Wednesday, October 15, 2008

8 Habits to Speed up Your Metabolism

Are you trying to “lose weight”, slim down, look better, decrease your chances of diseases, live longer, and feel better all the time? If any one of these is your goal, then increasing your metabolism is where you must place your first focus. Your overall weight should not be your first focus. See my blog entry Do You Really Want to Lose Weight for more information about the
counterproductive focus on overall weight.

Your body’s rate of using calories, or “metabolism” can be measured by RMR (Resting Metabolic Rate). Your RMR indicates how fast your body burns calories at rest. The higher your RMR, the “faster” your metabolism, and the better it is for the aforementioned fitness goals.

Here’s the good news. Because of our bodies’ adaptive abilities, we can train our bodies to increase its RMR. Although I can write an entire chapter about this, I will simply offer here a list of habits that will progressively increase your metabolism as you gradually incorporate them into your life and stick to them. I recommend starting with 2 – 3 of these habits.

Here are the habits that will greatly increase your RMR over time:

Habit 1: Drink
at least 8 glasses of water per day.

Dehydration impairs your metabolism. You should drink at least 8 glasses of plain water per day. This would be in addition to other liquid beverages you may drink through out the day. For example, I would not count a glass of milk or a cup of tea as a glass of water. You may drink water hot or cold. In TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) and in martial arts, it is taught that drinking hot water may be better for chi (or internal energy). However, from the standpoint of what’s known in science to increase your metabolism, drinking water hot or cold would be fine.

Habit 2: Incorporate a well-designed exercise program
that includes strength training (such as weight training)

It is well known in exercise science that increasing your lean muscle content will increase your RMR. Unfortunately, many people (especially women) erroneously hesitate to do strength training, because they fear getting big muscles. I must tell you that IT IS VERY HARD TO GAIN BIG MUSCLES, even for men. You will not gain big muscles that easily.
If it is that easy, there would be a lot of Mr. Olympias walking around. Also, it is typical for many women aiming to lose weight to be disappointed or hesitate when their overall weight does not drop initially, or they may possibly even gain. There may be an initial gain in weight but this is okay if it is weight gained from weight training. Weight training will increase your muscle mass and bone mass WHILE increasing your metabolism, and therefore beginning to slim you down and make you look better in the long run (if you stick to it). Your metabolism is significantly increased after each workout and stays increased for 30 minutes to 48 hours (yes, hours) depending on the individual, age, intensity and type of workout, and how well the workout is designed. Also, you should consult an exercise professional with a strong background in exercise science and knowledge beyond science. Feel free to contact us at for a free consultation. (Check first with your doctor before beginning any exercise regimen.)

Note: One should not panic or be disappointed about overall weight in the first few months. Increasing muscle weight and bone weight (while decreasing the fat weight) is good even if
you long term goal is to get slimmer. It is best not to be focused on overall weight.
Instead of using weight to monitor your progress, measure your waist and take photographs of yourself (wearing the same clothing) at every stage of your progress. This makes a lot more sense to do, especially if your ultimate goal is to look slimmer and look better.

Habit 3: Have
breakfast everyday

Skipping breakfast is the worst thing you can do to your metabolism. If you have the bad habit of skipping breakfast, you are giving your body the cue to slow down your metabolism everyday. Simply put, no food (or energy intake) in the morning will cause the body to have the tendency save calories by slowing down your metabolism. Even if you are on the run and have no time, have at least a glass of milk.

Habit 4: Eat smaller portions, but more times daily

Don’t starve yourself and don’t over-stuff yourself at each meal. The right way (and the
easy way) is to aim to eat smaller meals, but you may eat more times daily. From my own personal experiences and the experience of clients, you will end up eating less overall without having to starve yourself. Starving yourself or “going on diets” is the worst thing you can do, because your body will respond by slowing down your metabolism. Therefore, you should eat more times daily, but eat smaller portions. This will cause the body to increase your metabolism.

Habit 5: Eat from good protein sources

Protein builds slim lean muscles and organs that increases the usage (or burning) of calories. Adequate protein intake along with a well-designed exercise program (including resistance training) will surely increase your metabolism. Good protein sources are low fat milk, egg whites (without the yoke), fish, and beans. Avoid meats attached with fats.

Habit 6: Eat good carbohydrates. Eliminate or greatly reduce bad carbohydrates.

Carbohydrates include complex carbohydrates like brown rice (which is good for you at the right amounts) as well as simple carbohydrates (which you should always avoid) such as table sugar. Eliminating all carbohydrates from your diet is a horrible idea from the viewpoint of increasing your RMR (requiring exercise). It is absolutely crucial to have adequate carbohydrate intake in order to provide energy, desire, and mood to workout. Lack of good carbohydrates will cause you to feel sluggish and
irritable. When you are sluggish, you are less likely to stick to habit 2 (proper exercise). In addition, lack of good carbohydrates will cause the body to have an inadequate supply of protein (because the body will use the protein for energy instead). This will therefore decrease your RMR. You must eat good carbohydrates (with adequate fiber and nutrients).

Good carbohydrates include fruits, vegetables, brown rice, whole wheat bread, whole grain cereal (without added sugar), whole wheat pasta, and anything whole wheat or whole grain. Bad carbohydrates to avoid are table sugar, candy, pastries, and processed food containing flour and starch.

Habit 7: Along
with a balanced diet, take a multivitamin daily
(but check first with your doctor)

Taking a multivitamin with a balanced diet will ensure an adequate intake of vitamins and minerals. This will in turn ensure that all your calories (from carbohydrates, proteins, and
fats) are effectively put into use. This will also ensure that your proteins are effectively put into use to rebuild structures which will maintain and increase your metabolism. Be cautious not to choose vitamins with mega-doses. Choose multi-vitamins that do not exceed 100% of daily values. There are many vitamins with "mega" doses that can be dangerous. Personally, I take a Centrum daily. (I have no affiliation with Centrum.)

Habit 8: Get one more night of adequate sleep (7-8 hours) than you already do

Expert scientific reviews of studies up-to-date have shown that lacking sleep is significantly correlated with being overweight and obese. Although the mechanisms have not been ascertained yet, one possible way inadequate sleep may cause unhealthy weight gain may be by decreasing RMR.

I, however, understand that in today’s society, it is not easy to get enough sleep with all the demands of our work and our family life. Eight hours of sleep per night is easier said than done. However many nights of adequate sleep you have per week currently, add
one more night of adequate sleep than you usually do. If you currently only have one night per week of adequate sleep, then you should now try to do two nights of adequate sleep.
This is completely doable. This is according to the life principle of “one step at a time”. Also, it is the principle of doing a little bit better than we did previously. It will make a huge difference.

To maintain or increase your metabolism, you must avoid dieting, fad diets, yo-yo dieting, or drastic decrease of caloric intake (starving yourself). All these quick-fix methods will cause the body to slow down its metabolism. This is why so many lose weight in the short-term but end up gaining the weight back. In most cases, they gain more weight than they started with.

You may be thinking, these 8 habits to increase your RMR are a bit much to apply all at once. I
agree that it may be a bit much to realistically apply all at once. This is why I recommend starting with one to three of these habits. After three of these become firmly established habits after awhile, add a 4th habit. Then a 5th, and so on. The key is to do it gradually and progressively. "A journey of a thousand miles begins with one step at a time." From my experience with clients and my own personal experience, focusing on progressively adding these habits to your life to increase your metabolism is the most effective way to begin your journey toward your physical fitness goals.