10 Tips for Long-Term Metabolic Health
It’s time to wrap up July’s theme of the metabolism! To review, today I’m going to summarize how you can work with your metabolism (instead of against it), incorporating physically and mentally healthy strategies for sustained fat loss and weight maintenance. Here are 10 tips:
Tip #1: Embrace your uniqueness.
When I talk about body image ideals with my female clients, I’m always struck by how much time we waste comparing ourselves to others.
When it comes to working with your metabolism, it’s essential that we accept where we are in life. What used to work for you may not work anymore. What may work for someone else may not work for you.
It’s key to tap in to what really works for you, and stick with it. Embrace your uniqueness, and do what works, not what you wish worked.
Tip #2: If you’re trying to lose weight, keep your caloric deficit as small as possible.
There are biological reasons for this (check out this interesting article on the topic by Lyle McDonald), but I mainly approach this from the point of view of habits. If you want to preserve your metabolic health and your sanity when you’re trying to live in a caloric deficit, it’s wise to be as comfortable as possible.
After all, you’re going to be maintaining your weight once you lose it, so it’s a good behavioral strategy to create, as much as you possibly can, what your lifestyle will be like once you’ve lost the weight.
Tip #3: Avoid binges.
Avoiding binges is important for sustained fat loss as well as mental balance. Many people (including doctors and dietitians) favor the idea of the “cheat meal,” or “cheat day,” to provide a mental break from a diet. However, I’m not a fan, and here’s just one reason why:
It is simply too easy to mess up. Many times, a cheat meal slides into a cheat day, which slides into a cheat weekend. In other words, for many people who struggle with balance, cheats easily turn into periods of bingeing, which leads to guilt and shame, as well as stymied results.
Does this mean you should be dieting all the time? That you’ll never eat rich meals?
Nooooooooooo. In fact, I would urge the opposite. I highly recommend that you smooth out the differences between your highs and lows, again, to create habits. Learning to enjoy treats and rich foods in moderation is essential for continued metabolic health and desired weight management, because rich food is a part of life. I have nachos out pretty much every Tuesday, but I don’t consider it a “cheat,” because it’s part of my regular diet.
Avoid binges by:
- Eating more protein and fiber
- Prepping your food and packing snacks, so you often have something to eat when you need it
- Not letting yourself get insanely hungry
- Not overtaxing your willpower (especially when you are hungry/tired/lonely/stressed)
- Being strategic in your caloric deficit strategies (see Tip #2)
- Giving yourself treats in a way that is fun, relaxed, and moderate
Tip #4: Strength train heavier than you think you can handle.
When you’re losing weight, something to keep in mind is that you will have a better long-term experience if you also strength train in conjunction with your dietary efforts.
Metabolically, muscle is a little more active than fat, which means that it will burn a bit more calories at rest. This boosts your metabolism, but the biggest difference that muscle makes is that it changes your body composition. If you are 150 pounds and 30% body fat, you will look and feel quite different if you – as the same person – are 148 pounds and 26% body fat.
You can increase your strength and muscle mass by just using your bodyweight, but it’s also helpful to challenge yourself with free weights, cable machines, resistance bands, and more. Spoiler alert: you may have to work much harder than you expect. Remember, to build muscle, you’ve got to test muscle.
Becoming stronger, putting on muscle, and becoming more confident in your body helps to take some pressure off of the scale and encourage a more holistic perspective on fat loss.
Tip #5: Don’t let your sedentary job get the best of you.
For so many of my clients, I recommend getting a step tracker. Check out the Garmin Forerunner 35 that I link to Amazon on my Recommended Materials page, which tracks not only steps, but also running pace, heart rate, workouts, and more.
Remember, NEAT (non-exercise activity thermogenesis) is the biggest driver of the metabolism after your resting metabolic rate. In other words, you can’t change how many calories you genetically burn at rest all that much, but you have huge influence over how many calories you burn from activity. Get that step tracker, and try to inject as much movement into your day as you possibly can. You could change your daily metabolic output by hundreds of calories or more, because lots of small movement adds up dramatically.
Tip #6: Build variety into your workouts.
A huge part of a healthy metabolism is recovery. Meaning, if you work out on Monday and your legs are extremely sore the next day, maybe you could still go to the gym on Tuesday, but you could just walk on the treadmill or do some lighter upper body work. In that case, I wouldn’t do another leg workout or an aggressive run.
This allows your body to gradually adapt to exercise. This is important, because your body can interpret exercise as stress if you do too much, too fast. Chronic over-exercising can cause the release of cortisol, which, among other things, can cause excessive water retention as well as eventual fat storage in the abdominal area.
I do urge clients to make a daily exercise habit, especially if they struggle with consistency and habit development. The daily process helps make it a cemented part of their routine. I just shared Gretchen Rubin’s blog post on this idea yesterday. However, my caveat is that if you do exercise every day, to make sure that you alternate days of intensity with days of gentleness. That variety is crucial to not over-stressing your metabolism.
Tip #7: Manage your stress and sleep.
This should perhaps be #1, because stress and sleep will make or break your trajectory/results.
I have talked about this so much lately on my social media, as well as in my blog posts, that I don’t want to “get into it” in this post. It just deserves to be on the list. Here are some past blog posts on these topics:
- Replacing Comfort Food with Real Comfort
- Hormones and Weight Gain: Cortisol, Leptin, and Ghrelin
- Stress Management: Time Management, Boundaries, and Your Body
- Mindfulness: Meet the Inner Narrator
- Sleep Hygiene: Healthy Sleep, Happy Body
Tip #8: Use a variety of “progress” assessments.
To preserve mental health and balance as you lose weight, I highly recommend using a variety of assessments to accurately measure progress. With most of my clients, weight is part of the picture, but we also use a measuring tape and pictures. In fact, one of my clients just uses a pair of tight, non-stretchy jeans as her assessment!
Why is this so important, and what does it have to do with the metabolism? I encourage this approach because sometimes, you may reach a very happy physique and health milestone that isn’t what you expected or wanted from the scale.
If, on your weight loss journey, you reach a point where look great in your clothes, have fantastic blood work, and are stronger/faster/fitter than ever, keep in mind that continuing to lose weight is completely optional. Even if the scale is 10 pounds higher than your idealized high school weight, this may be your new “right weight.” Using a variety of assessments helps you see when these moments happen, and allow you to enter a maintenance mode when you’re happy, not when what you see on the scale makes you happy.
Tip #9: Understand weight fluctuation.
For women, the scale can really be all over the place – I wrote about this last week in “Fat Loss vs. Weight Loss,” and I’ll say it again:
Your body will change weight all the time, and it is wiser to estimate your weight as being somewhere in a 5-lb range, rather than one set number. You’re not gaining or losing fat if your weight goes up and down on a daily basis. You’re just fluctuating. This can be due to a number of factors (check out last week’s post for more information), but here’s the main takeaway from the idea today:
Don’t jump into a diet if your weight increases a little. This could happen for so many reasons, that it’s not worth stressing yourself out. Just ride it out and see what happens. If it keeps going up over a week or more, then maybe you can take a look at your regular dietary habits to see if something has gotten out of place – an extra snack, a change in routine, or something similar. Don’t detox. Don’t cleanse. Don’t diet. Just trust the process, and at some point you’ll know if you need to change something.
Tip #10: Stay positive!
When you’re losing weight, it can be mentally and physically stressful to figure out your routines and what really works for you.
To help with this, stay positive. Keep a gratitude journal. Keep the focus on what makes you lucky and gives you an advantage, rather than on what holds you back. See yourself as an active influencer in your own life. Accept that you are in control of yourself. Build a repertoire of non-food-related activities that bring you fun and joy.
Remember, a healthy lifestyle lasts a lifetime – not just 90 or 21 days. You might as well enjoy it!
Follow-Up Questions from Last Week
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Last week in “Fat Loss vs. Weight Loss: Water Retention and the Jumpy Scale,” we explored the unsettling experience of gaining and losing water weight, which can confuse the number on the scale.
Answer the following questions about your experiences with last week’s posts:
- Question 1: Have you ever seen your weight increase after eating more sodium than usual, or after a restaurant meal?
- Question 2: What were the main tips that you took from the list at the end of the post?
- Question 3: Did anything about the facts of water retention surprise you? How will you change your habits based on what you learned?