In our last post, we explained how skipping meals is a surefire way to sabotage your own weight loss efforts. Now that you know what not to do, let’s talk about what you can (and should) do to boost your metabolism for weight loss success—but first, let’s gain some clarity.
What is Metabolism, Anyway?
Your body doesn’t just need energy for physical and mental activity; it also needs energy for all the “invisible” processes that sustain you, like breathing, repairing your cells, keeping your blood flowing, and producing and regulating hormones, among others.
Metabolism refers to the series of processes the human body uses to convert food into life-giving energy. The digestive process plays a part in metabolism, and so do hormones like leptin, which signals to your body that you are full, and insulin, which allows sugar from the foods you eat to enter your cells so it can be used as energy.
This energy is measured in units called calories. When you read the nutrition label on a package of food, the number of calories listed represents the amount of energy you can expect your body to obtain from one serving size of that food. Your body needs a certain number of calories each day to produce the energy it takes to keep itself functioning.
Metabolism and Weight
If we eat more than our bodies actually need, the excess calories are stored by the body in the form of fat. In the absence of food, our bodies can “burn”—that is, metabolize—this fat for energy. (You can see this principle in action by observing how certain animals “bulk up” during the fall to help their bodies survive the winter, when food is scarce.)
However, if we continue to take in more food than is required for our bodies’ energy needs, over time our bodies will store more and more fat without ever having the chance to burn any of it. With so much stored energy, the metabolism slows down because it doesn’t have to work as hard to create energy from the food we eat. This is what causes weight gain.
How to Speed Up Your Metabolism
The good news is that revving up a sluggish metabolism is pretty straightforward, though the strategy may surprise you. So what’s the secret?
Step 1: Work out to build muscle.
Aerobic exercise is also important; it keeps your heart healthy, and it causes your metabolism to burn large amounts of calories all at once. But it’s strength training—the kind of exercise that builds lean muscle—that keeps your body burning calories around the clock.
It costs more energy for your body to sustain muscle mass than it does for your body to sustain fat. This means that the more muscle mass you have, the more calories your metabolism will burn—even when you’re resting or sitting at the office between workouts. Exercising to build muscle is the number one thing you can do to boost your metabolism, and that’s why we’ve listed it first.
Step 2: Eat a healthy, well-balanced meal that’s high in fiber and protein every 4 hours.
It takes about 4 to 5 hours for your stomach to completely empty itself after a well-balanced meal, and that’s about when you should expect to start feeling hungry again. The key here is well-balanced—it’s vitally important to your body’s overall health that you get enough of the right kinds of food each day. The best diet is one that includes plenty of fruits and vegetables and the right proportions of carbohydrates and protein.
Just like an engine, your metabolism needs to be used regularly and correctly in order to keep functioning well in the long term. Starting with a good breakfast and timing your meals appropriately throughout the day will help your metabolism get back in the groove. Getting plenty of fiber will help as well because it helps keep food moving smoothly through your digestive system, a big part of the metabolic process.
Step 3: Get a good night’s sleep every night.
If you suffer from insomnia or have a habit of staying up way too late on weeknights, you may be in trouble. Studies show that even mild sleep deprivation can have disastrous effects on your metabolism.
When you routinely don’t get enough sleep, you impair your body’s ability to produce and manage hormones, specifically those that help regulate appetite and those that control blood sugar levels and insulin production. These hormones must be kept in a careful balance for your metabolism to function at its best.
Bonus Tips and Tools:
Watch your total daily calorie intake.
Adding another meal or two to your usual diet means you’ll have to adjust the amount of calories you eat at each meal. Use the Mayo Clinic’s healthy weight pyramid tool to find out how many total calories your body needs each day, and do your best to stick to that number.
Plan your meals.
It’s much easier to eat right, stay on track, and avoid temptation when you have a plan to follow. To see how many calories are in your favorite foods, look them up in the NutritionIX food database and use that information to plan your meals accordingly.
Practice good sleep hygiene.
We’ve all heard the “8 hours a night” rule, but the truth is that sleep needs vary from person to person. Follow these steps to determine exactly how much sleep your body needs each night. Then, check out the National Sleep Foundation’s healthy sleep tips to make sure you’re getting the best sleep possible.
Major Metabolism, Reporting for Duty
Up until now, your metabolism may have secretly been working against you—but by following these steps and putting in a genuine effort to do what’s right for your body, you’ll make your metabolism a powerful ally in your weight loss campaign.
That being said, weight loss shouldn’t feel like a war; you’re not out to fight your fat or beat your body into submission. Instead, think of your body as your base of operations, essential to your existence and worthy of defending. And in this case, defending your body means making sure all its needs are met and that all its systems are functioning properly. So take a second to salute yourself, and then rally the troops!