Weight can be tricky. To be quite honest, it's not something I focus on when working individually with clients. Rather than focusing on restricting foods to lose weight, I encourage focusing on a mindset of abundance—that is, adding lots of whole, vibrant plant-based foods to your plate to feel your best. Plant-based foods contain powerful nutrients that heal the body and, when you add them to meals you're already eating, you start to naturally crowd out the foods that aren't serving your health. In my experience, when you focus on the way foods make you feel, you start to naturally lose weight (if that's your goal).
I believe it's important to love and embrace your body and all of the gifts it gives you (the ability to move, cook, walk the dog, play with the kids, etc), no matter the shape or size. But, I also recognize the importance of maintaining a healthy weight to feel your best both physically and mentally. Maintaining a healthy weight is also important for fighting inflammation and preventing lifestyle diseases like heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and Alzheimer's disease. Whether you feel you're at a healthy weight for you or if you feel you'd like to lose a few pounds to feel your best, we're about to dive into ways to support a healthy metabolism, which supports a happy body and mind.
What NOT to do if you want a healthy metabolism
Foods that I often hear people completely omitting from their diet, when trying to lose or manage weight, include carbohydrate-rich foods, gluten, beans, fruit, sugar, and meat. Can you guess which two out of the six of things can be a positive omission for both weight and health? If you guessed meat and sugar then, hooray!
Reducing processed sugar and meat consumption, or omitting them altogether, are undeniably better for your health and weight. Studies show that both sugar and saturated fat lead to inflammation of the gut, which can interfere with a healthy metabolism. It’s also easy to consume sugar in excess with its addictive properties and lack of fiber or nutrition. These excess calories can be stored as fat. (No new news there.)
What can be a disservice is omitting an entire plant-based food group. Common things I hear people say they’re doing to lose weight include:
I’m cutting out carbs, because they make me gain weight. (Do French fries count?)
Kourtney Kardashian says giving up gluten helped her lose weight so I'm giving up all bread. It's so hard, bread is my downfall.
I tried beans, but they made me bloated and unable to button my jeans. I just can’t tolerate beans so I don't think plant-based will work for me. I mean, I did do a complete overhaul from omnivore to vegan overnight and ate two big bowls of four-bean chili as my first vegan meal. Do you think it was too much too fast?*
I'm cutting out fruit because I heard it's nothing but sugar. But I love fruit! Is it really that bad?
*Going from no beans to lots of beans is definitely going to put some gas in your tank. Go slow when it comes to bean introductions, friends.
The above examples demonstrate reasons for wanting to give up foods or food groups, as well as how it can be difficult to enforce this “diet” or restrictive mentality. We often say we are going to stop eating this or that, but willpower is short-lived and these restrictions often lead to eating more of these foods later or substituting similar foods in their place (that still don’t serve your best health). Instead of complete restriction, shift your mindset to thinking in terms of abundance and adding foods that support health and metabolism. What positive things can you do and what healthy foods can you add that serve your body to be and function at its best every single day?
Below are 15 suggestions. Even if you incorporate one or two of the suggestions, you’re on your way to an energized, vibrant, and abundant life with a metabolism that is fit for Nascar.
P.S. Some may be a surprise to you!
1. Stay hydrated. Hydration is one of the most important things you can do for your body. Drinking enough water supports a healthy metabolism. One study also showed that drinking approximately two cups of water before a meal led to greater weight loss. Everyone’s fluid needs are different based on age, body weight, activity level, and environment. The best way to tell if you are hydrated is the urine test. Clear urine is indicative of adequate hydration. Grab your favorite reusable water bottle and fill up, buttercup!
2. Make the first meal of the day fiber-fueled and (plant) protein-packed. Including fiber and protein in both meals and snacks may help to fill you up more quickly than eating foods that only have carbohydrate. They can also keep you satisfied longer and manage blood sugar because they take longer to digest. Examples include oatmeal with soy milk, nuts and seeds; tofu scramble with sweet potato hash; or a smoothie with unsweetened plant-based yogurt, nut or seed butter, handful of leafy greens, banana and berries.
3. Eat more fruits and vegetables. While the evidence is lacking on the direct relationship between fruits and veggies on metabolism, we do know that fruits and vegetables are known for being nutrient dense. This means they contain tons of nutrients in exchange for little calories. Sure, fruit has natural sugar, but fruit is also packed with fiber and water, two nutrients that can keep you full and healthy. Fruit is also abundant in thousands of phytonutrients, or nutrients specific to plants that help our body to function at its best. Fiber, as well as some of the phytonutrients in fruits and vegetables, can support gut health, which may also lead to healthy metabolism.
4. Swap out refined carbs for whole grain carbs (eat carbohydrate-rich food, but the right kind). Let’s clear this myth: carbs are not bad. Certain types of carbohydrate-rich foods are processed, meaning they’ve been stripped of their nutrients and fiber, which make them calorically dense. Calorically dense means lots of calories in exchange for very little or no nutrition. Compared this to nutrient dense, which means lots of nutrients in exchange for little calories. Carbohydrates that probably aren’t serving your health or metabolism include white processed carbohydrates like white pasta, bread and rice, chips, cake, and cookies, to name a few. Whole grain carbohydrates are good for you! In fact, studies show that those individuals who completely omit whole grains from their diet lose healthy bacteria in their gut. The fiber and nutrients in whole grains feed healthy bacteria in your gut and these bacteria may help with weight management. When you cut out whole grains, you stop giving these healthy bacteria fuel. They basically starve. But, do not worry! By incorporating whole grains like oats, buckwheat, amaranth, farro, and quinoa, you can bring them back to life again. Dive deeper into carbohydrates and metabolism through our blog here, here and here.
5. Get enough fiber. Since we’re on the subject of fiber (found in fruits, veggies, and whole grains), let’s talk about it. Less than 5 percent of Americans get enough fiber a day. Odds are that you may fall into the inadequate fiber category. Women need a minimum of 25 grams of fiber a day and men need a minimum of 38 grams a day. Some experts recommend up to 50 or more grams of fiber a day. Fiber is extremely important for weight management and it’s also the very foundation for a healthy gut. It helps to fuel bacteria in your gut that support everything from metabolism to mood to immunity. Fiber is found in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, lentils, peas, nuts and seeds. If it’s new to you, increase it slowly. For example, introduce less than ¼ cup of one type of bean for a few days before increasing the amount or type of beans you add. This can prevent discomfort associated with eating beans. Do the same with other plant-based foods. Introduce new foods, one at a time, and in small quantities to allow your body to adapt to the various types of fiber. Learn more about fiber and how to easily incorporate it into your diet through my book, The Fiber Effect.
6. Eat fermented foods. I often get asked, which probiotics supplements are best? Taking a probiotic supplement without consuming enough fiber is a waste, because probiotics need fiber to thrive. So, if you’re taking a probiotic supplement, first ensure you have a healthy foundation of fiber. Also, there are over 500 different strains of probiotic species. Who’s to say that the three or five species in that supplement are what you specifically need? Different species have different functions. Instead, I suggest consuming fermented foods that have naturally occurring probiotics along with a variety of plant based foods that offer various types of fiber. Fermented foods include kimchi, sauerkraut, plant-based yogurt (unsweetened is best), kombucha, and miso. For example, I enjoy adding 1–2 tablespoons of kimchi to avocado toast or to a veggie wrap for flavor and probiotics daily.
7. Sip on green tea. Green tea contains small amounts of caffeine, but it’s also loaded with powerful antioxidants called catechins, which may work together with caffeine to support metabolism. Although the evidence is mixed, some studies show that green tea may help with weight management. There are many studies showing green tea’s effects on overall health due to its antioxidant content, therefore I do recommend it daily.
8. Swap artificially sweetened non-caloric drinks with water. Artificial sweeteners come with side effects, like disrupting the gut microbiotia and metabolism. These non-caloric food additives were introduced to reduce calorie intake, however research shows that long-term use of artificial sweeteners may instead lead to weight gain and abdominal fat. Artificial sweeteners may also create a disconnect between the amount of sweetness the brain tastes on the tongue and how much blood sugar actually ends up reaching the brain. Your brain may end up feeling cheated by the artificial sweeteners, thinking that you need to consume more sweetness to get enough calories. Try adding natural flavoring to water instead. Lemon, basil, mint and cucumber all make great tasty and nutritious additions to plain or carbonated water!
9. Try intermittent fasting. Intermittent fasting involves having a schedule that divides your day into two parts: an eating window and a non-eating (fasting) window. There are various types of intermittent fasting from time restricted to periodic to alternate day fasting. One review suggested that intermittent fasting may have beneficial effects on weight and body composition, but more studies are needed because of the various types of fasting. It’s been suggested that intermittent fasting may balance hormones involved with fat burning and metabolism to assist weight management. Other studies suggest that weight loss may be a result of caloric restriction from intermittent fasting. What's most important is what you eat in between fasting—make it count by filling up your plate with plant-based foods!
10. Get spicy. Including foods with a little heat, like chili pepper or ginger, may help to support metabolism. Compounds in chili pepper, called capsaicinoids, and in ginger, called gingerols and shogaols, have been shown to help with fat loss and potentially boost metabolism. Plus they’re both packed with other phytonutrients that act like antioxidants so, if you can stand the heat, add them to stir fries, casseroles, and soups.
11. Try adaptogens. Adaptogens, a class of herbs, are believed to help the body's resilience in dealing with physical and emotional stresses. As you probably know, stress can wreak havoc on the body, including metabolism, by increasing stress hormones like cortisol. Incorporating adaptogens daily may support your body’s response in dealing with stress, balance hormones, and support metabolism. Examples of adaptogens include turmeric, ashwaganda, cordiceps, holy basil, rhodiola, and Siberian ginseng.
12. Meditate. Wait, what? I can meditate and lose weight? Well, maybe indirectly. Studies show that meditation can alleviate stress and we all know that stress is not good for the body and mind. Stress can increase cortisol, a hormone that contributes to belly fat, as well as inflammation throughout the body, including the gut. It can also lead to unhealthy eating and snacking decisions. Find a time during the day where you can take a few minutes to breathe or just sit in silence. Silencing the chatter in your mind daily, even if it’s just for a few minutes, can lead to better stress management and decisions for your health.
13. Sleep well. When it comes to health, sleep doesn’t get enough credit. Adequate sleep helps to balance hormones and mood, both of which affect health outcomes. Cortisol, the stress hormone, can increase when you don’t get enough sleep and this can stimulate your appetite, especially cravings of sugar, fat, and processed foods. Learn more through our article, How Eating Plants Helps You Sleep Better.
14. Build muscle. One harmful side effect of restrictive eating, whether it’s dieting or omitting whole food groups, is that it could decrease caloric intake so much that muscle is lost, which causes metabolism to slow down. Maintaining or building muscle is not only great for physique and confidence, but also for metabolism. You don’t need to join a gym either! Doing some push ups, sit ups, burpees (eek!), and squats in the comfort of your own home are great ways to build muscle and stay fit.
15. Adopt a dog or cat. Visit your local animal shelter or rescue and find a pet that fits with your family. Maybe goofy and playful is your family’s style. Or perhaps, an older pet who just needs a place to chill is best for you. Or maybe you’re looking for a running partner. No matter which personality you chose, know that you’re boosting feel-good hormones by adopting. The simple act of petting your pet releases the calming hormone oxytocin and reduces the stress hormone cortisol. Also, pets get you moving! Taking a walk outside, playing in the house, or engaging in a game of chase all count as fantastic exercise to step-up metabolism. Finally, there's evidence showing that having a pet around can diversify the gut microbiome, which may further support metabolism.
Which one of the metabolism supporters are you already doing and which do you plan to try? We’d love to hear about them!