If You Have a Slow Metabolism, Here Are 5 Doctor-Approved Ways to Burn Belly Fat

If you have a slow metabolism, trying to lose belly fat and weight can be disheartening, to say the least. Good news: it's still achievable, and experts recommend a few ways to make it happen. But there's also a reason losing weight, including belly fat, is challenging when you have a slow metabolism.

To explain that, let's first define what your metabolism actually is. When we say "metabolism," we're referring to metabolic rate, which is the way your body turns what you eat and drink into usable energy and how it stores that energy so you can use it later on. There are lots of factors that determine what "kind" of metabolic rate you have (fast, slow, etc.), including some you have no control over, like age and genetics.

However, your metabolic rate is also closely tied to your body composition and muscle mass, said Elizabeth Lowden, MD, bariatric endocrinologist at the Northwestern Medicine Metabolic Health and Surgical Weight Loss Center at Delnor Hospital. Specifically, you can boost your metabolism by increasing your muscle mass and lowering your body fat.

So it's a double challenge if you have a slow metabolism and you want to lose body fat. Your slow metabolism makes it difficult to lose the fat, but the fat makes it difficult to speed up your metabolism. It's a frustrating conundrum, said Holly Lofton, MD, director of the Medical Weight Management Program at NYU Langone Health. "We have to break that cycle somewhere," she told POPSUGAR. Ahead, Dr. Lowden and Dr. Lofton discussed ways to do just that.

Do I Have a Slow Metabolism?
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Do I Have a Slow Metabolism?

"Those with smaller body frames, who are shorter and may have difficulty holding on to muscle mass, tend to have lower metabolisms," Dr. Lowden told POPSUGAR. How can you tell if that's you? Get your metabolism tested, Dr. Lofton said. You can do this at weight-management centers as well as some gyms and dietitians' offices, and you have a few different options to choose from.

The first is called indirect calorimetry, which determines your metabolic rate by measuring your oxygen consumption and carbon-dioxide production. The second option is bioelectric impedance, which measures your fat mass, muscle mass, and water percentage — and from those, your metabolism — by way of a painless electrical impulse that passes through your body.

If neither testing option is available to you, Dr. Lofton said, you can also get a rough estimate of your metabolic rate from an online calculator. "Keep in mind that these only base off height and weight and will have some error depending on one's fat mass," Dr. Lofton cautioned.

Be in a Caloric Deficit
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Be in a Caloric Deficit

If you have a slow metabolism and want to lose belly fat, the first priority is to eat fewer calories, Dr. Lofton told POPSUGAR. You want to be in a slight caloric deficit, which means consuming fewer calories than you burn. "Weight loss always comes down to energy balance," Dr. Lowden explained. Dr. Lofton recommended cutting about 250 calories a day to start. Here's exactly how to get into a caloric deficit, if you've never done it before.

Slightly decreasing your calorie intake will help you start to lose fat. Maybe not necessarily from your belly — now is a good time to remember that you can't spot-reduce fat — but by reducing your body fat as a whole, you'll start seeing results around your belly. And when you lower your body-fat percentage, you'll also start to boost your metabolism, Dr. Lofton said.

Increase Physical Activity,  Especially Intense Cardio Exercise
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Increase Physical Activity, Especially Intense Cardio Exercise

While you're lowering your caloric intake, Dr. Lofton also recommended getting more exercise. Building muscle through strength training is actually the best way to boost your metabolism, but when your overall goal is to lose belly fat, Dr. Lofton actually recommended starting with cardio. "The body loses fat efficiently by doing intense physical activity," Dr. Lofton explained. Both cardio and strength training are important for your overall health and weight loss, but initially upping your cardio while reducing your caloric intake will lead to faster results.

Any kind of exercise will be helpful to start: walking more, taking the stairs, getting up and moving throughout the day. But the best weight-loss results will come when you're really upping your heart rate, "huffing and puffing, exerting yourself to the point where it's difficult to hold a conversation," Dr. Lofton said. "That's the level of intensity you want to get to."

High-intensity interval training is one option to try that's been proven to help with fat loss, especially when it comes to visceral fat, Dr. Lowden told POPSUGAR. Visceral fat is the fat around your organs, as opposed to the subcutaneous fat under your skin, which is the kind you can see. (Here's more on the difference between the two.) Visceral fat is actually the more dangerous kind, Dr. Lowden said, leading to metabolic health issues like abnormal blood sugar, heart disease, high blood pressure, and fatty liver disease. So doing HIIT actually benefits you in multiple ways: it'll help you lose fat overall and dangerous visceral fat in particular. We recommend this 45-minute bodyweight HIIT workout for weight loss as a good place to start.

Build Muscle
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Build Muscle

When you're about halfway to your goal weight, Dr. Lofton recommended starting strength training to increase your metabolism further. A caloric deficit and cardio workouts should help you lose fat, which improves your metabolism; now, putting on lean muscle mass will rev it up even more. Muscle increases your basal metabolic rate, explained Dr. Lowden, which means that your body burns more calories when you're at rest. "Higher levels of muscle mass can also increase the number of calories you burn during activities and exercise," she added. Basically, muscle equals a higher metabolism all around. Get started with this four-week weightlifting workout plan that's tailored for beginners.

Boost Your Metabolism With Healthy Fats and Protein
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Boost Your Metabolism With Healthy Fats and Protein

Healthy fats and protein take longer for your body to digest, and you actually expend more energy digesting them than you do other foods, Dori Arad, PhD, director of the Mount Sinai PhysioLab, told POPSUGAR in a previous interview. Though building muscle is the best way to increase your metabolism, eating more of these foods can give you a small boost. Protein has the added bonus of helping you build muscle, too. And when it comes to losing weight and working on your metabolic rate, every little bit counts!

Go for healthy fats like:

  • Nuts, including almonds and walnuts
  • Fatty fish, such as salmon and trout
  • Avocados
  • Olive oil

And choose lean sources of protein, such as:

  • Skinless chicken and turkey
  • Beans and lentils
  • Fish
  • Tofu
  • Ground beef that's 90 percent lean or leaner
Make Long-Term Changes, and Stay Consistent
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Make Long-Term Changes, and Stay Consistent

Having a slow metabolism and trying to lose weight can be incredibly frustrating, for all the reasons we've discussed, but it's not an impossible task. The difference between a "fast" and "slow" metabolism is less than you might think, Dr. Lowden told POPSUGAR, and it can be overcome with consistent lifestyle changes. "Lower basal metabolic rates mean that patience and consistency are important," she said. "It may take longer to make the right changes and see the results you are looking for, but it does not mean you will fail."