By: Ginny Figlar Colon
It slows down as we get older. For some of us, it may never have been very fast to begin with. And it’s the “M” word on every dieter’s mind.
But did you know your fat-burning machine moonlights as a powerhouse of the energy and focus so many of us are looking for? To naturopathic physician James Rouse (a.k.a. Dr. James), losing weight goes hand in hand with gaining mind power.
“People usually link metabolism with weight loss,” says Dr. James. “But metabolism is responsible for so much more — things that have a profound impact on how we live life every day. When you think about it, having energy and mental clarity is the foundation of everything we do.”
Eat for How You Want to Feel
It starts with mind and body chemistry — the combination of hormones and neurotransmitters that naturally occur in your body. By eating the right mix of beneficial fat (20-30 percent), lean protein (25-40 percent) and complex, low-glycemic-index carbohydrates (40-50 percent), Dr. James says you can support that biochemistry to encourage your system not just to burn fat, but also to give you more focus and energy more consistently throughout your day.
“Everyone has their own unique biochemical individuality, so no one diet will work for everyone,” Dr. James says. “I encourage my patients to start with a healthy balance of key macronutrients, and then fine-tune that based on how certain foods and the timing of certain foods make them feel.”
To find the perfect combination for your biochemical individuality, you’ll need to do a little self-sleuthing. Dr. James recommends keeping a journal to document how exercise and meals make you feel. “For example, do you thrive with fruit, whole-grain cereal or bread in the morning?” he asks. “Are you a person who does better with morning exercise or evening exercise?”
“We need to keep track of what we are doing and how we feel,” he says. Try starting with the options developed by Dr. James at www.gaiam.com/energymeals. “Then follow the signs. With a little observation, you can dial in to your best course of eating.”
Dish Out the Right Amount of Fuel
Nothing bogs down a fine-tuned, fat-burning machine more than over- or under-eating. Over-eat and your system is burdened, bringing your energy level down. Under-eat and your body goes into conserve mode rather than burn mode. When learning how to speed up your metabolism, balancing what you eat, how much you eat and how often you eat are all factors to be discussed.
Unfortunately, it’s hard to define a “serving size.” Even the Food Pyramid and Nutrition Facts labels on packages don’t always agree. For example, the Food Pyramid identifies an English muffin as two servings of bread, while the Nutrition Facts label says it’s one. James recommends these rules of thumb:
- One serving of low-fat cheese should be about the size of your thumb.
- Bread, cereal, rice, pasta, milk, yogurt and vegetables should be the size of a tuna can.
- Lean meat, poultry, fish and tofu should be the size of a deck of cards.
- Fruit should be the size of a tennis ball.
- Leafy vegetables should be the size of your fist.
Give Your Metabolism a Boost at the Right Moments
Putting your body into burn mode depends on feeding it the right amount of food at specific times during the day. In the morning, Dr. James says longer-burning complex carbohydrates in the form of whole grains and fruits are a great choice to speed up your metabolism and generate a full day of energy. By afternoon, vegetable-based carbohydrates are a better option — they are easier on your blood sugar and require less insulin from your body to manage. This helps set your body up for a night of balance and optimal overnight metabolism.
Even more important, however, is making sure you put something in your body at frequent intervals. You know those mid-afternoon cravings? By eating three meals plus two to three snacks a day — breakfast, mid-morning snack, lunch, mid-afternoon snack and dinner — you’ll avoid the peaks and valleys.
“Our bodies have wisdom,” Dr. James explains. “When you miss meals, you send a signal to your body to slow down metabolism so you can conserve energy. If you are eating the right mix of nutrients at consistent intervals throughout the day, your body gets the signal to burn.”
You can even give yourself dessert or a pre-bedtime snack and still boost your metabolism. “Remember, however, that this last meal will set the “metabolic tone” for the rest of the night — 10 to 12 hours where you can be burning or storing fat,” Dr. James explains. “Be sure it’s well-balanced and supports optimal chemistry.”
That means staying away from sugar, which will slow metabolism and create a fat-storing machine, says Dr. James. Instead, he advises eating complex carbohydrates in the form of whole grains, low-fat dairy products or a protein-balanced smoothie, which help you sleep better, burn better and wake up with more mental clarity. It may take some time to identify which food choices put your unique mind and body chemistry into balance, but once you do, a new sense of vitality will not be far behind. “For most of us, a healthy metabolism is there — it just needs to be nurtured. With the right portions, right mix of nutrients and right times to eat, you can make that happen,” he says.
For realistic, targeted menu options and recipes that will help you get started and help you find your best metabolism-boosting foods and times of day, see our convenient, printable stop-running-on-empty eating chart developed with Dr. James.