This time of year, you may be thinking about setting health and fitness goals. You’re not alone. Research shows Americans’ top New Year’s resolutions all have to do with a healthier new year: lose weight, eat better, and exercise more.
But not everyone succeeds. Many people get a burst of motivation at the beginning of the year - that doesn’t last. Or, people focus on one aspect of health, like getting more exercise, but neglect other factors, and don’t end up feeling any better.
What’s the solution? Getting to know your metabolism.
Improving your metabolic flexibility – how quickly your body can adapt to changes in diet or energy demand – can help you maintain weight loss, improve workout performance, get better sleep, reduce stress, and feel more energized.
By getting to know your metabolism, you’ll also gain a better understanding of the personalized nutrition you need.
Ready? Let’s get started.
You may know that metabolism is how bodies convert food into energy to use now or store for later. And perhaps you’ve looked for foods that increase metabolism or methods to boost your metabolism generally. But what you might not know is that metabolic flexibility will help you reach your health and wellness goals - and that you can increase yours.
Why focus on metabolism? An unhealthy metabolism puts you at a greater risk of weight gain, high blood pressure, and metabolic syndrome, and may eventually lead to heart disease and type 2 diabetes. In fact, 88% of Americans and 1 in 3 UK adults are considered metabolically unhealthy.
Creating a flexible metabolism helps your body become strong, healthy, and resilient so you can burn the food you eat for energy, instead of storing it as fat
Over 10 million people enter “New Year’s resolution weight loss” related Google searches every January. But despite that surge of motivation, it can be hard to see resolutions throughout the entire year.
Many still miss the opportunity to make real changes to their health and dive into metabolism tracking according to Ulrike Kuehl, Head of Nutrition at Lumen. Why? They’re overlooking these four “crucial, make-or-break sustainable weight loss principles:
Here’s how to set the groundwork to achieve your New Year's weight loss resolutions.
One of the best things you can do for your long-term health is to set realistic goals in the short term.
“We see the same repeating phenomena every year, where people’s expectations regarding how much weight they are going to lose, and how fast it will take, is unrealistic. And that often leads to giving up on their weight loss goals too soon,” Kuehl explains. But, “it's actually the gradual ones that lead to a sustainable weight loss for the long run.”
How to tell the difference? Programs that promise quick results probably won’t last. Instead, expect to lose weight gradually, for better long-term results.
The best weight loss plan for you is one that you can live with, happily, for the long run. It should be dynamic and change over time, even day-to-day. After all, we’re not static individuals — our diets shouldn’t be either.
"In order to really personalize your weight loss plan,” says Mia Johanna Dige, Lumen’s onboarding expert, “you need first to assess your current metabolic health, taking into consideration your current nutrition habits, including your smoking and alcohol consumption and your regular eating timings. Integrate how much you normally move during daytime as well as your night sleep quality and stress levels.".
When making big lifestyle changes, it’s important to prepare your environment for success including:
We recommend learning how to recreate healthier versions of your favorite meals. These go-to meals should be tasty, and easy to prepare and their ingredients should be added to your weekly shopping list.
Consistent, positive feedback on your efforts is another key to success. Many people track their progress by looking at the numbers on the scale, but you should also evaluate your morning energy levels. Note what you’ve eaten (and when) as well as how you’ve slept, and notice how those factors affect your energy
“A metabolically flexible person wakes up more often burning fat and shifts easily to burning carbs after eating without storing it as body fat.” says Mia Johanna Dige, Lumen’s onboarding expert.
Consider these points to help you improve your energy:
Guidance and encouragement go a long way when making a radical change to our lifestyle habits, especially when daily objectives drift and you need to get back on track. Having the support of your family and friends is a great advantage. Joining an online forum with people that share the same goals as yours has also proven to be very effective.
Encouragement also goes a long way when making a radical change to our lifestyle, especially when you get off track. Consider joining online forums with people that share the same goals as yours. You’ll also be able to get your questions answered.
“Having a space where you can get support as well as share your concerns and seek lifestyle advice is highly important when aiming to achieve your health goals." Says Alon Rosh, Community Manager at Lumen. "But best of all - after a few years, many existing community members become active in supporting newcomers with their journey which is simply heartwarming.”
You won’t always be able to stick to your plan perfectly. You may have an event where you can’t control the food served, a busy day that keeps you from the grocery store, or an illness that keeps you from working out.
That’s okay. It doesn’t mean your journey to better health is over, or that you won’t have a healthy lifestyle. The trick is to not get discouraged, but just to begin again the next day.
While metabolically-balanced nutrition is key for sustainable weight loss, you can also use metabolic movement hacks for more energy when you work out to get greater results.
“If you’re like me, you always want to know what’s the best fuel before a workout,” says personal trainer Niko Algieri, who advises using Lumen before a workout to figure out if you need extra carbs to be properly fueled. And personal trainer Amoila Cesar adds, “I can measure after a workout, so I know how my metabolism is working.”
The best workout, above all, is one that you enjoy. If you dread doing it, you probably won’t.
Experiment to find what you do like. If you want to improve your cardiovascular health but dislike the treadmill, try dance, team sports, trail running, biking, hiking, boxing, etc. If you want to build muscle, but can’t stand the gym, try bodyweight exercises, barre, pilates, and yoga, which can all help you get stronger.
Keep experimenting until you find something you enjoy.
“When you actually enjoy something,” says Lumen Coach Cynthia, “you’re most likely to remain consistent, and consistency should be your number one focus to getting positive results from exercise.”
Stumped about what to eat before and after workouts? Preworkout carbs like a sweet potato, a banana, or a smoothie will provide the fuel your muscles need to power through, but being metabolically flexible will also help your body transition from burning carbs to fat. Metabolic flexibility helps ensure you’re getting the best nutrition for good performance, while also optimizing for weight loss.
Many experts recommend creating a reliable habit to get your workouts in - so maybe you run first thing in the morning, or hit your favorite exercise class on your way home from work.
But even if your time is limited, moving your body is vital for developing and maintaining a healthy metabolism. So start small, if that’s all you have time for, or consider making changes to your schedule to fit it in. Aim to exercise at least 30 minutes, three times per week at a minimum. If you struggle to exercise consistently, you can still make conscious choices to get in more movement every day.
How can you tell your fitness is improving? You may notice improvements in your physical endurance and body composition. Your run might feel easier, or your clothes might fit better. Regular movement is great for your mental health too, so you may find yourself handling stress better, having more energy, or even smiling more.
Getting in tune with your metabolism — knowing how, when, and what to eat — can also help ensure you’re burning the right amount of carbs or stored body fat for your health goals.
Sleep and boosting your metabolism are intricately connected. If you struggle with sleep, you may find it difficult to improve your metabolic health. And if you’re metabolically unhealthy, you may not sleep well.
According to Noa Shani, one of Lumen’s metabolic coaches, “Sleep deprivation can actually cause changes in your glucose levels, metabolism, and hormonal function.”
But that’s not all. “There is a very strong correlation between food, digestion, and sleep,” explains sleep expert Dr. Michael Breus. “Eating at the right time can facilitate a night of good and restorative sleep.”
So if you improve your metabolism, you’ll improve your sleep - and vice versa.
Most people need at least 7 hours each night for optimal health. Plus, Lumen found that their users who get at least 7-9 hours of sleep each night lose more weight and are more active than those who get just 4-6 hours per night.
“Ideally, your body will use carbs throughout the day,” explains Dr. Breus, “Then, in the evening, when you are resting, your body should shift into fat-burning mode and use fat as fuel to support healthy rest.”
Though you may want to lose weight and exercise more, the real goal behind those resolutions might be to become more energetic and less stressed.
Metabolic flexibility is probably still the key to both. According to Dr. Caroline Leaf, a cognitive neuroscientist who works with Lumen, metabolic flexibility contributes to “better overall health, better stress management, and feeling more energized and less sluggish.”
Follow these Tips by Lumen Experts
Striving to meet extreme health goals may seem like the right choice, but pushing yourself beyond your limits can do more harm than good for your mental health — and may backfire anyway.
“Our bodies are able to handle stress well,” explains Lumen expert Noa Shani, “but only in small doses. Once it becomes more persistent it can actually wreak havoc on our health.” She explains that prolonged stress can contribute to weight gain, poorer diet choices, and being less active.
Why does stress have this effect? Stress decreases your metabolic flexibility, making it more difficult for your body to burn fat for fuel - which can leave you feeling tired and unmotivated, and craving sugar or carbs.
Food is powerful, and the food choices you make can even affect your brain. Choose nutrient-rich, high-quality, minimally processed foods as often as you can. Here are our top choices for focus, mood, and energy:
New Year’s Resolutions present a great opportunity to kickstart healthy habits, and metabolic flexibility offers a way to work toward all of your health goals at once. The best part? You have the power to improve your metabolic flexibility.
But, like any radical change, there are a few “make or break” principles to be aware of - like the importance of nutrition, movement, sleep, and stress management.
Incorporating all four of these principles into your life can help you become more metabolically flexible, making it easier to achieve your health goals.
We hope these tools help you make 2024 your healthiest year yet. We’d love to help!
Araújo J, Cai J, Stevens J. Prevalence of Optimal Metabolic Health in American Adults: National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 2009-2016. Metab Syndr Relat Disord. 2019;17(1):46-52. doi:10.1089/met.2018.0105
National Health Service. Metabolic syndrome. December 3, 2019. Accessed December 14, 2022. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/metabolic-syndrome
Tahrani AA, Morton J. Benefits of weight loss of 10% or more in patients with overweight or obesity: A review. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2022;30(4):802-840. doi:10.1002/oby.23371
Smiley A, King D, Bidulescu A. The Association between Sleep Duration and Metabolic Syndrome: The NHANES 2013/2014. Nutrients. 2019;11(11):2582. Published 2019 Oct 26. doi:10.3390/nu11112582
Travica N, D'Cunha NM, Naumovski N, et al. The effect of blueberry interventions on cognitive performance and mood: A systematic review of randomized controlled trials. Brain Behav Immun. 2020;85:96-105. doi:10.1016/j.bbi.2019.04.001
Mancini E, Beglinger C, Drewe J, Zanchi D, Lang UE, Borgwardt S. Green tea effects on cognition, mood and human brain function: A systematic review. Phytomedicine. 2017;34:26-37. doi:10.1016/j.phymed.2017.07.008
Our Lumen editorial desk includes an in-house team of certified and registered nutritionists and dietitians, scientists, researchers, and writers.