1. Stop Dieting! Give Your Body the Calories It Needs

If you’ve ever been on a diet in the past (and who hasn’t?), you probably noticed yourself becoming moody, tired and possibly even sick more frequently. These are signs of your metabolism becoming more sluggish. On the other hand, keep your body properly fueled and it will perform much better in all areas of life.

As explained above, if you live in a calorie deficit because your exercise level is too high and food intake is too low, your metabolism gets the message that it must slow down all functioning to conserve energy. You can wind up entering a catabolic state known as “starvation mode” that causes hormonal and cellular changes that drive up your hunger and thirst, while slowing down your fat-burning abilities and muscle growth. I recommend you stop counting calories and instead focus on nutrient density.

Eating enough every day, especially when you consume calories from a variety of unprocessed whole foods, is critical for cognitive, hormonal, sexual and digestive health. People who are well-fed and avoid yo-yo dieting often experience better digestion, positive moods and more motivation, stronger desire to be active, better mental health, stronger sex drive, and more stable blood sugar levels. Eating enough usually means you have more motivation to be active, gain strength and muscle mass quicker, and feel less fatigued.

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Another benefit of eating enough calories every day for your body’s needs is that you’re much more likely to have a healthier relationship with food. Being deprived can increase cravings and preoccupation with “forbidden” foods, while practicing balance and moderation allows you to make better decisions related to healthy eating long term. You’ll have the ability to go longer periods without needing snacks and without any noticeable discomforts, less mood fluctuations, fewer energy changes and better digestive function when you work on boosting your metabolism by eating enough.

One of the best ways to make sure you keep your metabolism humming along is to eat consistently throughout the day, not skipping meals — like skipping breakfast — in an attempt to cut calories. This is especially true for breakfast, which is a meal that has been tied to better weight and mood management. Meal timing can look differently for different people, some choosing to eat three square meals a day with fewer snacks, while others prefer eating smaller meals but more often. Either approach is OK as long as it keeps your energy, blood sugar and hunger levels stable.

2. Get Plenty of Rest

There’s a proven link between a properly functioning metabolism and getting adequate sleep and rest — lack of sleep can mean lack of weight loss. “Running on fumes” can seriously slow down your metabolism since the body works to conserve energy when it’s fatigued. Make it a priority to get seven to nine hours of sleep every night in order to keep hormone levels in check, including cortisol, which leads the body to store more fat. High cortisol levels associated with a lack of sleep are tied to poor mental functioning, weight gain and becoming more resistant to insulin that controls blood sugar.

Another way to maintain hormonal balance is to rest enough between exercise days. Overtraining repeatedly causes fatigue, muscle loss and a lower metabolic rate, not the opposite as you might think. Exercise impacts your hormonal status, and intense workouts without rest elevate cortisol levels. This winds up impairing insulin sensitivity, stalling the body’s ability to recover from workouts and damaging the processes that repair and build healthy muscle tissue.

3. Try High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)

Exercise of any kind is important for keeping metabolic function working into older age. Some studies have found that while metabolism usually declines as someone gets older, this isn’t necessarily the case if you stay active and maintain muscle mass. A 2001 study published in the American Journal of Physiology showed that there wasn’t a significant difference in resting metabolic rate between groups of young and older physically active men who were matched for exercise volume and estimated energy intake.

A decline in metabolism seems to be related most to age-associated reductions in exercise volume and calorie consumption but doesn’t always occur in men who maintain exercise volume and eat enough to support their needs.

High-intensity interval training (HIIT), a form of exercise that features intervals that vary between all-out effort and short periods of rest, is known to especially jump-start metabolic functioning better than steady-state workouts can. Quick bursts of intense exercises — such as sprinting, cycling, or burst training and plyometrics — help the body continue to burn calories even after your workout is over, a concept known at the “afterburn effect.”

One of the best things about HIIT workouts is that they require less time than traditional cardio workouts, yet they have more profound benefits. Several studies have investigated the effects of calorie expenditure and fat loss in adults practicing HIIT workouts and have found that while HIIT typically burns fewer calories during the actual workout when compared to steady-state cardio exercise, HIIT can result in more fat loss due to its overall effect on metabolism. (5)

This phenomenon is due to the way the body uses higher levels of oxygen to recover following intense physical activity. HIIT burns more fat over the duration of the day, builds more muscle and improves metabolic function compared to steadier exercises. These workouts are also effective for improving cardiovascular function, helping with insulin sensitivity, lowering cortisol, and improving respiratory endurance and stamina.

4. Start Lifting Weights

Lifting weights can help speed resting metabolic rate because it builds lean muscle mass, which naturally uses more calories than body fat does. To gain muscle means to increase the amount of metabolic work your body needs to do daily in order to just keep you going, since muscle tissue is more active than fat is. Find a way to practice resistence training regularly, whether this means trying CrossFit workouts or simply using dumbells and performing body resistance moves at home. If you are trying to gain muscle quickly, I recommend ideally doing heavy weight training of six to 12 reps, five days a week for 45–75 minutes.

5. Avoid Inflammatory Foods

Certain foods slow down digestive processes and increase free radical damage, which is the cause of aging. You can think of these as “metabolism death foods.” The body recognizes processed and inflammatory foods as toxins, and therefore eating these triggers your innate immune system’s fight-or-flight response, which increases stress hormone production and slows down metabolic functioning. Sadly, even some foods that seem “healthy” are the culprits for unwanted weight gain, thyroid dysfunction, ongoing fatigue, hormone imbalance and digestive distress.

Avoiding the following foods as much as possible:

  • sugary drinks (including soda and juices)
  • processed foods made with grains, especially the kind that contain gluten (including wheat products like bread, pasta, cereal, crackers, muffins, desserts, flours, chips and granola bars)
  • refined vegetable oils
  • artificial sweeteners and ingredients
  • low-quality dairy and animal products (the kind that are not grass-fed, pasture-raised, raw and organic)

6. Add Metabolism Power Foods

Certain foods might help the body use and expend energy better. This has to do with the thermic effects of some foods, meaning the body works harder to break down and metabolize certain fat-burning foods, in some cases because the food has a warming effect on the body that uses up calories.

Eating enough protein, for example, is tied to a strong metabolism, as are some spicy foods and also drinking natural forms of caffeine in moderation, like coffee or tea. Packing in healthy high-protein snacks and sources throughout the day — in the form of wild-caught fish, cage-free eggs, grass-fed beef or raw dairy products, for example — is one the simple metabolism boosters that also keeps you full for longer. Protein is beneficial for keeping energy and blood sugar stable while also helping build calorie-burning lean muscle mass. Eating foods with protein naturally forces your body to use up more calories during the digestion process than when you eat carbs.

Green tea is another healthy addition to your diet, since its consumption has been considered a natural metabolism booster for centuries thanks to special antioxidant compounds in addition to low levels of caffeine. Garlic is another food that acts as a thermogenic in the body, which revs up the metabolism’s heat-producing effects. It’s also tied to lower blood sugar levels and less fat accumulation thanks to a compound called  allicin.

Naturally warming foods like cayenne pepper, chili and other spicy ingredients are known to increase heat in the body thanks to an active compound called capsaicin. There’s evidence that warming spices like cinnamon, pepper and ginger aid in lipid oxidation, which is the process of burning fat for energy — obviously highly desirable when weight loss is the goal. These antioxidant-packed spices also might help decrease appetite and slow the growth of fat cells.

Lastly, let’s not forget about apple cider vinegar, one of my favorite ingredients for digestive health and balancing blood sugar.

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