By The FIRM nutrition expert Sara Ryba, R.D., C.D.N.
Do you eat well most of the time, but just can’t seem to lose stubborn pounds? It could be that you are eating the right foods, but in the wrong combinations. Or you could be eating the right combinations of food, but not timing your meals correctly. No matter how you slice it, your weight loss is determined by your metabolism. A revved-up metabolism will easily yield more weight loss than a sluggish one. The good news is that you do have control over your fat-burning capacity!
We are not created equal
Before I teach you how to eat well for an active metabolism, let me dispel the myth that we are all created equal. When it comes to calories-in and calories-out, we are NOT all equal. I might work with two clients who are the same age, same sex, and do the same amount of exercise, yet one can get away with eating a lot more food than the other, and still lose weight. Some of it will depend on muscle mass (the more muscle, the higher the metabolism), however some of it is just straight genetics. This is one of the reasons that obesity runs in families.
To help rev-up your metabolism, I offer the top eight ways we slow it down and how to avoid them.
1. Not eating enough during the day
Not eating enough during the day slows down your metabolism two ways. First, your body thinks it’s starving, so it will slow down your calorie-burning capacity in order to “survive.” Second, you are likely to make up for low caloric intake in the last few hours of the day, causing your body to hang on to the food through the night in preparation for another day of “starving.” Plain and simple — eat early and eat often — it will get your engine revving on high!
2. Not drinking enough fluids
Drinking water is one of the easiest ways to turn up your fat-burning capacity. I cannot say that drinking water alone will cause weight loss; however, if you are eating a perfect diet, but are dehydrated, you will lose less weight. When your body is dehydrated it cannot burn fat. So please, get 64 ounces per day—and as a bonus your hair and skin will shine!
3. All-or-nothing dieting
One of the biggest problems with “fad” and “crash” diets is that they usually provide a very low calorie allowance. Not only will this cause your body to burn fewer calories, but it will also make you more likely to binge. A slower metabolism combined with an increased likelihood of binging spells disaster. So play it safe; find a well-balanced diet that does not overly restrict calories.
4. Eating too much sugar
I often find that my clients are eating the right amount of calories for weight loss, but are not losing weight. The culprit is usually sugar. Sugars and refined carbs have the unique ability to stop weight loss in its tracks. Think of this: Your body is burning fat (from your hips, maybe?), and all of a sudden it gets an influx of sugar. It will use the sugar as energy and promptly stop burning the fat. So really, cut the sugar.
5. Not weight-training
So many of my clients tell me about the hours they spend on the treadmill — thinking that this is the secret ingredient to burning more calories. Sadly, it just doesn’t work out. Sure, you burn more calories by walking on the treadmill than by lying on the couch; however, without the proper amount of weight training, you will not increase your metabolism. Your resting metabolism is directly affected by how much muscle you have — so go on, build more muscle!
6. “Eating back” your exercise calories
Many people want to know how many calories their exercise session burned. Usually the reason they want this information is to quantify it in terms of food. In other words, they justify eating a candy bar since they already worked off those calories. However, this equation just doesn’t work. You’ll end up not losing weight, or you might even gain some weight. So remember, food and exercise are separate issues.
7. Drinking too much alcohol
There is nothing wrong with a few cocktails per week, but too many will absolutely reduce your fat-burning capability. Not only does alcohol provide a hefty dose of calories, but it also stops fat burning in its tracks (similar to sugar). Add in the side effect of the increased hunger you might feel while imbibing, and you’ve set yourself up for weight loss failure. Enjoy your cocktails…sparingly.
8. Skimping on protein
During the low-fat food craze of the late 1980s, we all became afraid of protein. It was linked to higher-fat diets, and many trendy diets limited protein to 2 ounces per meal. This has a disastrous consequence on weight loss. When you skimp on protein, your body has to burn its own muscle for fuel, resulting in decreased lean muscle mass. Less muscle means less calorie-burning action! Additionally, without adequate protein you can’t build more muscle mass (to burn calories). And lastly, diets that are low in protein cause increased sugar cravings. So eat your protein, often!