Master Your Metabolism

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quest_nutrition_harkins_feb10_sqBy: Lisa Harkins, RD, LDN

Another year down, another new year approaches…many of us make the same New Year Resolution over and over again:to lose weight.

But for some reason it doesn’t seem to stick, and some of us will blame it on our “metabolism”.  But what is metabolism and why does it seem to help certain individuals and hinder others?  First, we need to define what metabolism is, and then learn what affects it in order to truly understand how it may determine our weight.

Metabolism, defined: Metabolism is the process by which the body changes nutrients we eat into energy that are in turn used by the body to maintain it.  It is essential to survival: our metabolism helps the body repair tissue, heal itself from injury, fight disease, and eliminate toxins and metabolic by-products.

Our metabolism is affected by the following factors: Nutrition, Hydration, Physical activity, Body type, Gender, Age, Genetics, Bone structure, Body composition, and Hypothyroidism.  Some of these things we can’t control, like Age – our metabolism slows about five percent for each decade after 40.  That’s because as we get older, we tend to lose muscle and gain body fat; lean muscle mass is more metabolically active than fat tissue.  Gender also makes a difference – men generally have faster metabolisms than women because they’re larger and have less body fat.  A man’s basal metabolic rate is estimated to be 10 to 15 percent higher than a woman’s.  Hypothyroidism can also be a hindrance – an underactive thyroid will slow down your metabolism and ultimately lead to weight gain.  The good news is that a simple blood test can determine whether you have this condition or not.  If you do, you can control it with the proper medication (talk to your doc).  Genetics play an extremely critical role: some people are lucky enough to be born with speedy metabolisms, and others are not.

But these factors don’t grant us a “gimme” to give up and say “The odds are stacked against me, there is nothing I can do to change my metabolism”.  There are factors that affect metabolism that we CAN control, like the amount of physical activity we participate in each week, what we eat and drink each day, how much sleep we get each night, and if we take time to relax and de-stress.  Here are my tips to help you master your metabolism – all are research-backed and tried and true – no pills, shakes, sprinkles or other concoctions required!

Bring on breakfast – it is a must every day.  Breakfast jump starts your metabolism, and helps your burn calories consistently all day long.  Ladies, shoot for around 300-400 calories, gentlemen, around 500-600.

Skip the sugar – Reduce the amount of refined sugar-containing foods; they’ll spike your blood sugar giving you immediate energy but then cause you to crash and want even more sweet, initiating a vicious cycle.  Limit jellies, candies, cookies, pies, cakes, muffins…you get the picture!

Spice it up – the compound capsaicin that burns our mouths and causes us to sweat when we eat that enchilada raises your base metabolic level, has an inhibitory effect on the forming of fat cells, and also acts as an appetite suppressant.  Research has shown that people eat up to 15 percent fewer calories after eating spicy foods when compared to people who ate foods that did not contain capsaicin.  Try hot peppers, cayenne pepper, roasted red pepper flakes, and curries.

Snack smart – no more than 200 calories per snack, and be sure they contain lots of weight whittling fiber.  Try fruit and cheese, whole grain crackers and peanut butter, hummus and raw veggies.

Pump up the protein – eating protein gives your body a bigger metabolic boost overall than eating carbohydrates or fats.  Plus, eating enough protein will ensure you’ll maintain and build muscle mass (Remember, the more muscle mass you have, the greater your metabolic rate).  Make sure to incorporate lean protein (like eggs, skinless chicken, fish, beans and nuts) into most every meal.

Feast on Fish – Omega-3 fatty acids found in fatty fish like salmon, trout, mackerel and fresh tuna help you lower the leptin levels in your blood.  Leptin is a hormone that is directly linked to your metabolism.  Scientists have found that lower levels of leptin lead to a higher metabolic rate and a decreased appetite.

Dive into dairy– Research shows that low-fat yogurt, skim milk, and reduced-fat cheese raise your body’s metabolism.  Get your three eight ounce servings a day.

Get you some grapefruit – Grapefruit contains hydroxycitric acid, which inhibits production of cholesterol and fat that is produced from leftover glycogen (stored glucose in our muscles and liver).  Try eating a whole fruit every day.

Kick it with kelp – This green from the sea has metabolic precursors of the active hormones of the thyroid gland, as well as naturally occurring iodine, which together are believed to increase our basal metabolic rate and help with fat metabolism.  Just be sure you keep your intake to 1,000mcg of iodine/kelp per day.

Don’t forget to exercise most days (moderate to vigorous activity is encouraged for 45-60 minutes per session), strength train at least two-three times per week (more lean muscle mass means more fat-burning potential), reduce your amount of stress (mediate, try yoga, play with the kids), and get enough sleep (seven to eight hours is the new minimum).  I also encourage my clients drink plenty of water (six to eight 8-ounce glasses daily, more if exercising), as well as try decaf green tea (three cups per day has a thermogenic, i.e. fat-burning effect).


Lisa Harkins, RD, LDN
Ideal Nutrition and Fitness LLC

P.O. Box 684, Lewes, DE 19958 | Phone: 302-388-2856 | Email: [email protected]
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Lisa Harkins is a Registered Dietitian and the owner of Ideal Nutrition and Fitness.  She consults for Quest Fitness located in the Village of Five Points in Lewes.  Quest Fitness is a full-service fitness facility offering personal training, fitness classes, spinning, yoga, pilates, nutritional counseling, youth camps, and seasonal kayak tours, rentals and sales.


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