“No matter what I do, I can’t seem to lose weight. I think I’m cursed with a slow metabolism.”
Sound familiar? If so, know you’re not alone. This is a common complaint I hear from my patients, and the good news is…
- you’re not cursed and
- you can fix your slow metabolism.
Don’t forget, no two of us are just alike. Everyone was born with a different biochemical make-up.
You have trillions of little energy factories called mitochondria that provide the fuel to run everything in your body. If you remember your high school chemistry class, you might remember mitochondria convert the oxygen you breathe and the food you eat into energy for your body to use.
Think of mitochondria as little combustion engines. When scientists talk about metabolism, they often mention these little energy creators.
When your mitochondria are running like a top your body burns calories effectively and you have a fast efficient fast metabolism. But sluggish mitochondria don’t get the job done very effectively and they drag down your metabolism.
Surprising causes of a slow metabolism
Let’s get one thing out of the way from the start. Part of how well your metabolism functions IS driven by genetics. For example research finds that if you have a parent or sibling who has type 2 diabetes, your own mitochondria are likely to be 50 percent less effective at burning calories than the average Joe, even if you’re not overweight in the least.
This predisposition means you’re more likely to gain weight and eventually develop diabetes, or what I collectively call diabesity, which does even more damage to the function of your struggling mitochondria.
Aging and chronic diseases such as heart disease and dementia also cause mitochondrial dysfunction.
However, by far the biggest culprit is diet. More than flavors and calories, food literally serves as a guide for your cells and mitochondria directing them what to do. When you eat lots of sugar and processed, inflammatory foods including refined oils, or simply scarf down too much food period, you overload your energy factories and damage production.
Extreme dieting slows metabolism to a crawl
On the flip side if you starve your body and don’t give it enough fuel it starts desperately clinging to fat. After all, your body’s number one priority is keeping you alive, not necessarily fitting into that bathing suit when summer arrives. In fact, your body is extremely well adapted at holding on to fat.
Yo-yo dieting, under-eating, calorie-restrictive dieting or other extreme measures force your body’s metabolism to slow way down and store fat for that “rainy day” that never comes.
To juice up your mitochondria so they work effectively you want to eat the right kinds of foods and eat enough of those foods.
Toxins take a toll on your metabolism
Lifestyle factors can also impact your mitochondria. Environmental toxins like pesticides, mercury and radiation, as well as hidden infections and stress can harm your energy system.
Your gut microbiome can even be a problem if unhealthy, inflammatory bugs outnumber the good bugs. These bad bugs release toxins called lipopolysaccharides.
You absorb these toxins, creating inflammation and damaging your mitochondria. Anything that causes inflammation and oxidative stress damages your mitochondria.
7 steps to a healthy fast metabolism
But I’ve good news. Fortunately, the power to increase the number and function of your mitochondria is in your own hands. You can’t turn back the clock, but you can take these seven steps to keep your mitochondria healthy and optimize your metabolism.
1. Eat plenty of healthy fats:
Healthy fats like avocados, nuts and seeds, along with wild, fatty fish are your mitochondria’s preferred fuel. My favorite “gasoline” for your mitochondria is medium-chain triglycerides or MCT oil, which is found in coconut oil.
I provide an extensive plan to utilize these and other healthy fats in my new book Eat Fat, Get Thin.
2. Go for color:
While nutritionists often disagree, one thing nearly everyone concurs with is that we need to eat plenty of fresh vegetables and other plant foods.
When it comes to produce, eat the rainbow. Colorful, antioxidant-rich plant foods are a must for healthy mitochondria, reducing oxidative stress and ultimately improving your metabolism.
3. Avoid sugar and flour:
High-glycemic, high-carb foods put tremendous stress on your mitochondria. In fact, quick absorbed carbs are the biggest driver that damages your entire system.
Concentrate on low sugar, slow-carb delicious foods to kick-start weight loss and overall health.
4. Stop obsessing over numbers:
Quality over quantity is key for healthy mitochondria. That said, if you’d like to know how much you should be eating, calculate your resting metabolic rate (RMR) or the total number of calories your body needs to survive at complete rest. If you eat fewer calories than your RMR, your body thinks it is starving and it stalls your metabolism.
Calculating your RMR is easy. If you’re average size, take your weight in pounds and multiply by 10. If you’re very muscular and lean, multiply your weight by 13. If you’re very overweight, multiply it by 8.
Eating less than your RMR means your body goes into starvation mode. Adjust what you’re eating accordingly.
5. Move more and faster:
Research shows high intensity interval training (where you go all out for 30 to 60 seconds, slowing down for a couple of minutes, and repeating) coupled with strength training is an excellent way to make new, improved mitochondria.
Strength training builds muscle and creates more mitochondria, while interval training improves mitochondrial function and how quickly they burn oxygen and calories.
6. Take energy-boosting nutrients:
Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10), alpha-lipoic acid, N-acetyl-cysteine, carnitine, B-complex vitamins, and omega-3 fats can help speed up your metabolism and lower inflammation.
7. Get great sleep:
Studies show not getting enough sleep is the kiss of death for our health. When you don’t get enough rest it boosts your heart disease risk, hinders your immune system, hurts your brain function and damages cellular performance.
To remedy that, get eight hours of solid, consistent sleep nightly. You can improve sleep with these eight simple hacks for a better night’s sleep.
- Get on a regular schedule: Going to sleep and wake up at the same time each day to create a rhythm for your body. Only use your bed for sleep or romance.
- Don’t keep a television in your bedroom: Studies show the artificial, bright light can disrupt brain activity and alter sleep hormones like melatonin. Your bedroom should be a quiet, peaceful haven.
- Get natural sunlight: Aim for at least 20 minutes of sunshine every day, preferably in the morning, which triggers your brain to release chemicals that regulate sleep cycles. Avoid computers, smart phones, tablets and television one or two hours before bed.
- Get grounded: At times, electromagnetic frequencies can impair sleep. I recommend turning off WiFi and keeping all of your electronic devices away from your bed.
- Clear your mind: Everyone knows when you have something on your mind it can be tough to sleep. Keep a journal or notebook by your bed and write down your to-do list or thoughts before you go to sleep.
- Perform light stretching or yoga before bed: This relaxes your mind and body. Research shows daily yoga can improve sleep significantly.
- Use herbal therapies:I recommend 300 to 600 milligrams (mg) of passionflower or 320 to 480 mg of valerian root extract before bed. Other natural sleep supplements include melatonin or magnesium.
- Use relaxation practices: Guided imagery, meditation or deep breathing calm your mind and help you drift into sleep. Try calming essential oils such as lavender, Roman chamomile or ylang ylang.
Simply put, you have tremendous power over your metabolism and your health.
Mind your mitochondria, and your metabolism will reward you by keeping you fit and healthy. Even if you’re predisposed to certain genes, you can control them with healthy eating and lifestyle choices. You’re never stuck.
Mark Hyman, MD, believes that we all deserve a life of vitality—and that we have the potential to create it for ourselves. That’s why he is dedicated to tackling the root causes of chronic disease by harnessing the power of Functional Medicine to transform healthcare. Dr. Hyman and his team work every day to empower people, organizations, and communities to heal their bodies and minds, and improve our social and economic resilience.
Dr. Hyman is a practicing family physician, a nine-time #1 New York Times bestselling author, and an internationally recognized leader, speaker, educator, and advocate in his field.
He is the Director the Cleveland Clinic Center for Functional Medicine. He is also the founder and medical director of The UltraWellness Center, chairman of the board of the Institute for Functional Medicine, a medical editor of The Huffington Post, and was a regular medical contributor on many television shows including CBS This Morning, Today Show, Good Morning America, CNN, and The View, Katie and The Dr. Oz Show.
Dr. Hyman works with individuals and organizations, as well as policy makers and influencers. He has testified before both the White House Commission on Complementary and Alternative Medicine and the Senate Working Group on Health Care Reform on Functional Medicine. He has consulted with the Surgeon General on diabetes prevention, and participated in the 2009 White House Forum on Prevention and Wellness.
Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa nominated Dr. Hyman for the President’s Advisory Group on Prevention, Health Promotion, and Integrative and Public Health. In addition, Dr. Hyman has worked with President Clinton, presenting at the Clinton Foundation’s Health Matters, Achieving Wellness in Every Generation conference and the Clinton Global Initiative, as well as with the World Economic Forum on global health issues.
He is the winner of the Linus Pauling Award, The Nantucket Project Award, and was inducted in the Books for Better Life Hall of Fame, and the Christian Book of the Year Award for The Daniel Plan.
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