Just the thought of wading out into the ocean of conflicting diet and exercise information across the internet is enough to make you want to throw on some noise canceling headphones and pull the bed covers back over your eyes.
Here we’ve simplified the top five things you can do to achieve your perfect weight – and no, it’s not the same for everyone. They’re easy and natural, with an emphasis on no-fuss.
1. Choose the Right Foods
Choosing the right foods is one of the single most important aspects of reaching your perfect weight and boosting your metabolism. Think of these foods as clean-burning fuel or even solar power; standard fuel pollutes its environment (your body) with smog and harmful chemicals, while solar power burns clean and leaves no harmful residues behind. While the “right” foods may be slightly different for everyone, these basic guidelines are a starting point from which you can further customize by listening to your body.
Wild and Grass-fed Proteins
The quality of the proteins you’re consuming matter as much as the quantity when it comes to boosting your metabolism. This is because grass-fed animals naturally contain higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids and conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), both of which are anti-inflammatory and promote fat loss. (1)
In fact, studies have shown that a lack of omega-3 fatty acids in modern diets has played a huge role in the rise in obesity rates. Specifically, getting too many omega-6 fatty acids from vegetable oils and grain-fed meats has been shown to promote fat gain by increasing inflammation and halting fat burn. (2)
Balancing your ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 by consuming wild-caught and grass-fed meats, eggs, and fish will help reduce inflammation and encourage your body to start burning fat for fuel. As a bonus, consuming a serving of wild protein (about four ounces) at each meal shuttles in essential amino acids to your muscles, aiding in repair and growth. (3)
The era of fat-fearing is over. Instead, we’ve entered the age of healthy fat abundance. From proper nutrient absorption to optimum brain health, healthy fats play an important role in nearly every function of the body.
When it comes to boosting metabolism, healthy fats go a long way in helping the body enter that fat-burning sweet spot by balancing hormones. In essence, healthy fats—even the historically demonized saturated kind—increase levels of testosterone and growth hormone, both of which are needed by males and females to promote leanness. (4)
To drive this point home, studies have shown that participants consuming a high-fat diet rich in healthy fats from fish and olive oil gain less fat and weigh less than those on a low-fat diet. (5)
With the rise of low carb diets, it’s easy to fall into the mindset that carbs are the enemy when it comes to weight loss. Unfortunately, while going low carb might work as a temporary way to shed a couple pounds, it can backfire over the long term, especially for some people.
Restricting healthy carbs can lead to hormone disruption and elevated cortisol (the stress hormone) levels, which can cause the body to hold on to fat, especially around the middle. It can also cause a drop in thyroid function, which can actually slow down metabolism and cause weight gain. (6,7)
Now, this doesn’t mean a free-for-all when it comes to carbs. It simply means choosing carb sources wisely and moderately. Sweet potatoes, plantains, taro root, starchy squashes, carrots, and veggies like broccoli, cabbage, and leafy greens are all high-quality carb sources that can promote healthy weight loss and hormone balance.
3 Major Foods to Avoid
Generally, if you’re eating fresh foods as close to nature a possible, you’re more than likely in the golden zone for weight loss. However, since there are so many “health” products on the shelves today, it helps to take a look at ingredients you should regularly avoid, even if you aren’t trying to lose weight.
1. Processed Sugars
Sugar is everywhere. In fact, if you aren’t careful, you’ll quickly discover that you’re eating above and beyond normal levels just by having a daily glass of vanilla almond milk and a protein bar (tip: always make sure almond milk is unsweetened and, in general, avoid bars).
The problem with processed sugars is that they cause repeated spikes in blood sugar levels, which is a recipe for stalled fat loss. When blood sugar is consistently elevated, the body is constantly attempting to burn off the excess sugar. When it becomes overwhelmed (i.e., after one too many cookies or candies) it begins to store the excess as fat. The cycle then continues in this pattern and fat never falls off because your body never gets a chance to dip into its energy stores. (8)
Instead of processed sugars, try adding small amounts of raw honey for sweetness, or even stevia, which has no calories or sugar. Also, always check for added sugars in products, even if they’re advertised as healthy.
2. Vegetable Oils
Vegetable oils like canola, high-oleic sunflower seed, rapeseed, cottonseed, palm, and soybean oil are highly inflammatory, and have been shown to promote obesity. (9) Most of these oils are heavily processed and many are also hydrogenated, meaning they’ve undergone a process that creates trans fats and raises bad cholesterol. (10)
Instead, use metabolism-boosting coconut oil for cooking and extra virgin olive oil and avocado oil for salad dressings. The medium-chain fatty acids in coconut oil in particular have been shown to increase fat loss and reduce waist circumference.(11)
Grains contain inflammatory anti-nutrients like phytates that interfere with mineral absorption and irritate the gut lining. Most grains are also processed or are high in quickly-absorbed simple carbs, raising blood sugar in the same process as simple sugars. (12)
If you find yourself craving things like bread and pasta, try adding more starches like sweet potatoes and plantains to your meals, or even bake your own bread using coconut flour, almond flour, or cassava flour. You can also get your pasta fix by spiraling zucchini into noodles and topping them with homemade spaghetti sauce, or by roasting up a spaghetti squash topped with herb-seasoned chicken.
2. Try High-Intensity Interval Training
High-intensity interval training (HIIT) involves alternating periods of high intensity workouts with periods of low intensity rest. Think sprinting for 15 seconds, walking for one minute, then repeating for a total of a 15 to 30 minute session.
To date, studies have shown HIIT is the ultimate workout when it comes to fat loss, showing that people lose more fat doing HIIT than spending hours doing long, steady cardio. (13) This is because HIIT not only burns calories, but also ramps up the body’s production of fat-burning hormones for days after the workout is over, keeping the body in a fat-burning state for longer.
The other great thing about HIIT is that it can be applied to almost any workout. You can use it in a bodyweight circuit, alternating periods of pushups or jump squats with periods of rest, or even in a jump rope routine.
To get the most out of HIIT without overworking yourself, aim for just three 15 to 30 minute HIIT sessions a week.
3. Get Some Sun and Shut-Eye
Extra sun and extra sleep: sounds like the beginning of an amazing vacation, right? In truth, you should be making sure you get adequate sleep and sun exposure every day if you want to optimize your metabolism and lose extra pounds. Studies show a direct link between obesity and reduced serum vitamin D levels, and also between obesity and less sleep. (14,15) Make sure you get your eight hours and 15 to 20 minutes of sun exposure daily when seasonally appropriate.
If you live in an area where sun exposure year-round isn’t possible, supplement with a high quality vitamin D3 and regularly get your vitamin D levels checked to ensure you’re taking an appropriate dosage.
4. Try Intermittent Fasting
Many have experienced extremely positive results using intermittent fasting for weight loss. Some choose to fast for 24 hours twice a week, while others shorten their daily window of eating to around 6 to 8 hours by delaying breakfast and eating their other meals closer together.
If you’re just getting started, you might want to try the latter method. For an idea of what this looks like, an example might be eating breakfast at 10 or 11 a.m., then having your last meal no later than 6 p.m., no snacking after dinner allowed. This would give you a daily 16 to 17 hour fast.
Studies have shown that intermittent fasting in this way not only increases fat loss but also improves insulin sensitivity and other markers that positively influence metabolism. (16) While this method can he highly effective for many, it may not be appropriate for certain individuals with hormone issues, diabetes, or hypoglycemia, so be sure to consider whether it’s appropriate for your health first.
5. Supplements and Herbs
While supplements aren’t exactly necessary for reaching your perfect weight, studies suggest some might help you get there a little easier.
Research shows that probiotics, or foods rich in good bacteria like coconut yogurt and sauerkraut, promote weight loss. Researchers have noted that the gut flora of obese people differs from that of lean people, and that introducing probiotics helps shift gut flora in the lean direction. (17)
Conjugated linoleic acid (CLA)
CLA is a beneficial fatty acid that has shown in multiple studies to boost metabolism and reduce fat in humans. (18) It is also found in wild meats and eggs, so make sure you’re also getting enough of these regularly in your diet.
You’ve probably heard that green tea is excellent for weight loss. In this case, it seems the rumors might be true. Studies show that consuming green tea and taking the extract can indeed boost metabolism and aid in weight loss, mostly due to its antioxidant and caffeine content. (19)
Whether or not these supplement options are best for you must be determined by a number of individual factors, so it’s also a good idea to seek personalized nutrition counseling when appropriate.
What NOT To Do
Now that we’ve covered everything you should be doing to optimize your metabolism and shed those pesky last few pounds, lets cover what you shouldn’t do.
1. Go On An Extremely Low Calorie Diet
If you’re like many dieters, you’ve probably restricted calories at one point or another and seen results. This makes it tempting to keep restricting and keep lowering your calories when your previous baseline is no longer working.
Unfortunately, by doing this, you actually stress your body out to the point where it starts releasing excessive amounts of cortisol, which causes fat gain, not loss. Excessive calorie restriction also interferes with proper thyroid function, which is essential for weight loss and muscle growth. (20) Focus on nourishing your body with whole foods from the earth and less about numbers.
2. Over Train
In this case, the cliche of “more isn’t always better” rings absolutely true. It might seem like the more you push your body, the more results you’ll get, and while that is true to a point, working out excessively can quickly backfire.
Like excessive calorie restriction, training for hours on end every week can raise stress hormone levels, causing the body to hold on to fat. It can also lower your immune system, increase inflammation, cause sleep disturbances, and lead to extreme fatigue—in essence, everything you don’t want if you are looking to boost your metabolism to lose weight. (21)
Instead of taking this approach, work out hard when you do work out, but then be sure to honor your body with 2-3 rest days a week and other forms of gentle exercise, like yoga.
3. Become Overwhelmed and Stressed
It’s easy to become so focused on losing weight and seeing results that you become consumed with the process. Once this happens, it can turn every fluctuating pound of weight loss or gain into an emotional event, which keeps you on a roller coaster of stress.
This not only creates a cascade of stress hormones, but also psychologically sets you up for failure. Eventually, there will become a point where stressing out so much backfires and you can’t take it anymore and possibly go off the rails on your diet and exercise regime.
Instead, embrace nourishing your body with healthy foods, while avoiding anything processed. Get some sun, do some HIIT, sleep in, and realize it will take a few weeks to a few months for lasting change.