Take our Quiz
L
Lifestyle

Cynthia Thurlow explains how to build long-lasting habits to improve your metabolic health

by Cynthia Thurlow · June 06, 2024 · 7 minute read

Cynthia Thurlow is a nurse practitioner, CEO, founder of the Everyday Wellness Project, and an international speaker. With over 20 years of experience in health and wellness, Cynthia is a global expert in intermittent fasting and nutritional health. Today, she is joining us on the Lumen blog to discuss how to build habits that improve our metabolic health. Let’s dive in!

Build small habits over time

Many people don’t understand that we need time to make sustainable lifestyle changes, and new habits can take three to six weeks to stick. This is why I don’t recommend making too many changes too quickly. Start small and build up from there. For example, you might commit to going to bed 30 minutes earlier every night because you understand how important it is to rest and repair your mitochondria.

Once you have gotten to a point where you are going to bed 30 minutes earlier, seeing improvement in your blood sugar, or noticing improvements on tools like your Lumen, then you can move on to the next thing. You might commit to doing yoga twice a week or strength training three times a week while slowly building those habits.

Below, I go over four new habits you can start with. Begin with one and take it from there.

Forgo “food monogamy”

Our body processes three types of macronutrients — carbs, protein, and fat — to produce energy and keep us functioning optimally. A balanced diet with all three macronutrients is vital for weight loss, insulin sensitivity, glycogen balance, and building and maintaining muscle mass.

I encourage my patients and clients to add some variety to the macros they eat, opt for what’s seasonal, go to the farmer’s market, shop at their local grocery store, and aim for 30 types of plants, including herbs and spices, in a given week.

In my practice, I talk a great deal about food monogamy. This means consuming the same foods over and over again because, intrinsically, we gravitate towards the same five to ten foods weekly. So when there’s more variety in our diet — whether from textures or colors — it is more appealing. It tends to be more satiating, and we are more likely to get the proper macronutrient and micronutrient profile. 

In many instances, we feel a degree of pleasure in our food, and we don’t get bored. Boredom is what ultimately drives food cravings and poor food decisions.

Foods that help metabolism

Get in the habit of tracking your macros

Macronutrient balance is foundational to long-term metabolic health and weight loss. Let’s dive deeper into macros and their connection to metabolic health.

Protein

Protein is your go-to for satiety and blood sugar regulation. It’s also crucial for maintaining and building muscle mass. The reason protein keeps you fuller for longer is because it reduces the amount of the hunger hormone ghrelin. It also boosts the levels of peptide YY, a hormone that makes you feel full [1, 2]

Building muscles is important because they are packed with mitochondria, your energy production powerhouses. More muscle mass means increased fat burn at rest and a quick shift to carb burn when you need a little boost, which are both measures of metabolic health.

Aim to consume adequate amounts of protein throughout the day. 30-40g minimum of protein per meal is a good starting point, and you should strive for at least 100g of protein daily. Once you’ve mastered that, eat one gram of protein per pound of ideal body weight [3]. For example, if you’re 180lb but want to reach 150lb, build up your protein intake to 150g. 

Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates drive a lot of confusion and may be the most confounding of macronutrients. Intrinsically, carbohydrates are not bad. Obviously, the processed varieties are the ones that we want to limit or eliminate. Those are things like bread, pasta, cakes, and cookies. But I like to focus on nutrient-dense carbohydrates — things like low-glycemic berries and citrus fruit.

Focus on green leafy veggies and other non-starchy vegetables, and add root vegetables depending on your degree of physical activity. If you tolerate grains, look at a more hearty grain, like brown rice, or seeds, like quinoa. Ensure that you’re not having your carbs naked. In other words, pair your protein with healthy fats or carbohydrates.

If you are a woman in menopause or perimenopause, you have to be conscious about your carb portions. I generally suggest no more than 30 grams per meal. And if you have a metabolic condition like insulin resistance or type 2 diabetes, you want even less. Reduced insulin sensitivity leads to unstable blood sugar levels, including blood sugar drops at night that disrupt sleep.

Boost metabolism and burn fat

Fats

Add healthy fats to your protein for increased satiety. If you eat lean cuts of fish, steak, or poultry, pair them with healthy fats like nuts, seeds, avocado, coconut oil, or butter. If you’re consuming a fattier piece of meat, fish, or poultry like duck, salmon, or ribeye steak, then you already have plenty of healthy fats in the meal.

MCT oil is an excellent oil to add to your meals, smoothies, or coffee. MCT oil is a medium-chain triglyceride that helps regulate blood sugar and metabolism and boost mental clarity. It is processed differently than long-chain triglycerides because it goes directly to the liver and can be used as an instant energy source or turned into ketones.

Find ways to relax and unwind

Our autonomic nervous system is made up of parasympathetic and sympathetic responses. The former is all about rest and repair, and the latter jumps into action when a rabid animal is chasing us down. Finding a balance between both systems is crucial. 

When we’re looking for long-term sustainable weight loss, stress management is foundational. If we’re chronically stressed with high cortisol and can’t catch our breath, our mitochondria will become overworked and over-dependent on carbs for fuel; over time, they forget how to burn fat.

Not only will we be unable to digest our food correctly, but we also won’t be unable to balance cortisol, blood glucose, and insulin. This is why finding hobbies and things that bring us joy is very important. Connection to people and nature can induce oxytocin, which can help lower cortisol.

Having a calming nighttime routine can also help with cortisol balance. If you go to bed stressed, you are more likely to wake up with a cortisol jump, which can dysregulate your blood sugar and contribute to nighttime waking. 

Ensure you have some downtime before bed and decompress by putting your legs up against a wall, doing gentle yoga, meditating, reading a book, or taking a hot bath.

Speed up your metabolism

See if intermittent fasting is right for you

While intermittent fasting is a fantastic strategy that can trigger mitochondrial reproduction and improve fat-burn efficiency, it’s not for everyone. Many factors come into play when deciding if it’s an appropriate approach for you as an individual.

Number one, are you a male or a female? Number two, what stage of life are you in if you are a female? Are you in your peak fertile years, perimenopausal, or in menopause? Fasting may look different in each one of these stages.

Lumen’s soon-to-be-published research paper showed that menopausal women experience limited morning fat burn, which indicates reduced metabolic flexibility. Healthy, well-rested mitochondria should burn fat in the morning since fat is preferred to carbs when fasting or resting. The research also observed that hormone replacement therapy (HRT) helps women in menopause move into morning fat burn, indicating improved metabolic flexibility.  

Women in menopause are more like men and don’t have as many hormonal fluctuations throughout the day. Therefore, menopausal women tend to have the easiest time with intermittent fasting if they’re eating an anti-inflammatory diet, sleeping through the night, and managing their stress.  

Number three is about identifying how much other stress you have in your life. If you’re chronically stressed and not sleeping, it’s not the time to add more hormetic stress. Hormetic stress is beneficial stress in the right amount and at the right time.

Make your first habit change

Reflect on the benefits of making each change — whether tracking your macros, managing stress, or intermittent fasting — and connect with family members and friends who can help support these efforts. This is where having a buddy or an accountability partner can be very helpful.

With the breadth of information available online from social media, well-meaning fitness influencers, podcast hosts, and healthcare providers, there can be tremendous confusion about what’s right for you compared to someone else. I think it’s helpful to align yourself with one or two individuals whose information resonates with you.

References

[1] Blom, W. A., Lluch, A., Stafleu, A., Vinoy, S., Holst, J. J., Schaafsma, G., & Hendriks, H. F. (2006). Effect of a high-protein breakfast on the postprandial ghrelin response. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 83(2), 211–220. https://doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/83.2.211

[2] Batterham, R. L., Heffron, H., Kapoor, S., Chivers, J. E., Chandarana, K., Herzog, H., Le Roux, C. W., Thomas, E. L., Bell, J. D., & Withers, D. J. (2006). Critical role for peptide YY in protein-mediated satiation and body-weight regulation. Cell Metabolism, 4(3), 223–233. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cmet.2006.08.001 

[3] Stokes, T., Hector, A., Morton, R., McGlory, C., & Phillips, S. (2018). Recent perspectives regarding the role of dietary protein for the promotion of muscle hypertrophy with resistance exercise training. Nutrients, 10(2), 180. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu10020180 

Cynthia Thurlow

Cynthia Thurlow is a nurse practitioner, CEO, founder of the Everyday Wellness Project, and an international speaker, with over 9.6 million views for her second TEDx talk (Intermittent Fasting: Transformational Technique). With over 20 years of experience in health and wellness, Cynthia is a global expert in intermittent fasting and nutritional health and has been featured on ABC, FOX5, KTLA, and Entrepreneur.