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

Over the next couple of decades, Puig gained weight, but to drop the pounds, she needed only a couple of extra sessions at the gym, some attention to portion size or a short Weight Watchers stint. Then, at age 52, she shot up to 175. “My clothes were tight, my arms and legs looked thick, and my stomach was hanging over my belt,” she says. None of her old weight-loss tactics worked. “I couldn’t understand what was happening to me,” she says.

The time for professional help arrived in September 2011 when Puig stepped on a scale and it hit 179. She hired Lauren Slayton, a registered dietitian and the founder of Foodtrainers, a New York City nutrition-counseling service. Reviewing her new client’s food log, Slayton immediately spotted a dietary villain: sugar. Puig gobbled Jolly Ranchers throughout the day and also regularly ate simple carbohydrates—which are basically sugar—in the form of pasta and rice.

Slayton swapped those offenders for foods that have a lower glycemic load (your GL is a number that estimates how much eating a certain food will raise your blood glucose level). Her suggestions included legumes, such as cannellini beans; whole grains, such as quinoa and brown rice; gluten-free pasta and bread; and nonstarchy fruits and veggies.

These low-glycemic-load foods are the utility infielders of weight loss. They kick up your metabolism by burning “hotter” than simple sugars and carbs, says Katz. This means your body must spend more calories to convert them into fuel, so the part of your metabolism that’s devoted to digesting food—what scientists call TEF, the thermic effect of food—is revved up. Furthermore, low-glycemic foods keep sugar levels steady, so you avoid the insulin spikes that can stimulate hunger. 

Puig’s diet from Slayton allows four servings of simple carbs a week, but these days Puig often skips them. “I don’t have those cravings anymore,” she says. Instead, she finds fullness in the roster of healthy fats that have been added to her diet: avocados, tuna in olive oil, whole eggs and yogurt with 2 percent fat. She has also integrated into her diet nutritionally rich superfoods such as green tea, chia seeds and shredded coconut. All show some evidence of boosting metabolism slightly.

Forty pounds lighter than she was just over a year ago, Puig says, “I feel like my body is running the way it should. I can honestly say that when I look in the mirror, I like what I see.”

Ashley Loging's Secret: More Muscle

Age: 35

Height: 5’8”

Used to weigh: 190 lb.

Now weighs: 135 lb.

Like the smoker who’s so good at quitting she’s done it a dozen times, Ashley Loging was a pro at losing weight. “I put 30 pounds on my hips with my first child and 30 pounds on my butt with my second,” she says. Each time, she explains, her weight-loss plan consisted of spending up to two hours a day “killing myself” on the treadmill and “starving myself” on 1,100 calories a day. She never ate breakfast and often skipped lunch, especially if she was meeting friends for dinner. That approach worked, but only temporarily. Loging would drop 15 or 20 pounds, then gain it back a couple of months later, a cycle that repeated itself a half dozen times.

According to experts, Loging was trapped in a doomed war with her metabolism. Skipping meals frequently puts your body into preservation mode, so it’s likelier to store calories as fat than to burn them, says Joy Dobust, PhD, RD, a Washington, D.C., nutritionist and a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Loging found a better strategy four years ago, when she signed up with Rick Kattouf, a fitness and nutrition coach who was training her husband for a triathlon. Kattouf changed Loging’s regimen radically. He slashed her cardio sessions to 30 minutes a day and added 30 to 40 minutes of weight training six days a week.

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