We all know it takes discipline to follow a diet, and if weight loss is your goal, you’re probably saying no to treats, filling your plate with fruit and veg and hitting it hard at the gym. But your super-virtuous routine may just be foiling your get-slim goals. How come? It’s all down to your metabolism. Think of your metabolism as a fat-burning engine that uses energy to carry out a whole range of chemical processes, from digestion to breathing. So if you deprive it of fuel when it needs it, it won’t be able to do its job properly. While various factors beyond your control, such as age and genes, play a role in how fast or slow your metabolism is, there are also lots of dietary steps you can take to give yours a kick-start and supercharge those weight-loss results.
Ways you’re messing with your metabolism
1. You go to bed on an empty stomach
Sidestepping dinner and going to bed with a grumbling tum won’t just hamper your quality of sleep, it could also significantly lower your metabolic rate. Research shows that hunger pains can increase levels of the appetite-stimulating hormone ghrelin, which can encourage you to pile on the pounds.
The solution: Next time late-night hunger strikes, try having a small snack such as a banana topped with nut butter one hour prior to hitting the hay, rather than indulging in a full-on fridge raid. Bananas are high in calming magnesium, as well as the neurotransmitter tryptophan, which is needed to create the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin. The perfect pre-bedtime bite.
2. You cut out food groups
Successful dieting doesn’t have to mean skimping on food. While it’s important to cut down (but not cut out) carbs if you want to trim your waistline, you should up your levels of protein and good fats. If you don’t get enough protein you will lose muscle mass – especially if you’re exercising, as protein is needed to replenish muscle tissue post-exercise. Muscle cells need more energy to maintain than fat, so the more muscle you have, the more calories you will burn at rest. Good fats are also important as they keep you satiated so you eat less overall.
The solution: Snack on prawns and vegetable skewers dipped in guacamole or nibble on a chicken salad dressed in olive oil to help keep that metabolism revved up.
3. You don’t cheat on your diet
While chowing down doughnuts or pigging out on pizza shouldn’t be an everyday occurrence if you’re watching your waistline, there really is no reason to deprive yourself of the odd indulgence. In fact, cheating on your diet is a powerful way to boost your metabolism. Yes, it’s true! Weight loss tends to plateau after a long time on a super-strict diet, so shocking your system with a high-calorie meal every so often helps to ignite your metabolism, forcing it to break down more food than usual.
The solution: Plan a cheat day! Set aside one meal a week where you ditch your normal healthy-eating routine and splurge on your biggest food cravings guilt-free. Hello there, cheeseburger and fries!
4. Your food is bland
Healthy eating doesn’t have to be boring – you can easily get those taste buds tingling without deviating from your diet. Spices like turmeric, chilli and ginger will add bags of flavour to your cooking and, according to a study by Penn State University, may even help your weight-loss efforts, too. It’s all down to their special compounds: curcumin in turmeric, gingerol in ginger and capsaicin in chilli.
The solution: Rustle up a healthy curry with chickpeas cooked with onion, garlic, tomato, ginger, a handful of spinach, chilli and turmeric. Delicious and good for you!
5. You’re eating the wrong breakfast
We all know that breakfast is an integral part of any healthy eating plan; research shows that those who skip their morning meal tend to weigh more than regular breakfast eaters. But it’s not just when you eat but what you eat that could help to keep your waistline in check.
The solution: Ditch that bowl of cereal for a healthier breakfast. Most cereals are high in sugar, causing insulin spikes and leaving you ravenous an hour later. Instead, combine protein with complex carbs to even out insulin levels and keep you feeling full until lunchtime. Good options include scrambled eggs on rye bread or oats with berries and seeds.
6. You’re avoiding caffeine
If you’re trying to wean yourself off your morning cappuccino in a bid to cut calories, you might want to think again. Caffeine is a potent metabolism-booster that stimulates your central nervous system, sending signals to cells to break down fat. But don’t get us wrong; we’re not advocating that you down five espressos to fire up your body’s fat-burning engine. After all, coffee also comes with its downsides: insomnia, irritability and uncontrollable jitters when drank in excess.
The solution: While there’s no real need to skip your morning cup of coffee, too much caffeine does outweigh the benefits. Try getting your caffeine high from green tea instead; studies show that the antioxidant catechin in the tea leaves helps to improve weight loss.
7. You don’t eat organic
Going all-out organic comes with a hefty price tag, but taking a trip to the farmers’ market every now and then could have big pay-offs for your figure. Why’s that? Well, it’s thought that certain pesticides found in non-organic food can cause your body to store fat rather than burn it efficiently.
The solution: The Environmental Working Group has ranked 48 types of fruit and veg based on their pesticide residues so you can make informed choices next time you fill up your fridge. Typically, fruit and veg with thick skin like papaya, mango, onion and sweetcorn contained the lowest levels of harmful pesticides. Visit ewg.org for more info.
8. You’re loading up on low-fat food
It’s a cruel twist of fate, but eating low-fat foods could make you pile on the pounds, rather than lose them. Most low-fat foods are packed with sweeteners and other fillers to enhance flavour, which means we’re more inclined to eat more of them.
The solution: Ditch low fat for full fat. Yes, you read that right! Full-fat foods will keep you satisfied for longer so you’re less likely to snack in between meals, plus they contain many more nutrients than their low-fat counterparts. Snack on a handful of nuts with full-fat natural yoghurt or an avocado salad for a good helping of healthy fats.
9. You’re steaming all your veg
Consuming as many raw vegetables as possible in your diet is a potent flab-blasting trick. Your body has to work extra hard to extract the goodies – vitamins, minerals and other super nutrients – so it’s using up more energy in the form of calories to do this.
The solution: Get those veggies in! Have a large salad as an appetiser and you’ll probably find you eat less at your main meal. And snack on carrot, celery or cucumber sticks with houmous in between meals to keep your engine going.
10. You’re eating three meals a day
Tweaking the timing of meals is really important to keep your metabolism ticking over nicely. Aim for six small meals a day instead of three large meals. Eating too much in one sitting will overwhelm your body, giving it far too much work to do to digest your food. This means it won’t have the energy left to maintain other chemical processes.
The solution: Eating little and often will help to keep your energy levels up so try to work your day around small meals. Make sure you take time over every meal and chew your food properly to optimise digestion and reduce bloating.
3 surprising fat-burners
1. Ice cold water
Adding ice to plain old water helps to wake up your metabolism. How come? Your body has to work to heat up the water to match your body temperature.
A couple of squares of the sweet stuff (we’re talking dark chocolate here) helps to reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol. And since cortisol has been linked to a slow metabolism, there’s no better reason to reach for a bar.
3. Coconut oil
Oil is often the first thing to go when you start a diet, but coconut oil contains special medium triglyceride fats that have been shown to help your body burn fat for energy rather than storing it.