While going on a diet or purchasing the latest weight-loss products might seem like a quick way to shed pounds, you might not get the results you hoped for if you don't take your metabolism into account. Dieters might count fats, carbs, and calories meticulously, but in order to lose weight successfully, you have to understand your metabolism and what it does for your body.
Stephen Colbert’s doing great, but now it’s time to DVR him and start getting to bed earlier. A study in Finland looked at sets of identical twins and discovered that in each set of siblings, the twin who slept less had more visceral fat. If you do nothing else differently, just getting an extra half hour of shuteye will make all the difference. If you’re chronically sleep deprived, don’t be surprised if you gain a few pounds without eating a morsel of extra food. “A lack of sleep can cause several metabolic problems,” says nutritionist Seth Santoro. “It can cause you to burn fewer calories, lack appetite control and experience an increase in cortisol levels, which stores fat.” Lack of sufficient sleep—under the recommended seven to nine hours a night for most adults—also leads to impaired glucose tolerance, a.k.a. your body’s ability to utilize sugar for fuel. “We all have those less-than-adequate nights of sleep,” says nutritionist Lisa Jubilee. “But if it’s a regular thing, you’re better off lengthening your night’s sleep than working out, if fat loss or weight maintenance is your goal.”
Iron deficiencies can slow down your metabolism. Do you know what’s got plenty of it? Lean meat. Eating three to four daily servings of iron-rich foods will help keep your inner furnace burning. Fortified cereals, dried fruit, and dark leafy greens will get you on your way to meeting your iron goals, but lean meat—with its high muscle-building protein content—will be doubly useful in revving up your metabolism.
Research shows that getting plenty of protein can boost your metabolism, causing you to burn an extra 150 to 200 calories a day, says Jeff Hampl, Ph.D., R.D., a spokesman for the American Dietetic Association. "Protein is made up mainly of amino acids, which are harder for your body to break down [than fat and carbs], so you burn more calories getting rid of them," he explains.
Add mustard to your meal, and feel the burn—literally! Scientists at England’s Oxford Polytechnic Institute found that by eating just one teaspoon of mustard (about 5 calories) can boost the metabolism by up to 25 percent for several hours after eating. The benefits, researchers say, may be attributed to capsaicin and allyl isothiocyanates, phytochemicals that give the mustard its characteristic flavor.
For nutritionist Lisa Jubilee, one of the best and cheapest ways to give your metabolism a jolt is to drink water (she suggests 20 to 32 ounces) shortly after waking. Why? During sleep, your body’s metabolic function slows down, and unless you wake up in the middle of the night to swig some water, you’re not taking in any fluids. Jubilee suggests completely rehydrating before stressing your body with any other food or drink. “My clients who have implemented this report less bloating, more energy and a smaller appetite,” she says. Her motto for getting your inner furnace stoked and ready for the day: “Rehydrate, then caffeinate!”
Crash diets -- those involving eating fewer than 1,200 (if you're a woman) or 1,800 (if you're a man) calories a day -- are bad for anyone hoping to quicken their metabolism. Although these diets may help you drop pounds, that comes at the expense of good nutrition. Plus, it backfires, since you can lose muscle, which in turn slows your metabolism. The final result is your body burns fewer calories and gains weight faster than before the diet.
Now that you know how many calories you eat each day, it's time to increase your metabolic rate. You're not going to rev up your metabolism by eating a huge calorie-filled breakfast or snacking more often. You're also not going to fill up on metabolism-boosting foods or sip on energy drinks or special teas. You're going to keep your diet exactly the same and increase metabolism with movement.
Just dropping pounds probably won't help, though, since most weight loss is a combination of fat and muscle tissue. "Usually, when people lose weight, their metabolism actually goes down," says Kim Sasso, a nutritionist at Loyola University Health System. That makes sense; you don’t need as much food to maintain a lower bodyweight. But if your goal is simply to up your metabolism, Sasso says, "it's not until you start decreasing your percentage of body fat and replacing it with increased muscle mass, do you start to see a difference in your resting metabolic rate."
Iron deficiency affects more than 1 in 5 women in the U.S. Being deficient in essential minerals can show up in all kinds of ways, such as fatigue and anemia, but an iron deficiency can also be a blow for getting into your skinny jeans with relative ease. See, your body can’t work as efficiently to burn calories when it doesn’t have what it needs to work properly. A cup of lentils, it turns out, provides over a third of your daily iron needs. Legumes like lentils also have been shown to drive down bad cholesterol and blood pressure.
Late night snacking is clearly not recommended, but staying up late in and of itself directly affects the speed of your metabolism. In a study published in Lancet, researchers studied the effects of chronic sleep debt on metabolic and endocrine functions on 11 young men who were restricted to four hours of sleep a night for six nights. The results of the study showed sleep debt negatively impacts carbohydrate metabolism and endocrine function. Researchers concluded that seven to eight hours of sleep a night for adults will help keep your metabolic rate at a healthy, steady pace.
Experts agree that including a weekly cheat meal into your healthy-eating plan can actually help you reach your weight loss goals. Having a strategy is key: “By planning your cheat meal, you know what you’ll be eating and can cut a few extra calories earlier in the day,” says Jim White, RD, ACSM Health Fitness Specialist and owner of Jim White Fitness & Nutrition Studios. “This also allows you to really pick a favorite food instead of wasting calories on something you didn’t enjoy.” Amy Shapiro, MS, RD, CDN, Real Nutrition NYC, gives similar advice. “Pick your poison. If you’re going out, pick your splurge. Are you going to dig into carbs like a bread basket or pasta or dessert? Or are you planning on tossing back a few cocktails?” She urges cheaters to avoid consuming all three of those common categories in one sitting. “Focus only on one,” she says, adding that by saving the others for another time you can “enjoy without going overboard.”
Your body digests protein more slowly than fat or carbs, so you feel full longer (this is especially true when you have it for breakfast). Plus, it may also give your metabolism a bump. In a process called thermogenesis, your body uses about 10% of its calorie intake for digestion. So, because it takes longer to burn protein than carbs or fat, your body expends more energy absorbing the nutrients in a high-protein diet. Another bonus: One recent study from Purdue University found that diets higher in protein may help preserve lean body mass, which is the best fat-burner of all.
Instead of ditching carbs or going low-fat, try a diet that's rich in veggies, beans, and legumes to increase your metabolism — and keep your blood sugar from spiking. "Many people think weight is all about calories in, calories out, but quality also matters," says Aunna Pourang, M.D. "[In a 2012 study], low-carb diets showed the most increase in metabolism, but also showed an increase in the stress hormone cortisol. This is why scientists concluded that the low-glycemic diet worked the best."
While drinking in moderation every so often won’t do too much harm to your waistline, making it a habit can slow down your metabolic rate. Why? When your body has a cocktail to break down, it takes precedence over any food that you’ve already eaten that’s waiting to be digested. This slows down the entire metabolic process. On the occasions that you decided to indulge, stick to low-calorie drinks. Alternate your alcohol with water to slow your pace, and cut yourself off after two drinks. Avoid ordering high-cal bar food like fries and burgers. An important note: Wine in moderation can have numerous benefits, including weight loss!
But, Bustillo cautions against hanging too much hope on this: “Many companies that sell the ‘after burn’ or ‘metabolic workouts’ are just utilizing a marketing strategy with [a grain of science behind it],” he says. “They're not technically lying, because training can increase BMR [in the 24 hours post-workout], but it's not by more than 200-300 calories on average.”
Recent studies have shown that garlic supports blood-sugar metabolism and helps control lipid levels in the blood. Adding garlic to foods that are rich in fats and carbohydrates may keep those substances from doing the damage they’re known to do. What’s more, eating garlic can help boost your immune system, help ward off heart disease, fight inflammation and lower blood pressure, to name a few.
It's essential for carrying the oxygen your muscles need to burn fat, says Tammy Lakatos, RD, co-author of Fire Up Your Metabolism. Until menopause, women lose iron each month through menstruation. Unless you restock your stores, you run the risk of low energy and a sagging metabolism. Shellfish, lean meats, beans, fortified cereals, and spinach are excellent sources. Check out this list of foods with more iron than beef.
You might want to think twice before ditching dairy if you’re trying to lose weight—despite what your Paleo-preaching CrossFit friends tell you. Cheese is a satisfying, portable, and inexpensive food that’s packed with calcium, vitamin D, and protein. “Calcium can also promote weight loss because it helps maintain muscle mass, which boosts and helps maintain metabolism, helping you burn calories more efficiently throughout the day,” says Tanya Zuckerbrot, RD, author of The Miracle Carb Diet: Make Calories & Fat Disappear—With Fiber! That doesn’t mean you can help yourself to a cheese-drenched casserole, though. Work cheese into fiber-rich snacks to make them more satiating.
Stop obsessing over numbers. Quality over quantity becomes key for optimizing mitochondria. That said, if you’d like to know how much you should be eating, calculate your resting metabolic rate (RMR) or the total number of calories your body needs to survive at complete rest. If you eat fewer calories than your RMR, your body thinks it is starving. Calculating your RMR is easy. If you are average size, take your weight in pounds and multiply by 10. If you are very muscular and lean, multiply your weight by 13. If you are very overweight, multiply it by 8. Eating less than your RMR means your body goes into starvation mode.