By Ellie Kempton of Simply Nourished
Metabolism...we know we want it working and we want it fast, but do we really know what it is? With so many diets, fasts, detoxes and cleanses out there claiming to speed up our metabolism, how do we know what really works? And most importantly, what can we do to permanently nourish and sustain our metabolism.
Let’s start with the basics:
WHAT IS METABOLISM?
In a nutshell, metabolism is the sum of all chemical reactions in the body. From digestion to energy production, metabolism is like an orchestra conducted by the master glands the adrenals, the thyroid and the pituitary gland. Our metabolism is responsible for taking the information from the food we eat and converting it into energy. When metabolism is functioning properly our weight, energy, and moods are stable. When the metabolism is sluggish, every system is negatively affected. Long term, this leads to weight gain, low energy, and possible depression. There is no one lab indicator of a sluggish metabolism but instead a pattern of labs showcasing the sub-optimal functioning of our master gland “symphony.”
WHAT FACTORS AFFECT METABOLISM?
The metabolism’s rate is dependent upon age, sex, genetics and our unique biochemistry; however, the predominant factor contributing to metabolic optimization is hormone balance. Hormones are the body’s messengers. The key hormonal players for weight optimization are cortisol, insulin and leptin. These three hormones are the key players dictating whether the body’s metabolism utilizes sugar or fat as fuel. When triggered correctly, fat is the preferred source of fuel. Therefore, fat loss begins with hormone balance.
WHAT FACTORS LEAD TO HORMONE IMBALANCE AND WEIGHT GAIN?
It’s normal for hormone levels to shift during your life. Puberty, pregnancy and menopause are all normal, healthy reasons your hormone levels change throughout your life. Your monthly menstrual cycle is another example. Even during the day hormone levels rise and fall. And it’s not just women who are experience to these changes. Men’s hormone levels go through cycles as well. While these cycles are expected, sometimes hormones can be out of balance, in a not so healthy way. It's this imbalance the can lead to problems with energy, weight gain, brain fog, and changes in mood and sleep. Stress, a poor diet, and lack of sleep are the main factors that create hormone imbalance [and subsequently a faster decrease in metabolic rate as we age].
HOW DO I CREATE A MORE FLEXIBLE METABOLISM?
Are you ready to feel empowered? The way you eat, manage stress and exercise are the most powerful [and permanent] ways to stimulate the metabolism, balance your hormones and access the ability to utilize fat as the predominant source of fuel. Instead of jumping right into a metabolic lab panel to determine what kind of “hormonal disturbance or decline” you may be encountering, it is best to start with fine tuning the way you eat, move and sleep.
TOP 5 TIPS FOR LIGHTING THAT METABOLIC FIRE
- CHOOSE CARBS WISELY: One of the best ways to stimulate your metabolism is to toss out refined carbs like sugar, white bread, rice and pasta. These foods cause your blood sugar to spike and offer less “usable” information to the body. Opt for nourishing carbs like fruit, roasted root vegetables, squash, beans, legumes, and quinoa.
>> Challenge for the week: consider making a “carb quality” chart noting how often you eat carbs from a package. Strive for no more than 1 x per day.
- EMBRACE FAT AS FUEL [but separate it from your carbs!]: Consider swapping a wholesome fat for carbs first thing in the morning. While it may feel counter-cultural and awkward the first few weeks, breaking your fast with fat is one of the best ways to remind the body to utilize fat as fuel. Ready for more? Consider separating the bulk of your fat consumption from foods high in carbohydrates. When high fat and high sugar foods are combined, the brain is stimulated more powerfully than from either source individually, making the food far more addictive. The body can use either fat or carb as fuel and the predominant intake of fat in the morning such as eggs, olive oil, nuts, seeds, and avocado will not only begin to balance your hormones [particularly cortisol, leptin and insulin] but they will also keep you full for much longer than the traditional carb forward breakfast fare. If fat [understandably still makes your heart beat faster] click here for some reassuring advice driven by science.
>> Challenge for the week: design a breakfast that is a wholesome combination of 2-3 different fats and a protein. Try it on for size for at least 3 days in a row before judging whether or not you like the impact it has on your day.
- SPICE IT UP! Spices like cinnamon, cayenne, ginger, and nutmeg will all naturally sweeten your foods, reduce cravings and offer many additional health benefits such as reduced inflammation, blood sugar regulation, and improved memory. Sprinkle spices any place you would have traditionally added sugar. When you avoid sugar you will concurrently be avoiding pikes in blood sugar and the accompanying changes in insulin levels. Here are some simple ways to SPICE things up! Cinnamon in coffee; Cayenne on roasted veggies; Ginger in your smoothie; Nutmeg in your yogurt; Turmeric in tea [see golden milk recipe for a daily metabolic boosting delight with HUGE anti-inflammatory benefits!]
>> Challenge for the week: choose 5 different spices you plan on incorporating into meals and note post meal whether sugar cravings abound.
- SET ASIDE TIME FOR SELF-CARE: Sleep is the metabolism’s number one source of repair + renewal. Make this a top priority! Get time in nature: stress increases cortisol and high cortisol wreaks havoc on blood sugar regulation and metabolic efficiency. Getting out in fresh air has a powerful effect on lowering stress levels. Find time to read a book, get a massage, meditate or take a hot bath. Whatever nourishes your soul, find time and do it! Put it in your calendar. You’re relaxation time is just as important [if not MORE important] than your to-do list.
>> Challenge for this week: instead of journaling your food, consider journaling your self-care. Take stock of how many times you “indulged” in it and notice the impact it had on your stress levels. Over time this decrease in stress translates beautifully to increase in metabolism.
- CONSIDER ADAPTOGENIC HERBS: Adaptogens are substances that can help balance the hormones that your adrenal glands secrete. Hormones like cortisol are responsible for your fight or flight response and our high daily stressors can keep these hormones in an unhealthy elevated state. Ashwaghanda is one of my favorite adaptogens. Traditionally used in Indian culture in Ayervedic medicine this herb is has been safely used for centuries to decrease cortisol output and subsequently nourish the adrenal glands
>> Challenge for the week: add ashwagandha into morning routine noting impact on stress levels throughout the day. Gaia is my favorite 3rd party tested brand [no affiliation].
While it may feel overwhelming when you are inundated with advice coming at you from all directions regarding the metabolism, take a deep breath and remind yourself that true and permanent transformation begins at a hormonal level and that there are simple and sustainable ways to celebrate metabolic stimulation daily.