Why can some people eat in excess without consequence while others struggle to stay in shape on a healthy diet? It's not necessarily genetics, says Josh Axe, DNM, DC, CNS—the answer could be their daily habits, which impact metabolism.
"The term 'metabolism' refers to all of the chemical processes that take place in our bodies to keep us alive and functioning," he tells MyDomaine. "When people reference a 'fast' or 'slow' metabolism, they are essentially talking about how efficiently the body can turn the calories we get from food into usable energy."
While genetics do play a big role in determining your metabolic rate, Axe explains that subtle lifestyle choices—both diet and exercise—also influence your ability to digest food and stay in shape. "The food we eat is very critical to our metabolism because it becomes our only source of calories for energy. It is so important to get those calories from the right foods that have the necessary nutrients to give the body the energy needed to build and repair tissues and perform other biochemical tasks," he says.
If you feel sluggish and fatigued, have trouble sleeping, and struggle to stay in shape despite eating a healthy diet, these deceptive "healthy" habits might be to blame. Correct these five common metabolism mistakes to get your health back on track.
Mistake: Eating a High-Sugar Breakfast
Granola might be promoted as a healthy breakfast option, but according to Axe, that's definitely not the case. "Many granolas masquerade as health food, especially since the label says that it contains honey as opposed to regular sugar, but when honey has been pasteurized and all beneficial nutrients have been cooked out, it is not better than high fructose corn syrup," he explains.
Instead, batch-cook Axe's homemade sprouted granola before the work week begins: Soak raw almonds, cashews, pecans, and chia seeds in water overnight, and then dry them on a paper towel. Mix with raw honey, coconut flakes, and cinnamon, and then roast in an oven for the ultimate "great tasting metabolism-boosting snack."
Mistake: Not Getting Enough Sleep
Changing your diet isn't the only means to rev up a slow metabolism. One of the easiest ways to help your body metabolize food is to review your sleep schedule. "When you’re not getting enough sleep and you’re exhausted, your body will naturally work to preserve energy by expending less on other biochemical functions—including metabolizing the food we eat," Axe explains.
Thankfully, the solution doesn't involve any drastic diet lifestyle changes. "You can reverse this trend easily by getting seven to nine hours of sleep each night, ensuring that you’re fully rested and giving the body the energy it needs to properly burn calories and create even more energy," he says. Studies suggest that removing technology from your room and blocking out artificial light can help improve your sleep routine.
Mistake: Eating Whole Grains in Excess
Don't get us wrong, whole grains are a great source of fiber and essential nutrients, but Axe cautions that not all grains are easy to digest. "Whole grains aren’t necessarily bad if you are consuming one-ingredient, gluten-free whole grains like rice or quinoa in moderation. The problem with grains containing gluten is that they tend to be difficult to digest, even for non-celiacs," he explains.
The National Foundation of Celiac Awareness argues that as many as 18 million Americans may have non-celiac gluten sensitivity. "Many people now have a gluten intolerance, which is largely due to our modern agriculture system and the fact that most wheat is genetically modified highly processed. Because of this, the body has a hard time recognizing it as food, let alone metabolizing it efficiently."
He recommends abiding by the age-old advice of everything in moderation. "Gluten—as well any starch consumed in excess—can also cause inflammation, which will definitely wreck the metabolism and can also cause disease."
Mistake: Only Doing Cardio Exercise
Exercise is a powerful way to boost your metabolism, but Axe says that not all workouts are equal. "Building lean muscle mass is critical for a healthy metabolism because lean muscle naturally burns more calories (i.e., converts food to energy) than fat."
So what's the most effective way to maximize your time at the gym? "High-intensity interval training (HIIT) is effective at boosting the metabolism, as opposed to steady-state cardio because it triggers something called an 'afterburn effect,'" he explains. "This means that even after the workout is over the body will continue to burn calories for up to 48 hours." Yes, it's a win-win.
Mistake: Sipping on Fruit Juice
It's important to stay hydrated, but make sure you're reaching for the right drink, he cautions. "The problem with fruit juice is that it is basically liquid sugar, and too much sugar slows down the metabolism," he explains. "Store-bought juices are particularly problematic because they have typically been pasteurized, meaning they are heated at very high temperatures that kill any remaining nutrients, and they often contain added sugars."
This rule doesn't just apply to juice concentrate, though. Eating whole fruit is nutritionally better than freshly squeezed juice, says Axe. "Juice is fruit that has had the fiber removed, and without that fiber—a critical nutrient for optimum metabolic function—juice spikes the blood sugar quickly, causing energy to soar and then crash."
Have you tried any of these lifestyle changes? Let us know if you noticed a difference.