4 Ways to Make Over Your Metabolism

Starting in your 20s, your metabolism slows down by 2 to 4 percent a decade. But research says weight gain isn’t inevitable. Here’s how four women turned back the clock

by Shelley Levitt
woman on stairs image
Rita Tritter
Photograph: Ari Michelson

Kelly Boyer, who’d had a successful career in human resources, went back to school at age 38 to change fields—and ended up gaining the freshman 15. A lifelong foodie, she enrolled at Pasadena’s Le Cordon Bleu culinary school and was soon preparing dishes such as banana-hazelnut soufflé and braised lamb risotto with bucketfuls of butter and cream. At one point during the 18-month program, Boyer weighed 137 pounds, her all-time high. “I had a tire around my belly, breasts that had doubled in size from 32B to 34DD and ham hocks flopping from my upper arms,” Boyer says. “It was as if someone had flipped the metabolism switch to off.”

She tried several diets, including Weight Watchers, the Zone and Atkins. They all worked . . . kind of. “They’d get me down to 115, so I liked the way I looked,” she says. “But I was hungry all the time, and on diets where a big proportion of my calories was coming from beef, I felt as if my insides were dying.”

In the summer of 2005, after studying up on nutrition, Boyer stopped skipping breakfast (and sometimes lunch) and started a daily pattern of three small meals and two snacks. For example: ground turkey patty, poached egg and roasted broccoli for breakfast; apple slices with peanut butter for a late-morning snack; three ounces of grilled chicken with a white bean salad and asparagus for lunch; a few bites of hummus on cucumber wedges for a late-afternoon snack; and, for dinner, a four-ounce portion of steak and a big salad of arugula and tomatoes.

The strategy was a sound one. By spreading your total calories among frequent meals—without eating more overall—you supply your body with a steady stream of nutrients. This helps you avoid the spikes and dips in insulin levels that can make you drowsy at 3 pm or ravenous at 7. Those slumps often lead to poor food choices. “I’d get so hungry by 7 pm that I’d wolf down whatever I could get my hands on,” says Boyer.

Four months after she started eating mini meals, Boyer achieved her target weight of 108. She also had the energy to stick to a regular exercise program. In the past, she’d seesawed between two- to three-hour treadmill marathons at the gym and no exercise at all. “I used to be too tired to work out regularly,” she says. Now she exercises five days a week and builds high-intensity interval training into her 45-minute sessions (she runs at an I-can-barely-do-this pace for a minute every seven minutes). Those spurts help charge metabolism by increasing the number of mitochondria, the cell’s microscopic energy generators, and they burn fat nine times as effectively as endurance training.

As Boyer started looking tauter and more toned, many friends started asking for her secrets, so she drew on her culinary-school experience and launched Paleta (paleta.com), a meal-delivery business that focuses on fresh seasonal ingredients. Since its start in 2005, Paleta has served more than 15,000 clients.

Boyer says her mini meals and regular workouts have not only slimmed her but also soothed her. “I feel calmer and -smarter,” she says. “I feel more capable of making good decisions in everything from whether to add new services to my business to what kind of vacation to plan.”

Debbie Puig's Secret: No More Sugar 

Age: 53

Height: 5’2”

Used to weigh: 179 lb.

Now weighs: 139 lb.

In her midtwenties, Debbie Puig was an amateur body builder, entering local East Coast competitions in the middleweight division. She worked out four hours a day and followed a strict diet (one example she offers: “I’d weigh my lettuce”). Her weight was 125 to 133 pounds, with only 4 percent body fat. (A healthy range of body fat for women in their twenties is 21 to 32 percent.)

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