Can you really reset your metabolism?

Much has been said about hitting the reset button on your metabolism, but is there really such a thing? 

From drinking green juices in the morning to potentially dangerous new supplements, there seems to be a grand new claim about how to ‘boost’ your metabolism every week. I’m not immune to the pull of wellness trends myself; I’ve been sucked into the whole ‘clean eating’ rhetoric after too many hours on TikTok, thinking that it’ll give my system a reboot, my skin a glow and my health a boost.

The latest in a long line of fitness trends to hit my Instagram feed is the concept of ‘metabolic reset’. Popularised by former NFL player Steve Weatherford, who launched a diet followed by thousands tied to the idea, the notion aims to improve health, balance gut microbiome and increase energy.  

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But the metabolism – our body’s energy burning powerhouse – is more complicated and complex than you might think. And it certainly requires more than a one-step fix to keep it in optimal condition. So, can you really hit the ‘reset’ button on your metabolism?

Haleh Moravej, senior lecturer in nutritional sciences at Manchester Metropolitan University, doesn’t think so. “The idea of a metabolic reset may seem like a magic fix to boost metabolism, but there is no scientific evidence to support it,” she tells Stylist.

“Our metabolism is a complex system that breaks down food and drink into energy and essential molecules. Although our metabolic rate can change based on various factors, our genetics determine the overall functioning of our metabolism, and it cannot be easily reset.”

Functional medicine practitioner Sandra Ishkanes agrees that metabolic reset is probably a myth: “We can’t reset our metabolism in the same sense that we can reset a computer… but we can definitely optimise it. 

“Creating energy, removing toxins, producing hormones and dampening the fire of inflammation are all metabolic processes that require a huge variety of nutrients: fats, proteins, minerals, vitamins and phytonutrients that we have to obtain from what we eat.”

In other words, well-balanced nutrition is the cornerstone of a balanced metabolism. “In that sense, yes, we can optimise our metabolism by plugging the nutritional gaps that are creating roadblocks in biochemical pathways and causing our metabolism to go haywire, but we can’t reset it,” say Ishkanes. 

What actually is the metabolism?

Most of us don’t give our metabolism much more than a passing thought, but it’s a crucial and complex system that provides our bodies with energy for essential functions like regulating our hormones, digesting food and the energy to get out of bed. 

Moravej explains more: “The metabolism is a complex matrix of biochemical processes essential for normal bodily functioning and sustaining life.

“One of its primary functions is to break down the food and drink we consume into the energy and building blocks needed to grow and repair bodily tissues. Converting food into energy and other essential molecules is crucial for the body to perform its daily functions optimally.”

She also flags that it’s crucial for maintaining hormonal balance, as well as supporting the immune system, regulating body temperature, eliminating waste products and encouraging tissue repair.

Metabolic health is responsible for energy.

Then you’ve got the role it plays in disease prevention. Illnesses like type 2 diabetes are often called ‘metabolic disorders’, and that’s because it’s directly linked with our metabolic health, along with heart disease and obesity. 

What affects our metabolism?

“Our unique metabolic rate is influenced by age, gender, genetics and physical activity levels,” says Moravej. That’s why it’s so crucial to prioritise healthy eating habits, regular exercise and proper sleep.

“As women, it’s even more critical to significantly recognise the importance of nurturing our metabolism since hormonal fluctuations can impact metabolic rate.

“By embracing healthy lifestyle habits and prioritising self-care, we can ensure that our bodies have the necessary energy and building blocks to grow and repair tissues and support overall wellbeing.” 

Can you really ‘boost’ your metabolic health?

Research by the charity Heart UK shows that one in four adults in the UK have metabolic syndrome – a combination of diabetes and high blood pressure – showing that it’s always good to look after our metabolic health for optimal wellbeing, even if we can’t technically ‘reset’ it.

So, how best can we do that? Dr Ayesha Akbar, consultant gastroenterologist at The Princess Grace Hospital explains: “It’s best to avoid skipping meals – the body’s metabolism adapts to less intake quickly and will start to break down muscle for an energy source. Decreased muscle mass in turn will slow down your metabolism.

“Take up regular strength training exercises, which will help build muscle mass. It takes energy to build up and maintain muscle.” 

And as with any healthy living advice, make sure to get a balanced diet, says Dr Akbar: “Eat plenty of lean protein, fruit, vegetables and healthy carbs and fats.”

There are some specific foods that researchers have found specifically support a healthy metabolism. Foods high in selenium and iron are required for the proper functioning of the thyroid gland, which regulates your metabolism, so make sure to get protein, iron and selenium-rich meats and seafood, or if you’re vegetarian or vegan, you can get your fix with legumes, nuts and seeds. It’s also said that the caffeine in coffee will give your metabolism a bump, so feel free to revel in your triple shot mocha frappe. 

How to improve your metabolic health

Integrative health coach Arina Kuzmina shares her quick metabolic health takeaways

Eat according to your hunger rhythms

When we honour our hunger and eat according to our body’s cues, our metabolism increases as we’re getting just enough of the energy we need. This includes eating only when hungry and eating enough to feel full.

Build more muscle mass

Muscles use and require more energy than any other tissue in our body. Hence when we have more muscle mass, our basal metabolic rate goes up and we naturally spend more energy. 

Eat more protein

Protein is often the most overlooked macronutrient in our eating regime. However, it actually requires more energy to be digested than carbohydrates or fats. Protein causes the highest levels of the thermic effect of food (TEF – the amount of energy we use to digest the food itself), it requires around 20-30% of the energy it withholds to break down the complicated amino acids and hence temporarily increases your metabolism. 

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Be more active during the day

When we are sitting too much during the day, our passive energy expenditure goes up and multiple systems, including lymphatic, are not working as well as they could. Going for walks, even very short ones, helps to address this issue. 

Spice up your life

Including more spices into your meals, even the smallest amount, can improve your metabolism. For instance, cayenne pepper contains a phytonutrient called capsaicin, which has been proven to increase our energy expenditure. Try adding to your roasts, tray bakes or even soups.  

Images: Getty

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