Don’t be fooled by false health claims. There are only two true ways to boost your metabolism: weight-loss surgery and weight training that increases muscle mass. But there are many factors that can cause your metabolism to slow and the number on the scale to creep up. The good news is you don’t have to take these changes lying down — you can always fight your metabolic triggers and change your metabolism for the better. Here’s how top docs say you can reverse a bad metabolic trend and rev your body’s calorie-burning engine.
- How Hormones Slow Metabolism (Part 1)
You could blame your slow metabolism on your hormones — or a lack thereof. A natural lack of estrogen receptors in the brain due to aging caused mice to gain weight without consuming more calories, researchers at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center found. The same principle could apply to humans. “People put on 10 percent a decade because of how our hormones change as we age,” says Eva Cwynar, MD, an endocrinologist and metabolic medicine specialist in Beverly Hills and author of The Fatigue Solution. If you’re concerned about your estrogen levels, talk to your doctor to find a healthy solution that works for your body.
- How Hormones Slow Metabolism (Part 2)
Another reason metabolism slows: The amount of the hormone testosterone in both men and women decreases as we age, Dr. Cwynar says. Testosterone helps regulate muscle mass, and the more muscle you have, the more calories you burn, even when resting. Men may be able to prevent this change by getting more vitamin D, a recent study in the journal Hormone and Metabolic Research found, but the same effect has not been confirmed in women. Skin-safe ways to boost your vitamin D intake include egg yolks, salmon and other fatty fish, and vitamin-fortified breakfast cereals.
- Stress Can Be a Metabolism Trigger
Stress causes your level of the hormone cortisol to rise, says Christine Gerbstadt, MD, RD, author of Doctor’s Detox Diet: The Ultimate Weight Loss Prescription and a spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, which can harm your metabolism. Increased cortisol levels can cause you to overeat, and when you overeat, you can gain weight. Weight gain causes your metabolism to slow, Dr. Gerbstadt says. To counteract stress, avoid people and situations that cause your stress level to spike whenever possible and adopt a stress-busting exercise routine that will also help you maintain your weight.
- Lack of Sleep Can Change Metabolism
To keep your metabolism revved, don’t skip snoozing. When your body lacks sleep, it can have a difficult time metabolizing carbohydrates, which triggers a chain reaction. When you don’t metabolize carbohydrates, your blood-sugar levels rise. High blood sugar levels spike insulin levels, and the increase in insulin tells your body to store unused energy as fat. To stop the cycle, set your body clock so you will stay caught up on ZZZs: Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, even on weekends.
- Eating Too Much Fat Can Change Your Metabolism
When you eat a lot of fatty foods, your metabolism slows down to conserve some of that fat for future use, and the net result is that you might start gaining weight. To maintain your metabolism or change it for the better, make sure any meat you eat is lean, stick to low- or nonfat dairy, and consume plenty of the healthy monounsaturated fats found in raw nuts, fish, and avocados.
- Medications Can Be Metabolism Triggers
Some medications may cause your metabolism to slow and your waistline to expand. Those known to change metabolism in some people include antidepressants, diabetes drugs, steroids, and hormone therapies. Talk with your doctor if you suspect that medicine is causing weight gain, Cwynar says. Your doctor may be able to prescribe a different medication, change your dosage, or even suggest a better time of day to take it.
- Health Conditions Can Trigger a Metabolism Change
The classic example of a disease that slows metabolism is hypothyroidism, which is when your thyroid gland doesn’t make enough hormones. “Your thyroid is the ‘thermostat’ of metabolism,” Gerbstadt says. However, some people are quick to blame their slow metabolism on an underactive thyroid or other health condition when it’s really that they’re overeating and not exercising. Find out for sure by asking your doctor to perform a blood test. If you have an underactive thyroid, your doctor may be able to help reset it with medication, Gerbstadt says. If not, you may simply have to redouble your diet and exercise efforts.
- Eating Too Little Can Slow Metabolism
If you overdo your diet and cut too many calories from your eating plan, you could end up sabotaging your metabolism. Your body will slow down its calorie burning because it thinks you’re starving. Another problem if you eat too little is that your body will break down valuable muscle tissue for energy. If you want to change your metabolism and still lose weight, eat enough so that you’re not hungry. Smaller meals throughout the day — every three to four hours — may be a better bet so you stay satisfied.
- Lack of Exercise Can Slow Metabolism
When you don’t exercise, fat can build up in your body and slow your metabolism, says Rakesh Patel, MD, a family medicine physician in Gilbert, Ariz. Now consider what happens when you exercise: Your heart has to pump harder so that blood can transport the nutrients your muscles need, and when your muscles are working, your metabolism speeds up. Try interval training if you want to change your metabolism and burn calories even after your workout is over, Dr. Patel says. For example, you can alternate periods of jogging with sprinting or add steeper hills to your bike route. Regular exercise and especially interval training can boost your metabolism over the long term.