Nutritionist Lauryn Lax breaks down the facts.
By Dr. Lauryn Lax
“Metabolism” is a buzz word in the world of health and fitness. Defined as the rate at which the body processes food and converts it into energy, metabolism is often referenced when people are looking to lose weight. From marketing gimmicks for protein powders that promise to fire up your metabolism to personal trainers that swear they hold the secret to boosting your metabolism, there is a lot of information out there, and it can be difficult to discern what is actually accurate.
Here are seven healthy things slowing down your metabolism and what to do about them.
- Artificial sweeteners. Artificial sweeteners have long been touted as the healthier alternative to sugar. Found in sugar-free alternatives—from protein powders and bars to ice creams, yogurts, diet soda and coffee creamers—artificial sweeteners are the no-nonsense solution for busting your sweet tooth and abstaining from the three pounds of sugar most Americans consume every week. But the truth is artificial sweeteners are foreign chemicals and your gut has no idea how to digest them. Consuming artificial sweeteners can alter gut bacteria and cause bacterial overgrowth, leading to weight gain, anxiety, polycystic ovarian syndrome and hormone imbalances. Watch out for stevia as well, as many people consume the processed version instead of the raw, green-leaf stevia found in nature.
- Drinking coffee. It’s time to take another look at coffee. For starters, the standard coffee most Americans drink is full of gluten-cross-contaminated proteins. In other words, your cup of Starbucks coffee is one of the most cross-contaminated foods with gluten out there. While not every single person is allergic or intolerant to gluten, there is no question the protein is more difficult for your gut to digest than many other food sources. When we eat a steady diet of gut-irritating foods, we can provoke an inflammatory response that can lead to leaky gut, bloating, allergies, breakouts and a sluggish metabolism.
- Safe sex. Safe sex is good. So are healthy skin and regular periods. But when you take birth-control pills for any one of these, your metabolism and gut health may experience undesirable side effects. Birth-control pills inject four times the amount of estrogen into a woman’s body than what she naturally produces. While this jolt of estrogen does its job, too much of any one hormone impacts the levels of other hormones, particularly cortisol. When cortisol levels are imbalanced, it can lead to impaired functioning of the digestive system.
- OrangeTheory, CrossFit or boot-camp-style workouts. Exercise is great, but too much of a good thing or too little isn’t great for optimal metabolism. When our systems are out of balance, we must look to our other body systems that maintain balances, such as our hormones, cortisol levels, gut health and thyroid. Try changing up your routine and adjusting for your own body. Don’t overdo it on cardio either. When we look to our genes and how we are wired to move, we observe four primary types of movement: strength, high-intesity-interval training, endurance/low-intensity aerobic activity and daily lifestyle movement. Hence, if we overdo it in any one mode of fitness, we get away from the body’s innate wiring for variety.
- Ketogenic diet. Low-carb diets are trendy right now, particularly ketogenic, or high-fat, diets. This diet can be great for some people, however, this diet can cause imbalances in the body. Many women start off strong on a ketogenic diet, perhaps shedding unwanted pounds, eliminating brain fog and increasing energy, but then they hit a wall. The eating philosophy that was working so well for them suddenly stops working. Ketogenic diets are often referred to as therapeutic diets and can work wonders in the short term for individuals needing to reset the body when it has become out of balance. However, for those who already had a healthy lifestyle prior to a ketogenic diet, I find they often hit a roadblock. On this diet, some people may not be eating enough, and may experience increased constipation and imbalanced hormone levels.
- Small meals. The theory goes that if you’re constantly grazing and your digestive system is going, it must mean your metabolism is quick. The problem is there’s no scientific evidence supporting this claim. In fact, eating balanced meals less frequently, compared with higher-frequency grazing and eating snacks throughout day, has been shown to increase metabolism and balance blood-sugar levels in the body.
- Egg whites, chicken breast, olive oil and broccoli. You can eat clean, but if you’re not absorbing or digesting your nutrients, your metabolism will backfire. If you lack digestive enzymes, enough stomach acid or a healthy liver or gallbladder, the breakdown of nutrients doesn’t happen at its peak. And as time passes, your hormones, organs and other cells get deprived of the nutrients they’d otherwise have if you were able to digest your food well.