Changing Your Metabolism Isn't Complicated or Mysterious

Just quit making these five common mistakes.

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Nov 15 2018, 1:00pm

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Metabolism. The word refers to the sum of all the chemical changes that take place in your body and, as I’ve written about before, metabolic rate can vary widely from person to person. Two individuals of the same height, weight, gender can, for example, perform the same amount of work in the same conditions and expend a very different amount of energy doing so. When people can eat like a horse, do virtually no exercise, and still look like a muscle diagram, they’ll happily remark that they have a fast metabolism. If someone can barely think of a donut without gaining weight, they’ll profess to having a slow one. But all that said, your metabolic rate isn’t something that’s inalterable. In fact, it’s something you can actively change by avoiding a few exceedingly common missteps throughout your day.

You don't drink enough water

Studies have shown that people who drink water instead of drinks brimming with empty calories are already more successful at losing weight and keeping it off. Firstly, unlike juice, soda, milk, and alcoholic beverages, water contains zero calories. Simply by quenching your thirst with H2O and resisting the urge to do the Dew automatically reduces your calorie intake. Then, there’s the fact—borne out again by research—that drinking a lot of water can decrease your desire to overeat during meals. One study of overweight adults found that those who drank half a liter of water before their meals lost 44 percent more weight than those who didn't. Then there’s water’s effect of metabolic rate. A 2003 study showed that drinking 0.5 liters (around 17 oz) of water, increases your resting metabolism by 10-30 percent for the next hour. If that water is cold, more energy is used bringing the water up to body temperature.

You don't get enough sleep

Studies have shown that a lack of sleep is linked to a significant increase in the risk of obesity. There are several reasons why that is, but in part, it’s due to the drag a chronic sleep deprivation has on your metabolism. “A lack of sleep can cause several metabolic problems,” says Los Angeles-based nutritionist Seth Santoro. “It can cause you to burn fewer calories, lack appetite control, and experience an increase in cortisol levels, which stores fat.” Habitually getting less than the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep also been linked to increased blood sugar levels and insulin resistance, both of which are both linked to a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Tossing and turning has also been shown to boost the hunger hormone ghrelin while decreasing the fullness hormone leptin. This may explain why many people who are sleep-deprived feel hungry and struggle to lose weight.

You don't eat enough protein

Breaking down food into a form our bodies can use takes energy. In fact, it’s thought that anywhere between 5 and 15 percent of all the calories you eat in a day are used in the digestion, absorption and processing of said calories. This is called the thermic effect of food (TEF). Not all macronutrients (i.e.: fats, carbs, protein) require the same amount of work to break down. Protein causes the largest rise in TEF by far and if you didn’t get an adequate amount of it at every meal, you missed an opportunity to stoke your inner furnace. Protein increases your metabolic rate by 15–30 percent, compared to 5–10 percent for carbs and 0–3 percent for fats.

What’s more, a diet high in protein has also been shown to help individuals feel more full. One small study found that people were likely to eat around 441 fewer calories per day when protein made up 30 percent of their diet. If you’re having trouble getting an adequate amount of protein in your meals, Virginia Beach-based dietician Jim White says that consuming casein, a slow-absorbed protein, before bed can improve muscle gain and fat loss. “It can also increase metabolism during sleep and improve satiety, helping you to eat less during the day,” he says.

Your home or workplace is too warm

You’re an endotherm. What this means is that you can free up heat from within your own body to regulate your body temperature, rather than relying on the ambient temperature like reptiles do. It’s not just a neat trick common to both mammals and birds—it also burns calories. If you had your thermostat up, you missed an opportunity to let your body do the heavy lifting. A study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism found that participants who slept in bedrooms cooled to 66°F for a month doubled the amount of brown adipose tissue they burned. Brown adipose tissue is a type of fat that burns calories rather than stores them. “Brown fat becomes more active in cooler temperatures to help keep us warm,” explains Aaron Cypess, an endocrinologist at the NIH. Turning down your heat, sleeping in cooler temps, and spending time outdoors can help to stoke your metabolism.

You let stress get the better of you

While you may lose your appetite while under a considerable amount of stress, your metabolism is actually taking a nosedive. In a 2015 study published in the journal Biological Psychiatry it was demonstrated that stress causes the body to metabolize food more slowly. On average, study participants who had experienced at least one stressful event during the previous day burned 104 fewer calories than their stress-free counterparts. "This means that, over time, stressors could lead to weight gain," says Jan Kiecolt-Glaser, professor of psychiatry and psychology at The Ohio State University and lead author of the study. "We know from other data that we're more likely to eat the wrong foods when we're stressed, and our data say that when we eat the wrong foods, weight gain becomes more likely because we are burning fewer calories."

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