Before you hit “swipe up” on that influencer’s post about metabolism-boosting “detox tea” and diets, listen up. Trying to speed up your metabolism by cutting out meals, going on crash diets, or counting calories isn’t the way to go.
Let’s take it back to Human Bio 101 real quick. Metabolism is the body’s process of converting food into energy, says registered dietitian Natalie Allen, clinical assistant professor of biomedical sciences and the athletic department dietitian at Missouri State University. That energy is used to perform everyday things like, um, literally breathing as well as making your bed, commuting to work, and exercising, she adds. Essentially, your metabolism makes it possible for you to live.
Ultimately, Allen says, how much food you need to eat to get through each day varies from person to person, and it’s also impacted by LOTS of things (more on that later).
And even though diet culture will have you believe that you can boost your metabolic rate with a pill or cleanse (please DON’T!), we’re going to break down exactly what speeds up your metabolism, what slows it down, and how to keep it healthy.
What Impacts Your Metabolism
- Your age: When you’re younger, especially if your body is still growing, you have higher energy needs than, say, someone in their 40s, says Allen. So your metabolism is much faster than when you get older.
- Your biology: Male bodies tend to be larger and taller and have more muscle mass overall than female bodies. So in many cases, men tend to burn more calories at rest and therefore have a higher metabolism than women do, Allen says.
- Your genes: Genetics definitely factor into the speed of your metabolism. There’s very little you can do to change that though, says Allen.
- Your eating patterns: When you’re eating is just as important as what you eat. Skipping meals or fasting messes with your metabolism and can slow it down. That’s because the body starts conserving energy when you don’t eat. The more often your body goes into “conservation mode,” the slower your metabolism will be.
- Your activity level: “Your metabolism is elevated for a significant amount of time after you work out because you burn more energy than if you had been sedentary,” Allen says. So, yes, a regular workout routine is correlated with a healthy metabolism.
- Medical conditions: Diabetes, for example, inhibits your body from properly processing sugar in your blood after you eat. That can impact how much energy your body burns at rest. Autoimmune conditions, like thyroid disease, can also impact your metabolic rate since the butterfly-shaped gland at the base of your neck produces hormones that control your metabolism. Hyperthyroidism, or Grave’s disease, often causes weight loss and increased appetite, explains endocrinologist Romy Block, MD, co-founder of Vous Vitamin. Hashimoto’s thyroiditis can throw your thyroid into overdrive before slowing it way down, causing fatigue and weight gain. Dr Block advises checking in with your doctor if you have any symptoms, like unexplained changes in your weight or a family history of autoimmune diseases.
How to Increase Your Metabolism
You can’t magically speed up your metabolism overnight, but there are ways to stimulate it, Allen says. The biggest things to focus on are being active, increasing muscle mass, and eating regularly, she adds.
If you’re out ~doing things~ on a normal basis (even just walking), you’ll expend more energy overall. That means your metabolism has to work harder to keep up—and you’ll need more food to refuel.
And while walking, running, or just being more active overall is great, strength training is also a good idea. Since muscle requires more energy to maintain than fat, building more lean mass (as the fitness people call it) will help increase your metabolic rate at rest (and all of the time).
Also, restricting when or what you eat in the name of cutting calories (ugh. Can you hear my eyes rolling?) is no Bueno. Eating at least once by 10 a.m. gets your metabolism going, so don’t wait until lunch to grab a bite. And for a legitimately healthy metabolism, stay away from fad diets or counting calories in general. Depriving your body of the fuel it needs to power through a workout or just life is detrimental. “Metabolically, it becomes hard for the body to adjust, so metabolic rate goes down over time,” Allen says.
While you shouldn’t eat just for the sake of boosting your metabolism (so not fun!), downing some protein with every meal can help you stay satiated and build that muscle. Sure, this can get complicated if you’re vegetarian, but there’s plenty of protein in dairy products and eggs (and in soy and beans if you eat vegan), Allen says. Besides protein, load up on fibre. You can find it in all fruits and veggies along with whole grains like brown rice, quinoa, and oats. The healthier the food choices you make, the more fuel your body has to keep moving through the day.