The sheer scope of oddball tips on the internet suggests that my metabolism is something I have to essentially trick into firing on all cylinders. I've sprinkled cinnamon on my morning oatmeal in the hope that it'll kick it up a notch; I've experimented with interval training; I bought into the MCT-oil craze. But ultimately, what I've learned—both through my own experience and in talking to experts—is that an efficient metabolism doesn't need to be so complicated. In trying to hack the system, many of us often overlook basic mistakes that are slowing it down.
First, some biology 101: Our metabolism is the biochemical process by which our body breaks down fuel and converts it into energy on a cellular level. Generally, when we talk about our metabolism colloquially, we relate it to our digestion—probably because that's where we tend to notice it the most. A sluggish metabolism can have an impact on our daily energy levels, ease of digestion, and ability to lose fat. But that's also why revving it up can be as simple as tweaking your diet and exercise habits.
Below, find the most common mistakes that lead to a slow metabolism—as well as expert advice on how to reverse it.
Mistake #1: You're skipping breakfast
"Your metabolism is a machine which doesn’t work when it is not turned on," says Raj Gupta, wellness expert and founder of Soul Focus Wellness Center. "A person turns on their metabolism with the first thing they consume for the day. After sleeping six to 10 hours, your metabolism has shut down during your mini fast and won’t be turned on again until you eat, which stimulates it to work."
That said, you don't want to eat just anything upon waking. For maximum impact, you'll consume a balanced meal of protein, healthy fats, and complex carbohydrates (more on that in a second).
Mistake #2: You're not eating slow-burn foods
Kicking off your metabolism is one thing, but ideally, you'll want to keep it running at maximum efficiency all day. Otherwise, you can expect a mid-afternoon energy crash at your desk.
"The key to keeping your metabolism working for a steady, prolonged period of time is to eat foods that take a long time to metabolize," says Gupta. "For example, a simple carbohydrate burns very quickly (like a piece of newspaper in a fireplace), while a complex carbohydrate and protein burn slowly (like a log added to a dwindling fire). Eating foods that take a long time to metabolize will keep you feeling fuller longer and will keep your metabolism humming like a well-oiled machine."
Mistake #3: You're eating too little
You've heard it before, but it bears repeating: Severely restricting your calorie intake actually hinders weight loss because the lack of fuel brings your metabolism to a screeching halt.
It's not just about calories. "You can’t create ATP (energy currency) without iron, zinc, magnesium, CoQ10, vitamin C, and B vitamins," says nutritionist Dana James. "This means you need a varied diet to ensure you have an optimal supply of nutrients." Pro tip: In addition to eating a full spectrum of whole foods on a daily basis, I like blending up a nutritionally dense, adaptogen-packed smoothie every morning to make sure I'm getting a powerful dose of the vitamins I need.
Mistake #4: You're not moving your body
What you're eating is obviously integral to your metabolic function, but don't discount consistent exercise. "The moment you begin exercising, your body anticipates the need for fuel and your metabolism machine turns on," says Gupta. "If you do not have anything in your stomach for your metabolism to convert to fuel, then it uses your fat storage to create fuel."
That's why if you're looking to tone up, diet and fitness are crucial. "Exercising increases the number of mitochondria (the energy creating cells), and that speeds up the metabolism," adds James. What's more: The more muscle mass you maintain, the faster your metabolism. So when you work out, you're not just jump-starting your system now but also ensuring that it runs at max efficiency in the long term.
Mistake #5: You're overdoing it at the gym
Say it with us: balance. "While you may see success in the short term [when restricting calories and overexercising], you'll eventually start to plateau or even gain weight," says James. "The thyroid hormones down-regulate to slow the metabolism and you start burning amino acids from muscle and the gut lining." In other words, you're failing to burn fat—and feeling super fatigued at the same time. No good.
But there's no need to overthink it, either. Move for roughly an hour on most days of the week in a way that feels motivating and fulfilling to you—whether that's going hard at Barry's, perfecting your yoga Asanas, or taking the dog for a walk. Eat nutritious meals packed with veggies, healthy fats, and lean proteins. While there are many elements that factor into an optimal metabolism, the bedrock consists of simple healthy habits—no rocket science necessary.