Convinced your slow metabolism is derailing your best weight-loss efforts? You may be right. Whether or not you’ve been officially diagnosed with a condition of the thyroid—the gland that regulates the T3 and T4 hormones affecting your metabolism—those hormones could be working against you, says Dr. Ridha Arem, an endocrinologist and author of The Thyroid Solution Diet: Boost Your Sluggish Metabolism to Lose Weight.
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“Even if the thyroid function is normal, when a person becomes overweight, the T3 hormone becomes more and more inefficient doing its job,” Arem says. “That will lead to a self-perpetuating cycle of weight gain.”
If you suspect a thyroid problem, ask your doctor to check the levels of your T3 and T4 hormones. But anyone who thinks they suffer from slow metabolism can benefit from Arem’s tips for keeping your body’s weight-related hormones running smoothly.
1. Start your day with egg whites and low-fat cheese. “They have specific proteins that are very helpful for balancing ghrelin,” a hormone that triggers hunger and spikes in the morning, says Arem.
2. Don’t eat soy more than three times a week. It contains two proteins that can interfere with thyroid function and slow metabolism. But don’t cut it out entirely, as it helps build muscle.
3. Exercise 5 days a week for 30 minutes. “People think the purpose of exercise is to burn extra calories, but the immediate effect is to boost metabolism,” Arem says. “You reach that peak effect about 20-30 minutes into your workout,” and then it lasts for at least several hours.
4. Filter your tap water. Tributyltin (TBT), a fungicide that can disrupt hormone production, and other pesticides can enter the water supply. Most won’t cause problems in the short-term, but long-term exposure can affect your endocrine system. To be safe, use a carbon filter.
5. Cook your veggies. Several vegetables, such as broccoli, spinach, kale and cauliflower, can slow metabolism if eaten raw in very large quantities. If they make up a large part of your diet (and they should!) make sure to consume at least some cooked.
6. Get 8 hours a sleep at night. No excuses—you should devote as much attention to good sleep you do to diet and exercise, Arem says, because it’s crucial to keeping your weight-loss hormones stable. If you’re suffering from chronic sleep problems, see a specialist ASAP.
7. Make time to relax. Stress hormones can wreak havoc and slow metabolism. You won’t get anywhere, Arem says, if you don’t truly prioritize relaxation, whether it’s yoga or another group exercise class, meditation or regular massages.
8. Serve up fish for supper. It’s packed with lysine, which fights stress and promotes fat burning—perfect for your last meal of the day.
9. Eat 4-5 times a day, at the same times each day. Have your meals and snacks on schedule to keep your hormones balanced and your metabolism efficient.
10. Buy organic when you can. Essential antioxidants are sometimes lost in processing non-organic foods. “It’s only one of the many factors—and the priority is the structure of the eating plan—but any time we can buy organic, we should,” Arem says.
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11. Work out in the evenings if possible. “I think exercise probably has the same benefit whenever you do it, but it also has a relaxing effect that is good for sleep,” Arem says.
12. Check your medications. Common prescriptions for diabetes, asthma, autoimmune disorders and depression can sometimes slow metabolism. Don’t stop taking anything until you’ve talked to your doctor, but he or she may be able to prescribe an alternative.
13. Sip on a detoxifying smoothie. Arem swears by a blend of citrus, strawberries, greens and garlic.
14. Eat raw fennel every morning. Chock-full of antioxidants, the bulb can also suppress your appetite and help you digest your breakfast.
15. Take a high-quality multivitamin, plus calcium, magnesium, omega-3s and probiotics daily. “The way the food industry works, many times antioxidants get lost in processing, so I am a believer in taking a well-balanced mix to make sure you’re getting what you need,” Arem says.
16. Save fruits and beans for earlier meals. Make dinner your meal with the lowest glycemic load and the highest amount of protein to avoid an insulin spike overnight. (More insulin signals your body to store fat.)
17. If you have to choose between a workout and sleep, go for sleep. Do everything you can to get those 30 minutes of exercise in, but on busy days when one or the other has to go, getting adequate sleep is more important, Arem says.