Generally, you want the food that you eat to burn as energy instead of being stored as a fat cell.
Some factors that help to regulate metabolism are beyond our control – such as age, genetics, and gender.
However, other metabolic factors are within our control, such as muscle-to-fat ratio and the overall health of our bodies.
Kids didn’t use to get fatty liver disease and type 2 diabetes; today doctors are seeing a rise in children with metabolic syndrome. Researchers found “that within 10 days of going off sugar, there was a dramatic improvement in the health of these children. And the kids didn’t even eat fewer calories or lose weight. The only thing they did was eat other calories instead of calories from sugar.”
The more muscle we have, the more calories we burn. The healthier we are, the more efficiently our bodies’ systems regulate – and metabolism is no exception.
A healthy metabolism is like a calorie-burning furnace. It’s much easier to keep stoking the flames of that furnace with occasional firewood then it is to let the fire die out completely – and then have to spend extra time to build and relight the fire from scratch.
Here are eight ways to improve the efficiency and health of your metabolic system so that it uses your own fat cells for energy.
1. Eat Before You Become Ravenous
Within the recovery community is often said “never let yourself get too hungry, angry, lonely, or tired.” As humans, these feelings can lead us toward bingeing behaviors in an attempt to self-medicate discomfort or anxiety.
Many people benefit by keeping their blood sugar consistent at healthy levels throughout the day. This runs contrary to that old saying “eat only when you’re hungry” – which for many people is terrible advice.
Eating only when hungry can wreak havoc on a person’s metabolism, and create violent swings between feeling stuffed and feeling ravenous.
I realize this is counter-intuitive. Our logical minds tell us that to let ourselves become hungry therefore means we are burning fat cells.
This is not always so.
Metabolism hates swings.
2. Create a More Efficient System for Weekly Meal Planning and Preparation
Should you eat one big meal each day, or the standard three? Is eating six smaller meals throughout the day better? The answer to this question is: whatever helps you eat healthier.
For me, I do six a day. I was resistant to this idea in the beginning. Having 6 smaller meals throughout the day just seemed like more work to me than having 3 big meals (for starters, I didn’t want to have to brush my teeth six times a day). Also, I know people who are very fit who only eat once or twice a day.
However, eventually I had to admit it: 6 smaller meals (even though it adds up to the same amount of daily calories) kept me leaner and stronger than 3 bigger meals (and if I’m on the road, I can chew a piece of natural gum after, to help keep my teeth clean).
The other advantage to 6-small over 3-big, is that most people don’t need over 800 calories in one sitting. Anything over 800 calories in one-fell-swoop risks converting to fat cells (for some people – depending on their size, age and muscle ratio – that might be as low as 600 calories).
To give my body a break from digesting food and all the work that involves, I refrain from eating anything for 12 hours each night, usually between 7:30pm and 7:30am.
But that’s what’s working for me now personally. It’s different for each person, and I haven’t seen any convincing research yet that one system is collectively better for everyone. What matters most, in my opinion, is that you plan your eating so that you can eat as healthy as possible. I’m not a big fan of “winging it,” as I notice that people who have no system for weekly menu planning often end up making unfortunate choices when they become busy and hungry.
3. Identify Your Macros
It’s essential that you learn to look down at a plate of food and be able to quickly identify the macronutrients.
Macronutrients (“macros” as nutritionists and athletes are keen to say) are substances required in relatively large amounts by living organisms – in this case, they are the fats, proteins, and carbohydrates that are essential to the human diet.
The effects that different foods have on blood sugar levels vary considerably – foods with simpler carbohydrates break down quickly during digestion and tend to “spike” glucose levels, while foods with more complex carbohydrates will break down slower and therefore release glucose more gradually into the bloodstream.
It’s generally a good idea to avoid spikes, which is why complex carbs are usually better than simple carbs, and why healthy fats are sometimes better than carbs or excess protein.
Throughout today – as you eat or drink – I encourage you to identify what ingredients from your food are carbohydrates, fats or proteins.
4. Eat Way More Vegetables for the Sake of Your Metabolism
Speaking of complex carbohydrates, the best from this macro category are vegetables.
To reach new health, fitness, and weight-loss goals, most people will find that they need to increase their daily intake of fresh vegetables.
- a freshly made green smoothie for breakfast
- fresh veggie sticks with lunch (recipe in #8 below)
- a “super salad” for dinner
Whether you want to lose belly fat, improve your body’s disease prevention, grow more “thin” gut microbes within your digestive system, or have more sustained energy throughout the day for your workouts – any of these goals will eventually require an uptake in vegetables.
5. Do a HIIT Session Each Week
Each time in my life that I have managed to create washboard abdominals, it’s because I added High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) to my exercise regimen. HIIT really works.
The bad news is that it’s challenging and makes you sweat.
The good news is that it doesn’t take long.
I’m not sure why HIIT is so effective at burning fat compared to other physical activity. Some believe that the increased oxygen consumption improves post-exercise metabolism. Whatever the reason, you might want to experiment with HIIT and see if it works for you, too.
In a HIIT workout, you alternate sprint-type intervals with rest intervals – but make sure you warm-up carefully beforehand.
6. Track Your Hydration
Hydration has a proven impact on metabolic function. A few times a year, it’s an excellent idea to periodically track your hydration. This involves keeping careful count of how many ounces of pure water (not coffee, not tea, not juice – just pure water) that you drink on a typical day.
I’ve found that nearly everyone underestimates the amount of water that they drink, and proper habitual hydration makes a big difference in a person’s overall health.
Even just being a little dehydrated can negatively impact your metabolism, and even your immune system (many people make themselves vulnerable to cold and flu viruses by allowing themselves to become dehydrated – usually without realizing it).
The good news is that hydrating is one of the easiest self-care protocols there is. By simply listening more carefully to your body’s own nuanced signals, you’ll be motivated to remember to drink your water.
For example, you know those days when you slept about 8 hours, but you still find yourself feeling a bit tired around 2pm? Often, this is a dehydration-signal. Simply drink a tall glass of pure water and see if you don’t feel better, almost instantly.
Additionally, when when we think we are hungry, sometimes we’re really just feeling a bit dehydrated, and a glass of water will make the “hunger” disappear (if your mouth feels dry and thirsty, that can mean that you’re already way past the point of being a bit dehydrated and further on your way to full-blown dehydration).
Today, I invite you to track your water intake. Use one of the water calculators online to determine your goal (you may want to raise the number a bit if you plan on exercising). Some people find it helpful to put the measured water, all at once, into one large container and then keep it with them throughout the day, gradually drinking from it between meals and snacks.
7. Ask “If I Were to Sabotage, How Would I Do It?”
If you remember nothing else from this article, I hope you’ll remember this: preparation = success.
In earlier articles I have touched on the immense importance of preparation – how preparation is the most skipped stage of change (and therefore the primary reason that most people fail in creating new good daily habits that last).
How can you best prepare for beginning a new, positive habit within your weekly life, such as improving the way your own body’s metabolism functions?
A good place to start is to ask yourself:
“if I were to get in my own way, how would I do it?”
Nobody knows you better than you do how you might unintentionally self-sabotage, so usually your first, gut-instinct answer to that question is the correct one.
In the video above, I explain how once you know in what specific ways you might be tempted to sabotage yourself, the solutions then become much easier to identify.
8. Move into Action on Behalf of Your Metabolism
Now that you have a plan for improving your metabolism, you can begin putting it into action.
As I mentioned earlier, many of us run into trouble when we get tired and hungry. That tends to be when we derail, so it’s a good idea to prevent yourself from getting exhausted or ravenous at any time during any day.
By going through your typical day in your head, you can already see a few points during the day that you might get yourself into trouble. Such as: not going to bed early enough the night before, means you’re sleep-deprived (grumpier and foggier) the following day, which means you would be more likely to make poorer, more-impulsive food choices.
Think that through a bit more, do a little math, and you can figure out the ideal time each night to turn off the lights.
Notice that the whole thought-process that I just laid out only took you a few minutes. The preparation stage can sometimes be very easy, and yet, it’s essential that it not be skipped.
You might next pause to consider when – in a typical day – you forget to eat until it’s too late (and then you’re famished and in the “danger zone” for bad snacking).
So, again, you do a bit of math, and decide that at such-and-such a time, you need to have approximately such-and-such calories to tide you over until proper meal time.
But logistically you realize that you’ll be too busy to make something healthful to eat then, so you’ll need to bring something with you each day – but then you realize that your weekday mornings are already too full, so when will you make the healthy snack?
You decide that on Saturday afternoons you will clean and chop organic veggies (celery, carrots, red bell pepper, cucumber, maybe even a purple turnip or two) and put them in baggies or tupperware in the refrigerator as crunchy snacks for the week ahead.
These preparation strategies might be all that are required to move briskly toward success and achieve your new health goal of improved metabolism.
It doesn’t matter what the goal is or what the strategy for avoiding self-sabotage is – the larger point here is: no matter what the goal, good preparation will help you to better achieve it.