“Eat less and exercise more.” I’m sure you’ve heard this one before. This is the most simplistic and also dated way to explain how to lose weight, and also the best way to screw up your metabolism long term. Eating less and exercising more only works temporarily because the body will adjust and can easily disrupt metabolic balance. Your metabolism is changeable, adaptive, and reactive — it’s not a static thing that is “fast” when you’re young, then slows down when you’re old. This means that doing the same thing day in and day out isn’t going to work.
If you’ve ever done this and lost weight, but then gained that way back and find that the same method no longer works, it’s a sign of a damaged metabolism. By addressing your blood sugar, sleep, hunger, mood, energy, and cravings, you can alter your metabolism so that you live a realistic lifestyle that works long term.
But, where do you start?
- Keep your blood sugar stable. To do this, you have to go beyond just “avoiding sugar” and cutting back on the sweets. Think about building your meals with protein and fat, then add in a good healthy carbohydrate and fiber. Take this meal by meal, starting with breakfast. If you can eat within an hour of waking up, this can help to stabilize blood sugar first thing and set you up for a focused, energized morning. Here are a few examples that you can prep ahead of time:
- Eat the good fats. I’m so glad that fat no longer gets a bad rap like it used to. We now know that fat doesn’t make you fat, clog your arteries, or cause high cholesterol. It’s essential to building healthy hormones, a healthy brain, and helping the body manage inflammation. Coconut oil, ghee, and grass-fed butter. Usually when I say healthy fats, people think of olive oil, avocados, nuts and seeds. But, it’s important to get a variety of fats with diverse nutrient profiles. Traditional fats, like coconut oil, ghee, and grass-fed butter, have unique properties that you can’t from real food elsewhere. Coconut oil, for example, is made up of medium chain saturated fats which are utilized by the body for immediate energy. It also has antiviral, antibacterial, and antifungal properties. Butter and ghee are rich in vitamin A and help your body absorb fat-soluble vitamins from other foods. If you struggle with cravings and overeating, take a spoonful of fat rather than a plain banana or refined carb like a muffin (which will probably be followed up with more snacking and cravings) and see if you notice a difference in your energy level and satiety.
- Prioritize sleep. If you’re not getting 7-8 hours of sleep consistently, ideally from 10pm to 6am, then it’s really difficult to get the benefits of a healthy diet. “I’ll sleep when I’m dead” might work until you’re in your 20s, but it will catch up to you eventually, showing up as the signs and symptoms of things that happen “as we get older”. We not only feel physically tired, but a physiological imbalance of hormones like grehlin, insulin, and leptin occur. Think of sleep as a hormonal reset button for your body to lower cortisol, balance ghrelin and leptin, and less sensitivity to insulin. When these are all off, this leads to more cravings, sensitivity to carbohydrates, and stress on the adrenals. Magnesium citrate, which is a calming mineral, can help before bedtime if you have trouble falling asleep. Make sure you shut off electronics and stimulating activities at least an hour before bed, ideally when the sun goes down, to give your body time to shift into a parasympathetic state.
- Exercise smart. Less is more, especially when you’re trying to fix your metabolism. A huge red flag for a damaged metabolism is when someone tells me they exercise every day and they are still gaining weight or not seeing any changes in their body. If you’re doing workouts that leave you feeling dead tired after, you might need to take an exercise less, eat less approach. You should feel energized and rejuvenated after working out, then keep that energy throughout the day. Another sign of over-exercising in a way that throws off your hormones includes cravings, feeling hungry all the time, and overeating. Imagine, exercising less to lose weight and not spending hours in the gym. Try this for two weeks: take a 30-60 minute leisure walk once a day, which lowers cortisol (your stress and fat storage hormone) and incorporate short, intense bouts of activity for 10-30 minutes. This combination of exercise will burn fat, preserve muscle, and keep your hormones balanced so you don’t have cravings and overeat.
- Go on a stress detox. You can’t pour from an empty cup. If you’re someone who says yes to everything, are always go-go-go, puts everyone before themselves, has to “get it all in”, take some deep breaths and decide where you can cut back. Saying no creates boundaries that give you freedom, leaving you feeling more empowered and less stressed to make your own decisions and apply yourself where it’s truly important. This stress detox also includes working out in a way that doesn’t cause more inflammation and leave you feeling exhausted or in pain. Take the tips from step 5 to find a routine that lowers cortisol, replenishes your adrenals, increases serotonin and dopamine, and that you enjoy. Spend more time doing things for yourself rather than pleasing everyone else. Try it for 2 weeks, and see what happens.