city. Since then, I've gone from a drive-3-blocks-to-the-grocery-store style, to what I call old-school active - I don't necessarily work out, nor do I own a gym membership. But I walk everywhere, carry stuff everywhere, utilize stairs much more often, and consider myself pretty active. On a lazy day, I walk about 2 miles (door to door, not including steps in a building). On an average day, about 5 miles.

Since I've moved, my diet is a bit healthier, but I've lost a whopping... about 2 pounds. I don't know if I've gained muscle, but it doesn't matter, because my clothes from suburbia fit about the same as they do know. I can't lose weight.

I eat about 1200-1600 calories a day. Mostly going something like this, with some variation:

Breakfast: One cup coffee with splenda and skim milk, plus a piece of fruit (apple or nectarine usually) OR a cup of cream of wheat (made with water, not milk)
Lunch: Half a chicken or veggie panini, with some snacking veggies (raw carrots, celery). Occasionally a chocolate chip cookie.
Early dinner: the other half of panini
Evening snack: a piece of fruit, or maybe a small bowl of cereal (cheerios, or wheaties with skim milk), sometimes with a tablespoon of organic granola added.

I don't drink soda. Occasionally drink juice. All water (and enough of it), except for the morning cup off coffee. I'll have a glass of red wine about twice a month.

What I want to know is this - it's been stated that if Americans adopted a healthier lifestyle, they'd be healthier, and less obese/overweight. I feel like I live this "lifestyle" - I walk everywhere, and I don't eat terribly. I refuse to believe that it's the occasional chocolate chip cookie that makes my metabolism so slow, and makes me unable to lose weight.

Other than my weight, I'm healthy - blood pressure, cholesterol, etc, are all fantastic. And maybe it's superficial, but I'm tired of being the chubby girl who is perpetually inclined to this body type.

I think in my teenage years, some crash dieting severely messed up my metabolism, and has been wonky since then. When I was 15, the same height I am now, and 125 lbs, I was convinced I was fat. I became a vegetarian for all the wrong reasons, thinking that meat made people fat. For most of one summer, I ate 300 calories a day. A small bowl of cereal with skim milk, and a small piece of fruit. That's all I ate day in and day out, and also exercised rigorously - upwards of 4-5 hours a day. I went down to about 100 lbs. Once classes resumed, I upped my caloric intake to 1000 - which for an active 15 year old, is still normally insufficient (these were all "good" calories, mind you). Within 4 months, I gained back all the weight I lost, and gained a few pounds extra. I know that it's because my body was recuperating from starvation mode, and holding onto this seemingly surplus of more than three times what I had been eating previously. I have never crash dieted since.

This was over a decade ago, but I think some of the damage I did during that year still affects how my body metabolizes food. I'm wondering if as an adult, there is anything I can do to change my metabolism to achieve a leaner body. Since my move over a year ago, I feel healthy, and thankfully have a clean bill of health every time I go to the doctor, so this is mostly a superficial thing.

Thank you for all thoughts.
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (33 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
What's on the paninis?
posted by Miko at 5:37 PM on August 20, 2008

Ouch. Do you have a reliable Dr to talk to? I know that the classic advice to to gain muscle mass, but metabolisms are not fair, and what works for one body doesn't work for another.

You eat very, very little for an active person, so I don't think you're being superficial at all. Being healthy is a great thing, and incidentally, a lot of people are talking about how it is possible to be healthy and have a higher than "ideal" body mass. If you can talk to an endocrinologist or a dietitian, please do.
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 5:40 PM on August 20, 2008

Your body is starving. 1200 calories isn't enough. Figure out your basic metabolism, based on your activity level (there's any number of calculators out there; take the geometric mean of them). Not counting running around and direct *exercise* but using the tables for a very active person, take the basic number and subtract 300. Shoot for that, maybe 400 under. Once a week, eat whatever the hell you want.

An extremely strict diet is a sure way to never lose any weight because your body is used to the starvation calories.
posted by notsnot at 5:43 PM on August 20, 2008 [5 favorites]

According to this calculator, your diet of 1200 to 1600 calories a day is far below what an average, active woman is at. So, either you're miscalculating calories consumed or you're overestimating your activity level. Perhaps a little of both.

Forget the metabolism issue (and btw, you're metabolism of 10 years ago has no bearing on your metabolism of today), you should do more aerobic exercise (carrying things upstairs doesn't count ... you gotta raise your heart rate to 60-80 max capacity for an extended period) while maintaining your eating habits and see what happens.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 5:45 PM on August 20, 2008

There's no way your metabolism is so slow that you don't lose weight on 1200 calories a day and yet have the energy to walk as much as you say you do. So the others have to be correct; you're underestimating the amount of calories you eat or overestimating the amount of exercise you get.

If your metabolism was running so slowly that you weren't losing weight on 1200 calories a day you wouldn't be getting out of bed most of the time.
posted by Justinian at 5:50 PM on August 20, 2008 [2 favorites]

At 160 lbs, eating 1200-1600 calories with 250-500 calories being burned walking, you should definitely be at a caloric deficit, even if you've got an unbelievably slow metabolism. How are you calculating your calories? If you're buying premade/prepared food, there can be tons of hidden calories in those. If you're estimating your calories without meticulously writing down what you're eating, your numbers may be off. I recommend writing down everything you eat for a week or two and see how accurate your 1200-1600 is.

As far as upping your metabolism goes, there's really only one to do it: exercise. You can pretty much pick anything you like here and since you're untrained you should see big benefits. However, it's important to mention that you should focus on quality over quantity. Many people are content to go out and slowly jog 5 miles. While this will burn significant calories, it will likely increase your hunger comparably and can even be catabolic (muscle destroying). Doing harder efforts over smaller distances will burn less calories but trigger all kinds of great muscle building and fat releasing hormones (see links below). I would also strongly encourage you to consider weight training. Weight training absolutely WILL NOT making you larger unless you eat for it.

Some references:
Stumptous - a women's weight lifting page
Interval training (wikipedia) - in case you don't know what it is (see also HIIT)
Crossfit - probably the best "general" fitness program, but you probably need...
Crossfit scaled - A forum where they post scaled Crossfit programs

As with any training program, particularly for you as someone who is out of shape and untrained, TAKE YOUR TIME. If you hurt yourself, you'll just end up getting larger.
posted by christonabike at 5:59 PM on August 20, 2008

it's been stated that if Americans adopted a healthier lifestyle, they'd be healthier, and less obese/overweight. I feel like I live this "lifestyle" - I walk everywhere, and I don't eat terribly.

I think this statement has quite a bit of truth in it. A recent study found that moderate exercise ISN'T enough to lose more than a few pounds of weight. The summary conclusion:
The addition of 275 mins/wk of physical activity, in combination with a reduction in energy intake, is important in allowing overweight women to sustain a weight loss of more than 10%.
That's, like, 4 hours more per week. Note to the haters - they were givin those women between 1200-1500 calories per week, ON TOP of the strenuous exercise. However, I can't really access the full article.
posted by muddgirl at 6:02 PM on August 20, 2008

I meant that the statement "if Americans adopted a healthier lifestyle, they'd be less obese/overweight" is false, or at least a gross understatement of the work actually required to effect long-lasting weigh tloss.
posted by muddgirl at 6:03 PM on August 20, 2008

Have you been checked for endocrine disorders? Something as simple as hypothyroidism or as complicated as Cushing's Syndrome are always possibilities when active people with healthy diets are overweight.
posted by hydropsyche at 6:09 PM on August 20, 2008

What hydropsyche said. If what you've said is accurate, you probably have an endocrine issue.

Exercise is always a good thing. But you're eating very little for an adult. Ideally we shouldn't have to monitor what we eat so closely.
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 6:22 PM on August 20, 2008

You might want to try incorporating some cardio and light weigh-lifting exercise into your weekly routine. Exercise until you get sweaty 3-5 times a week. Light weight-training is realy good for burning fat.

I wonder if your body thinks it is being starved and is hoarding the calories you consume? Try eating smaller nutrient dense meals throughout the day.

As for what you are eating, are you making the Panini yourself or at a restaurant? That can make a pretty big difference and you might be getting way more calories in that than you expect. With such a light breakfast, you must be starving by lunch time! Try having some protein in the morning, like a hard-boiled egg, whole wheat toast with peanut butter or yogurt. You are also not getting enough calcium, which is important to women your age!
posted by pluckysparrow at 6:26 PM on August 20, 2008

muddgirl: I think the disagree is what constitutes "strenuous exercise". 4 hours per week isn't remotely what I'd call strenuous even if you're lugging anvils around or something. More like the bare minimum to avoid being a total couch potato.

My reading of the OPs question is that she already exceeds 4 hours per week if she "walks everywhere". If her walking totals less than 4 hours per week then the problem is clearly not enough exercise and the solution is to increase exercise to something more than a minimal amount.

OP: it can't hurt to get your thyroid checked or whatever but keep in mind that, like Aspergers or Lyme disease, the number of people online who think they might have a thyroid problem is a small fraction of the number of people who actually have a thyroid problem. Generally speaking, if you had an endocrine disorder such that you don't lose any weight at 1200 calories a day with moderate to heavy exercise, you would feel like total crap in a number of different ways. None of which you indicated in your post.

Have you tried writing down every single calorie that passes your lips for a week? I mean EVERYTHING. You say you can't believe that the occasional cookie makes that much of a difference but I promise you that those little things add up. I almost cried when I did the math to find out how long I would have to exercise to burn the calories from one muffin. I'm not exaggerating; it takes a LOT more exercise than you'd think to burn 200 calories.
posted by Justinian at 6:29 PM on August 20, 2008

Justinian, did you read the summary? The participants who lost weight burned 305 Calories per day more than those who didn't. Since I can't read the full article, I don't know how the classified moderate vs. strenuous, but 1800 Calories over 270 minutes is more than just walking to the store - that's burning 200 Calories in 30 minutes, which is about what I do on, say, the elliptical.
posted by muddgirl at 6:44 PM on August 20, 2008

Strength training, absolutely. I find whenever I stop lifting weights my metabolism slows to a crawl, even with constant walking. Even if you don't lose pounds you will drop a size or two, because muscle is so much denser than fat. You can get results quite quickly, even with simple at-home dumbbell or bodyweight moves. Get a book with a nice structured routine so you don't have to worry about muscle groups or rep/set schemes and all that right off the bat. I like Eight Minutes in the Morning for a beginner routine that doesn't require a big time commitment. (Ignore all nutrition advice in fitness books, BTW.) Yoga or pilates are also good.

I agree with others that you're probably eating too little and/or underestimating. Keeping track of every bite, even for just a week or so, helps so much. SparkPeople or FitDay are two sites that make it (relatively) painless.
posted by libraryhead at 7:22 PM on August 20, 2008

Eat more, and throw in some strength training. Increase your veggie intake, and have something besides paninis.

Also make sure you are getting enough sleep. That actually matters too.
posted by konolia at 7:40 PM on August 20, 2008

muddgirl: Justinian, did you read the summary? The participants who lost weight burned 305 Calories per day more than those who didn't.

It doesn't specify the base amount, though. I am assuming it's basically 0. As in, no extra exercise over what you get from normal officey activities. If that's 305 on top of working out at the gym every day I'll grant you the point but I don't think we have any way to answer the question.

It's true that if you burn 200 calories in 30 minutes it's more than walking to the store. But OP says she walks everywhere. I'm assuming she walks miles and miles every day. Last time I was in Europe I ate like an absolute pig for two weeks. I assumed I gained a ton of weight. In fact, maintained my weight almost exactly. Why? I was walking four hours a day.

If that's not accurate for the OP then (again) we have the answer; The OP needs to exercise more. Walking down the block to the store or a quarter mile to the movie theater once a week won't cut it. You need 45 minutes of real exercise a day OR walking many miles a day.

I don't think we're disagreeing on the main thrust; the OP is likely either significantly underestimating the amount of exercise needed to burn a decent amount of calories, significantly overestimating the number of calories she burns by walking, underestimating the number of calories in the occasional cookie or snack, or a combination of the above.

If you eat three cookies (or equivalent) a week that may well erase all of your potential weight loss. All of it. That's like pound a month or 24 pounds in 2 years.

Unless you are seriously exercising you simply can't sneak dessert or cookies or any junk food at all. Sad, but true.
posted by Justinian at 7:41 PM on August 20, 2008

Um I have no good advice, but I just want to add my support. Doubters, what the OP claims IS possible.

My mom weighs more than you, eats even less than you, and the pounds don't fucking budge. I can say this for certain, because I've been around her recently for days, even weeks at a time, and not only does she barely crack 1,000 calories a day -“just not hungry”- but she works all day without hardly sitting. Yes it defies logic. FWIW, she’s getting a physical and thyroid check, at my urging.

Lots of people claim they "don't know why" they're overweight, so find a doc who takes you seriously.
posted by for_serious at 7:41 PM on August 20, 2008

Try adding some protein to your diet. I'm not talking about low-carb, but I did this and not only felt more satisfied with what I ate, but I lost a lot of weight.
posted by howrobotsaremade at 7:50 PM on August 20, 2008 [1 favorite]

This sounds all too familiar to me, and yes, I have a diagnosed underactive thyroid, which is still in the process of being properly regulated. It sucks. Case in point I spent an entire summer walking over an hour and swimming an hour each day and did Weight Watchers faithfully only to lose absolutely nothing. This may not be your issue at all, but it is something to consider.

While it's great to be that active in how you approach daily life, you might want to add in a more regimented form of exercise (say 30 min. of cardio like a treadmill and some weight training exercises). The best way to figure this out is to join a gym, but you can certainly develop your own plan by scouring the internet. Sometimes a change in physical activity will jumpstart your metabolism.

I tend to believe that you are accurately assessing what you're eating, but it's also easy to misjudge nutritional values. I find that tracking my food and beverage intake daily (I am still using the Weight Watchers point system) keeps me making good choices and sometimes reveals something that I didn't realize was sabotaging my efforts. Lastly, you might want to think about visiting a nutritionist who can truly judge whether your diet is helping and not hurting you. This is next on my list, and I'm hoping to discover something helpful. Please feel free to email me if you want more details about any of the above or more ideas. Good luck!
posted by katemcd at 7:56 PM on August 20, 2008

I walk about that amount every day, sometimes more, and to be honest it's not that much — maybe an hour or an hour and a quarter of walking at the most, mostly low intensity, spread out over an entire day. It's not like the European vacation where you are hiking up steep cobblestone streets for most of each day, or hiking on wilderness trails carrying a pack. It's a nice baseline of activity, and better than being sedentary. But it simply isn't an enormous amount of exercise that's going to transform your physique.

(It is, however, definitely good for you in terms of health: here is the latest "better to be fit and fat than skinny and sedentary" article from the Times, and you are well above their minimum range of exercise.)

On the food front, I also am wondering if you either eating too little (and thereby keeping your body in perpetual starvation mode), or eating more than you think you are (looking online, the calorie range for a panini covers a lot of ground, as do chocolate chip cookies). Or both, in that most days you eat too little, and then once or twice a week you eat too much.
posted by Forktine at 8:19 PM on August 20, 2008

I carried about thirty extra pounds all the way from my teenage years to my mid twenties. No matter how active I was, I remained overweight. I dieted, and would lose about three to five pounds, but then I'd stall -- no matter how few calories I ate, or how religiously I stuck to Weight Watchers.

I just resigned myself to being one of those naturally chubby sorts -- until my metabolism started slowing in my mid-twenties, and it became apparent that I was about to get even chubbier. It was so frustrating, because I knew I wasn't eating any more than my friends (some of whom were a whole lot more sedentary). As a result, I was frustrated enough to try something everyone around me had always dismissed as a crazy fad: low carb eating.

For me this wasn't about giving up this food or that food, it was about privileging protein and fat over carbs -- period. I read a bunch of books (Atkins, South Beach, Protein Power) and boiled it down to that basic rule. Also, one more thing: I made no distinction between "good" carbs and "bad" carbs, because after a little research, I found that your body doesn't really recognize the difference, in turns of how it breaks into glucose. So, I simply cut out sugar and all grains. I did add back in fruit that was low GI within the first month, though -- I couldn't give up my apples and berries.

But hey, did I lose weight! And without any hunger whatsoever. Within a year, I weighed less than I ever have (at least since I turned thirteen and puberty hit). I've maintained within a three pound range for almost two years now, just by making grains and sugar a very occasional (think: once a week) treat in my menus.

Let me say, I know some people STRONGLY object to this sort of diet, and I fully admit that it would not work for everyone. If you're vegetarian, if you don't like (or feel willing to learn, as I did) how to cook, it'd be much more difficult. Also, it's tough to say goodbye to good food. Bread was always my favorite food in the world. But after the terrible cravings and headaches from sugar withdrawal, which lasted about two weeks, I suddenly felt this insane burst of energy. And it has never faded. For that reason alone, I have been able to consign bread to the "rare treat" shelf. Well, that and I like the way I eat: full-fat yogurt, avocados galore, spinachy omelets, asparagus and steak... to my astonishment, I've actually become one of those girls who is told, "You eat like a pig, how the hell do you stay so thin?"

Sorry to sound like an infomercial here, it was just such a huge revelation for me that I always like to suggest it to people who aren't having any luck with the traditional weight loss routine. If you're at all interested in trying it, I strongly suggest you look into the science behind it first. Good Calories Bad Calories by Gary Taubes isn't a diet book, but it;s a good place to start, because it breaks down the science in a meticulous way. It also has an eightysomething page bibliography of peer-reviewed articles about studies of low-carb diets. (Taubes is quite an advocate of low-carb. He's also a science writer for the NY Times.)
posted by artemisia at 9:26 PM on August 20, 2008 [14 favorites]

I'd join an ultimate frisbee team. I hate walking and running, so it's the only physical exercise I do but I run (really) hard when I play frisbee so I assume that's what keeps me in shape.

For the record I'm a guy, 6'2", 180lbs.
posted by sirsteven at 10:23 PM on August 20, 2008

Weight training and/or high intensity cardio (HIIT) are what you're looking for.

Do that 3x a week. Eat carefully all week then binge on whatever for one meal.

The 'refeed' will kick your metabolism into overdrive if done only once per week.

And it's highly unlikely that a stint of dieting many years ago has any effect on your metabolism now.
posted by bradly at 10:27 PM on August 20, 2008

I have to disagree with those who say that you must be underestimating your calories because otherwise you would definitely lose weight on your diet and exercise plan. While it's possible you're underestimating, I think it's equally possible that you are estimating correctly and that, for whatever reason, your metabolism is slow.

Have you considered having it tested? I saw a nutritionist who had a fancy machine that measured my metabolism. She also told me a story of a female marathoner who came to see her whose metabolism was busted and she only burned something like 800 cal/day. So yes, it could be you. It could be a thyroid thing.

I agree with the above suggestions re: weight training and high-intensity interval training,. Both of those have helped me break through weight-loss plateaus in the past, after I was convinced I could no longer lose weight. Diet is a big part of weight-loss, but it sounds like you could also benefit from a structured workout program. Walking isn't going to burn all the calories you probably want to be burning.

Also, check out Leigh Peele. She has several e-books on just this very subject (The Fat Loss Troubleshooter, The Metabolism Repair Manual.) I haven't read them myself but I have a friend who swears by the metabolism repair manual--she was a compulsive exerciser/undereater who really screwed up her metabolism. It took a few months but she was able to fix it with really solid nutrition and an actual workout plan. G'luck!
posted by Bella Sebastian at 12:45 AM on August 21, 2008 [2 favorites]

Your metabolism is slow because you're not eating enough. Eat more. One panini a day is no way near enough food.

And I think you're still probably eating disordered. You should see someone about that.
posted by Mitsuko at 3:05 AM on August 21, 2008

One panini a day ? Maybe a cookie ?

I agree with the above posters. Your metabolism is broken - go get yourself checked out, and yeah, have you considered that you might still have that eating disorder? Your current diet is terribly small.
posted by handee at 6:30 AM on August 21, 2008

The advice here is excellent (eat more, eat better, get moving, build muscle), but I'm still obsessing on the panini. Even if you up your calorie intake, which I'd recommend too, the panini is probably not the best way to get your day's calories from main meals. Depending on how they're made, they can have an insane amount of calories, and they aren't nutritionally dense. The oil-soaked bread, saturated-fat-laden cheese, additions like pesto and aioli, and miniscule amount of veggies are not doing your body a lot of favors and probably not providing enough muscle-building protein, vitamins, or long-lasting energy. Take a look at the nutrition info on Panera paninis: This one's 890 calories, this one's 840, Maybe these aren't what you're eating - but panini in general are not a great choice. (And if you're eating those Lean Cuisine paninis, then you're definitely not getting enough calories/day - besides which, they're full of processed gunk).

Look for something with more bulk from lettuces and fresh veggies that comes with some lean protein. Your best bet is to make the meals yourself - simple things like a big Greek salad with chicken, olives, lettuce, onion, roasted pepper, and a sprinkle of feta, or Southwestern-style salad with chicken, some black beans, salsa, peppers, onions, romaine, etc. Or vegetable-based veggie soup with a little chicken or beef thrown in. Veggies + lean protein are a winning combination. The veggies fill you up and make you feel satisfied. The protein helps you build muscle and uses more energy as it digests.
posted by Miko at 7:18 AM on August 21, 2008

The way that I did it (I am female, 5'4", and at my heaviest was 180-went down to a very fit 145): a lot of exercise and not so much calorie counting as an awareness of what I was eating. I would walk (breaking a sweat) for at least an hour every day, and ride my bike for an hour every night (again, not leisurely), up and down hills, etc. Weight training for 45 minutes to an hour every other day (or daily if I could fit it in). Half an hour of yoga daily. You really have to plan your schedule to fit it in. But, it can work. I did the walk to and from work/school, weights in the afternoon when I had a break, yoga when I got home, and bike ride at 8.

I would have my normal breakfast (16 oz of skim milk with Hershey's syrup-I can't eat in the morning). For lunch, 3 oz of baked chicken, no skin, 2 c. of vegetables, and a half of a baked potato.

Dinner was similar to lunch. I cut out all dairy except for the skim milk. No treats, not even the occasional cookie. And I measured everything, so that I knew EXACTLY what was going in. You also have to consume enough calories so that you don't put your body into starvation mode, where it will hoard any calories that come in.

I really recommend having a session or two with a trainer/dietitian who can set you on track.

It takes a lot of work. You can do it.
posted by bolognius maximus at 8:03 AM on August 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

I'll echo that you should get your thyroid checked to rule out hypothyroidism. It's a very simple taste and not a difficult condition to treat.
posted by mistsandrain at 10:20 AM on August 21, 2008

What worked for me was eating several small "meals" a day. I had already cut out all the refined carbs and most of the fat; my calorie intake was the same as yours is now, and I was already doing some exercise. I was 55 pounds overweight, and my weight had been the same for a decade, except for brief periods when I temporarily lost five pounds or so.

I'm not diabetic, but the way I eat now is pretty much what's recommended for diabetics. A nutritionist recommended that I eat frequently during the day, build each snack/meal around lean protein, and not let myself get too hungry. A daytime snack might be a slice of bread with turkey and a smallish piece of fruit, or a rye crisp, non-fat cottage cheese, and steamed vegetables. At dinner time, I have the same foods I always had, but the portions are smaller: just enough to feel satisfied. A couple of hours after dinner I have fruit if I feel so inclined, or low-fat ice cream.

After a couple of weeks of this, I became more attuned to how much food I needed. When I exercise more, I have to eat more. If possible, I eat something the moment I notice I'm a little hungry -- sometimes it's an hour and a half, sometimes it's three hours. It was very inconvenient and strange at first, and involved a lot more planning than I was used to -- but I started losing weight almost right away and that motivated me to stay with it. In the first couple of months I lost a pound a week, but now it's more like a pound a month. 18 pounds in the first year is GREAT, considering that I'm healthy and never too hungry. I know that in time I'll stop losing weight and still have to eat this way. I think I can deal with that.

I don't count calories at all now, but it averages out to maybe 1800 calories a day, more than it used to be when my weight was stuck on the same high number for years.

This method doesn't work out for everyone, but it definitely can't do you any harm.
posted by wryly at 10:25 AM on August 21, 2008

You can have your basal metabolism rate (the calories you burn daily without any extra exercise) measured by a specialist. I forget the name of the type of specialist, but your doctor would know, and you probably need a referral for it anyway if you have insurance.

There are tons of formulas on the internet for estimating basal metabolism rate, but they are based on averages, so if your metabolism is truly lower than normal, they won't help you.

Basal metabolism rate does not correlate with aerobic exercise. (They think) you can temporarily increase your rate through anerobic exercise. Increase of lean mass can increase your rate long term.

Your daily activities do not count as exercise. If you were going to lose weight from them it would have occurred right after the change in your lifestyle. Get a gym membership or add to your daily routine.

Also, as others have said, what you are eating sounds like way too little (though you can confirm that with the basal metabolism test). A panini is a very little amount of food for the calories it contains. Think about eating things like salads (be careful with dressings) which fill you up but aren't calorie-heavy. Digestion burns calories. On the days you have the veggie panini you are definitely not having enough protein, the same may be true on the chicken panini days, depending on the composition/size of the panini.

Basically, see a doctor. As you seem comfortable with routine, think about having the doctor design a diet.
posted by miscbuff at 10:36 AM on August 21, 2008

Very few people have a "slow metabolism." People are overweight because they consume more calories than they spend. But don't take my word for it, ask the Mayo Clinic:
posted by kellygreen at 5:30 PM on August 21, 2008

it's been stated that if Americans adopted a healthier lifestyle, they'd be healthier, and less obese/overweight. I feel like I live this "lifestyle" - I walk everywhere, and I don't eat terribly.

It's interesting because now I live in Norway, in a city where everyone walks and bikes nearly everywhere, but while no one I've seen is morbidly obese, plenty of people are overweight. I've also worked with many farmers that have washboard abs, but many more who deal with hard physical labor, but who still have a gut.

Genes, aging, hormones, and both the quantity and quality of food play their parts. You can only control so much.

For the record though, panini are what I ate to gain weight after an illness. That and yogurt smoothies did the trick. These days I only eat those things occasionally. Bread (and cereal) is one of those foods that humans didn't evolve to eat and it also contains little in the way of nutrients per calorie. I'd simply ditch it as part of your daily diet. I eat more protein instead and when I do eat sandwiches, I've taken up with the Nordic crispbread, which has more fiber per calorie.

Other foods that are pretty worthless include skim milk. Try not to eat foods that a. humans didn't evolve with b. humans have modified significantly. The fat-as-a-villain hypothesis doesn't hold up anyway. I encouraged my mother, who was struggling with her weight, to replace carbs with fat and protein and she has lost quite a lot of weight. Sugar is the bad guy!

Calorie counting misses the point. It's the composition of your diet that matters more. I have relatives that eat far far less than me in the form of skim milk, fruit, cereal, and other "diet" foods and even though they exercise every day, they can't seem to lose weight. I mainly just eat protein and fat and I don't even have to worry about calories because my meals fill me up so much. Salads, meat/veggie stir fries, and eggs are the way to go.
posted by melissam at 1:26 AM on August 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

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