Start doing this one habit today to get your metabolism into tiptop shape.
Reviewed by Dietitian Jessica Ball, M.S., RD
Have you ever noticed that your favorite pair of pants have become increasingly more snug and thought to yourself, Is my metabolism to blame? Metabolism is often viewed as fast or slow and associated with fluctuations we may attribute to our weight; however, our metabolism never sleeps and oftentimes isn’t given enough credit for all it does.
“Metabolism refers to a cascade of reactions that constantly occur in the body to utilize nutrients from food, beverages, medications and supplements. Each and every cell of the body is involved in metabolism in some way, shape or form in order to provide energy to fuel your daily activities, “ explains Elizabeth Shaw, M.S., RDN, CPT, nutrition expert and author of the For Dummies Instant Pot Cookbook and Air Fryer Cookbook.
Our metabolism fuels all of our body’s essential processes, including everything from breathing and digesting food to pumping blood throughout our body, according to MedlinePlus. Although we cannot necessarily control our metabolism, there are actions within our control that influence how well our metabolism runs and support the state of our metabolic health. This leads us to the No. 1 controllable habit that you can break starting today to better support your metabolic health.
What’s the No. 1 Habit to Break for Better Metabolic Health?
The No. 1 habit you should break for better metabolic health is not eating enough. Not eating enough means you are not consuming enough total calories to support basic metabolic functions, such as breathing or digestion.
You may find yourself not eating enough if you are attempting to lose weight by following a low-calorie diet, eating a restrictive diet, over-exercising or skipping meals. Whether intentionally or unintentionally, not eating enough can lead to poor metabolic health.
Shaw further explains, “Think of your body like a car. When you don't put enough gas in your car, your car will stop running. Just like your car can't move on an empty tank, neither can your body.”
And not putting enough into your tank can lead to numerous health consequences.
Why Is Under-Eating Bad for Your Metabolic Health?
If you’ve ever tried a fad diet, you might have been coaxed into it by all the shiny promises and results it offers. After a few weeks of giving it a go, you may have started seeing the results, but maybe you also noticed your energy levels fully tanked.
“Under-eating, or eating fewer calories than your metabolism burns every day, can be harmful to your metabolism, as your body will adapt over time to use fewer calories,” says Caroline Thomason, RD, CDCES, a dietitian based in Washington, D.C. “This lowers your metabolism and puts you at risk for symptoms like low energy, fatigue, decreased cognitive functioning, decreased activity and, of course, a lower metabolic rate.”
If you were able to follow a diet for a few more weeks or months, you may have noticed results started to wane and you weren’t experiencing the same results as before. Once your results have slowed to a halt, so has your metabolism. Over time, under-eating can lead to nutritional deficiencies, a weakened immune system, increased risk for chronic conditions, higher stress levels and even weight gain.
A 2020 review published in Nutrients found that consuming enough macronutrients and micronutrients is essential for a well-functioning metabolism, and inadequate intake of these nutrients can lead to vitamin and mineral deficiencies, which can disrupt metabolism. Not getting enough nutrients can lead to more infections and a weakened immune system, per the National Institutes of Health.
According to a 2019 article published in the Journal of Biological Rhythms, irregular eating patterns, such as eating breakfast one day but skipping it the next, are associated with increased risk of chronic conditions such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and obesity.
Furthermore, according to a 2023 article published in the Journal of Endocrinological Investigation, calorie restriction can increase levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which slows our body’s normal functions including our metabolism. Not to mention all the other negative consequences of increased stress such as feelings of anxiety, restless nights of sleep and an increased likelihood of overeating less nourishing foods.
To help keep your metabolism firing at top speed, here are a few tips on what you can start doing to make sure you are eating enough.
How to Eat for Metabolic Health
Set Daily Meal Times
We know there are days where you may feel like you are so busy, you don’t even have a moment to step away to eat. However, everyone deserves time to refuel. Not breaking for mealtimes and having a sporadic schedule such as eating breakfast at 8 a.m. one day, skipping it the next and then not digging into your first meal until late afternoon the following day isn’t doing your metabolism any favors. Research states it may also impact your internal clock, also known as our circadian rhythm, which influences the functioning of many systems within our body, including our metabolism.
Brainstorm what time of day works best for you to have your breakfast, lunch and dinner on most days of the week and then block off at least a 15-minute window around those times to stick to a more consistent eating schedule.
Build a Balanced Plate
Build a balanced plate at each meal by including a source of carbohydrate, protein and fruit or vegetable. This will help ensure that you are getting all of the necessary macro and micronutrients in your diet. Cutting out major food groups (such as fad dieting) can lead to vitamin or mineral deficiencies which can disrupt the functioning of your metabolism. Plus, according to research, including a source of protein at each meal and snack supports healthy metabolism and consistent energy levels, as it takes longer for your body to break down and digest it.
Having a high-quality source of protein and fiber-rich carb, as well as fruits and veggies on your plate can also help keep your blood sugar stable and prevent spikes or falls, according to the Joslin Diabetes Center.
The Bottom Line
Eating enough each and every day will provide you with more energy, help you meet your nutrient needs and support a well-firing metabolism. Restricting calories, following a fad diet or skipping meals frequently can lead to poor metabolic health. Eating enough is linked to a stronger immune system, reduced risk of chronic and preventable diseases, meeting macronutrient and micronutrient needs and overall better metabolic health.
Read the original article on Eating Well.