Your friend seems to eat and drink everything in sight — but always stays slim. You, on the other hand, diligently count calories but can’t get rid of those extra 10 pounds. What gives?
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Endocrinologist and obesity specialist Marcio Griebeler, MD, says the answer is (unfortunately) a bit complicated.
“If it were simple, I would have one solution for everyone — and be a billionaire,” Dr. Griebeler jokes.
Rather, understanding and changing your metabolism often seems more like rocket science. But armed with the right information, you can achieve your health goals. Dr. Griebeler explains how.
What is metabolism?
Your metabolism is a delicate, very personal, dance between your hormones, behavior and environment.
“Metabolism is a chemical process. It’s what the body will do to keep it going,” Dr. Griebeler explains. “It needs to capture, convert and burn energy. How efficiently your body does this depends on each person. Genetics play a critical role.”
Can you increase your metabolism?
The short answer? Yes. (High fives all around!) But instead of focusing on how to speed up your metabolism, Dr. Griebeler says you should work on changing your “weight set point.”
Think of weight set point like an internal thermostat. Your body wants to keep your weight at whatever number it’s set to — even if that number is higher than it should be.
“Your body is fighting to keep your weight as is. But over time, you can change that weight set point,” he says. Here’s how:
- Get the facts on eating healthy: Educate yourself about proper portions, plus which foods are healthy — and which aren’t. Then make gradual changes to align your diet with your findings.
- Make exercise a lifestyle: View exercise as a lifestyle marathon, not a quick-fix sprint. While exercise can help jumpstart weight loss, you get more bang for your buck in weight maintenance. “Do both aerobic exercise (calorie-torching and good for your heart) and resistance training (builds and maintains muscle mass, which in turn burns more calories) for 150 minutes each week.”
- Don’t let stress run your life: “I almost never see people losing weight if they are stressed,” says Dr. Griebeler. “Cortisol (a stress hormone) levels change, making it more difficult to lose weight. And then, stress often causes us to eat or drink everything in sight to cope.” Instead, cultivate stress-busting habits that don’t involve eating or drinking, such as deep breathing or making time for hobbies.
- Hit the hay: Lack of sleep causes cortisol to rise, which triggers your body to save the energy needed to get you through your sleep-deprived day. (Your body’s preferred fuel source for storage? Fat.) Not enough sleep also affects your brain’s decision-making abilities. Translation: Your willpower flies out the window. Aim for seven to nine hours each night to tame your temptations.
But remember: Much like Rome, your weight set point won’t change in a day. Most weight gain — and weight loss — happens gradually. The changes you make need to be sustainable to make an impact.
Will a cheat day (or week) affect my weight set point?
Not necessarily. While it may seem like you gained five pounds overnight after indulging, it’s simply not possible.
“For you to gain one pound of fat, you need to eat an extra 3,500 calories or so,” says Dr. Griebeler. “You may weigh more because you haven’t finished digesting your food. Or maybe you had a very salty meal and are hanging on to some water weight.”
Dr. Griebeler’s main message? Just be balanced. Enjoy that glass of wine or favorite dessert once in a while. And if you are going to have a period of not-so-healthy-eating (are the holidays looming?), make some adjustments. Compensate by exercising more or eating a little less at the meals you can control.
Are there such things as metabolism-boosting foods?
Unfortunately, no. While there is research that shows a connection between spicy foods and an increase in your metabolism, the boost is only temporary.
Does it matter when you eat for weight loss?
Research says yes. Typically, your body responds differently when you eat the same number of calories at different times of the day. The news is bad for all those late-night noshers: The earlier you eat, the better.
“We have enough evidence saying that people who work the night shift tend to gain more weight,” notes Dr. Griebeler.
To counteract your body’s natural tendencies, try to eat regularly throughout the day to curb hunger and prevent mindless snacking at night.