As quick as we are to blame our metabolism for a variety of weight-related woes, our understanding of exactly what's at work is often limited. We reached out to Farah Fahad, MS, RD, dietitian and founder of The Farah Effect to give us the 101 on metabolism and tell us which bad habits are slowing it down.
For starters, it's important to rethink your metabolism and realize it's much more than a means to dropping pounds. "Our metabolisms are much more complicated than a 1+1=2 equation," says Fahad "People often think of metabolism in terms of just weight loss, but it's essentially how we break down the nutrients we are given (what we eat or supplement) and convert it to energy for the body to use."
That said, a working metabolism doesn't just keep your weight in check but also keeps your body functioning its best and contributes to your overall health. In layman's terms, "Your metabolism is how good your body is at taking what you eat and using it." says Fahad. "So how fast or slow your metabolism is is dependent on many factors including quality of your diet of course, genetics, muscle mass, sleep, hydration, and hormones."
For the factors you can control and influence, it's all about breaking habits that are bad for your body. Not only will abstaining from these no-nos reset your metabolism, but it will benefit your overall health and well-being.
Keep scrolling to see the secret habits that are ruining your metabolism as well as Fahad's suggestions for how to break them.
Not Eating in the Morning
The saying that breakfast is the most important meal of the day exists for a reason. If you don't eat first thing in the morning, you aren't alerting to your metabolism that it's time to get up and go. Especially when one is trying to lose weight, skimping on breakfast can have the opposite effect. "Many people who skip breakfast are overeating later in the day and later at night and that can contribute to a sluggish metabolism," notes Fahad. Making breakfast a part of your daily routine doesn't mean you have to spend an hour in the kitchen each morning. "Breakfast doesn’t have to be a big meal," says Fahad. "If someone who doesn’t eat breakfast at all starts with only a handful of almonds in the morning or a boiled egg, I'm okay with that."
Eating Foods Low in Nutrients
Not Drinking Enough Water
It's not just when you eat that's important but what you eat. "The more nutrient-dense the food is, the better it is for your metabolism," asserts Fahad. "If you eat foods that nourish you, you will give your metabolism the machinery it needs to work efficiently." What are the foods messing with your metabolism? Anything highly processed or in the category of fast food.
Fahad explains the reasoning step by step. "If you eat an apple, there is so much nutrition that by the time your body is done extracting nutrients, there is really nothing left to store—hence apples are not fattening. But if you eat a Snickers bar, how much nutrition is in that snickers bar? Not much for the body to extract so what can’t be used is stored as fat."
If you regularly eat fast or packaged foods the first thing you should change is switching your diet toward whole foods. Fahad lists fresh vegetables, fruit, whole grains, nuts, seeds, beans, and eggs. As long as you're eating predominantly fresh foods and steering clear of preservatives, fillers, and artificial additives, you'll be eating to your health and metabolism.
Staying hydrated is essential to your health in so many ways, but also in keeping your metabolism working effectively. "Our bodies are made up of 55 to 65% water," says Farah, "our body functions in a water medium and we need water for our metabolism to be at its best." For those who don't like water (which Fahad admits she hears a lot), she suggests adding natural flavors like squeezed lemon. Fahad advises that you have at minimum a half liter of water before you eat anything in the morning.
Not Exercising Enough
A sedentary lifestyle goes hand in hand with a slow metabolism. "Muscle is metabolically more active (meaning it burns more calories) than fat," says Fahad. "So if you have a higher muscle-to-fat ratio, you will have a higher metabolism." Staying active in whichever way you love will boost your metabolism because "exercise helps burn fat and create and maintain lean muscle mass."
Not Eating Enough Protein
Not having enough protein in your diet can be detrimental for your metabolism. "Our metabolism is dependent on enzymes that facilitate chemical reactions in our bodies and these enzymes are made of proteins," explains Fahad. As we've all been taught in biology, "Proteins are the building blocks of life" since they're essential to so many biochemical processes in the body. As Fahad notes, "Studies have shown that increasing protein also increases muscle mass contributing to a higher metabolism." She stressed that protein doesn't have to mean steak; it can be added to one's diet through foods like lentils, nuts, and eggs.
Eating Artificial Sweeteners
While opting for an artificial sweetener over sugar might seem like a healthier alternative, the truth is it can often be worse. Eating artificial sweeteners "alters the gut microbiome, which affects metabolism," says Fahad. "If you like your coffee or tea sweet add a little bit of raw or manuka honey. Pure organic maple syrup is also great for baking."
Check out these 15 foods that boost your metabolism.