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Improve Your Metabolism Through Food: It’s not rocket science, but it is science.

by Lisa on February 10, 2012

I’m a firm believer in not relying on willpower to lose weight. In fact, I despise willpower, and I don’t have much (any) of it myself. I do think it’s important to strategize and be motivated and determined, but nobody should go hungry or feel restricted

As a result, I have spent significant time learning which fuel leads to the best health and weight outcomes—and keeping that mutually inclusive with allowing food that tastes good and feels satisfying. This has been a roller coaster, and I’m so happy that I’ve reached a point now where the research is supportive and the real functional medicine experts agree.

It’s not that the research about metabolism and food type is new. But, unfortunately, when the government and media began pushing people to implement a low-fat diet (Remember the fat-free craze? Shame on them–moderate amounts of fat is essential!), they had to fill in the gap with something…and that something was carbs/grains. In a span of a couple decades, the prevalence of processed and fast food (and corn subsidies) started its uphill climb, high fructose corn syrup hit the shelves, and the margarine industry took some data regarding the animal fat/heart disease link and used it to explode the trans fat industry.

It was a perfect storm.

Over the last few decades, as the aforementioned negative trends grew in magnitude, so did the weight of Americans, the healthcare crisis, and chronic disease prevalence. Oh, and on the periphery of this, the pharmaceutical companies were working hard at cultivating a cash cow through symptom-squashing with synthetic chemicals. It not only shifted the prevention paradigm to a tertiary approach (i.e. treatment) rather than primary (i.e. lifestyle), but it introduced a whole new world of chemical drugs into our bodies. And by the way, we stopped trying to address causes and put our focus on band-aiding symptoms (I mean, if you can shake the headache with a pill, why would you try and find out what caused the headache in the first place?).

I’ll assume that you all agree with me that the paradigm needs re-shifting?

Ok, now that we’ve settled that, and once we shake the magnetizing force of the status quo, what the heck can we do to become healthier and leaner?

Dr. Mark Hyman wrote a great article earlier this week, called, “New Study Finds Secret to a Faster Metabolism.”

This article is a realistic, research-grounded, piece talking about what kinds of calories will make you fatter or leaner. And for the purpose of talking about one aspect of health (reducing weight—->which then translates into healthier and less stressed organs, fewer problems with blood sugar/diabetes, lower disease risk, etc.), it is very straightforward. I recommend reading it, and you’ll see some of the basis of my recommendations below.

How to increase your metabolism and lose weight naturally and safely:

  • Do not consume any high fructose corn syrup (and punch your TV when you see the commercials promoting HFCS by the Corn Refiners Association–thanks for that suggestion, Maria). It leads to belly fat, high blood pressure, blood sugar issues, and more.
  • Cut out sugar (or cut it down to no added sugars, and only consume small amounts of natural sugar in the presence of protein, fat, and fiber, which will slow absorption and blood sugar spike).
  • Design every meal around high quality protein and vegetables.
  • Cut wheat and grains (even whole) to next to none (or none). Dr. Hyman says, “Did you know that 2 slices of whole wheat bread raise your blood sugar more than 2 tablespoons of table sugar?”

What does this mean?

If you cut the sugar and grains, but keep your calorie intake and protein intake high, you’ll lose belly fat, body fat, and gain muscle. Since muscle is more dense than fat, it is sleek and takes up less space.

In other words, you won’t just be smaller, but you’ll also look good naked. And you’ll be healthier.

{Note: “high protein” is a somewhat subjective term—there is a limit to how much protein is good for you, I’m just talking about tipping the percentages away from carbs/sugar/grains and toward protein}

Daily Action Steps:

  • Eat a high protein breakfast, lunch, and dinner with lots of veggies.
  • Buy a good quality protein powder, and if you want to go totally natural, buy hemp seeds/powder. (My fave are Jay Robb Whey and Egg White protein powders)
  • Make smoothies with low sugar fruit (berries), fiber (veggies?), and protein.
  • Center your meals around veggies, farm eggs, organic grass-fed meats, and wild caught seafood (lots of veggies, deck of cards size portions for the rest).
  • Nuts and seeds are a great way to make a veggie dish more substantial, as are fatty fruits like avocados, and drupes like coconuts (are there any other drupes?).
  • If you must bake (like I must, on occasion), use coconut flour and almond flour.
  • Sweeten your foods with things like small amounts of maple syrup or honey, or use stevia, xylitol, and erythritol (but really, be moderate about those–even just a sweet flavor might trigger insulin release & can keep you wanting more).
  • Choose recipes, make shopping lists, and plan your meals (prep ahead if you need to).

Much of my advice is technical (what to eat), but I think the most important part is the logistical advice (how to implement). You can have all the most wonderful information and intentions, but if you do not have a plan and some determination, nothing different will happen. With no plan or effort, you’ll find yourself hungry, and soon you’ll lose rational control over your choices for what to eat—because you’ll be relying on willpower, and that doesn’t work.

So, yes, the punishment (planning and prepping) comes before the reward (eating healthy foods and being healthier).

And this is why I will never be unemployed as a lifestyle coach—because although it is a very simple concept, that doesn’t mean it’s easy! 

You should make improvements and put in effort because your body will thank you. Your metabolism will be faster. In one study mentioned by Dr. Hyman, where people were overfed for a period of time (excess calories), the group overfed on a higher protein/lower carb diet gained less weight (of which was primarily lean muscle) than the group overfed a higher carb/sugar diet (whose larger weight gain included a higher percentage of fat).

People who follow the advice above, without restricting calories, and with putting in effort to make good food available, reap a higher metabolism. Period.

Note: Some of the quality recommendations have real in-depth explanations (i.e. grass-fed meats have higher levels of CLA, which is known for causing fat loss in overweight people). I fought the urge to give reasons for each recommendation–for the sake of time and space.

Do you eat this way? Or does it sound difficult? 

My feeling: It costs more. It requires effort. It tastes great. I feel better. I love my food-made-muscles. It’s worth it.

  • Brittany

    Wow this sounds great! I like to think I eat a high protein diet with TONS of fruits and veggies..but I do eat A LOT of whole wheat and probably too much sugar ( I have an out of control sweet tooth) So maybe I am halfway there. If you were to come to my house and be my life coach I could do this..for a bit. =).

  • Stefanie @TheNewHealthy

    Seriously amazing. I need to come back and reread this more carefully when I’m not about  to head out the door. Bookmarked. Thanks for giving me yet another  topic to think about and reflect on. :)

  • Sarena

    It is so worth it! I thought I ate really well and I did before I studied for my nutrition course, but since I have really focused on my proteins and fats first, then my vegetables and fruits, I have seen a HUGE difference in my physique and my energy. Great post Lisa! 

  • Lauren

    I agree, and I didn’t know that fact about the bread vs sugar teaspoons – interesting! It’s definitely important to eat protein with meals, and limit the sugar as much as possible. It’s insane how much sugar our country eats daily. Also, insulin is released with every meal – amino acids cause its release to help get amino acids into cells (insulin isn’t just to help glucose into cells). 

  • Lisakthrives

    Yes, insulin does have many functions! 

  • Lisakthrives

    I could…and then you’d probably hate me :-)

  • Lisakthrives

    I definitely crammed enough into one post, didn’t I?!

  • Lisakthrives

    It definitely feels good to have more energy and better muscles… I like how fat and protein feel really satisfying for hours after eating too!
    On Fri 10/02/12 19:26 , “Disqus”

  • tara

    I do eat a lot of protein, veggies, fruit, fats (oils, nuts, avocados, fatty fish, etc), but I also eat dark chocolate (frequently , like 6/7 nights of the week), organic low-fat plain yogurt or oikos or goat yogurt. I also eat Lundberg wild rice cakes (help), some gluten-free or corn tortillas, brown rice cereal or wild rice, etc (so yeah, I eat grains..oops?). I’m having a lot of difficulty right now however. I’d love to chat actually. If so, email me with the private email I have here. Thanks.

  • Liz @ iheartvegetables

    I think that makes sense, but I struggle with how to follow that as a vegetarian. Almost everything I eat is a carb (because… even vegetables are carbs!) and obviously beans have a lot of carbs. I don’t really want a plate of just veggies and nuts. Any suggestions?

  • lindsay cotter

    agree agree agree! and you know why i love new zealand? NO HFCS!!!

  • Lisakthrives

    Wow, really?? That’s amazing!

  • cathy@1970kikiproject

    thanks for this very interesting AND informative blog post, lisa!!
    what jumped out at me: PLANNING. it DOES require more time, effort, scheduling to make sure you have fresh veggies, proteins, available and ready to go. grabbing a bowl of cereal is so quick and easy!! and i totally agree that you will always have clients – so many people need that extra reassurance, support, enthusiasm…i’m so glad you have found the career that is right for you, and is so rewarding (plus, you know your stuff!).

  • Lisakthrives

    I’m a fan of dark chocolate too….especially the super dark ones (like 73% or higher) like NibMor and those kinds of brands…there’s a little sugar, but it’s a small treat!
    My suggestions for the other stuff…find substitutions for the grains with things made with almond and coconut flour (unfortunately, you’ll probably have to make them yourself. But I can point you to some recipes!).

  • Lisakthrives

    Hi Liz,
    That does require a little more strategy! My plan is to do some posts over the next few weeks with ideas—a lot of times, when you’re trying to make a veg meal more satisfying/filling, it comes down to being strategic and using more recipes or having to prep more than one thing. For example, using cauliflower rice with a stir fry, and then adding cashews, broccoli (high protein), and maybe an egg (if you eat eggs?).
    If you eat eggs…it’s a lot easier (in my opinion…)! Do you eat cheese or yogurt?
    I have ideas to share for using almond flour and coconut flour to sub in for the grains too…

  • Lisakthrives

    Thanks Cathy! Yes…the planning is the BIGGEST part (along with the determination to do the planning!). The number one biggest roadblock people face is that in spite of wanting results, they are not willing to change anything and they don’t want to put in any effort. I’ve found that the person has to (1) believe there is an actual health risk and that the “bad” behavior is going to lead to bad consequences and (2) that the “good” behavior will lead to good results, and (3) that they can actually do what it takes to make the change….there are a lot of layers there!

    You’re SO right….cereal is WAY easier. And I miss it :-) But I’m working on making a cereal recipe that actually tastes like cereal that is grain free….so far, yuck.
    Hope you have a great day, my friend!

  • Gen

    cool post!!!! very interesting and a lot of great info! Thanks!

  • Caitlin

    Lisa, you always post the best stuff that is SO sensible! I feel like a lot of my eating habits are already this way. I naturally crave foods in their most whole form. I try to keep my sugar to just fruit, or the occasional cocktail…sometimes desserts are yummy in moderation but more often than not they make me feel to meh after to make them worth it. I do love me some grains though. It’d be difficult for me to cut them out completely. They honestly give me a lot of energy for workouts too. I try to watch my carb intake in general though which leads me to not go too heavy on grains naturally.

  • Charissa

    Here! Here! I especially agree with taking out the HFCS…if that’s out…I think people would really feel a lot better!

  • ChenaRaw

    This almost describes how I eat! The only thing that I’ve noticed is that if I don’t eat a little bit of grains here and there, like the occasional oats on my chia pudding or a little quinoa in my soup, I get serious craving for grains. Thoughts?

  • Jane

    I think this is a really great post!  It does take more effort, but I guess I would rather know what is in my food!  

  • Anonymous

    Great thoughts! I’m with you! I’d do it with no added sugar though. I think fruits are a very important part of a healthy diet.

  • Maria

    What an awesome post. You always seem to make it very easy to understand enverything. Thanks for the shot-out too! :-)

    I think I’ve been eating pretty close to this recently. It’s a little harder when we eat out or by my inlaws. I start my detox diet and I’m a bit worried about eating vegan for 10 days. I rely on protein to keep my full, but I will have to just up my healthy fats. It shall be interesting.

    The government brainwashes society and makes it so hard for people to make healthy changes. For now I will just keep punching the TV when the HFCS commercial comes on.

  • Pure2raw twins

    awesome post Lisa!! so much great information. over the past year I have started to realize how much I missed protein. my fitness goals have changed and i want more muscle. well both lori and I do. so we are looking at our diet differently now and trying to learn how much do we need. we know everyone is different. we love our healthy fats!!! they are one thing that keeps us satisfied. we have new recipe we hope to share this week, that has been a favorite of ours for a year now. and think we are ready to share it. it is protein based ;)

  • Lisakthrives

    I fixed it! I never check the moderated comments…because there never used to be any! But I found yours and a few others. 
    Your comments are always wise and illuminating, so I’m glad you let me know so I could investigate!

  • Lisakthrives

    I definitely think the strategy for a non-meat approach takes a little more work—for myself, I usually have a couple cans of tuna and crab around for adding easy protein to salads. I generally end up eating meat or seafood 5 times a week (more if I plan ahead and focus). I am working on my post to share a day’s worth of food (I’m planning to do it twice, because I feel like I have two types of “typical” days)…

  • Lisakthrives

    I think for someone as active as you are (and not overweight), moderation is a great approach :-)

  • Lisakthrives

    I think there are a couple ways to interpret the cravings….1 would be that grains/carbs have an addictive quality (not unlike cocaine), and your body needs its “fix.” That is the severe approach–and does apply to many Americans, usually those who are consuming amounts in excess of their carb needs. Another explanation would just be about habit—if you’re in the habit of eating grains and you enjoy them, then you’ll continue to want them. If you were to consciously change the habit (like you’ve done for other things), eventually you’d stop wanting the grains.

  • Lisakthrives

    I’m not really against fruit—I just like to promote it as being consumed in its whole full-fiber form with other foods (protein, fat) to slow the sugar spike. For some people (especially those trying to lose weight or control blood sugar) this is more important!

  • Faith

    You’re absolutely right about this way of eating costing more (time, money, energy, effort), but it is so worth it in the end.  I also enjoy baking and I’ve really enjoyed experimenting with things like coconut flour and almond flour lately…and the treats are every bit as delicious.

  • Alyse

    This post is chock-full of good information! You’re so right, that the implementation is the key to success, and that can be the hardest part. The healthy eating is something I love doing (hey, who doesn’t love to eat?!); it’s the lack of planning that gets me into the “eh, it’s 10pm; let’s just order a pizza” slump. 

    Definitely working on the planning and prepping part. Thanks for the kick in the pants!

  • Anonymous

    Great post Lisa! I’ve really started to eat this way and only because of what you’ve taught me over this last year. I have cut down my sugar intake so much and try to avoid wheat and grains as much as I can.

    I know you’re also big on healthy fats, I am to now, but I wanted to ask you what you thought about something. I was watching Dr.Oz today, i think it was a repeat, and he talked about what foods to avoid for certain body types. For my body type, bigger thighs and rear, he said to eat meals that are high in protein and low in fat. What do you think about that? I have always had issues losing weight on my lower half and could never figure it out. I know hormones has a lot to do with it also!

  • Lisakthrives

    That makes sense (to a degree)… So, the goal would be to build muscle (for increased metabolism) and not provide as much fat for fuel, so the body would access fat stores to burn. The other part is that there’s a hormone influence, and when you have more testosterone it balances the effects of estrogen (which could lead to larger hips/thighs)…so if you have more muscle, you naturally have more testosterone.
    I’m not sure how well it would work in practical application—I mean, genetics plays a large role in our underlying body type (we can definitely use lifestyle to influence it…). Typically the place we tend to carry fat when we’re in our best shape is typically hardest to lose.
    I’d probably say that what you’re already doing is the best approach‹you could make small changes to put more emphasis on protein, but overall I think fat is pretty important…and storing fat in the thighs/hips is said to be ideal for successful breastfeeding!

  • Lisakthrives

    Yes…I definitely get hung up on the planning part sometimes!

  • Lisakthrives

    Yes…I’m trying to convince some of my clients that using alternative flours is not punishment‹it’s just different, but just as delicious!

  • Lisakthrives

    If you have choices about what veggies to eat, you can add in lots of broccoli—it’s pretty high in protein! Eating vegan definitely requires more planning—but focusing on healthy fats to go with all of your veggies sounds like a good approach!

  • Anonymous

    Thanks Lisa,
    I agree that genetics play a HUGE part of where we store fat. Maria and I aren’t the only ones who have more fat on our hipsthighs. It runs on our moms side. Anyways, I didn’t know that storing fat there is ideal for breastfeeding! I’m curious to see how it will go for me now. I also know that health wise it’s better to carry fat there and not in your belly so that’s a plus for me, but it would be nice to have nice legs! Maybe one day! ;-)

    Lisakthrives wrote, in response to Lisa_healthy_diaries:

    That makes sense (to a degree)… So, the goal would be to build muscle (for increased metabolism) and not provide as much fat for fuel, so the body would access fat stores to burn. The other part is that there’s a hormone influence, and when you have more testosterone it balances the effects of estrogen (which could lead to larger hips/thighs)…so if you have more muscle, you naturally have more testosterone.
    I’m not sure how well it would work in practical application—I mean, genetics plays a large role in our underlying body type (we can definitely use lifestyle to influence it…). Typically the place we tend to carry fat when we’re in our best shape is typically hardest to lose.
    I’d probably say that what you’re already doing is the best approach‹you could make small changes to put more emphasis on protein, but overall I think fat is pretty important…and storing fat in the thighs/hips is said
    to be ideal for successful breastfeeding!

    Link to comment

  • Lisakthrives

    I think for someone who has no health issues, the occasional grain is not going to be a big problem. For a person with a weight problem or any other health issue (whether it seems related to grains or not), I would suggest testing out a diet that has no grains or pseudograins. I had a client who had no sense of smell….he took out wheat as a test, and his sense of smell came back. Hm.
    Today’s wheat seems to be the biggest culprit, but if there has been damage done (which a person may or may not be aware of), then quinoa and other grains/pseudograins can be a problem.
    So….there’s not really an absolute answer!

  • Caitlin

    Thanks, I think so too for sure!

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