“Eat less; lose weight.” That’s how it started, this metabolism mess hundreds of thousands of Americans find themselves in. Calories in, calories out offered a simple mathematic formula for explaining why some people were heavy and some weren’t. But as we all know it’s not really that simple, is it? Replace calories from fat with calories from sugar, and you’ve really not helped the situation any. Swap carbs for fatty proteins and you end up with high cholesterol, among other problems. Every shortcut we try to take in the battle against excess weight has far-reaching effects on our metabolisms.
Quick refresher – your metabolism is the rate at which your body burns calories. Whether they be from meals or stored fat, metabolism regulates how efficiently your body burns fuel, which, in turn, regulates how much fat the body retains. When the body perceives itself as getting too few calories over an extended period of time, it slows down the metabolism so that the body doesn’t burn through all its fat stores too quickly. It assumes that we must be entering a period of limited availability to food. So, when we do return to regular eating, weight rebounds since metabolism is still functioning at the slower pace. Likewise, if we eat too much, we weaken our response to things like flavor and the hormones that regulate satiety, which makes us continually overeat and/or crave bad foods, which also impact the metabolism in negative ways.
Good news is that you can effectively reset your metabolism in about a month as long as you’re honest about yourself and your goals. For success, you’ll need to commit to two weeks of eating exactly the number of calories your body needs in a day. A good general rule is that you burn 10 calories for every 1 pound of body weight. So if you weigh 195 pounds you need 1950 calories a day. Now, if your metabolism is off kilter, this may be off a few calories, but it won’t stay there. Do your best to reach that exact number of calories every day with balanced nutritious meals. If you’re worried about feeling hungry, make sure to fill up on fiber rich foods or keep low calorie snacks handy. Committing to drinking water only (no juice, coffee, tea or soda) can also help you stay within your limits. Do this for about 2 weeks, keeping with your exercise program as you go. After the first two weeks, start loading your calories up towards the beginning of the day and decelerating calorie intake as the day goes on. Eat a big breakfast, a light lunch, and an even lighter dinner… this will signal your metabolism that there is no shortage of calories for the day. Then, if you do reduce your calories (moderately to promote weight loss, or in response to weight loss) keeping this same eating pattern will help prevent your metabolism from flipping the switch to conservation mode right away.