Some people are lucky: They seem to be born with a naturally high metabolism and slender physique that requires little exercise and calorie counting to maintain. My mother, God bless her, is one such person. I am not! So it’s a good thing I love to run, bike and swim. But when SELF asked experts about the habits that slow metabolism, I was surprised by some of their answers—and guilty of a few no-no’s myself (see number 1...and 2...and...). Fortunately, these habits are also totally fixable. Start paying attention to them today, and you’ll become one of the lucky ones—or at least look like one—in no time!
1. Scrimping on shut-eye
Catching zzz’s may help you stay slim, reveals research presented at the annual American Thoracic Society meeting in San Diego. In the study of more than 68,000 women, those who slept seven hours weighed 5.5 pounds less than women who slept five hours or less. Pulling frequent all-nighters may slow your metabolism, impairing your body’s ability to utilize food and nutrients as energy so they get stored as fat instead, scientists say.
2. Stressing out
When you’re on edge, you’re likely to sleep less and eat more, which can affect your thyroid, a gland that produces hormones which regulate metabolism, body temperature, heart rate and more. If your thyroid’s not producing enough of those hormones, it can slow your metabolism and other body functions, leading to weight gain, depression and fatigue. Take time for yourself daily to keep both your thyroid and metabolism humming at optimal levels.
3. Skipping breakfast
People often tell me they hate breakfast foods; I tell them, find something you can eat within an hour of waking up! Missing a morning meal is the worst thing you can do. It slows metabolism and depletes your body of the fuel it needs to function optimally, explains celebrity nutritionist Joy Bauer, R.D. But what you eat matters as much as the fact that you eat something. Simple, unrefined carbohydrates—as in a breakfast muffin or pastry—signal the brain to release serotonin, a neurotransmitter that brings on calm when you most want to be up and at ’em. Also, your body digests simple carbs quickly, sending blood sugar soaring and then plummeting, resulting in an energy crash. Try to start each day with a breakfast that contains at least 5 grams of protein, which activates the production of norepinephrine, a neurochemical that increase heart rate and alertness. The nutrient also digests slowly, so blood sugar and energy levels stay stable. Try an omelet made with 4 egg whites, 1/2 cup chopped broccoli, 1/4 cup chopped onion and 1 oz lowfat shredded cheese; it delivers an impressive 22 g protein per serving.
4. Staying seated
Get out of that chair! Staying on your feet revs metabolism and doubles your calorie burn during workdays, a study in Diabetes reports. Sitting for a few hours switches off enzymes that capture fat in the bloodstream, but standing up and getting active reignites them. Surrender your seat when possible (e.g., during phone calls) to start reaping benefits.
5. Eating junk food
I love a French cruller as much as the next gal, but it turns out doughnuts can be double diet trouble. Not only do sugary, fatty treats add calories and fat to your daily tally (a Dunkin’ Donuts cruller packs 250 calories and 20 g fat), but they can also encourage your body to store more fat. Junk food might stimulate a gene that encourages your body to store excess fat, causing you to gain weight over time, a study in The FASEB Journal reveals. (In the study, mice without the troublemaking gene had 45 percent lower body fat after eating a high-fat and high-sugar diet for 16 weeks compared to critters with the gene who ate the same diet.) Quell a sweet craving with berries or an orange: They’re high in vitamin C, a nutrient that can help you sizzle up to 30 percent more fat during exercise, suggests research from Arizona State University at Mesa.
6. Falling into a workout rut
I hear it all the time: “I’ve almost reached my goal weight, but those last 5 (stubborn!) pounds just won’t come off.” Sound familiar? Weight loss can stall along the way partly because you get smaller. As you shrink, there is less of you to provide energy for, so you actually start to need fewer calories. These plateaus can last weeks, so rather than get frustrated, try new workouts or ways to eat healthy to keep your metabolism going strong and your body burning even more calories than before.
7. Dodging the weight room
Although cardio sessions turn up the heat and burn big-time calories (which is why I run, bike or swim most mornings and still enjoy dessert!), lifting weights helps you build calorie-burning lean muscle, says Jeffrey Garber, M.D., author of The Harvard Medical School Guide to Overcoming Thyroid Problems (McGraw-Hill). And with more lean muscle, you extend the burn to when you’re just sitting at your desk or in the car. Add weight-bearing exercises like planks, lunges, squats and tricep dips to your workouts three times a week, and you’ll see toning results like you’ve never experienced before!