The other day someone posted a really great question in my Facebook support group. They wondered if there were any good foods/cleanses that would “rev up their metabolism.”
I wish! Wouldn’t that be great?
Unfortunately, there isn’t any single thing you can do to turn up your body’s fat-burning engine.
However, there is good news: there are a whole bunch of actions that, taken together, will boost your fat (and calorie) burn and make a real difference in how you feel, and will help change your body from the inside out.
I’ve seen these actions work. I coach my clients through many of these items as they transform their bodies. And I use the same techniques on myself.
Pick up heavy things and put them down, repeatedly.
Lifting weights will do more to help change your body — and change it more quickly — than any other form of exercise. You will get stronger. You will feel (and look) tighter and fitter all over. And you will boost your metabolism so that you are burning more calories even at rest.
The caveat: for most of us, when I say “lift weights” I’m not talking about the stack of 3- or 5-pound dumbbells many of us have squirreled away at home. Once you’re in shape to start lifting heavier weights, you should challenge yourself to pick up heavier dumbbells — weights heavy enough so that, once you’re warmed up, you can only eek out 10-15 reps per set with proper form.
The exercises with the biggest bang for the buck use your body’s largest muscles: squats, lunges, pulldowns (if you can’t — yet — do pullups), chest press, etc.
While the inner/outer thigh and triceps machines are great, they won’t necessarily give you the bigger metabolic boost you’re after because they work small muscle groups.
Caveat number 2: Lifting weights doesn’t give you a free pass in the diet department as the difference in calorie burn that you get with more muscle isn’t huge. But it is something and even if the scale doesn’t budge, you’ll love the results because weights build shapely muscles.
Eat lower-sugar foods
If you plan your meals to include low-glycemic foods — foods that don’t cause a big jump and then an immediate drop in your blood sugar — you’ll be surprised at the difference it makes in your body composition.
You will notice your belly start to shrink. You will feel generally “tighter” all over. Your energy will skyrocket once you make it through the first couple days (there’s an adjustment period if you’ve been indulging your sweet tooth a lot), and you will feel more satiated between meals.
What foods are considered low glycemic?
- Lean protein
- Healthy fats
- Unprocessed grains
How do you know how much sugar you are taking in? Read food labels. Also, try keeping a food journal for a few days (there are dozens of free sites and apps, I happen to like myfitnesspal or the FitBit app) and see how you’re doing.
Eat enough food
One of the things that drives me absolutely bananas is when people — generally women — tell me they are eating only about 800 or 900 calories a day because they want to lose weight. And, still generally speaking, these same women are doing boatloads of cardio at the same time.
When I question them about why they are doing what they are doing, they tell me they have a specific goal or deadline — something like a wedding, a vacation at the beach or some other event. They say they are willing to “suffer” through for the goal.
Yes, they will lose weight on that low number of calories.
And yes, they likely will gain it all back (and more) quickly afterward.
Why? Because chronic undereating trains your body to function on less fuel. Your body is smart. It wants to live. That means it will adapt — at least temporarily — to nearly anything you do to it. Also, when you chronically undereat your body will respond by making more stress hormones, which affect how your body uses glucose and insulin.
The thing is, when you go off the low-calorie diet, your body is still going to think it only needs that 800 to 900 calories you’ve been chronically under feeding it. That means even a “normal” amount of fuel is considered excess, and your body, thanks to its super-efficient (slow) metabolism, will store that “extra” as fuel for the future.
That means the weight (plus more) will come back fast, especially if you decide to engage in a full-on feeding/drinking frenzy, which is often what happens when we get into the post-diet mentality.
You can’t shortcut the process and expect to have lasting results.
Keep your metabolism stoked by feeding your body enough fuel!
Tip: Try keep your calorie deficit at about 500 to 750 calories a day (in other words, if you are burning 2,000 calories a day through regular activities and exercise, make sure you’re eating at least 1,250 to 1,500 calories a day). If you’re a smaller person (like me), even a 750-calorie daily deficit is too much.
Eat enough protein
If you’re a healthy, active adult, include a protein source at every meal. For my clients who engage in strength training regularly and are trying to change their body composition, I suggest between 25 to 30 percent (and sometimes even slightly more for limited periods, depending on the circumstance) of their diet come from protein.
NOTE: Always check with a doc or dietitian before making big changes in your program or if you have any concerns.
Studies show that evenly portioning your protein over the course of the day yields better results, as your body is better able to break down and use the protein in smaller, consistent doses.
How do you know if you are getting enough protein?
As I mentioned above, keep a food log. This a good wake-up call — nearly every one of my clients who starts logging their nutrition information tells me they are shocked when they see how low their protein intake actually is.
Do HIIT cardio
High-intensity interval training rocks at boosting your metabolism.
HIIT workouts should include a thorough warmup. Then, you crank up the intensity for between 30 seconds and 2-3 minutes, and then you scale back the effort for an “active recovery” period of 30 seconds to 2-3 minutes. Alternate between the high-intensity and active-recovery sessions for the desired amount of time,a and then do a thorough cooldown so your heart rate returns to near-normal.
The HIIT portion can include sprints, conditioning circuits (like burpees and kettlebell work or plyometrics). You can run up hills. You can go faster or steeper on the treadmill. It’s up to you.
The thing that’s cool about HIIT workouts is that not only do you burn more calories during the workout because of the extra intensity bursts, but you also burn more calories AFTER the workout, as your body recovers from the exertion. The extra burn isn’t huge, but over time, it adds up.
Studies also show that HIIT workouts are especially effective at targeting belly fat.
OK, maybe I misspoke in the intro of this blog post. There is an ingredient in some beverages that can help boost your metabolism — caffeine. Yay! That means coffee (my fave!) or green tea can be helpful when it comes to elevating your calorie burn.
Just be careful not to drink too much.
Studies show that taking 100 mg of caffeine boosted the resting metabolic rate in both lean and obese people by 3 to 4 percent. Depending on your brand/brew of coffee, 8 oz provides between 95 to 200 mg of caffeine.
Green tea has less caffeine than coffee but, as a bonus, it does contain antioxidants that have been shown to help boost fat burning.
The downside to caffeine is that too much can interfere with the following two metabolism rev-er uppers.
Most adults need 7 to 8 hours of sleep a night, a number that can vary based on health, training load and general stress. Some of us naturally need less sleep; others, more.
Chances are you already know how much sleep you ideally need, and chances are you occasionally feel stressed because you’re not getting that much as often as you’d like.
One of the biggest sources of our calorie burn each day is through NEAT calories — non-exercise activity thermogenesis. These are the calories you burn when you’re not exercising but you are moving around and performing activities of daily life: walking, doing chores, working, etc.
Studies show that when we are tired, we move less. That means we burn fewer calories. That makes sense, doesn’t it?
But there’s more at work. A 2007 review of sleep research showed that chronic (i.e. long-term) partial sleep loss is tied to both obesity and diabetes.
Not getting enough sleep on a continual basis is correlated with insulin resistance (your body’s ability to metabolize glucose) and it also plays havoc with hormones that help regulate your appetite. So not only are moving less, you want to eat more AND your body is less able to properly utilize as fuel the food you eat.
So try to get some sleep. But don’t stress too much about it because stress will also tamp down your metabolism.
An interesting study published in 2014 in Biological Psychology suggests that stressful days — the very days that can have us craving calorie-laden comfort foods — actually slow down our metabolism.
Researchers fed a group of women a 930-calorie meal consisting of sausage, eggs, biscuits and gravy. Before eating, the women were quizzed on the relative stress levels of the previous 24 hours. All the women received the same meal.
Women who were more stressed burned 104 fewer calories than the women who were not stressed. Also, the stressed-out group had higher levels of insulin, which affects how the body stores fat, and can slow down the process of metabolizing calories into energy.
Other research shows the same effect in men.
There’s a reason nearly every “lose weight” article suggests drinking water — not only does it help keep you satiated and healthy, it also helps boost your metabolism.
A German study found that drinking 500 milliliters of water increased metabolic rate by up to 30 percent. The study concluded that drinking 2 liters of water per day could boost energy expenditure and that the effect of water should be considered in weight loss programs.
- Lift weights and do HIIT cardio.
- Eat enough food — avoid low-calorie “crash” diets.
- Drink at least 2 liters of water every day.
- Eat a low-glycemic diet with adequate protein.
- Add some caffeine to your diet if you can tolerate it, but don’t add too much.
- Get enough sleep.
Check out my latest fitness program, 6 Weeks to Sculpted
, which contains 8 workouts designed to rev up your metabolism and burn fat.
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Me at the age of 2, at the end of a good day: sitting in a box (fun), wearing a hat (fun), relaxing with my cousin (fun) while watching a TV show (fun). Also, a cat is nearby.
So today’s my birthday. (No need to wish me a happy day, I’m well past the age where I get excited about these things!) But I wanted to share with you what I’m giving myself for my birthday this year:
I’m giving myself the gift of good days.
I’m pretty psyched about it.
But I think I need to put this gift into context. Let’s file this one under “mental fitness.” A few years ago I decided to give myself the gift of happiness. It was a very big deal when I decided to do this. It was a life-changer, in fact.
For several years I had been miserable — I was doing my best to hide it and get by, but it was bad. I don’t even like thinking about it, and I am not gonna get into the specifics. Fortunately at the time, I didn’t know how miserable I was. It was like the title of the book, Been Down So Long it Looks Like Up to Me. When you’re living it, it just seems normal. Crappy, but normal.
I remember everything about the moment I gave myself happiness. It was nighttime and it was in the middle of a snowstorm, and I was really hungry. I was driving up State Street in Brewer toward Hannaford. I was furious with myself because I let myself get so hungry — I had a physique show coming up, and I screwed up my eating for the day, not to mention the fact I let myself get talked into doing something I didn’t want to do, plus I had failed to do XY and Z, my car was a piece of shit in the snow, and I was also failing this person/that person/in all areas of my life: personal, business, everything. And, I was trapped: always tired, always broke, always feeling against it. I felt taken advantage of and as if I had no clear allies. I couldn’t trust or rely on anyone. I saw no way out of the mess I’d gotten into, and I wasn’t sure I’d ever make it even up to baseline level (whatever that was).
And then … I realized that even when (if?) I got to baseline, when I theoretically could rest, relax and enjoy myself a little, it wouldn’t be enough.
I realized I was screwed.
Then I thought, well, I might as well decide to go ahead and be happy here, because here’s all I’ve got.
It was a liberating moment: I could be happy! Even if things sucked. Imagine that! (Little did I know that it’s impossible to get to the perceived baseline without being happy first.)
And a lot has changed over the past few years. It’s not like I’m dancing around and doing cartwheels all the time (although I do dance more). But I’ve dumped a lot of things that no longer work. People who were not in my corner are now out of my life (that happened all on its own with no action on my part). Things are streamlined and I’ve gotten rid of a lot of clutter.
With the feeling of “less” I’ve been wondering if it’s time to add to my life, because now there is space for new things. And, importantly, I’m less closed off. That’s a good feeling.
So as my birthday approached this year, I considered what I wanted to do for myself. Do I want a new computer? A spa day? Both sound nice, but what I really want is something I can’t buy.
I want that feeling you get when you go to bed at night and think, “Today was a good day.”
It doesn’t take a lot to create one of those days, it turns out. I’ve given it a lot of consideration and I’ve found a pattern. It only takes a few specific actions, and on most days, those actions are really easy to take.
Here’s my list of things I have to do to get that “today was a good day” feeling. On my good days, I always:
- write, create or otherwise connect on a deep level with others. Or I have a real two-way conversation that has nothing to do with triceps, booties or thighs. (Not surprisingly, it never involves acknowledging the “hey you” Facebook messages I get when my profile picture shows me wearing a competition posing suit.)
- treat my body well. That means exercising and feeding it healthy food in the proper amounts.
- spend time on self-development. That could be reading (I’m working on a list of my favorite books) or it could be listening to a podcast/audiobook.
- make sure my home feels “settled.” I’m no neatnik but I rest easier when my shelter — my home — feels more like a sanctuary that a mass of chaos.
- have a just-busy-enough schedule: someone once told me my system works like a high-performance engine. At the time I thought they were silly but turns out they were right. I can fire at a very high level but I need to be careful not to overheat. When I overschedule or overcommit, I get sick or hurt.
- have my money handled: don’t spend more than I make and don’t buy things I don’t need.
Your list might look different, but I’m guessing there will be some overlap. What’s on your list?
Here’s to a year of as many good days as possible! Salut!
Lori in September 2014
This is Lori in 2012
When my client Lori Pulkkinen was a kid in gym class, she could barely finish the mile fitness test by walking. She had asthma attacks, panic attacks, and she admits she cried many tears because she felt ashamed because she was overweight.
But now decades later, after spending most of her life as an obese person, she has lost 100 pounds — at a tiny 5’1”, that’s a lot of extra weight – and last month she ran her first 5K.
I predict that Lori – who has lost weight before – will beat the odds and maintain her weight loss this time.
Why? Because she has put together all the pieces of a healthy lifestyle. For the first time, she has combined diet and activity not only to keep her weight but also her health in check. If either weight loss or living a healthy lifestyle was one of your 2015 resolutions and you’re finding that commitment starting to waver, her story might help you hit your goals.
Check out those arms!
Over the years Lori’s weight has slid up and down the scale several times (sound familiar?). In her early 20s through diet alone she got her weight down to a healthy range. but those pounds – and more – crept back on as she reached her mid-30s.
When she hit her heaviest weight, in March 2011, she joined Weight Watchers and dropped 42 pounds in seven months. But then she got off-track and gained half of those pounds back.
“I had my wake-up call in September 2012,” she says. “My father spent 21 days in ICU. During that time, I realized the preciousness of life and how you only get one body to live it in. Wanting the most out of my life meant that I was going to need to treat my body differently. During my dad’s recovery, I was able to walk with him four or five times a week. For the first time in my attempt to battle my weight, I had started an activity routine before an eating program.”
Lori’s 2014 Halloween costume — pretty awesome huh?
She rejoined Weight Watchers in January 2013. “Activity was starting to become a big part of my life. I was walking a lot, tried golfing, hiking, snowshoeing, Zumba, and even started jogging,” she says.
But then Lori, a photographer who lives in Brewer, suffered a knee injury. “Which was probably the best thing that could have ever happened to me because I needed to be active but in the right way, using correct form that would prevent further injury,” she reports. That’s when she started working with me. By this time, she was down 64.6 pounds from her heaviest. She now works out at the gym several days a week.
Over that time, watching Lori build confidence – even starting to run again – has been so much fun for me as a trainer. And I think gaining this confidence in herself as an athlete has been fun for her, too.
Her suggestions for making weight loss stick:
- Be moderate. Allow yourself occasional treats but get back on-plan as soon as possible. An infrequent glass of wine or slice of pizza will not undo all your efforts (as long as they are, in fact, infrequent). Banning foods just makes you think about them more.
- Stay the course. Lori has had a few bumps along the way. She suffered a nagging knee injury and had a long bout of vertigo, both of which got in the way of her training. She stuck with her diet, however, and the weight loss kept coming.
- Combine fitness and nutrition. She had lost weight through dieting before but the pounds (and more) returned. She developed a fitness plan before beginning the last lap of her weight-loss journey. Putting them both together made all the difference for her in terms of maintaining muscle, energy and building confidence as the last stubborn bits of weight came off. Studies repeatedly show that diet is key for weight loss but a regular fitness regimen is vital for maintaining that loss.
- Do things you love. Truth: As her trainer, I wasn’t a fan of Lori starting to run again because of her history of knee injuries. However, running a 5K was on her bucket list and so she started to slowly incorporate running into her routine and she was able to do it (running a pretty good time for her first race, too) with healthy knees.
Want to know a secret for sticking with your New Year’s fitness resolution?
Set the bar low. That’s right: Do less than you think you should.
The other day I was interviewed by a reporter about how to stick with a workout plan. When the article comes out I’ll link to it, but it has to do with the fact most people who start up a new regimen as a New Year’s resolution end up quitting.
How, the reporter asked, can people ensure that doesn’t happen to them?
Most of us should do less than we think, I told her. It’s like the story of the tortoise and the hare. Going out slower — building a habit over time — is preferable to starting up hard and fast, getting frustrated/injured/stressed, and then quitting when it gets to be too much.
I’d much rather people start with a short workout — even 15 minutes or less — every day than think they can suddenly carve out an hour most days of the week. That likely isn’t going to happen. In fact, I wrote a column about it a while ago. Here is is.
It only makes sense. One of the biggest reasons people say they don’t work out is a lack of time. Until they get a buy-in to the value of working out (mentally/physically/emotionally) it’s not likely that extra time is going to be consistently available. How does that buy-in happen? Bit-by-bit, that’s how. The workouts don’t have to be fancy, long or perfect. They just have to be doable …. and done.
Eventually, exercising changes from something you think you should do to something you want to do.
That’s how I started. Five minutes a day, and then 10, and one day I suddenly increased my workout to 45 minutes and I felt awesome. I will never forget it, in fact. I was 19 years old and it was a Sunday evening in early summer, and I was pedaling on a stationary cycle that I’d moved from the basement to my bedroom. I had started out planning only to do my regular 10-minute session, but I felt so good I just kept going. And going and going and going.
When I was finished, I felt amazing — my first endorphin rush, maybe? I don’t know. Anyway, I was hooked. That was a long time ago, and that wonderful post-workout feeling (except for the sore butt the next day from the bicycle seat!) has kept me coming back ever since.
So when you’re thinking about your New Year’s resolutions, make them reasonable, so you can keep coming back. Expecting to wake up one morning and having everything changed is not necessarily realistic. The last thing we need is another stress — another “failed” attempt at making change. Set yourself up for success. And let me know how you’re doing!