You’re working to maintain your healthy new weight. But there’s one important thing you need to know – just as your size shrinks after dropping kilos, so does your ability to burn calories. Learning what to expect and how to handle those metabolic changes are what will help you stay slim over the long-term, experts say.
1. Get on your feet
Standing, stretching, and walking throughout the day is crucial to keeping your system revved. “Every time you get up, your muscles activate, and within 90 seconds your cellular engines turn on,” says James Levine, M.D., Ph.D., a professor of medicine at Mayo Clinic and the author of Get Up! Set a timer on your phone or computer to remind yourself to walk around for 10 minutes every hour.
2. Exercise less but harder
Amp up your workouts with high-intensity interval training. A study in the Journal of Applied Physiology showed that women who performed high-intensity intervals on stationary bikes every other day for two weeks burned 36% more fat afterward than they did during a steady cycling workout. “Shorter bursts of intensity can increase mitochondria in the muscles, making it easier for the body to generate energy by metabolising fat for fuel,” explains lead study author Jason L. Talanian, Ph.D., an assistant physiology professor at the U.S.’s Fitchburg State University. On your next run, go fast for four minutes, then take a two-minute break; repeat seven times.
3. Time your coffee
Downing caffeine an hour before your workout will help you burn 15% more calories afterward, according to a study in the International Journal of Sports Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism. “Caffeine appears to raise the adrenaline levels in the body,” explains study author Valentin E. Fernandez-Elias, Ph.D., an exercise scientist at the University of Castilla-La Mancha in Spain. That causes you to expend more energy to blast calories, which in turn revs your metabolism.
4. Get up and get out
People who are exposed to bright light from morning have healthier BMIs than those who get more light exposure at other times of day, research found. Blue light, which is greater in the a.m., helps synchronise our circadian rhythms, keeping our appetite in check and our metabolism running. On the flip side, “Exposure to light in the evening may alter the hormones that regulate appetite and metabolism so that we eat more and burn fewer calories,” explains Phsyllis Zee, M.D., Ph.D., the director of the Northwestern Medicine Sleep Disorders Centre. Natural light is best, so go outside early.
5. Turn off your brain
Stress slows metabolism, a study in Biological Psychiatry revealed. People who eat high-fat meals torched 104 fewer calories when they were feeling tense. “Stress alters the mitochondria in our cells in a way that lowers our metabolic rate,” says Janice Kiecolt-Glaser, Ph.D., the director of the U.S.’s Institute for Behavior Medicine Research at the Ohio State University. Every day, schedule some downtime to focus on something you enjoy, like take a bike ride or spending time with friends.
6. Eat plenty of protein
If you don’t get enough of this macronutrient, you’ll be more likely to store any excess calories you eat as fat, according to a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. “Protein takes more energy for the body to digest than carbohydrates do, so if you eat the proper amount, you’ll burn more of the calories you consume overall,” explains study author Leanne Redman, Ph.D., an associate professor at Pennington Biomedical Research Center at Louisiana State University.