Let's start with the most basic definintion of metabolism—the chemical processes by which a plant or an animal uses food and water to grow, heal and to make energy. Unfortunately, many food choices and lifestyle habits can alter these processes and make your metabolism less efficient. This can lead to weight gain, low energy and a variety of other problems. These tips will put keep your metabolism running.
1) Eat Regularly: Eat a meal or snack every 3 hours. You have heard it before, but eating regularly keeps your metabolism working efficiently. By doing this, the food you consume will be used as energy, not stored as fat. Skipping meals tricks your body into slowing it's metabolic rate (in theory this would allow you to make it through that long cold winter where you will have to call on your fat reserves to survive). While that may sound great, this puts the body into a stressed state and can cause numerous hormonal imbalances and nutrient deficiencies.
2) Eschew Calorie Restriction: Don't restrict your calorie intake. It might lead to short term results, but in reality you are digging a deeper hole that you will need to crawl out of (See point 1).
3) Food to Limit: Certain foods in their raw (uncooked) form can have a direct impact on your thyroid. Your thyroid plays a key role in controlling your metabolism. I find broccoli and cabbage to be the biggest culprits. Sensitive individuals who have cabbage juice might notice an immediate decrease in their body temperature (this means your metabolism has "slowed"). Don't avoid them because they have many beneficial qualities but be sure to cook and vary what you eat.
4) Foods to Include: High quality protein from wild fish, eggs, beef, chicken. If you tolerate dairy, milk and cheese are also excellent sources. Protein deficiency is a very common problem with women and can lead to numerous hormonal imbalances. Coconut oil has been shown to have numerous benefits here (it isn't all hype).
5) Foods to avoid: PUFA's (Polyunsaturated fatty acids)—Canola oil, sunflower oil, corn oil, safflower oil, rice bran oil, sesame oil, generic vegetable oil are all highly unstable fats that can stress the body at the hormonal level which can impact your metabolic rate.
6) Eat balanced meals. Place an emphasis on protein, but all meals should include protein, fat and carbohydrates. These "macronutrients" are critical for optimal metabolic function (i.e sometimes very low carb diets do more harm than good).
7) Sleep: Your body repairs itself when you sleep via the secretion of various hormones. When you don't get enough sleep you wake "un-rested" and "un-repaired." This triggers a stress response in the body which can cause you to store more fat, particularly in the mid-section
8) Exercise: Muscle is the most metabolically active tissue in the body. In basic terms that means that more muscle equals a "faster" more efficient metabolic rate. Skipping meals, inadequate dietary protein, calorie restriction, overtraining, inadequate sleep and low carb diets can make it difficult to build and maintain muscle.
TIPS: By tracking your body temperature you can get a pretty good idea at how efficiently your metabolism is working. Take your temperature first thing in the morning and after meals. Close to 98.6 is what you are looking for.
Image by Michael Baumgarten