“Boosting your metabolism” is a buzz phrase that gets thrown around (A LOT).
But what does it really mean?
Making your body a fat-burning furnace?
Being able to eat all the ice cream—without seeing or experiencing the physical “side effects?”
Articles, blogs and trainers rarely define metabolism for us—other than telling us we should “boost it” because we will get the body we want that way.
Technically, “metabolism” is a scientific word— defined as all the energy reactions and processes (digestion, breathing, peeing, your period, etc.) that occur inside your body.
“Metabolism” is the process of converting ingested food into energy and it is a two way process:
- Anabolism (the process of “building up” energy or being created and stored); and
- Catabolism (the use or breakdown of energy—particularly from food you eat— required for cellular activity).
The “faster” your metabolism, the “faster” or “more efficient” your body is at using the energy from food you eat and keeping your whole body’s processes humming along smoothly
The “slower” your metabolism, the more inefficient your body is at using your daily energy and also keeping your body’s processes going (from brain energy to power through your Monday morning, to hormonal balancing, to digestion and elimination—ahem, your poop).
While many of these articles, blogs and trainers DO tell us that we SHOULD do certain things—like “eat 6 small meals per day” or “do fasted cardio”—Most information out there on Dr. Google or at the gym is MISSING some KEY underlying factors that go far beyond the amount of calories you consume, the exercise you do, or the metabolism-boosting-superfoods you eat.
In others words: The “secret” to “boosting” your metabolism—or making your body MORE efficient at using energy (and not “storing fat”)—is NOT actually about diet and exercise alone.
In fact, much of the popular advice can actually “slow” your metabolism if you don’t look to the real underlying factors.
It goes deeper:
- Your Thyroid Health
- Your Gut Health
- Your HPA-Axis (the organs that regulate your hormone and stress levels)
If one of these three systems is out of whack, the others often suffer too and your metabolism takes a “hit.”
Yesterday, we talked all about your thyroid. Today we tackle how you gut health and gut imbalances can slow your metabolism down (and what to do about it).
Gut Health & Metabolism 101
Your gut is the “gateway to health.”
All things health—from the clarity of your skin, your immune system, your brain health (anxiety and mood) and yes, your metabolism—are governed by the state of your gut health.
Think about it—of all organs and systems in your body, your gut is the ONE “interceptor” of every single nutrient (or non-nutrient) you consume throughout your lifetime.
As we mentioned earlier, your “metabolism” is the process of converting the nutrients you consume into energy your body can use.
If your cells and body are UNABLE to digest the foods you eat, OR if your cells and body are forced to digest foreign foods and franken-food substances (that it doesn’t recognize as “food”), then your metabolism becomes LESS efficient.
Like a clogged toilet you keep trying to flush—an unhealthy gut “microbiome” is a “clogged” digestive system, and doesn’t know what to do with the energy you give it.
Consequently, the metabolism slows down because your cells don’t get the energy (or the full amount of energy) in the process.
Additionally, when we feed our bodies foods that it doesn’t recognize as “food”—it’s like us feeding ourselves paper, sticks or pebbles. Sure. We can eat it. We can swallow it. And our body can try to break it down into useable energy. But over time, our digestive system gets pretty pooped out, and we also run into the dilemma of “eating but starving”—at a cellular level. This doesn’t just apply to fast food, processed foods or Ben & Jerry’s either. Again, “fraken-foods” take the shape and form of popularly marketed food-like products and “metabolism boosters”—from fat burning shakes, to Halo Top ice cream, to Nutri-System processed diet foods, many protein bars, Skinny Pop popcorn, Lean Cuisines, diet sodas with artificial flavorings and sweeteners, whey protein with metals, conventional-raised meats and dairy. We are eating, but not nourished—at least at a cellular level. Not only does this force cause some wear and tear on your digestive tract and gut lining itself, but it also leaves your cells thirsting and hungering for more (real) food.
How Does the Gut Get “Unhealthy” (And Slow Metabolism)?
Aside from eating franken-foods that our body doesn’t recognize as food, a “disrupted” digestive system stems from a variety of stressors we encounter throughout our lifetime.
- Antibiotic use
- C-Section or formula fed babies (we miss out on the development of good gut flora)
- Poor sleep/lack of sleep (during which our digestive system and other systems restore)
- Overexercise or sedentary lifestyles
- Erratic dieting and eating habits (restriction, binging, purging)
- Low stomach acid (inflicted by stress)
- Eating too fast and not chewing our food
- Eating on the go or mindlessly
- Surgeries (and strong painkillers)
- Long-term birth control use
- NSAIDs (advil, ibuprofen)
- Environmental toxins (chemicals in cleaning products, hygiene and beauty products; molds)
—These all wreak havoc on our gut.
Yes your gut is strong—but when stress adds up over time—the fire rages inside your belly…and if our gut health is poor we can end up with side effects like “blood sugar imbalances” (the inability to use food efficiently), less energy, hormonal imbalances, impaired thyroid health, increased cortisol (stress), and yes, a slowed metabolism.
What To Do About It
That said, your digestive system is the corner stone of your wellbeing.
If your digestive system is in order, we feel great, we can perform at the level we want in our lives, we’re full of energy, zest and happy hormones. On the food and fitness front, when our gut health is up to speed, we can actually get the MOST out of our workouts and make better “gains” in the gym (without pushing our body over the edge or slowing our metabolism more), and we can actually “have our cake and eat it too” (without gaining 5 pounds just by looking at the occasional cookie or confining ourselves to chicken and broccoli alone—highly NOT encouraged).
So how do you know if your gut could use a boost? And moreover, how do you “heal your gut” in the first place to “boost metabolism?”
For starters, it’s important to recognize you may NOT always “feel” the signs of an unhealthy gut—in your gut (i.e. bloating, constipation, loose stools, gas). In fact 1 in 2 people with diagnosed celiac disease (one of the top “gut” autoimmune diseases) do NOT report or experience “digestive” symptoms before diagnosis.
Other “signs” and symptoms of an unhealthy gut microbiome, aside from include:
- Skin breakouts
- Brittle nails or hair
- Thyroid dysfunction
- Hormonal imbalances
- “Crazy” PMS
- Intense sugar cravings
- Needing caffeine to function
- Poor immune health (getting colds or illness easily)
- Allergies and asthma
- Trouble maintaining a healthy weight
- Type 2 Diabetes, Heart disease, High blood pressure, Cancer
- Poor workout “results” or recovery from workouts
- Frequent bloating, constipation or gas
If you suspect a gut imbalance, it’s best to consult with a practitioner who is familiar with gut health and healing. You’ll walk through a self-reported assessment, and if necessary, certain labs can point you into the direction of any underlying pathogens that may be present (suspected bacterial overgrowth, parasites, acid imbalances and low stomach acid, etc.).
Additionally, there are ALOT of things you can do at home to “boost” gut health (and ironically, metabolism) without starving yourself, cutting out entire food groups, working out harder or stressing out any more over your whole metabolism “issues” (you’ve worried enough about it).
A basic digestive protocol would include:
- Daily Probiotics: Good “gut bacteria” to balance out any bad guys. In addition, medicinal or condiment doses of fermented foods (low sugar kombucha, sauerkraut, kimchi, water kefir) do a body good.
- Consumption of Prebiotics: To help absorb the good gut bacteria from your probiotics, pre-biotics like Partially Hydrolyzed Guar Gum, quality supplement formulas one to two times per day, and/or green tipped bananas and plantains, cooked and cooled sweet potatoes, and (if you tolerate) cooked and cooled white Jasmine Rice.
- Proper Food Hygiene: Cooking your food the majority of the time. Buying organic and fresh as much as possible. Chewing your food well and slowing down while you eat to enjoy your meal—not in a rush.
- Eat Up: Real food. Meat. Fats. Lots of veggies, some starchy tubers, and fruits (1-3 servings/day). Think simple and spice things up with herbs and seasonings. Particularly gut boosting foods include: beets, bone broth, herbal teas, ginger, garlic, papaya/pineapple (moderation), and cooked greens (get yo’ greens on!).
- Digestive Enzymes: Consume 1-2 with each meal to help assist in the breakdown of food throughout the digestive process.
- Boosting Stomach Acid: An HCL tablet or 1 Tablespoon of Apple Cider Vinegar in water can boost stomach acid for the first stage of digestion (Note: particularly helpful if you experience bloating, heartburn or gas soon after eating, as well as skin breakouts or constipation on the regular).
- Individualized Approach: Dependent on testing or your clinician’s assessment of your digestive system, other helpful supplements or dietary recommendations may be recommended (such as anti-microbial herbal supplements to kill off SIBO or liver capsules to support your liver and detoxification pathways)
—The more you focus on healing your gut and improving digestion, the more your body (and metabolism) will thrive (Bonus: Thyroid and Hormonal Balance included).