Our bodies are perfectly designed creations, made to run beautifully and efficiently. As we spend time in the world and expose ourselves to various things, our systems often become more and more out of balance. As a result, our bodies don’t work as efficiently and things… slow… down.
Most of us want to feel and look healthy, and there are literally thousands of products on the market promising a plethora of ways to do that. In my own experience, however, promoting our health with natural, food-based strategies is the way to go. Adding yet another system-altering thing to our bodies may work initially but can ultimately throw us out of balance and may actually cause harm in the long run.
Below are some tips I’ve picked up over the last 25 plus years as an athlete. I’ve competed at an Olympic training center and national level as a lightweight athlete, so I had to master how to fuel my body as efficiently and strongly as possible while maintaining a certain weight.
Later as a figure and bodybuilding competitor, I had a similar challenge. I had the added task, though, of getting my body fat as low as possible, not to mention figuring out how to stay on my feet on stage in five-inch heels.
You’ve probably heard some of the strategies below before – consider them reminders and encouragement. Ready?
Consume smaller meals spread throughout the day
Good guidelines for this are: Eat every 2 to 3 hours and never let yourself be too hungry or too full. This is one of those “probably heard before” tips, but it’s a good place to start and to be reminded why.
Think of your metabolism as a fire inside of you. This fire burns the fuel that we consume and potentially the fat that we have stored up. Good, right? In order to keep this fire burning efficiently throughout the day, you don’t want it to go too long with out giving it fuel. No fuel, no fire, and you end up with a sluggish, inefficient metabolism.
Don’t eat carbs alone
Always bring a friend! Kidding. Instead, try and always eat a carbohydrate (grains, starches, etc.) with a protein (meats, poultry, fish, eggs, whey, etc.).
Regarding the efficiency of how our body accesses and uses food for fuel, think of carbohydrates as paper and proteins as wood when it comes to our fire analogy. Carbs typically break down and dump sugars in to our blood stream quickly (depending also on the type of carb, see below for a discussion of complex versus simple carbs). This causes our fire to burn and then go out, and is why you’ll likely feel tired after eating a carb-heavy snack or meal.
It takes the body more work to break down and process proteins, and these are used in different ways in our body than carbs are. When you consume proteins and carbs together, it slows down the quick dump of sugars in to the blood stream, causing a more slow-release effect of fuel into our system. As a result, our metabolism burns at a higher rate for longer periods and is more efficient.
Complex carbs versus simple carbs
A good way to understand this is also a good guideline for all food: the less refined the better. Complex carbs, like grains, oatmeal, and legumes are way more work for your body to digest than simple carbs, similar to the wood versus paper concept above regarding proteins and carbs.
Simple carbs, like cereal, many bread and pasta products, cookies, and juice, quickly break down in to sugars once in our bodies. Once this dump of sugars into your bloodstream occurs, your insulin levels spike. Fat stores are then created to deal with the excess sugars and junk coursing through our bodies. Yuck.
Prepare and eat foods whole and from scratch whenever possible. Not out of a box or can. This is a good way to guarantee that you’re getting the right types of food that will fuel your metabolism and keep that fire burning.
A word about “hidden stuff” in boxed and canned foods – oftentimes foods sold this way are full of sugars, sodium, and all kinds of additives. Going back to my first statement in this post, these things can throw our systems out of balance over time. When our bodies are forced to deal with and process these things we just don’t run as the well-oiled machines we were designed as and as a result our metabolism slows down.
That being said, there are some healthy alternatives on the market when it comes to food out of a box or can. If you decide to go this route with your food choices you just need to be willing to look for them, and to be a vigilant ingredient label reader. These options can be pretty convenient if your time for food preparation is limited.
Beware of the hidden extras in your diet
Things like condiments, juice, and sauces can add a lot of extra calories and again, sugars, sodium, and additives to your diet. It’s important to be aware of these and either cut them out or look for healthy alternatives.
Make sure you’re getting “good fats”
These include fats from sources like coconut oil, avocados, and nuts. While you want to consume these in moderation, you definitely want to include them in your diet. The science of why is an entire post unto itself, but to summarize, good fats can help your body access and burn stored up “bad fats”.
Drink lots of water!
The more water you drink, the less your body retains. Oftentimes a side effect of an inefficient system is bloating and water retention. Water is simply incredible. It’s a “weight loss strategy” so many people have access to and yet don’t make use of. Aside from retaining less water, drinking lots of it will, again, help your body run much more efficiently thus allowing you to access and burn fuels. I aim for a gallon spread throughout the day.
Be aware of your diet toward the end of the day
Dinner is typically the heaviest meal of the day for most people. Then we go to bed, and our metabolism slows way down while we sleep. That dinner sits there, slowly breaks down, and the extras we aren’t using for fuel, which is probably most of the meal, get stored as fat.
Being mindful of eating a balanced, healthy dinner can help combat this. A nice walk or any kind of activity after dinner is never a bad idea either. And, if you really need a late snack, try and make it a protein (I know that’s not as exciting as ice cream) or something balanced and healthy.
One of my favorite things is almond butter. It has a nice balance of proteins, carbs, and fats. If I’m really craving something late a tablespoon (or two) of this is an awesome snack. If I’m feeling indulgent I add a little dark chocolate to the mix, which, in small amounts has also been shown to be a natural metabolism booster.
Get exercise (in the morning if you can)
This is another topic I could and probably will write an entire post about. There are so many benefits to getting exercise, any time, but particularly in the morning that are not only physical but emotional as well. Honoring yourself by taking care of your body first thing before you go about the day can be so grounding and such a self-respecting thing to do.
For the purposes of this post, though, recall what I said earlier about going to bed: when you go to sleep your body and metabolism slow down, way down. When we wake up, our metabolic rate is typically at its lowest.
Getting started with some exercise (particularly if you can do it either on an empty stomach or with just a protein in your system like a shake or some egg whites) gets your system, your fire, going for the day. This also burns up the glycogen stores in your blood stream from the food you ate the night before, forcing your body to tap in to your fat stores for fuel. Pretty great, right?
Exercise any time, any way, is an excellent way to boost your metabolism. Creating muscle tone, whether it’s through weight training, yoga, or any other method can be particularly helpful when it comes to increasing your metabolic rate. Muscle is a metabolically hungry tissue. At rest, muscle tissue consumes up to three times more calories than other types of tissue (like fat). Therefore, having more muscle tissue means having a higher metabolism.
Apple Cider Vinegar
I use this stuff for a lot of things, immunity, household cleaning, skin care… There are differing opinions out there about its uses for boosting metabolism and accessing stored fats to be used as fuels.
Because it is such a natural and healthy product with so many benefits I don’t worry too much if apple cider vinegar’s metabolism-boosting capabilities are valid or not. I drink a tablespoon of it in a glass of water first thing in the morning with my vitamins. In my opinion it does have benefit in this regard, especially first thing in the morning when our bodies are very available to process whatever we put in them after having fasted all night while we were sleeping.
To read more about apple cider vinegar and its benefits, check out this website.
Everything I’ve listed above is pretty reasonable, don’t you think? The theme is really trying to fuel our bodies to be in as natural a state as possible so that we can do what we were designed to do – run like the well-oiled machines we are designed to be.
Some of us have swung further out of balance that others and may find that making some of the adjustments above will have a pretty dramatic effect rather quickly. For others, it may mean small adjustments to our diet that have a cumulative effect over time.
I will offer, however, that no matter who you are and where you start from, there is nothing like the feeling of your body operating in the optimal way that it was meant to. I know from personal experience that sometimes we don’t even realize how bad we feel until we feel better. Fatigue, mood, quality of sleep, creativity, and a whole plethora of other valuable aspects of who we are can be improved by honoring ourselves and our bodies through the ways we fuel them. Here’s to your health!