By Randi Mann, WHNP-BC, NCMP, APNP
Are weight loss and a healthier lifestyle at the top of your list of New Year’s resolutions? Then you’re not alone. Many people start out the new year vowing to drop some pounds – but not all succeed. This may be due to an under functioning metabolism – the rate at which we burn calories for energy – which directly correlates to weight gain and loss. The good news is that scientists have made a lot of advancements in our knowledge regarding metabolism, and tapping into those discoveries can put you on the road to success. According to current research, you’ll be more successful if you have a concrete plan that centers around a proactive approach to adding healthy habits to improve your metabolism, not depriving yourself.
In simple terms, your metabolism refers to the number of calories your body burns for energy. We know that when the body is efficiently burning calories, it also maintains a healthy weight and body composition. Your resting metabolic rate (RMR) is a measurement of how many calories you burn while at rest, without adding in additional exercise. The thermic effect of food is a reference to the increase in metabolic rate (the rate at which your body burns calories) that occurs after ingestion of food. When you eat food, your body must expend some energy (calories) to digest, absorb, and store the nutrients in the food you’ve eaten.
Many factors influence your metabolism overall and this includes your age, body, composition, gender and even the food you consume. Although we all tend to blame a slowing metabolism in middle age on growing older, new research shows that it’s not so much the aging process (although that does play a role), but the lifestyle changes we tend to make in late adulthood that are to blame for midlife weight gain.
Our metabolism impacts more than just our weight. Several other body systems are also impacted including our hormones.
If you are experiencing the following, it may be a sign that your metabolism is not functioning optimally:
- Tiredness and fatigue
- Struggle to lose weight – despite exercise
- Cold hands and feet
- Thinning hair
- Low libido
- Irregular periods
- Poor sleep
- Bloating, constipation and more
So what can we do to help speed up our metabolism and once again become an efficient calorie-burning machine? One thing that we highly recommend is getting your thyroid hormones tested by a functional medicine trained practitioner who will order more than just a TSH test (the one and only common test ordered by many providers). We often order 10 different tests to properly evaluate our patient’s thyroid function which has a huge impact in your metabolism.
Read on for 10 easily implemented lifestyle changes that can boost your metabolism and help you reach your resolution goals for 2022.
It may seem counter-intuitive, but calorie restriction can slow down your RMR. Think of it this way: Your body wants to make sure you have the energy you need. When it senses you might not have enough caloric intake to support basic energy requirements, it adapts by requiring fewer calories for survival. That’s a big reason why although crash diets may result in short-term weight loss, many people can’t sustain their new lower weight very long.
Certain spices have thermogenic effects which means they can switch on your body’s heat-production systems, boosting your metabolism as you eat them and afterwards. Spicy foods can have a more pronounced thermogenic effect, so increasing consumption of spicier foods, including cayenne pepper, ginger, and turmeric, can impact your metabolism.
The B vitamins serve many functions in the body, one of which is to help your body metabolize food, so it’s essential to get enough. Good sources of B vitamins include fruit and vegetables such as bananas, spinach and peas, whole grains, legumes, eggs, and lean meats. Note that vitamin B12 is mostly available through animal sources, so vegans and vegetarians may want to investigate supplements. Proper testing and speaking with a natural healthcare nurse practitioner can help determine if you have any nutrient deficiencies.
Heavily processed and overly sweetened foods and beverages create an inflammatory response in the body that slows digestion, increases the production of harmful free radicals, raises insulin resistance, and ultimately slows your metabolism. Instead of processed foods, choose foods as close to their natural state as possible. In particular, quality sources of protein are important. The thermogenic effect of consuming protein is higher than that of carbohydrates or fat, and protein helps prevent muscle loss if losing weight.
Because muscle is more metabolically active than fat, increasing the amount of muscle on your frame will raise your resting metabolic rate. A resistance training workout can also create an “afterburn” effect, in which you continue to burn a greater number of calories after the workout is over.
Making careful choices about what you drink can help keep your metabolism in check. Staying hydrated with water is important for maintaining a well functioning metabolism, as even mild dehydration may slow metabolism down. Some studies show that green and oolong tea consumption can boost your metabolic rate by as much as 5%. Coffee also has a similar thermogenic effect shortly after consumption.
Sleep has a surprisingly big impact on your metabolism, considering you’re not active when you’re asleep! Your body will find ways to conserve energy if you’re tired, and studies confirm that your RMR decreases after a night of inadequate sleep. Plus, when you’re tired, you’re more likely to make poor food choices, in part because sleep helps maintain a balance between the hunger hormone, ghrelin, and the fullness hormone, leptin.
When you’re stressed, your body’s “fight or flight” response leads to increased production of the hormone cortisol. Once again, this is the body’s way of trying to conserve energy in stressful times, and, as a result, cortisol can lead to an increase of appetite. Insulin secretion also increases with higher cortisol levels. This made sense centuries ago, when resources were often scarce during times of stress, but in today’s world of modern conveniences, it often leads to weight gain. Of course, reducing stress isn’t always easy, but stress-reduction strategies like moderate exercise and meditation have proven results.
Moving more doesn’t have to mean formal workouts at the gym. Simply adding more incidental movement throughout the day improves your metabolism. Whether you’re cleaning your house, parking a bit further away from the store, using a standing desk at work, or taking the stairs instead of an elevator, you’re helping your metabolism in a way that fits with your daily life. Even fidgeting more can help improve your non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT), which is the number of calories you burn aside from formal workouts. NEAT tends to slow down with age – we move less in regular life as we get older – so make a conscious effort to keep this on your radar as you age.
Skipping meals might seem like a good weight loss strategy, but ultimately, your body likes a regular schedule. As with low-calorie diets, skipping meals can trigger your body to conserve energy, which ultimately slows your metabolism.
Implement these healthy lifestyle changes and take control of your metabolism today! If you’d like some help finding out the perfect balance for your unique needs as well as with tailored recommendations and are interested in getting your thyroid function properly evaluate, we are here to help.
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