I’ll start tomorrow. I’ll start Monday. I’ll start next week. Things we’ve all told ourselves when it comes to committing to weight loss. Chances are, you’ve probably lost weight before – but are finding yourself back to where you started (gulp – or maybe even heavier). Perhaps you reduced your calorie intake and started doing some cardio. It’s all about eating less and exercising more, right? Not necessarily. Especially when it comes to metabolic health and making sure you don’t gain weight back, there is more to the equation.
What is Metabolism?
This is a word that is being thrown around a lot these days, and I’m the first to admit that I originally thought of metabolism as just the rate at which people can burn fat. That’s part of it, but it is more specifically the process by which your body converts fuel (food) into the energy that your cells need. Your level of metabolic fitness is critical to your health and how you feel every day, and is the key to energy, endurance, cardiovascular health, alertness, and focus. So much more than just fat burning ability!
So is it true that we can slow down our metabolism with certain lifestyle choices? Yes! Of course there are things you can’t control, like genes and hormones. However, just because you are predisposed to a slower metabolism, doesn’t mean you can’t take steps to increase metabolic health and prevent chronic disease.
Is it also true that you can speed up your metabolism? YES!
What can slow metabolism?
- Lack of sleep (we need 6+ hours per night, ideally 8 or more)
- Severe diets (ketogenic dieting without the help of a coach, extreme low calorie, etc. If you are reducing the wrong types of foods in your diet and not getting adequate protein to preserve muscle, you lose it – which means you lose your ability to burn calories and fat!)
- Diet high in saturated fat (processed and fast foods)
- Dehydration (we need between 64 oz – half your body weight in ounces)
- Some medications (antidepressants, hormone medications like birth control or prednisone, or medications for blood pressure/diabetes)
- Inconsistent meal times (skipping breakfast, going more than 4 hours without eating, etc)
- Chronic stress (puts us in the “fight or flight” mode and shuts off any unnecessary functions not needed for survival – like burning fat)
How can we increase metabolic health?
- Strength training. Muscle uses the most energy in the body, so the more muscle you have, the more energy you use. This means weight lifting is vital – not just cardio! This may also mean that you put on some muscle weight to burn fat weight, so it is helpful to have access to a way to read body fat percentage. If you are unsure how to lift properly or where to start, I recommend hiring the help of a personal trainer. They also will help you set goals and keep you accountable.
- Eat better!
- Fewer simple carbs (like sugar and processed food), less saturated fat, and more quality lean protein.
- Don’t yo-yo diet. Instead, focus on healthy lifestyle changes.
- Eat real foods – avoid processed junk and sugar.
- Drink water – 64 oz to half your body weight per day.
- Eat consistently – eat a healthy, well-rounded breakfast. Bring snacks with you so you don’t go too long without eating (every 3-4 hours). Get in a schedule.
- Protein every meal to help level blood sugar to avoid cravings.
There you have it – the two main factors that a healthy metabolism comes down to: increasing muscle mass, and eating correctly. If you are able to do these things, you will be able to lose weight and keep it off. However, every body is different – and what you do depends on your gender, age, activity level, and goals.
How do you know what eating correctly looks like for you?
The unfortunate fact is all calories are not created equal. It means we can’t use the excuse that just because food is edible, it’s nourishment. Different macronutrients are metabolized differently, and serve different purposes. Here is how I figure out how much protein, carbohydrates, and fat my clients should be shooting for:
Protein is the building block of all tissues in the body, including muscle (so you can see why it is very important that we get enough protein so we can maintain/build muscle during weight loss, instead of burning muscle).
When trying to lose weight, maintain muscle in heavy competition, or build muscle, it is advised to eat 0.6g to 0.9g of protein per pound of body weight in order to preserve your muscle mass, especially if you are very active.
The International Society of Sports Nutrition also advises that individuals engaging in endurance exercise target the lower end of this range (0.6-0.7g), individuals engaging in intermittent activities should be more toward the middle (0.7-0.8g), and those engaging in strength and power exercises should be at the upper end of this range (0.8-0.9g).
Your body weight ______ x 0.6 – 0.9 = _______g of protein per day
When you get to the weight you want to maintain, aim to ingest at least half your body weight in grams of protein per day.
Having a sufficient amount of carbohydrates improves exercise by delaying fatigue and allowing you to workout harder for longer. However, the balance is finding how many carbohydrates works for you to provide sufficient energy, yet not so much so that some is stored as fat for later use.
According to expert Mark Sisson, author of The Primal Blueprint and founder of Primal Nutrition, Inc., as well as what I’ve observed with my clients, below are general carbohydrate ranges given for the typical body. Note that this is not counting fiber, which does not affect blood sugar (subtract fiber from the total amount of carbohydrates to get the “net carb” count).
0-50g per day = nutritional ketosis (burning solely fat for energy – do a ketogenic diet when working with a professional only, otherwise going in and out of ketosis incorrectly can damage your metabolism)
50-100g per day = weight loss sweet spot
100-150g per day = weight maintenance
150-300g per day = insidious weight gain
300g+ per day = danger zone for obesity and chronic disease
Note that this provides a starting point to aim for. For women over 40 and going through menopause, we sometimes have to go into the low 50s or even ketogenic to get weight to budge. However, for younger people who are very active, 100-150g may be a weight loss zone. I suggest tracking your intake and observing your results, and tweak from there.
Fats are actually a very important part of a healthy diet. In fact, some fats even reduce the risk of heart disease. They provide essential fatty acids, promote skin health, absorb vitamins and minerals, build cell membranes, aid in blood clotting, improve muscle movement, and help decrease inflammation. Fats are also another source of energy for longer duration and more intense activity. A lack of fat will prevent important hormones (such as steroid hormones that control how the body responds to high energy demands, maintain mineral balance, and drive muscle growth) from being in balance.
At a minimum, we need about 10 percent of our calories to come from fat, and the AHA recommends that fat should make up 20 to 35 percent of our food intake. While most Americans get 34 percent or more, they are often not the healthy kind. When filling in your fat intake for the day, focus on unsaturated fats as a majority (such as olive oil, nuts and seeds, nut butters, avocado, olives, and fatty fish), natural saturated fats in moderation (fatty meats, dairy, cheese, and coconut oil), and avoid trans fats (processed food, commercially baked pastries, and fried food).
How can you track these numbers without looking every single food you eat up on online? Download an app like My Fitness Pal or Lose It to easily select the foods and serving sizes, and it automatically fills in the rest. These apps will also give you a daily breakdown of how many calories, protein, carbs, and fat you consumed.
As a certified health coach and personal trainer, I’ve helped hundreds of frustrated people reach their goals with this information. However, every body is different, and it is hard to generalize what will work for each person. I’ve found the most effective way to have results is to work with a professional who can help you navigate your situation, as well as hold you accountable.
If that sounds like something you might be interested in, you’re in luck! Schedule a FREE 30-minute health coaching call with me, certified holistic health coach and personal trainer, by following my blog!
We will have a friendly dialogue about your current lifestyle and goals, and I’ll give you some suggestions on how to achieve success (the same I give to my paying clients!). In addition to providing assistance with weight loss, maintenance, or muscle gain; I can help you know how to increase energy and quality of sleep; as well as understanding your relationship with food and exercise, and which foods and activities are right for you.
So why wait? Sign up on the side bar! After you sign up, I’ll send you an email with my open time slots in the next few days. In the meantime, think about the following:
- What is your definition of true health and wellness?
- What area(s) of your life would you most want to improve?
- What do you want to accomplish in the next week? Month? Year?
These are some questions I’ll be asking during our call so I can best meet your needs. (Or even just good things to think about.)
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