Metabolism is the process by which your body converts food into energy or, alternatively, stores it as fat for future use. In layman’s terms, if you have a fast metabolism you will burn calories and in doing so store less fat. A slower metabolism means your ability to burn calories will be reduced and your body will store calories as fat. Lisa Guy, naturopath and author of the children's nutrition book, My Goodness, says the faster your metabolism is the easier you will find it to shed those unwanted kilos.
“Your metabolism, which is run by different hormones and enzymes, converts the food you eat into energy to fuel the body. Your metabolic rate is how quickly you burn that energy and determines how rapidly you burn calories and how quickly you gain or lose weight. The faster your metabolism is, the easier it is to lose weight,” she explains.
Your metabolism is affected by a number of factors, such as age, lean muscle mass, gender and diet. Metabolism tends to slow after the age of 40 and men usually have a faster metabolism than women. These two elements are rather unavoidable, but you can influence your diet and your proportion of lean muscle mass.
It’s no secret that a poor diet consisting of a high intake of calories in the form of sugary, processed foods and fatty, fast foods is not healthy or conducive to weight loss. A balanced diet high in healthy low-fat protein foods and dietary fibre such as wholegrains, psyllium husks, legumes, fruits and vegetables not only helps you to achieve a healthier way of life but also provides your body with the fuel it needs to step up your exercise routine.
Fitness coach and personal trainer Sarah Ridley says regular exercise is an extremely important factor in increasing your metabolic rate. “The more lean muscle mass you have, the faster your metabolic rate becomes. Regular exercise, including sports, weight training and cardio and interval workouts is the way to building this lean muscle. Once your body has had this increase, it will become much more efficient in burning those unwanted calories,” she says.
Lifestyle and metabolism
There are many important lifestyle factors that influence the metabolism. Small things that may seem inconsequential such as skipping meals and a high alcohol intake can actually slow your metabolism and hamper weight loss.
Diet and “dieting”
Drastic dieting is harmful and slows the metabolism, as the body is designed to store fat, not eliminate it. Contrary to popular belief, “dieting” is not the best way to lose weight. If you cut out all fat and sugar intake, your body will actually store fat. Skipping meals and fasting also forces your metabolism to slow down and go into “survival mode” to conserve calories and compensate for the lack of food.
To prevent hunger attacks and energy decline and to assist your body to burn fat, swap three square meals a day to several small meals. Small meals ensure you have a constant supply of energy your body can burn. To spread your calories throughout the day is a more balanced way to eat and it speeds up weight loss.
Eating late at night when your body is slowing for rest isn’t desirable. When you eat is just as important as what you eat. The morning and earlier in the day are the times when you burn maximum calories as your body is burning up energy and needs fuel. Eating jump-starts your metabolism each morning by breaking your body out of its overnight “starvation” mode with a healthy break-fast.
“It’s a good idea to eat smaller meals more often with a focus on breakfast,” says Ridley. “You should eat a sizeable, healthy breakfast, such as muesli with low-fat yogurt, skim milk, walnuts and banana as soon as you wake up, as your metabolism will have slowed down during the night.”
Water really is nature’s ultimate health and beauty tool. Water is essential in keeping the body functioning for good skin hydration, cellular regeneration and elimination of toxins.
“Always remember to keep up your water intake,” says Ridley. “One-and-a-half to two litres a day is sufficient. If your body is dehydrated, your metabolic rate will slow, making all that extra training and effort less worth your while.”
Hot, warm or room temperature are all wonderful when it comes to drinking H2O, while it’s believed that drinking cold water is, in fact, best for stimulating the metabolism.
Exercise: your metabolism’s new BFF*
When it comes down to increasing your metabolism and shedding kilos for the long term, there really are no shortcuts. It’s quite understandable to want a quick fix in the shape of a magic pill or potion, but realistically to ensure long-term weight loss and optimal health, a bit of hard work is necessary. The good news is that by stepping up the exercise routine you will be reaping the benefits inside and out, as regular exercise has a positive effect on the body, mind and soul.
Exercise is a way to stimulate your metabolism and build muscles that will help give your metabolic rate a boost. The intensity of your exercise session matters when it comes to your metabolism, as simply put the harder you train, the more you will speed it up. A light session such as a walk will help, but it’s the harder, more intense sessions that will make the most significant changes, according to Ridley. She advises that, if you are just starting out, do whatever you can and build from there.
“Start with 20–30 minutes of walking and then gradually progress to both longer and more intense sessions. Once you are feeling fitter, your goal should be 45-minute to one-hour sessions on most days of the week. Boxing, weight training and running are excellent ways to push yourself and get results.
“If you train as hard as you can for as long as you can, your metabolism can actually remain elevated for several hours once you have finished, increasing by 20 times! So get yourself out to the park or gym and try to really give it all you’ve got.”
Because of its high polyphenol content, such as EGCG (epigallocatechin gallate), green tea has an extensive list of health benefits, ranging from regulating blood pressure to lowering the risk of cancer. It’s the EGCG in green tea that actually assists the body in burning calories, though the drink is also known as a wonderful source of antioxidants. “Green tea helps to boost the metabolism. Drink a couple of cups of organic green tea a day,” confirms Sally.
Spicy foods such as chilli, peppers, Tabasco sauce, cinnamon and fresh ginger can increase your metabolism, which helps to burn fat. Spicy foods work by increasing your body temperature, which speeds up the metabolism and encourages the body to use stored fat as energy. “Chilli and ginger help to raise the body temperature and boost metabolism. Add chilli and ginger to stirfries and other dishes. Add fresh ginger to vegie juice (carrot, beetroot, celery, ginger and apple is a good one) or drink ginger tea,” advises Ridley.
Coconut oil helps to increase metabolism and energy expenditure, which will help people to burn extra calories and lose weight. It contains medium-chain triglycerides and is believed to make you feel full faster as well as promote thermogenesis (calorie burning). “Use coconut oil in cooking and in baked goods. Eat the coconut flesh from fresh coconuts to boost the metabolism,” says Ridley. Coconut water is also a good way to go as it’s low in calories and abundant in electrolytes and iodine.
Foods that are rich in iodine and stimulate the thyroid gland will also help to boost metabolism. “Thyroid hormones regulate energy production and metabolism. These foods are especially effective in speeding up your metabolism if you have low thyroid function,” explains Ridley. Iodine-rich foods that nourish the thyroid include fish and sea vegetables such as arame, kelp, hijike, nori, wakame and other rseaweeds. In addition to being high in iodine, fish also has high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids, which stimulate the metabolism to burn more fat.
Soybeans and soy foods contain lecithin, which helps to protect your cells from accumulating fat and to break down fatty deposits in your body. Add soy to your diet in the form of soy milk and yoghurt or throw some tofu into home-cooked stirfries.
Blackberries, blueberries, strawberries and raspberries are wonderful sources of antioxidants and help the body to deal with harmful byproducts of metabolism. Acai berries contain three times more antioxidants than the average apple or orange. Berries also help to boost your immune system and are widely acclaimed as being a “superfood”.
Apples contain pectin, which reduces the amount of fat your cells can absorb. Once pectin is in your system, it absorbs watery substances and makes cells within the body release fat deposits.
Apple cider vinegar<
New research presented at a recent meeting of the Japanese Society of Nutrition and Food Science has shown that the acetic acid found in vinegar helps increase the metabolism. In a study of 175 overweight Japanese men and women, those who consumed a drink containing either one or two tablespoons of apple cider vinegar daily for 12 weeks had a lower BMI than the group that didn’t consume any vinegar. Apple cider vinegar isn’t known for its yummy taste, however, so if you can’t stand to mix it with water, mix it with tea, grape juice or honey to make it more palatable.
This unrefined, complex carbohydrate contains nutrients that encourage a faster rate of digestion and the removal of toxins from the body. Oats are rich in water-soluble fibre, which binds to fat such as cholesterol and takes it out of the body. They are also a great source of B-complex vitamins, which assist in breaking down carbohydrates into energy. Oats are a great option for breakfast, particularly with a handful of berries and a scoop of natural yoghurt.
Say goodbye to temporary weight-loss methods and boost your metabolism with stimulating foods, exercise and some well-thought-out lifestyle changes. Make your metabolism your friend rather than your foe with the benefit of natural methods and you’ll be running to catch up with that speedy metabolism of yours in no time.
Potential metabolism foes
- Lack of exercise
- Thyroid gland disorders
- Stress (can increase or decrease metabolic rate)
- Extreme dieting or fasting
- Pharmaceutical/prescription medication
Sarah’s no-fuss metabolism workout
Sarah says any type of exercise will stimulate and increase your metabolism, but if she had to pick one particular method that stood out from the rest it would be Fartlek training.
“Fartlek training involves intervals. Both the aerobic and anaerobic systems are trained during these types of workouts. During this type of training, the heart is forced to work hard and, as a result, your resting metabolism increases and more calories are burned during the day,” Sarah explains.
“To start with, you can do your interval training on a treadmill or at a park or oval. Warm up with a light jog for three to five minutes, then run as fast as you can for one or two minutes before dropping it back to a walk or jog for a further two to three minutes for recovery, then repeat the process again. Soon, you won’t even need to recover for the full three minutes!”
Follow each workout with lots of H2O and don’t forget that the body needs regular meals to produce energy and burn fat.
*BFF = best friend forever
Kate McKee is a freelance writer who enjoys writing for a variety of lifestyle publications on topics ranging from gardening and the environment to interior design. Passionate about natural health and lifestyle, Kate loves nothing more than to share her interests and discoveries with like-minded others.
For more information on Lisa Guy’s children's nutrition book My Goodness, look up www.artofhealing.com.au