7 Bad Habits That Are Screwing Up Your Metabolism

If I had a quarter for every time I heard someone blame his or her weight gain on metabolism — well, I'd be pretty darn rich. But what exactly is metabolism?

Here’s the short answer: metabolism is just a measure of how quickly we convert calories into fuel, made up of many chemical reactions in our body. Take the liver, for instance. If that organ is clogged, it’ll be sluggish and inefficient, and it won’t help you burn fat.

We all want a fast metabolism, and we all know that a healthy, low-fat, low-sugar diet that helps build muscle mass and includes exercise can boost it. However, if you want to slow your metabolism, make it inefficient, have low energy, and keep those pounds on, you can probably practice any combination of the following bad habits:

1. You skimp on sleep.

Sleep has a direct effect on three hormones that regulate stress and appetite: cortisol, grehlin and leptin. When we sleep less, we have higher levels of cortisol and ghrelin, and decreased levels of leptin, which suppresses appetite and moderates energy balance.

2. You eat simple carbohydrates.

Simple carbohydrates (for example: bagels, candies, and cookies) don't contain nearly the same levels of vitamins, minerals and fiber as whole foods, so your body needs to tap into its own store, and that requires a lot of effort to digest. Simple carbs also create dramatic fluctuations in blood sugar levels.

3. You don't drink enough water.

Drink less than the recommended 8 to 10 glasses per day and you’ll be lethargic, unproductive and unable to focus.

4. You skip meals.

This is a terrible idea for a few reasons: (1) Your body will think you’re starving and lower your metabolism to conserve energy. (2) Your body will insist on making up those lost calories, so you might even overeat at the next meal. 3. You’ll become tired and irritable, and let’s face it, we don’t exactly make the best choices when we feel that way.

5. You stay stressed out.

I have a friend who asked me why she always rips into a bag of potato chips every night before dinner, even when she's not really hungry. There are layoffs at her job, and she's afraid she'll be the next one to get canned. Cravings for crunchy (and sometimes salty) foods are pretty common when you're stressed and anxious. Worse, chronic stress not only keeps us tossing and turning at night, but it also keeps those “fight-or-flight” hormones, like cortisol, flowing.

6. You eat processed foods.

Processed foods contain a lot of sugar, which interferes with that enzyme we all need for fat burning, lipase. Lipase is suppressed when blood sugar spikes. Processed foods also have a lot of salt, additives (like MSG) and other hormones which can actually interfere with the good, fat-burning ones. Sometimes, though, even healthy raw foods like broccoli, cabbage, peanuts and pine nuts can hinder fat burning. These raw foods contain chemicals called goitrogens, which can interfere with the way the thyroid processes iodine.

7. You eat a high-fat diet.

Fat is very hard to digest, and that interferes with your metabolic process. Ever eat a high fat dinner, then not feel like eating until early afternoon because you’re still digesting? Think about it: You’re skipping a meal or two, your body thinks it’s starving and slows (or shuts down) your metabolism. End of story.

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