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Identify Your Eating Behaviors before Starting a Metabolism-Boosting Diet

When thinking about eating to boost their metabolism, people too often focus only on the types of food they’re eating and not enough on their behaviors surrounding food and drink. You may have read and heard a lot about what to eat, but how you eat is very important for metabolism. Do you fall into one of the following eating behavior categories?

Do you overeat?

Hormones regulate your appetite and the signals to your brain that tell you when you’re hungry and when you’re stuffed. Research shows that when people overeat for many weeks, those signals may be disrupted.

It can be a double whammy — not only is your metabolism slower, but you’re more likely to continue overeating. Your body will convert any calories that it doesn’t need into fat, which can cause weight gain and increased risk for disease down the road.

Do you undereat?

Undereating also can slow your metabolism — by up to 20 percent. It’s a survival mechanism. Your body thinks it's being deprived, and instead of burning calories it holds on to them and stores them as fat for later use. Your body will literally slow down its functions because it doesn’t have the proper calories to keep it moving, just as your car may peter out when low on gas.

In addition, if you’re not eating enough, you’re likely losing that precious muscle mass, not fat mass. Again, your body is very smart, and in case you’re in an emergency situation this process allows you to survive longer without food. But for someone trying to lose weight, this is obviously not an effective strategy.

That’s why it’s so important to know what your body needs and how to fuel it with the proper balance of nutrients. By blindly following a fad or restrictive diet, or by over-exercising, you may lose weight in the short term, but you can slow your metabolic rate and affect your health in the long term.

Do you go too long between meals?

Are you the type who skips lunch because you’re too busy or stressed throughout the day? You may not realize it, but this can set you up to overeat later on. Eating balanced meals or snacks every 4–5 hours throughout the day is key to keeping your metabolism working effectively all day long.

It also helps keep your blood sugar levels steady so that you’re less likely to crash and succumb to cravings, or have poor judgment when it comes to the food decisions you make.

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day because you’re literally breaking your overnight sleeping “fast.” Research shows that breakfast jump-starts your metabolism, keeps your energy high, and helps you make healthy decisions all day long.

Examples of Ideal Meal Timing
If you wake at 7 a.m.
Breakfast within 1–2 hours (8–9 a.m.)
2 scrambled eggs
1 slice whole wheat toast
3/4 cup berries
6 ounces nonfat Greek yogurt
Lunch 12–1 p.m. 1 whole wheat pita
1 cup garbanzo beans
1-1/2 cup spinach salad, cucumber, tomato
1–2 tablespoons olive oil and vinegar
Snack 4–5 p.m. 4 ounces cottage cheese
1 apple
10 almonds
Dinner 8–9 p.m.
Bedtime 11 p.m.
3–6 ounces salmon
1 small baked sweet potato
1 cup cooked broccoli, zucchini, carrots

Do you hydrate enough?

You may have heard that drinking more water can help you lose weight. But did you know water can help keep your metabolism moving? About 55–60 percent of your body weight is water, and you lose it through sweat, urination, and respiration.

Although your body is smart at regulating the amount you need in order to keep your body temperature stable, eventually you need to drink up to make sure your cells are hydrated adequately. Research shows that when you’re dehydrated, your cellular functions slow down. Because on the inside, your body isn’t working the best it can, without enough water, you experience fatigue both mentally and physically.

How do you stay hydrated? The old 8 x 8 rule — eight 8-ounce glasses of water per day — is somewhat outdated. In 2004, The Institute of Medicine (IOM) released adequate intake daily recommendations of 91 ounces for women and 125 ounces for men. These numbers are meant to reflect total water intake, including about 80 percent from beverages, including caffeinated ones, and 20 percent of fluids from foods.

Keep in mind that your needs will vary greatly, depending on factors such as exercise, the climate where you live, and how much you sweat. Many do not get the water they need. Here are tips on how to do so:

  • Drink at least 20 ounces with meals, 8 ounces with snacks: Or carry water with you to drink every 1–2 hours throughout the day. Pay attention to when your body feels thirsty; at the first signs, it’s telling you that you’re already about 2 percent dehydrated. Also, it is common to confuse thirst with hunger, so it’s important to stay hydrated to prevent overeating.

  • Is drinking plain water unappealing? Add lemon or cucumber slices for flavor, or one of the all-natural water enhancers on the market. In general, skip sports drinks because they contain added sugar (they can be helpful for athletes exercising at high intensity for 60+ minutes).

  • Choose foods with high water content: It’s not called watermelon for nothing. Fruits like melons and veggies like leafy greens contain a large percentage of water that help you get a dose of hydration plus additional valuable vitamins and minerals.

  • Replace your fluids: When exercising, you want to make sure you’re hydrating properly to keep your energy high. Aim to drink about 8–10 ounces every 15 minutes. If you’re working out intensely, weigh yourself before and after you exercise and drink 16 ounces for every pound lost through sweat.

  • Alcohol in moderation: Drinking alcohol can be dehydrating and can also affect your body’s ability to metabolize food. When you drink alcohol, your liver works on breaking down alcohol first before any nutrients. If you choose to drink, do so in moderation, which means 1 drink per day for women, 2 for men.

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