Are you there, metabolism? It's me, warm foods.

When a patient comes into my office with difficulty losing weight, the first question I always ask is, "what have you been trying?" Nine times out of ten the answer consists of the same foods: smoothies, protein shakes, salad, and lots of ice water.

These foods have a reputation as "diet foods" because they are high in fiber, low in calories, and (in the short term) work.  Extreme calorie restriction can be incredibly effective if you need to lose weight quickly, but eating this way for an extended period of time is hard on the digestive system and can damage your metabolism. 

All of the following are signs that your digestion is not functioning optimally: 

  • Bloating*
  • Gas
  • Gurgling sounds from your stomach or bowels
  • Water Retention
  • Loose stools*
  • Constipation
  • Undigested food in your stool*
  • Sleepiness after eating*
  • Food Cravings
  • Tiredness or weakness*
  • Easily bruising*

In particular, if you experience the symptoms marked with an asterisk you are lacking in what I call "digestive fire."

What is “Digestive Fire?”

From a Chinese medicine perspective I compare a healthy metabolism to a wood fired furnace.  If the furnace is functioning optimally, logs (food) burn completely and evenly.  The furnace puts out consistent heat (energy), and wood is entirely digested, ending as nothing but ash. 

In a western sense, your metabolism is calculated as the number of calories you require to function.  Scientists measure this literally as how much heat your body puts out in a 24 hour period - how bright your digestive fire is burning. 

If you want to lose weight without slowing your metabolism, it is critical to keep your digestive fire burning as brightly as possible. 

How can you rev that bad boy up?

If you give a furnace good quality dry wood it will grow brighter and stronger.  Conversely if you feed it wet green wood it will spit and begin to die down. 

Warm cooked foods, such as baked sweet potatoes and steamed vegetables, burn easily, like dry wood, and act as kindling to rev up your digestive fire. Cold raw foods, such as salads and smoothies, are the equivalent of green wood - they are difficult to process and slow down your metabolism. 

Did you notice that the majority traditional "diet" foods fall into the latter category?  Most patients I see with a weak digestive fire are frustrated with their bodies.  They feel as though they are doing everything right (yogurt! salad! protein shakes!), but still the weight won't budge. When they switch to a diet that nurtures their digestive fire, their metabolism speeds up, and weight begins to come off. 

Sound like you? This week I'm challenging you to switch to warm foods.  We're going to build up that fire and restore your metabolic function.  For just one week, try consuming foods that are always room temperature or above and cooked (this includes beverages - no more iced coffee!). Some foods that are especially good at helping to rebuild a damaged metabolism are:

Foods that damage a weak metabolism

  • Cold foods
  • Raw foods
  • Dairy
  • Excess sugar
  • Excessive fats and oils

Foods to build a weak metabolism:

(All to be consumed warm)

  • Rice
  • Barley
  • Oats
  • Adzuki beans
  • Broth (particularly bone broth)
  • Root vegetables (sweet potatoes, beets, etc)
  • Aromatic foods (garlic, onions)
  • Mushrooms
  • Leeks
  • Squash
  • String beans
  • Sesame seeds
  • Carrots
  • Warming spices (ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg)
  • Eggs
  • Chicken
  • Shrimp
  • Miso

The Challenge


This week is all about regulating your metabolism.  Commit to a warm food diet - nothing below room temperature, nothing processed, and nothing raw - for at least a week.  Drink plenty of (room temp or warm!) water and you'll start to notice decreased bloating, more consistent and formed bowel movements, and more even energy levels.

*The information provided in this article is not meant to diagnose, treat, or otherwise replace the advice of a licensed health professional. For personalized diet recommendations please make an appointment here