Is your metabolism your body’s calorie-burning engine? While that’s how metabolism is often defined, it’s really an overly simplified definition. Your metabolic rate is the representation of the total sum of all the parts of YOU that are working in synergy. In other words, your metabolism has many complex roles and is influenced by your hormones, neurotransmitters and other chemicals in your body. My point here is that you can’t just speed up your metabolism by taking a pill or going for a run—it’s more complex than that.

Your metabolism refers to a series of chemical processes that happens in all of your cells. It’s happening while you sit and watch TV, while you are sleeping, and while you sit at your desk during the day. Most of the energy you burn is from basal, or resting, metabolism—this refers to all the actions happening in your cells to keep you humming along. It’s estimated that 60-80% of your total energy expenditure every day is from basal metabolism, rather than from physical activity.

What Determines My Metabolism Speed?

Metabolism varies from person to person. Even two people who are the same size can have very different metabolic rates. One may be able to eat with complete abandon and not gain weight, while the other needs to be more strategic about weight loss. Researchers are still working to discover all the factors that determine metabolic rate. What we do know is that your metabolism is influenced by the amount of lean muscle and fat in your body, your age and your genetics. Being a woman also matters because your metabolism fluctuates at different times of your menstrual cycle.  

Glands that Affect Your Metabolism

There are three glands you should be aware of when it comes to your metabolism: Your adrenal glands, your thyroid, and pancreas.

Glands are important organs in your body that do everything from regulating and secreting saliva, tears and breast milk, to creating and releasing hormones and other chemicals that can help your metabolism regulate stress, weight, and appetite. When the hormones produced by your adrenals, thyroid, and pancreas are out of balance it messes with your metabolism. So the first goal is to make sure that you get these three glands balanced and humming along. Let’s take a closer look.

The thyroid and adrenal glands are organs that are responsible for production and release of other hormones in your body, and are involved in regulating your metabolism which includes your weight and energy levels. Your thyroid, found at the base of your neck, is a critical gland for women because it produces hormones that regulate how your body burns calories, overall weight, energy, mood and more. Your adrenal glands—you have two, one on top of each of your kidneys—produce the stress hormones adrenaline (also called epinephrine and norepinephrine) and cortisol. Besides working to regulate and control weight imbalances and fertility, these hormones also affect your levels of stress, fatigue, anxiety and fertility.

Your pancreas produces the hormone insulin and other digestive enzymes that break down (metabolize) food, especially lipase which keeps fat balanced in your body. Your pancreas is nestled between your stomach and your spine, and partially behind your stomach. It’s about six inches long and shaped like a tadpole. In conventional medicine, the pancreas is frequently overlooked, but in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) your pancreas is seen as an essential digestive player.

My Top Metabolism-Boosting Tips

Avoid added sugars. This is the number one enemy to your metabolism. If your sugar intake is too high, the insulin produced in your pancreas can get off kilter and can lead to a sluggish metabolism. It helps to be alert to the amount of sugars in sweets, drinks, dressings, and sauces. Aim to limit your sugar intake to 25 grams (less than 3 teaspoons) per day.

Lower your salt intake. Keep your sodium intake to under 1500 mg per day. Salt influences how the hormone insulin works in your body, similar to sugar. Begin reading food labels. Sodium content is always listed on the label of packaged foods. Maximize fresh whole foods including meats, chicken, vegetables, and fruit to lower sodium.

Keep a fasting interval. This is an easy one because it’s mostly sleeping at night. Not eating for a certain number of hours is a good strategy for boosting your metabolism. Allowing your gut to rest prevents calorie overload. Extend your natural nightly fast for a few extra hours so that you don’t eat for 12-14 hours. This gives your body a chance to burn off stored calories—and fat! Treat your kitchen like a restaurant and give it “Open” and “Closed” times. Aim to shut down your kitchen at 6:00 p.m.—and keep it closed until between 6:00 and 8:00 the next morning!

Get some iron. Iron is needed for optimal thyroid function, and it helps your body to create nutrients, to carry oxygen to your cells, and can help burn fat. Consider adding 15-30 mg of elemental iron to your daily supplement regimen.

Take selenium. Selenium helps to keep your thyroid functioning properly, so consider adding 200 mcg as a daily dose.

Drink matcha. Green Tea has been shown to boost metabolism, but matcha has a leg up on green tea because it is the whole leaf of green tea ground into a powder. This makes matcha a powerhouse of green tea benefits including lots of antioxidants, especially catechin polyphenols which can stabilize blood sugar (insulin balance). It’s also high in fiber.

Get your B vitamins. These vitamins play a powerful, yet often misunderstood role in your health. They are key micronutrients involved in regulating all hormone pathways and neurotransmitters, meaning that these vitamins play a role in your weight and appetite regulation, energy, mood, and more. See below for my recommended amounts of the most important B vitamins:

  • B(thiamin), 25 mg and B(pantothenic acid), 50 mg: Helps your body convert food into fuel and metabolize fats and proteins
  • B(riboflavin), 25 mg: Also helps your body convert food into fuel
  • B(pyridoxine), 50 mg: Helps your body make neurotransmitters for normal brain development and function, stabilizes mood.
  • B12 (cobalamin), 1,000 mcg: Works to improve energy.
  • Folic acid, 800 mcg: Reduces the risk of birth defects, protects against anemia.
  • Biotin, 2,500 mcg: Works to strengthen and thicken hair and nails

Add L-carnitine to your supplement routine. This amino acid is naturally produced in your body to help generate energy. An L-carnitine supplement can help with leptin resistance or the inability to regulate appetite. I recommend that you take 1000 mg a day.