You may recall those times when you used to be able to bounce back from a vacation full of margaritas and buffets, or you simply could eat anything whenever you wanted without gaining a pound. However, recently it feels like no matter what you’re doing you can’t seem to lose weight or you’ve recently noticed a few pounds creeping up even though you’re eating well and exercising. There is nothing more frustrating than feeling like you’re doing it all, but not getting the results because of your sluggish metabolism – I totally hear you! I am sharing my top strategies for boosting your metabolism.
Firstly, what is metabolism?
It’s the way your body converts everything you eat and drink into energy – the stuff that fuels every single thing you do, from breathing to blinking to growing your hair and so on.
Your metabolic rate is influenced by many factors, including age, gender, muscle-to-fat ratio, amount of physical activity, and hormone function.
When someone says they have a slow metabolism, what they actually mean is that they have a low basal metabolic rate (BMR). BMR is the minimum amount of calories you eat each day that are spent just keeping you alive and providing the basic energy you need to live.
Even if you were to lay in bed all day, you would still need these calories to support your basic body functions. Which leads me to my first strategy on how to boost your metabolism:
1. DON’T OVERDO CALORIE CUTTING
When you eat less than your body’s minimum caloric requirement, your body slams the brakes on your metabolism. It also begins to break down valuable calorie-burning muscle tissue for energy.
To figure out your “basement” calories (your BMR) use this calculator. From there, when you add your activity level you can make a more realistic guess of your Total Daily Energy Expenditure, or TDEE. This reflects the entire amount of calories your body burns during a given day when you’re sleeping, ingesting and digesting food, working, and exercising.
There are many other factors that come with determining your calorie target, however, and working with a qualified healthcare practitioner can be useful in determining the least restrictive, calorically-appropriate program possible.
2. BOOST YOUR THYROID
Your thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland located in your neck. It acts as a metabolic thermostat by releasing hormones that work to control your body’s temperature and the rate that your body burns calories. When you under eat (typically 25% less than your basement calories) your thyroid takes note by slowing down. When your thyroid gland is healthy and functioning properly, your metabolism will be soaring. If your thyroid’s function is impaired, the metabolic rate slows down and this leads to weight gain.
At your next check up, ask your doctor for a complete thyroid test. An optimal TSH level should be less than 2.0, not the currently accepted 4.7 reported by most labs. T3 and T4 should be in the middle of your lab’s reference range, and your thyroid antibodies should be negative. It is worth checking rT3 if there are obvious symptoms suggesting an impaired thyroid.
3. GET ENOUGH SLEEP
Almost dozing off in line at Starbuck’s isn’t the only downside of not catching enough zzz’s. Researchers have found a link between metabolism and sleep, and not getting enough of it may seriously slow metabolism.
When you’re exhausted, your body lacks the energy to do its normal day-to-day functions, which include burning calories, so your metabolism is automatically lowered.
Some tips on better sleep: Schedule your workouts earlier in the day (exercising within two to three hours of bedtime can sabotage your body’s urge to sleep). Try soaking in a hot bath and sleep in a cool room. Wear a sleeping mask or use blackout curtains to encourage melatonin production (the sleep hormone). Make sure electronics are put away at least 1-2 hours before bedtime in another room as this can disturb sleep.
4. SUPPORT YOUR LIVER
Your liver is a 3lb organ that sits behind your right rib cage and it’s where the metabolism of carbohydrate, fat, and protein takes place. A healthy liver will help you burn and discard excess fat; a compromised one will slow down that process. Regularly consume liver-loving foods like beets, cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and brussels sprouts, leafy greens, lemons, garlic, and green tea or matcha. Consider taking milk thistle, an herb that detoxifies and supports the liver.
5. INCREASE YOUR PROTEIN AND FIBRE INTAKE
When fat loss is your goal, your diet should be heavy in foods with a high thermic effect (the energy used to digest food). Protein has a thermic effect upward to five times greater than carbohydrates or fat. So be sure to include fibrous vegetables and lean proteins. Lean protein foods like chicken breast, fish and egg whites have the highest thermic effect of all. Fibre from vegetables helps to lower blood sugar and insulin, stimulate digestion, as well as bind fat and cholesterol. Add 2 tbsp of ground chia or ground flax in your meals or smoothies to further boost fibre intake.
In regard to protein consumption, if you’re within the normal ranges for body composition and you are training regularly, 0.8 grams of protein per pound of lean body weight is a good formula to calculate your daily protein requirement.
6. LIFT HEAVY WEIGHTS
When you’re young, muscle mass stores up energy, preventing weight gain. However, with age, we lose that muscle, which gives way to more body fat. By the time you hit 40, your metabolism starts to slow down 5% every decade, making weight loss particularly challenging.
By strength-training just a couple of times a week for example, you’ll be fighting against that inevitable metabolism slow-down.
Muscle requires more energy than fat, so it makes sense that increasing your muscle % will as a result increase your BMR. Take it up a notch by including High-intensity interval training (HIIT) within your week to help you burn even more fat and increase your metabolism.
7. TRY TRAINING LESS
I mentioned weight training in point 6, but I also wanted to address that training too much can actually hinder your fat loss goals. This may need to be it’s own blog post for the future but for now I’ll tell you that going over board with exercise (especially too much cardio) is a form of stress on the body. And when we go back to my second piece of advice on this list about the importance of optimal thyroid levels for improved metabolic function, it’s common that overtraining may decrease thyroid function thus slowing down metabolism. I see many women come into my clinic overtraining an average of 6+ hours a week, usually under eating and experiencing many of these following issues:
Trouble falling asleep, performance and recovery decline, burnout/low energy, menstrual irregularities, getting sick often, frequent injuries, poor libido, gut issues, mood imbalances like depression/anxiety, poor hair, skin and nail health and bingeing episodes.
So when stress is elevated for a long period of time, it causes hormonal and inflammatory effects and the body responds to this by storing fat.
Watch your habits, not your weight. Overtraining and long term calorie deficits are not the smartest ways to address fat loss. The restriction of caloric intake sets you up to eventually binge because it’s your body’s way of telling you it needs more energy to function.
I know this sounds completely counterintuitive from everything you’ve read on fitness and diet blogs and can sound super scary at first. But if you are someone who falls into the category of too much exercise and not enough calories, the actual strategy to improve your body’s fat burning capabilities is to first figure out what your basement calories are and tack on the additional calories that you expend exercising and week by week gradually increase your calories to hit that target while reducing your hours of training to a more reasonable amount, which can be anywhere between 3-5 hours a week. And sleep. lots of sleep. 🙂
If you have been struggling to lose more than 10-20 pounds of excess weight, are experiencing disordered eating patterns or have been yo-yo dieting for years, it’s best to speak to a certified nutritional practitioner to work with you on a more sustainable approach to reach your health goals.
If you’re curious to learn how I can help you, book your complimentary phone call with me to help get you in the right direction!