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How to Optimize Your Metabolism

Written by Bonnie Flemington


Metabolism includes all the biochemical reactions in your body that use nutrients and oxygen to create energy. Many factors affect how quickly (or slowly) it works, i.e., your “metabolic rate.”


For people who feel they have a slow metabolism, the advice given is often “eat less and exercise more.” But factors affecting metabolic rate are much more complicated than the adage “calories in calories out”!


So, how do you know if a slow metabolism may be affecting you? And is there anything you can do to change it?


Do you feel cold, tired, or feel your digestion is a bit more “sluggish”? Have you gained weight you are unable to shake?


If you answered “yes” to the above questions, give some of these tips a try to see if they can help relieve some of your symptoms.


Stop Restricting Calories

When people lose weight by restricting calories, their metabolic rate often slows down in response. This is because the body senses that food may be scarce and adapts by trying to continue with all the necessary life functions and do it all with less food.


While dieting can reduce the amount of fat you have, it can also reduce the amount of muscle you have. As you know, more muscle means a faster resting metabolic rate.


If you don’t maintain your muscle mass while you lose fat, you are likely to lose a lot of muscle, ending up with a slower metabolism. If this happens, when you go back to eating a “normal” number of calories (you can’t stay deprived forever), you are more likely to gain the weight back.


Tip: your focus needs to be on optimizing body composition and fat loss, not just weight loss.


Eat Enough Fat

Many of us have been raised on the premise that “eating fat makes us fat.” But that view is changing with the realization that it is the sugars and refined starches in our diet that cause the insulin spike that promotes fat storage.


Having adequate fat in our diet is important for energy, protection for our organs, as an important component of cell membranes and absorbing fat-soluble vitamins. It also helps the body feel satiated, displaces refined carbs in the diet, and actually helps us burn fat.


Tip: Add more healthy fats to your diet, but don’t combine them with refined carbohydrates so you don’t get the insulin/fat storage response. And manage portions since they still contain calories.




Eat Enough Protein

Protein can be helpful for weight loss because it isn’t broken down as easily or quickly as carbohydrates or fat. This is because of its thermic effect. In other words, it requires more energy to digest, absorb, transport and store than the other macronutrients.


That means you burn more calories breaking down protein than when metabolizing fats or carbohydrates. As a result, protein can help to keep you fuller for longer and, therefore, consume less food overall.


Secondly, eating enough protein is crucial for muscle growth because it helps to repair and maintain muscle tissue. As discussed above, more muscle means a faster resting metabolic rate.


Tip: I recommend 25g of protein per meal for three meals a day. More protein may be indicated with increased activity needs.


Exercise

Aerobic exercise temporarily increases your metabolic rate. Your muscles burn fuel to move and do “work,” and you can tell because you’re also getting hotter.


Anaerobic exercise, such as strength or resistance training, will help build muscle, which will increase your metabolic rate even when you’re not exercising! Muscles at rest burn more calories than fat. This means that the amount of energy your body uses depends partly on the amount of lean muscle mass you have.


Even little things can add up. Do a 7–10-minute strength video or work with a trainer to get started with a plan that is suitable for your fitness level. Even something small like taking the stairs instead of the elevator can contribute to more activity in your day.


Tip: Incorporate movement into your day. Exercise regularly and include weight training or high-intensity interval training to increase your muscle mass.




Sleep

There is plenty of research that indicates the influence that sleep has on your metabolic rate. There is a strong correlation between a lack of sleep and weight gain. The general recommendation is to get 7-9 hours of sleep every night.


Many things can impact our ability to get adequate amounts of sleep, such as stress, nighttime eating syndrome, and blue light before bedtime. As we enter perimenopause, these activities have an even greater impact on our ability to get a good night’s sleep.


Tip: Create a non-negotiable routine that allows at least 7 hours of sleep every night.

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