Boosting your metabolism can be easy as soon as you understand the foundation of how your metabolism works. For most people, weight loss can be extremely difficult — even for those who think they are doing all the right things. Like most people, you’ve probably gone through a cycle of trying wanting to get rid of stubborn belly fat by cutting back calories, avoiding junk food, and starting working out… all without realizing that as you were making all of these “healthy” lifestyle changes you may have been putting your body into a “starvation mode” actually slowing down your metabolism.
Understanding what metabolism is, how the body’s metabolism works, and taking the right steps to help support your hormonal and metabolic processes is the ultimate way to lose weight and keep it off.
Metabolism Definition: What Affects Metabolism and What Is It?
Metabolism by definition is your body’s ability to find and use fuel for energy. Your metabolism is complex – there are several processes that overlap and influence each other to be turned up or down, depending on what your body decides it needs. A key part of learning how to influence your metabolism is actually helping your body move into a “fat-burning” state, not a fat-storing or “starvation state”. When we deprive our bodies of crucial nutrients, it will start to hold on more tightly to the resources it feels it has left – our FAT!
Remember that fat is one of the body’s key areas of fuel storage system. Fat is broken down into glucose that the body then converts into energy that fuels almost every cell. As you can imagine, our bodies think of fat as an important “energy reserve” that it does not want to give up when it’s put into a fat-storing state.
So how do we make the switch? The first step is learning the 5 major factors of metabolism, and then turning on our fat-burning state. On top of age (metabolism also steadily declines year after year after around 30 years of age) and gender (metabolic rate is 5-10% lower in woman than in men on average) there are 4 major factors that affect your metabolism.
The major factors that control metabolism are:
1. Toxic Load:
- Liver – Your liver is the key player when it comes to detoxification and responsible for thyroid hormone production. (1)
- Thyroid – Often a major cause of slowed metabolism, this important gland controls body temperature, normal organ growth, development, and our ability to burn fat.
- Adrenal Glands – Your adrenals are your key stress glands. They are a part of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal or HPA axis that is our central stress response system. The adrenal glands regulate steroid hormones (for fat loss) and stress hormones, helping balance your metabolism.
- Psychological State – Prolonged stress and anxiety affect every one of the above. Taking the time to take care of your mental health and wellbeing has an extremely positive effect on your overall metabolic state and ability to successfully maintain a healthy weight.
4. Body Composition:
- Muscle Mass – As the only metabolically active tissue in the body, muscle mass helps increase resting metabolic rate (burning calories when you are at rest), helps increase fat burning and blood sugar regulation. With a body composition tracker, you can stay on top of important measurements other than your weight, such as body fat composition, visceral fat, water composition, calorie intake and more! Tracking multiple factors at once can help paint a much more accurate picture than a standard scale.
1. How To Increase Metabolism: Reduce Toxic Load
As you may know, the liver is a key player in detoxification — its role is to convert nutrients from our diets into substances that the body can use and to remove toxic substances and convert them into harmless ones. It is found in the upper abdomen right below the diaphragm and flows bile and blood through to the gallbladder. What tends to happen to most people is toxic overload, which can significantly impact your ability to lose weight and get your metabolism elevated.
When your liver becomes overloaded with toxins, from processed foods, prescription drugs, alcohol, pollution, sugar, stress hormones, etc. it can push your body into survival mode and metabolism slow-down. Your liver and thyroid have such a strong relationship to each other that doctors often recommend blood work for both liver and thyroid function when either a thyroid disease or liver issue are suspected.
When your liver goes from optimal function to overburdened, several metabolic problems follow including:
- Weight gain (especially estrogen dominant areas such as arms, hips, and thighs)
- Abdominal bloating
- Poor digestion
- Skin issues, such as breakouts or dry/itchy skin
- Moodiness, irritability
- Low energy
- Poor blood sugar regulation
- Sleep disturbances
- Inability to lose weight or maintain an elevated metabolic rate
Is Your Liver Overloaded?
We are constantly fighting against environmental toxins, as well as all of the toxins we eat, drink, and put on our body, it’s often helpful to give our liver a little bit of a break.
2. How To Increase Metabolism: Hormone Balancing
Your thyroid is the master metabolism regulator – a sluggish thyroid can lead to excess weight, low energy, and a host of other metabolic issues. On the other hand, an overstimulated thyroid can lead to anxiety, excess weight loss, restlessness, and sleep disturbances. Thyroxine (T4), is a key metabolic hormone released by the thyroid that has a significant effect upon metabolic rate. (2)
Poor thyroid function significantly impairs the ability of the body to burn fat and lose weight. This leads many people with low thyroid function, and others for whom weight loss is difficult, to give up on their health and fitness goals. There is a common assumption is that a slow thyroid is genetic and that some people are just born with slow metabolisms. However, the way a person lives and the choices they make have a huge impact on thyroid health.
If there is too much or too little thyroid hormone, the metabolism of your entire body is impacted. Since the thyroid hormones T3 and T4 control cellular metabolism throughout the entire body, when there is not enough of them or the HPA axis signaling is unbalanced, metabolic function slows.
How to support your thyroid:
- Treat the Underlying Causes
- Identify and treat the underlying causes of hypothyroidism, including food allergies such as dairy and gluten, heavy metals, lack of physical activity, nutritional deficiencies, and stress.
- Eat thyroid friendly foods
- Eating high levels of soy and veggies from the brassica family are known to have negative effects on the thyroid. Broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, and others foods in this family can drastically impair thyroid physiology, so eating a balanced amount of these items with other high quality dark leafy greens is the way to go
- Support your thyroid with optimal nutrition, including foods that contain iodine, saturated fat, zinc, omega-3 fats, selenium, and more.
- Reduce Stress
- Support adrenal function (and therefore thyroid function) but reducing overall stress levels and engaging in self-care activities such as walking, spending time with friends and family, meditating, reading, etc.
- Regular moderate exercise not only boosts thyroid function, but also increase lean muscle mass, and helps support adrenal function.
Quick Tip: Balance thyroid damaging foods and thyroid supporting foods by incorporating less soy and cabbage, and increasing more dark leafy greens and iodine rich foods.
The Adrenal Glands
Our HPA axis (hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis) is our central stress response system. This triad of big players are a part of a complex series of hormonal control buttons that the body uses to regulate appetite, cravings, metabolism, thyroid function, and several other important processes. The tricky thing about your adrenal glands are — depending on how you treat them — they can either help push you into a fat-storing state or a fat-burning state, and it’s a gentle balance between the two.
Although most people view stress as a negative, some stress is actually positive and necessary. In response to stress the adrenal glands secrete the hormone cortisol which is directly related to thyroid function:
- Cortisol influences thyroid receptors, making them more sensitive to thyroid hormone. So when cortisol levels are too low, normal thyroid signaling is disrupted potentially leading to a slow thyroid, or hypothyroidism.
- On the flipside, high cortisol levels decrease the conversion of thyroxine (T4) to triiodothyronine (T3) and increase levels of reverse thyroid hormone (rT3). Together this means lower thyroid function and hypothyroid. (3)
- Key takeaway: Balance. For optimal thyroid function, you don’t want cortisol too high or too low.
The adrenal glands also secrete catecholamines, such as adrenaline, which is responsible for the “fight or flight” response. They also help the body burn fat to use for energy since energy is needed in coping with stressful situations.
Here are a few things that can lead to dysfunctional adrenal glands or high cortisol production:
- Chronic stress (mental and/or emotional)
- Low activity and over-activity
- Caffeine over-consumption
- Alcohol consumption
- Blood sugar imbalances
- Sleep deprivation
- Immune responses from infection or inflammation can cause high levels of cortisol
- Both eating food and skipping meals can raise cortisol. In the case of eating, this is believed to be a protective immune response. In the case of missing meals, it is released to aid fat and sugar release.
Other things that help lower cortisol include: (4)
- Leisure walking NOT power walking. (especially in the woods)
- Sleep, naps, and massage
- Rest, relaxation, and laughter
- Meditation, tai chi, restorative/stretching yoga
- Physical affection, time with loved ones and pets
- Sauna, hot baths, and spa therapies (raises cortisol during a session, but then lowers after)
- GABAnergic herbal teas (passionflower, valerian, skullcap – all found in the Nighttime Detox blend)
- Whey protein and BCAA supplements
- Green tea (theanine)
QUICK TIP: Take some time to engage in regular low-intensity activity 3x/week to help reduce stress and improve metabolism.
3. How To Increase Metabolism: Body Composition
Lean muscle mass is actually your secret weapon to boosting resting metabolic rate or basal metabolic rate (BMR). BMR is an estimate of how many calories you’d burn if you were to do literally nothing for 24 hours. It represents the minimum amount of energy needed to keep your body functioning, including breathing and keeping your heart beating.
What this means is, the more muscle mass you have, the higher your BMR, and the more calories you can burn at a given time and the fewer calories you need to maintain your weight. With the help of your thyroid, muscle tissue dictates your metabolic rate. Muscle is the only metabolically active tissue you have to burn excess fat off of your body.
Improving overall muscle mass also improves blood sugar regulation and our ability to shift into a fat-burning state.
Two great ways to start increasing exercise levels without stressing your adrenal glands are:
- Strength training
- Strength training exercises, such as weightlifting, are important because they help counteract muscle loss associated with aging.
- Lifestyle activities
- Exercise doesn’t have to be you, in a gym, with neon tights on (though I’m sure you’d look great). Any extra movement helps burn calories — look for ways to walk and move around a few minutes more each day than the day before. An activity tracker such an a Fitbit can be a great way to measure your everyday activity levels so you can have fun trying to slowly increase them.
- Other easy ideas include taking the stairs more often and parking farther away at the store are simple ways to burn more calories. Even activities such as gardening, washing your car and housework burn calories and contribute to weight loss.
Quick Tip: Engage in strength building exercises to improve muscle mass and boost metabolism.
4. How To Increase Metabolism: Stress Management
Prolonged stress can cause a rapid increase in energy expenditure. When a person is said to be “on edge” or nervous they are in a state of high alert, different hormones circulate the blood vessels and communicate to cells to break down energy stores ready to provide a greater supply of energy if needed.
In order to support both your adrenal health and mental health, the first thing you must do is identify the key areas of stress that are present and remove or reduce the sources of that stress – something that is easier said than done I realize. The best way to start identifying the causes of your stress is to start journaling your stress levels daily on a scale of 1-10, 10 being you want to rip your hair out and 1 being you are on a tropical vacation. At least 3-4 times a day for 7-14 days, set an alarm on your phone and do a “stress-check”. Rate your stress levels and your current surroundings.
This type of stress-checking not only helps show the key areas of stress in your life but also helps you become more aware when you are feeling stress as many people don’t even realize they are in a state of distress until its too late. I actually developed my 14-day detox kit to help create 3 specific times of the day where you take the time to breathe and become more aware of your mental and emotional state.
Quick Tip: Start a stress check journal to identify your stress triggers and help you become more aware of when stress is affecting you.
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