The inner workings of our bodies can often be a mystery—especially when there's so much conflicting information. Sometimes we find ourselves wondering what metabolism even is and why we're always trying to speed it up. "Our metabolisms are much more complicated than a 1+1=2 equation," says Farah Fahad, MS, RD, dietitian and founder of The Farah Effect. "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." So a "good" or "speedy" metabolism just means your body is functioning in a healthy way—properly breaking down your food and using it to promote overall health.
That said, there are a few tried-and-true ways to keep your body's metabolism running smoothly, and they're backed by nutritionists and science. Below, we go into each one and why it works.
According to research, you can boost your metabolism just by changing the way you chew your food. Studies show that eating your food really slowly can actually help you burn up to 10 extra calories per meal—which could amount to up to 2000 extra calories per month. In Ayurveda—the centuries-old, holistic-minded school of medicine based out of India—chewing slowly and thoroughly is crucial for optimal digestion, and optimal digestion is crucial for overall health. And it certainly will help with mindful eating. You've heard the notion that it takes 20 minutes for your brain to realize you're full, right? That just goes to show that people who eat slowly tend to gain less weight and consume fewer calories than fast eaters. A 2011 study also showed that participants who chewed each bite 40 times lost 12% more fat than those who chewed 15 times, so aim high.
Opt for lean meat, fish, and eggs, as eating protein will help keep your metabolism stimulated, thanks to the added iron, vitamin D, omega-3s, and branch chain amino acids. "Think of your metabolism as a machine," says nutritionist Farah Fahad. "If you give it the right fuel, it will run properly. If you don’t, it will be sluggish. Our metabolism is dependent on enzymes that facilitate chemical reactions in our bodies, and these enzymes are made of proteins. Studies have shown that increasing protein also increases muscle mass, contributing to a higher metabolism. Protein doesn't have to mean steak; it can be added to one's diet through foods like lentils, nuts, and eggs," says Fahad.
For the most effective results, eat 30 grams of protein within 30 minutes of waking up. This increases leptin (an energy-regulating hormone) sensitivity and has been shown to push your metabolism into overdrive.
In one study, individuals who took part in a 15-week HIIT training program burned more fat than those who followed a 20-week endurance training program, proving that working out in intervals is more effective than focusing solely on steady aerobic exercise. The workout combines moves like jumping jacks, high knees, and squats for a low-impact, high-calorie-burning workout.
Make your cardio count by alternating highly intense bursts of exercise for 30 seconds to a minute with slow recovery for one to two minutes. HIIT training is shown to raise metabolism for up to eight hours post training.
When you have an upset stomach or are feeling bloated, that's your body's way of telling you something is up. "Skip the calorie counting, and instead eat the foods that make you feel good," says Lyn-Genet Recitas, nutritionist and author of The Metabolism Plan. "Inflammatory foods raise cortisol levels and cause hormonal imbalance and rampant yeast growth, which disrupts thyroid function, your master gland for your metabolism." Tomatoes, spinach, almonds, and strawberries are all anti-inflammatory.
Even though it feels counterintuitive, your metabolism works best when you eat small snacks every few hours rather than larger meals farther apart. Always Hungry? author David Ludwig, MD, PhD, told Well + Good, "Hunger is a sign your body needs calories and something to keep your metabolism going. You should never go hungry." Basically, when you get those terrible stomach pangs, it’s your body’s way of telling you it’s beginning to go into starvation mode. It raises your insulin levels, burns calories at a slower rate, and ultimately "creates a battle between mind and metabolism," suggests Ludwig.
Instead, eat healthy snacks throughout the day (Charles Passler—Bella Hadid’s nutritionist—suggests every two hours for optimal results). Try unsalted almonds, a few pieces of fruit, or some leafy greens to keep your body going until your next meal. Keep them by your desk so you're less likely to be tempted by junk food.
Infrared saunas (at about 140 degrees) burn an average of 250 calories per hour and help rid your body of chemicals and toxins that are known to cause weight gain (the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences reported finding over 15 known chemicals that cause weight gain). They can cause adrenal fatigue, impaired carbohydrate tolerance, food cravings, allergies, obesity, and elevated cholesterol. Try beWELL or Higher Dose, which offer health therapies that will help you keep your metabolism engaged as well as up your our dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin, and endorphins.