Metabolism, Say what?
The word "metabolism" generally refers to all chemical reactions involved in maintaining life within our bodies. To be more specific, the term is often divided into two sub-categories:
- Catabolism: the breakdown of molecules to obtain energy.
- Anabolism: the synthesis of all compounds needed by the cells.
When we talk about metabolism in a weight loss context, it is therefore usually the first category that is being referred to. This is because metabolism and the rate of energy usage in the body are closely linked to nutrition and the availability of nutrients. This, in turn, can have a direct impact on body weight (i.e. weight loss or weight gain).
Your "resting metabolism" (a term often employed by weight loss experts, such as dietitians, personal trainers etc.) is basically the number of calories your body burns when it is at rest. Muscle burns more calories than fat, so when you are overweight your resting metabolism tends to be slower than someone who has more muscle mass.
Simply put, to lose fat and not muscle, you need to have an efficient metabolism. In practical terms, this means burning more calories than you are consuming.
How to speed up your metabolism?
Eat small portions
If you are trying to lose weight, don't space your meals too far apart. It is best to eat healthy low-calorie snacks between meals to keep your blood sugar levels stable and your metabolism up. This will help to ensure that you are less likely to binge because of hunger and cravings and that many of the calories you do consume are burned off rather than stored as body fat.
When it comes to healthy and successful weight loss, slow and steady wins the race. For example, if you try to cut calories too drastically, you may experience some initial weight loss, but the long-term effects will not be good. Your body can go into "starvation mode", where it fears that nutrients are becoming scarce and so it hangs on to fat reserves. In other words, your metabolism slows down, making it even harder to lose weight. Ultimately, there is no replacement for a balanced diet packed with nutrients, when it comes to achieving a healthy metabolism and promoting natural weight loss.
There are certain foods and nutrients that are scientifically proven to support a healthy metabolism. These include:
- Kelp: Kelp is a large edible seaweed (algae), which grows in underwater "forests" in shallow oceans. It contains high levels of iodine, a mineral which contributes to normal energy-yielding metabolism, the normal production of thyroid hormones and normal thyroid function.
- Chromium picolinate: A trace mineral, chromium contributes to normal macronutrient metabolism and to the maintenance of normal blood glucose levels. It can be found in high levels in foods such as broccoli, barley, oats, green beans, tomatoes and romaine lettuce.
- Magnesium: Magnesium contributes to a reduction of tiredness and fatigue, normal energy-yielding metabolism, normal muscle function and normal protein synthesis. It can be found in foods such as dark leafy greens, nuts, seeds, fish, beans, whole grains, avocados and bananas.
- Konjac fiber glucomannan: Konjac fiber is a starch from the root of the konjac plant, which grows in China and Japan. The popular name for the root in Japan is devil's tongue or konnyaku, and it is prepared there into foods that look like squares or strips of stiff gelatin, with a rubbery texture. A form of soluble fiber derived from the konjac root, glucomannan contributes to weight loss in the context of an energy-restricted diet. It has almost no calories, is naturally high in fiber, absorbs water in the stomach and, in contact with water, expands and can absorb up to 50 times its weight.
- Choline: Choline is a water-soluble nutrient that is usually grouped within the B-complex vitamins. Humans cannot produce choline, and therefore must source it through their diet. It contributes to normal lipid metabolism - lipids are fat-like substances found in your blood and body tissues. Choline can be found in foods such as liver, eggs, cauliflower, mushrooms, dark leafy greens, shellfish, asparagus, brussels sprouts, bok choy and fish.
- Vitamin B6: Vitamin B6 contributes to the regulation of hormonal activity, normal energy-yielding metabolism, normal protein and glycogen metabolism and the reduction of tiredness and fatigue - all very useful in the context of weight loss! Foods rich in this vitamin include pork, poultry, fish, wholegrain cereals (such as oatmeal, wheatgerm and brown rice), eggs and soya beans.
And it's not all about food! Never underestimate the value of a regular exercise routine and the effect that it can have on your metabolism. Many people look for reasons why exercise is not necessary and think that they can lose the weight through dieting alone. Exercise not only burns calories, it also raises your overall metabolism, so calories burn faster even while you are sitting still or sleeping. Double your weight loss benefits through regular exercise!
Other metabolism boosting tips...
TIP 1: Water is an essential element when thinking about healthy weight loss. The digestive system can become sluggish when dehydrated, which can result in or contribute to a slower metabolism. Drinking water more than 8oz servings per day can help your body to run more efficiently and help cleanse and detox your system.
TIP 2: Think about what you put into your body in the evening. Your body's metabolism slows down at night and eating 2-3 hours before going to bed just a few nights a week can contribute to weight gain.
TIP 3: Another effective weight loss tip is to make sure you eat a significant portion of lean protein upon waking each morning. Adding protein to your breakfast routine, can substantially boost your metabolism and keep you feeling full until lunchtime.
TIP 4: Spice it up! Cayenne pepper, for example, is a fiercely hot and pungent herb - one of the most widely used spice ingredients for culinary purposes. It (as well as some other peppers) contains a substance called capsaicin, which researchers believe is a thermogenic chemical - a chemical that may help speed up your metabolism and decrease your appetite. Thermogenic foods may help increase metabolism and calorie burning by enhancing thermogenesis, a process in which the body burns calories to utilize the foods you have just eaten, converting those calories to heat.