When it comes to weight loss, there is so much conflicting advice about what to eat, when to eat it, and how big your meals should be. Six small meals a day or intermittent fasting? Low-fat or paleo? I’ve spent over 30 years sifting through the science, working with hundreds of thousands of clients, and cutting out the hype to discover what really works. Here are my metabolism-boosting shortcuts: what and when I eat in a day and why it works!
1. Eat within one to two hours of waking.
Breakfast determines the metabolic pace of your day. If you wait too long to eat your first meal, it can crash your metabolism and send your blood sugar on a roller-coaster ride. And when you skip breakfast altogether, you end up hungry, crabby, and craving sugar. Soon good judgment goes out the window, and you’re reaching for the nearest muffin or sugary pastry!
2. No snacking between meals.
Forget everything you’ve heard about eating six small meals a day—it’s essentially scheduled snacking! Eating every few hours or snacking between meals sets you up to be a sugar burner, especially if you’re eating carbs. Every time you put something in your mouth, your insulin levels spike. That sets off a cascade of hunger and stress hormones. Among the harmful effects, it signals your body to store unwanted fat, especially around your waist.
To become a fat burner, go four to six hours between meals. The key is to include what I like to call the "satiety trifecta" in every meal. ("Satiety" is the medical term for feeling full.) Adding fiber, healthy fats, and clean protein to your plate will ensure you feel fuller longer every time. The only exception to the four-to-six-hour rule is when you work out. You can always have half of a protein bar pre-workout or a protein shake afterward, even if it’s between meals.
3. Give yourself a 12- to 14-hour overnight fast.
The health and weight loss space has been buzzing about intermittent fasting (IF) lately. Potential health benefits from fasting include improved immune function, increased growth hormone, more energy, and fat loss. Unfortunately, there are some cons to IF if you have issues with your adrenals, stress, fertility, or blood sugar balance. I’ve also found women to be more sensitive to skipping meals than men. So obviously, IF is not for everyone.
My solution? Give yourself a 12- to 14-hour overnight fast to reap the amazing benefits of intermittent fasting without the drawbacks. You can easily accomplish this by closing the kitchen after dinner (at least three hours before bedtime), then having breakfast within one to two hours of waking.
4. Drink a TON of water.
A refreshing glass of ice water can boost your metabolism up to 30 percent and lower your appetite. That means sipping on H2O between meals can bust your snacking habit and help you get to the four-to-six-hour eating schedule faster. Studies have shown that even 1 to 2 percent dehydration can increase stress hormones, cause moodiness, fatigue, memory issues, and headaches. So, if you’re suffering from an energy crash or struck with cravings, grab some water and see how it makes you feel.
Even with water, timing is important: Avoid drinking 30 minutes before a meal and 30 minutes after, so you don’t dilute the digestive enzymes you need to break down your meal and absorb nutrients! Also, remember to stay away from those toxic plastic bottles, and stick with filtered water only.
Here's what a day looks like on my optimal metabolism diet.
Upon waking, I sip on a mug of hot water with lemon. In addition to helping immediately reverse overnight dehydration, the lemon cuts sugar cravings, alkalinizes your body, and helps lower blood sugar response to breakfast. One to two hours after I wake up, I have a smoothie with clean, lean protein powder, a handful of greens, berries, avocado, almond milk, and a dash of cinnamon and cayenne.
Protein maintains muscle and keeps me energized. The greens, berries, and avocado add vitamins and fiber while the creamy avocado also gives me some healthy, satiating fat. Almond milk is a great dairy-free milk swap, and cinnamon increases insulin sensitivity, which decreases the body’s tendency to store fat.
The capsaicin in cayenne pepper revs up my metabolism and helps keep my appetite under control. I also like to add a spoonful of L-glutamine powder, an amino acid that kicks up fat-burning, prevents muscle breakdown, and fights cravings.
Unsweetened green tea is a daily favorite, and I drink a large glass every morning. The catechins in green tea are powerful antioxidants that can lead to a decrease in body fat by increasing the production of fat-fighting enzymes. It also decreases inflammation, which can further prevent weight gain while fighting premature aging.
Sliced turkey roll-ups with red bell pepper strips, fresh baby spinach, and dairy-free almond ricotta make an easy lunch on the go. The turkey gives me lean, healthy protein while the red bell pepper is a great source of vitamin C. Fresh baby spinach is packed with vitamins and fiber, and the dairy-free ricotta is a great alternative to regular cheese, which can cause inflammation if you’re intolerant to dairy products.
A typical evening meal is grilled wild-caught salmon, wild rice, and steamed broccoli topped with grass-fed ghee. Salmon is a lean, clean protein packed with omega-3s, a natural anti-inflammatory. Wild rice is a slow-low carb that helps you feel full and burn fat. Broccoli is packed with nutrients and fiber, and it’s so good when cooked with grass-fed ghee, a great dairy-free, healthy fat. (Remember, you need fat to burn fat.) An hour before bedtime, I wind down my day with a large glass of water. It curbs my appetite, so closing the kitchen three hours before bedtime is super easy and involves zero willpower.
As you can see, rocking an awesome metabolism doesn’t have to be complicated. Want extra points? Make sure you get at least seven hours of quality sleep every night, and supercharge your metabolism even more with burst (high-intensity interval) training!
Plus, using these three ingredients in every meal is the secret to balanced blood sugar!
JJ Virgin, CNS, BCHN, is a celebrity nutrition and fitness expert who helps clients lose weight fast by breaking free from food intolerance. A certified nutrition specialist, board certified Holistic Nutritionist, and Certified Exercise Physiologist, she is the author of the New York Times best-sellers The Virgin Diet: Drop 7 Foods, Lose 7 Pounds, Just 7 Days and The Virgin Diet Cookbook: 150 Easy and Delicious Recipes to Lose Weight and Feel Better Fast.