Once I hit the big 4 0 everything changed. I was a regular exerciser and I watched what I ate, but I couldn’t stop my weight from creeping up about two pounds a year. At this rate, I would easily have gained twenty pounds over the next decade. Fighting it was like swimming against the tide. I’d diet and lose weight only to gain back even more.
What I learned about metabolism over the next ten years finally helped to stop the weight gain. While it’s not an exact science and everyone is different, the solution lies in learning how to stoke your fat burning furnace while making food choices that are right for you. Here are the top seven things you can do to fire it up.
#1 Get Your Thyroid Hormone Levels Checked
First things first, you’ll never lose weight if your thyroid isn’t working properly. Your thyroid is a gland in your neck that controls your metabolic rate and maintains body temperature. Without enough thyroid hormone all our body functions slow down. You frequently feel cold, tired and constipated. Hair loss and dry skin are also typical symptoms. It is common for women after age 40 to experience thyroid issues as they approach menopause. If you have these symptoms, but your regular thyroid levels appear normal, talk to your doctor about possible sub-clinical hyperthyroidism.
#2 Get More Sleep at Night
I know, it seems weird but sleep influences your hormones that increase your metabolism. A 2004 study showed that sleep helps to increase the hormone leptin which also helps to reduce our decrease our appetite over the course of the day. The researchers found that those who had only five hours of sleep per night had less leptin in their blood and gained more weight regardless of diet and exercise. Did you miss that word? REGARDLESS. So get some sleep or you’re fighting a losing battle with your weight. Aim for Seven + hours a night.
#3 Lift Some Weights
You’ve all heard that we lose muscle as we age. To test a theory I had, I started lifting weights regularly at my gym in a trainer led Body Pump™ class. Over the course of two months, I didn’t lose any weight–but, I lost inches and I could eat more! Honestly, it made a HUGE difference. Over the years, I have walked, ran, biked and swam. But, nothing has helped keep the weight off more than strength training. Here’s why: lifting weights raises your metabolism long after you’re finished. In fact, experts estimate that your metabolism stays elevated for up to 39 hours. This is (presumably) because lifting strains your body so much, that it needs extra time to recover. Also, muscle is more metabolically active than fat. Some experts estimate that each extra pound of muscle you gain burns 30-50 extra calories per day. Aim for two-three days a week of weight training. ¹
#4 Eat Regular Meals
The very act of eating helps to raise your metabolism. Your body burns calories when you digest and absorb food. So, its important to jump start your metabolism in the morning by eating breakfast. We also need to eat healthy snacks a few times a day (i.e. apple + string cheese, hummus + carrots, walnuts + strawberries). Notice I included protein in each snack? Protein has the highest thermal effect of any food group. So make sure to…see #5.
#5 Eat Protein with every meal
Dieting and being an uneducated vegetarian can spell trouble for your metabolism. Did I say uneducated? Um, yep. If you are over 45 and vegan, please learn how to get enough plant protein in every meal. In fact, by not eating enough protein you can’t make the hormones needed to keep your metabolism firing. The controversy today among nutrition professionals is exactly how much to consume. Our body can’t use over 30 grams of protein at one time and you need a constant supply throughout the day. So, make sure you include protein in every meal and snack. This will also keep your blood sugar levels more stable and keep your fuller longer. Aim for at least 80+ grams per day, 25 grams per meal, and not all at once. This means that the big chicken dinner you planned for tonight can now become dinner and several snacks over the course of a few days.
#6 Eat Real Food
I know, as opposed to fake food? When I say “real food,” I mean food closest to the farm–veggies, fruits, whole grains, eggs and lean meats. Limit those other “convenience foods.” Why? Besides not having many nutrients, refined factory-made foods like crackers, margarine, bread and instant oatmeal don’t take much energy to digest. Remember, digesting food burns calories, which increases your metabolism. Let me illustrate with instant versus regular oatmeal. To make whole oats into instant, a refiner strips the fiber layer (bran) from the oats—a layer that your body would have to work at to digest. Stripping off this layer makes it faster to cook, but it has basically done the digesting for you. Make it a goal, to choose foods as close to nature as you can get (i.e. sprouted whole wheat, brown or wild rice, fruits, vegetables, yogurt, nuts and seeds, lean meats and fish.
#7 Manage Stress
When you stress out over crashing computers, lost cell phones, busy work and school schedules, or just in juggling day-to-day tasks–your metabolism drops. This is because (in response to stress) our body releases cortisol, which causes our blood sugar to rise and the pancreas to releases extra insulin. This has the effect of lowering blood sugar rather quickly and results in a lower metabolism. This, in turn, causes a craving for foods rich in carbohydrates. I find yoga, walking, and talking to friends, to be great stress relievers. Sufficient sleep is also important for reducing stress, as is regular exercise. ²