“Boosting your metabolism” is a buzz phrase that is good for you, right?
But what does the good ‘metabolism’ and ‘boosting your metabolism’ really mean?
‘Metabolism’, by definition, is “the chemical processes that occur within a living organism in order to maintain life.”
When you have a ‘fast metabolism’—your body is essentially performing its functions for living at a high speed. A ‘fast metabolism’ is the rate (how fast) your body delivers energy to the thousands of processes going on inside you daily.
A ‘slow metabolism’, on the other hand, is when your body’s inner daily processes (from digestion, to cellular function, muscle repair) does not occur as fast, because your body has decided its focus is on one thing: survival. Your body moves into a place of conserving as much energy as possible in order to allow your body to go longer on less food.
This being said, there are some common myths when it comes to metabolism that are not necessarily accurate.
Myth 1: Metabolism is all about how fast your body burns calories. Many people hear associate the word ‘metabolism’ with ‘calorie burning.’ While metabolism is about breaking energy down, or catabolism (the breaking down of chemical bonds to release energy), metabolism also includes a process of: anabolism, or the ‘building up’ of molecules, for things such as building and repairing muscle, the production of hormones, and the storage of energy in the form of chemical bonds for later use (such as the storage of carbohydrates and fats). In short: Metabolism is a balance of both breaking things down and building things up.
Myth 2: Thinner Individuals Have a Higher Metabolism. Why is it that some thinner individuals seem like they can eat anything and it ‘goes right through them’? They must have a higher metabolism, right? Not quite. Metabolism actually has quite a bit to do with body size. Thinner individuals almost invariably have a slower resting metabolism because there is less to ‘burn’ while at rest. Larger individuals usually have a higher metabolism (that is they burn more energy at rest) than their thinner counterparts. And this doesn’t necessarily mean ‘more general mass.’ Muscle, in particular, has a huge effect on a revving metabolism throughout the day. Comparing two individuals of similar weight, a person with the larger amount of muscle will generally have the faster metabolism.
Myth 3: Eating Late at Night is Bad…Very Bad. The only thing eating late at night is potentially ‘bad for’—or not optimal—is digestion. Ever gone to bed on a full stomach? Not super comfortable. As for your metabolism, while it’s easy to assume your body has an internal clock set to store anything eaten after 8 p.m. as ‘fat’, or slow your metabolism, it’s not quite so simple. Far too many factors actually play a role into your metabolism for this to be the case, such as: hormones, food quality, daily nutrition makeup and energy. The time of day you put gas in your car doesn’t influence how far you can go on that tank. Your body will use the energy as it needs. Don’t stress about the time of day or how late it is for a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ metabolism.
Myth 4: You Need to Eat Small Frequent Meals, 5-6x Per Day. This one is similar to Myth 3 above…and it’s tale as old as time. In old-school body building world, this ‘conventional wisdom’ tells you grazing is a must throughout the day for a faster metabolism. This myth can make many people go crazy in their heads—obsessing about the next meal or scheduling and planning their day around their exact food timing and amounts they eat at each meal However, no matter whether you eat 2,000 calories of chicken and potatoes in one sitting, or spread it throughout the day, it still has a similar effect on your body’s energy supply. While some people (those prone to cravings, special dietary needs or seeking to gain weight) may benefit from consuming multiple meals through the day, for the majority, the most important factors to consider are the quantity and quality of the food we consume. Bottom line: You don’t have to obsess over meal timing and perfection around eating 5-6 ‘small meals’ per day for a revving metabolism.
So want to know how to boost your metabolism, so your body’s processes are working optimally? Here are a few unconventional ways that go past the age-old advice listed above:
1. Eat More.
More food=a faster metabolism? You heard me right. Eating less than what your body requires actually slows down your metabolism tremendously. Often times, clients will give me their food logs that look something like:
Breakfast: Egg whites and fruit or some yogurt
Lunch: A salad with some chicken for lunch
Snack: A piece of fruit in the afternoon
Dinner: Fish or chicken and broccoli
They state: “I am eating healthy. I just don’t get why my body is not changing.” It’s like trying to move a wall—they are stuck.
For some, it may seem they are eating frequently (“a lot”), but they are actually not eating enough of certain types of foods—be it carbohydrates, fats, and/or protein. Many women over the past several years, in particular, have fallen into the low-carb or low-fat traps. The problem with this? Many. Without carbs (or enough carbs) for instance, your body struggles to convert your T4 thyroid hormones into T3 (active) thyroid hormones. Ultimately, this helps your body function more efficiently with less stress in general, and optimizes your thyroid activity (energy balance, prevents low or high cortisol levels). Without fats (the human body’s preferred source of fuel), your body is not ‘revved’ to burn or perform metabolic functions as optimal as it could.
All macronutrients are highly important, and none should ever be limited intentionally.
Check out this analogy I came across from a fellow Nutritional Therapist: Your body is like a house. If you’re not making enough money to pay your electricity bill, what do you do? You turn down the heat in your house to compensate, as well as you may not turn the lights on as often or fail to perform regular maintenance. The body operates in a similar way. When there are not enough calories coming in, the body saves energy by reducing body temperature (slowing the metabolism), turning down digestive juices (making digestion weaker), reducing the pulse, and slowing thyroid function (resulting in less energy). Not sure if you fall into the ‘I need to eat more category’ or not? Here are a few signs you may not be eating enough:
- Low energy
- Food cravings
- Difficulty with falling or staying asleep, and/or waking up
- Impaired appetite
- Your food labels read ‘fat free’, ‘sugar free’ or ‘low fat’
- You often feel stressed or anxious
- Cold hands and feet
- Low immune function
- Low mood
2. Enhance Your Digestion.
The proper breakdown and assimilation of your nutrients in your food is crucial to ensuring your body is able to process and deliver it to the processes it needs to keep your machine (i.e. body) going. The easiest thing to start with? Chew your food. Digestion begins in your mouth. This is where the first line of breakdown happens—and far too often, individuals, especially those of us on the go, are prone to ‘Chew, chew, swallow. Chew, chew, swallow.’ If you tend to inhale your food without properly breaking it down, consider putting your fork down in between bites, and taking the time to savor and really enjoy your food. Sit down. Turn the TV off. Enjoy the meal experience. Other digestive pre-emptive measures include: Take a probiotic daily. And, consider consulting with a Nutrition Therapist to address your body’s digestive needs—including HCL supplementation (improving stomach acid) and/or Digestive Enzyme supplementation (boosts the break down of food post-meals).
3. Drink Water.
Most people don’t drink enough water. Pop question: How much does YOUR body need? As a baseline: half your bodyweight in ounces—of straight up water (not coffee, not tea, not Crystal Light, not diet soda… water). Water is essential for pushing your metabolic and cellular processes along and keeping them up to speed. Makes sense right? If you are ‘dry’ on the inside, things are going to run a lot slower. A 2003 study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism found that participants who drank more water—particularly cold water—showed a 30 percent increase in metabolism rate for about 30 to 40 minutes afterward. Dehydration has the opposite effect. Even slight dehydration may slow metabolism by as much as 3%.