How to Increase Metabolism

Fighting slow metabolism symptoms, such as difficulty losing weight, can be extremely challenging. But you can learn more about how to increase metabolism, based on science-based research and these metabolism boosting tips.

If you’re wondering why it is so hard to lose weight, you’re not alone. The struggle of carrying around extra weight is something more and more people have in common. “Obesity rates in adults have nearly doubled in the last 30 years, and for children the rate has nearly tripled,” reported James O. Hill, PhD, renowned obesity researcher and Director of the Department of Nutritional Sciences at the University of Alabama Birmingham at a January 2019 nutrition conference in in Toronto.

While we all wish this was a simple problem with a simple solution, obesity turns out to be much more complicated. It’s more like the problem of climate change, than the problem of smoking, says Hill, considering so many factors come in to play. One key factor, according to Hill, is a “broken metabolism,” which can make it feel truly impossible to shed those extra pounds and keep the weight off. What are the best metabolism boosters? Are there any metabolism boosting foods and strategies? I explore the latest science on fixing a slow metabolism with Dr. Hill.

How to Increase Metabolism
Including protein-rich moderate calorie snacks, such as Tomato Pesto Hummus, are good strategies for booting metabolism.

All About Metabolism

But what exactly is metabolism, and how does it “stop working”? When does your metabolism slow down? “Our metabolism is part of an energy balance system which is regulated by genetic, biological, behavioral and environmental factors,” says Hill. Not only can you be born with a propensity to a slow metabolism, the choices you make and our environment can have drastic effects.

When it comes to achieving energy balance, the amount you sleep, how much and what you eat, and the amount of physical activity you fit into your life significantly affects the health of your metabolism. It’s also impacted by your surroundings, which includes the company you keep, the places you live and work, and even the food available to you.

We each are all a little different when it comes to how our metabolism works. Hill refers to this as our “metabolic flexibility”. This is the ability to adapt to changes in metabolic demand by switching between fuel sources in the body so they can be burned most efficiently. High performance athletes tend to have the most flexible metabolisms, while someone who is bedridden tends to be the least flexible. Those with obesity and type 2 diabetes also show the least flexibility.

When the metabolism is inflexible and there is a shift in energy balance because of changes in your biology, behavior, or environment, extra calories will be stored as fat. It is incredibly difficult to solve the problem through one strategy alone. For example, if you try to increase your metabolic flexibility through working out more, it may not make a difference unless you address the various other factors influencing the metabolism.  It’s no wonder that it is difficult to lose weight and maintain that weight loss.

How to Increase Metabolism
Focusing on nutrient-rich, balanced, moderate calorie meals can help. Check out these 25 Clean Vegan Bowls Under 500 Calories.

Maintaining Weight Loss

But as it turns out, losing the weight may not even be the most difficult part; it’s keeping the weight off that’s the true challenge. Time and time again you hear those great success stories—people losing half of their body weight or dropping several dress sizes—only to learn that this weight was gained back (sometimes, with interest) shortly thereafter.

This problem is so common because of what Hill refers to as the “energy gap”. This gap is created when people triumphantly lose those stubborn pounds, but suddenly find themselves with lower calorie needs, which is due to a slowed metabolism. For example, Hill reports that after 10% of body weight loss, you must lower your intake an additional 190-200 calories/day, and at 15% weight loss, 280-300 calories/day to maintain the weight loss. Imagine suddenly having to shrink the size of your meals and snacks even more, while still feeling just as hungry. This is often that desperate point, when people suffer and ultimately succumb to hunger, gaining all the weight back very quickly.

How to Increase Metabolism

Luckily, there have been exciting new developments in our understanding of this process, and strategies designed to reignite a “broken metabolism”. Hill suggests that during the “energy gap” phase following weight loss, it’s important to plan out a food and time-restrictive diet, while sticking to an increasingly rigorous exercise regimen. This is never more important than when you are at your most vulnerable—in that period right after weight loss. In his transformational obesity, boasting more than 10% of body weight loss in the first 16 weeks. These success stories show just how life-changing these tools can be for those who have tried unsuccessfully for years to lose excess weight; strategies incorporate a mix of the many factors affecting metabolism.

6 Tips for Boosting Metabolism

How to Increase Metabolism
Learn more about Powering up on Plant Proteins.

1. Eat a Higher (Plant-Based) Protein Diet

A higher protein diet is important, because it’s associated with greater weight loss, more desirable changes in body composition, improvement in heart health, and maintenance of muscle mass.  Plant-based protein sources will work just as well as animal protein for weight loss. In fact, soy protein is just as effective, and further provides long-term health benefits, including improved vascular health, reduced blood pressure, decreased blood lipids, and decreased overall risk of heart disease.

This recipe for Black Beans and Rice Vegan Bowl is a great way to focus on portion control.

2. Focus on Portion Control over Calorie Counting

Instead of stressing over calories, the focus should be on controlling portions and sticking to foods low in carbohydrate and fat while being high in protein. Vegetables are the focus of the first phase of weight loss because they are filling and nutrient-dense along with high (plant-based) protein.

3. Establish Strict Meal Times

There are two non-negotiable rules when it comes to when to eat. First, eat a meal within 1 hour of waking up to give the metabolism an early start. Second, eat small meals 5-6 times per day to keep the metabolism energized throughout the day.

Here are some great tips to keep up your fitness routine and stay motivated.

4. Achieve High Levels of Physical Activity

Starting at 10 minutes and progressing toward 70 minutes of exercise 6 days a week is an effective way to keep the weight off while restoring the metabolism. This is not only due to the calories burned during exercise but because exercise can help in filling the energy gap which is what is usually responsible for weight regain. Gaining muscle mass will reduce energy gap, and help keep weight loss goals on track. The focus should be on maintaining lean mass during weight loss not necessarily on bulking up and building muscle.

5. Utilize Behavior Modification Tools

Behavior factors largely in to energy balance, and this is one area in which you can feel most empowered to make changes. Mind-set experiential practice is used to provide tools for sustainable behavior change throughout the SOS program. Some other strategies for behavior modification might include seeing a supportive therapist, joining shared interest groups or even finding motivational books, and audio or video resources that can serve as tools for sustainable change.

6. Finding Reliable Social Support

No one can go it alone, especially when it comes to transformational change; it can take a lot of support to overcome these obstacles. The SOS program brings cohorts of 20 participants together to attend the program, meeting regularly to support one-another on their journeys. Finding a supportive social environment with others who understand the challenge of weight loss, either through family, friends, or a support group, can be an excellent way to keep weight loss goals on track while we’re working to restore the metabolism.

Image: Mediterranean Edamame Quinoa Bowl, Sharon Palmer, MSFS, RDN

For other tips on achieving a healthy weight, check out these blogs:

11 Science-Based Weight Loss Tips
12 Nutritionist Tips for a Healthy Weight
7 Vegan and Vegetarian Weight Loss Tips & Recipes

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