Ah, the M word. If you were lucky enough to hit the genetic jackpot and score a metabolism that burns calories at lightning speed, then hey, good for you! (Okay, yes that was slightly bitter, but seriously, enjoy it.)
But, if you’re like the majority of us, your body’s hormonally charged calorie burner hums along at a so-so pace — and for that, you can thank not only Mom and Dad, but also your age, weight, and body type. The result: you’ve got to work pretty darn hard eating a ton of salads and hitting up SoulCycle so that you don’t saddle your body more calories than it can handle.
However, we have good news: According to Scott Isaacs, MD, an endocrinologist in Atlanta, Georgia, and author of Hormonal Balance: How to Lose Weight by Understanding Your Hormones and Metabolism, there are a handful of small changes you can make to prevent calories from turning into fat...and basically transform your weight fate. Yeah, we thought you might want to keep reading.
Designed by Ammiel Mendoza
1. GET SOME SLEEP. SERIOUSLY.
It’s something you’ve got to do anyway, every single day, so why not do it right and really make it work for you? Sure, it’s not always easy to tally up the recommended seven to nine hours a night or the really good REM deep kind. But, the more quality sleep time you log, the skinnier you may get.
“A huge amount of recent research connects sleep to appetite and metabolism,” says Isaacs. “We know insufficient sleep (and approximately 50 to 70 million Americans suffer from some type of sleeping disorder, the National Institutes of Health finds), can lead to slower metabolism, as well as increase hypertension, diabetes and weight gain—and I see it with my patients — when people improve their sleep, they can see dramatic weight loss.”
Here’s why: when you’re in a peaceful slumber, your body produces more leptin (Greek for thin!), a hormone that legit suppresses appetite. So, if you don’t get enough zzz’s, you also don’t get enough leptin, and bam!, you’re starving the next day because your brain sends word that you’re hungry even though you're not. But Isaacs warns that you shouldn't take this as a free pass to never get out of bed — too much of anything isn’t good — and racking up too much sleep can actually have the reverse effect. So, that seven to nine hour number is truly the sleeping sweet spot.
2. WORK UP A SWEAT. AGAIN. AND AGAIN. AND AGAIN.
It’s not rocket science: When you work out, you lose weight. “Exercise affects metabolism better than any medicine we know of,” says Isaacs. Not only because your body exerts more energy and therefore utilizes more (as in, that amazing pasta dinner you had last night) to get all those pushups done, but also because it also puts your metabolism into overdrive. “All exercise boosts metabolism,” says Isaacs. “But it’s crucial to not just do one kind — you need to build muscle with strength and resistance training as well as do cardio which can boost metabolism for 24 hours after.” Basically, post-workout, your body keeps torching calories even when you’re doing nada.
But, a word of caution: Don’t get all gung-ho and then fall off the workout wagon. “Muscle is the deciding factor in metabolic rate because it’s more metabolically active and burns more calories,” says Isaacs. “Yo-yo dieters lose muscle and fat then get back fat and less muscle, creating a change in body composition that could slow metabolism for good.”
Also, while the thought of hitting the gym three to five times a week might not be your cup of tea, you might like to know that you don’t have to kill yourself every time. “Sure, the higher your intensity the better effect on metabolism, but even low to moderate workouts help a lot,” says Isaacs. “And for the average person, it’s better to increase the frequency of exercise then to go hard then not do it at all — consistency keeps hormones like leptin as well as insulin receptors balanced — and that balances your metabolism, too.”
3. AVOID AS MANY TOXINS AS POSSIBLE.
When it comes to just about everything — from the beauty products you slather on every day to the food you eat and the cleaning spray you wipe gook away. “You want to try and limit your contact with environmental endocrine disruptors (chemicals in our environment known as “obesogens” that can slow metabolism and boost appetite),” says Isaacs.
BPA (a.k.a. bisphenol A, which is found in the liner of canned foods and drinks), phthalates (a plasticizer), tributlyn (a fungicide), and triclosan (an antifungal, antibacterial agent).
Isaacs recommends using fresh foods (not from a can), washing fruits and veggies (because even when you put them in the plastic bag, the aforementioned chemicals can coat them) as well as watching what you touch (BPA is even found in the paper often used for credit card receipts). And wash your hands several times a day because this can dramatically lower the amount of potential toxins that you come in contact with.
While Isaacs notes that most of the research on how these toxins affect metabolism has been done in the lab, there is quite a bit on how they act as endocrine disruptors. Which basically means these chemicals are imitating hormones in your body — as they are chemically similar— and end up stimulating or blocking hormone receptors in the body. And since metabolism is kept in check by hormones performing just so, a hormonal imbalance can completely F the entire thing up.
4. SPICE UP YOUR (FOOD) LIFE.
Pass the sriracha, please. Heating up the flavor on your favorite dishes with some kick could do the same for your metabolism. Think red chili peppers, black pepper, turmeric, cinnamon, garlic and ginger.
“These herbs can contain capsaicin, compounds that convert calories into heat (a.k.a. thermogenesis) or piperine, a chemical that stimulates brain receptors that also stimulates metabolism,” says Isaacs, who notes there are also over-the-counter capsaicin supplements that you can pop, too.
5. CHILL OUT
No, we don’t mean calm down — turn down the thermostat, literally. While it usually seems like the more you sweat (we're looking at you Bikram Yoga) the faster you lose weight, the opposite could be true: “Cooling the body forces it to generate more body heat and therefore burning more calories and in turn, boosting metabolism,” says Isaacs, who suggests exercising in cold weather, keeping it a little chilly in your apartment, and drinking ice water as much as possible.
This is basically how you stimulate your body to do its own thermogenesis, a process that docs have known about for decades: “People who work in extremely cold conditions need to consume huge of amounts of calories to stay warm,” says Isaacs, who adds that it could explain why a recent study suggests that warmer indoor temperatures could be partly responsible for the obesity epidemic
6. DON’T PLAY THE HUNGER GAME.
“When you’re hungry, your metabolism will slow down — it’s a natural bio mechanism,” says Isaacs. The ultimate I’m-starving trifecta of hunger hormones (leptin, ghrelin and neuropeptide Y, a.k.a. NPY) are also the ones that will kick your body into calorie-storage mode.
How can you prevent these from flooding your system? The same been-there-ignored-that tips you hear all the time really do work — eat breakfast regularly. “The body wants to protect from starvation — it’s in our genetic code to not eat all the time and survive famine — so a slower metabolism is essentially a protective mechanism,” says Isaacs.
Trick your cave woman (or man)-like instincts by eating when you aren’t hungry. Yes, you read that right. Because it’s just as much when you eat as what you eat that matters, suggests this study published in the May issue of Cell Metabolism and reported on ScienceDaily.com
“From a practical standpoint, most people don’t eat this way because it’s really difficult to eat when you aren’t hungry,” says Isaacs. “But if you want to maintain healthy metabolism, eat before you’re hungry and prevent
hunger instead of just reacting to hunger.”
7. BE CAREFUL WITH CARBS.
Here's an easy food switch that you already know is good for you (and your waist): Opt for healthy carbs, not the processed kind. “When you eat unhealthy processed carbs such as wheat flour, as well as sugar and high-fructose corn syrup, your blood sugar spikes and this can lead to hormonal compensation and increased appetite,” says Isaacs.
8. LIQUID SUGARS COUNT, TOO.
All that stuff we were just talking about, warning against high-fructose corn syrup? We think you already know this, but it applies to sugary sodas and other drinks, too (ahem, fruity cocktails).
This explains the recent study
from Bangor University in England ties sugar drinks to weight gain.
9. CREATE MORE (BROWN) FAT.
Wait, what?! Why would anyone intentionally create more fat? Well, turns out fat cells are tricky little buggers. Since you've probably never looked at your them underneath a microscope, you think they’re all the same, right? Wrong.
There are actually two kinds: White fat, usually found around the belly and thighs comes from eating too many calories and is linked to inflammation as well as heart disease, and brown fat
, typically found near the neck and chest, is the mega heat producing counterpart (thanks to a ton of mitochondria, cells’ energy-making powerhouses) that actually helps your body burn more calories.
Unfortunately, we’ve got a lot more white than brown in our bodies — usually only one percent or less of the brown fat cells. “You can’t make more brown fat but with regular exercise and eating as well as keeping to cold temperatures
, you can make white fat become more metabolically active and act
like brown fat — or what scientists call ‘beige’ fat,” explains Isaacs.