Eat Well to Be Well: Seven ways to rev up your metabolism for weight loss

Have you ever wondered why some people can lose weight effortlessly while others struggle with it their whole lives? For those in the latter, they may blame it on their metabolism.

Metabolism, also known as basal metabolic rate (BMR), or simply metabolic rate, is the rate in which the body uses energy or calories to support keeping you alive – it’s all those involuntary things our bodies do without us even having to think about it – our heart beating, blood circulating, respiration, temperature maintenance, and nerve activity.

If you are someone who has tried numerous diets over the years yet still find it difficult to reach the weight you desire, it’s possible your metabolism might need a bit of a jump start. First realize there are various factors that can affect your metabolism:

  • Age – BMR is higher when young and slows down with age as lean muscle mass declines and is replaced with fat mass.
  • Body composition – The more muscle mass, the higher the BMR; men tend to have more muscle mass than women, thus men burn more calories and lose weight easier.
  • Fasting, starvation, malnutrition – These lower the BMR.
  • Thyroxine – This is a hormone produced by the thyroid gland which directly controls BMR. The less thyroxine produced, the fewer calories you burn.

Factors like age obviously cannot be changed, but there are other steps a person can take to improve their metabolism and help induce weight loss or at least prevent weight gain. When your metabolism is functioning properly, it can help reduce the likelihood of developing metabolic syndrome.

“A new study in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2015 reported that about one third of U.S. adults have metabolic syndrome,” said Dr. David Samadi, chairman of urology and chief of robotic surgery at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. “Metabolic syndrome is a collection of conditions that together increase the risk of heart disease and stroke. These conditions are high blood pressure, diabetes or high blood sugar, excess abdominal fat around the waist, and high cholesterol. When all these occur together or in some combination, the more your risk increases as well as the chance of developing other serious health conditions. Focusing on nurturing a healthy metabolism early in life can help you fight these conditions later.”

Here are steps to do on a daily basis that can get your body started on the road to being an efficient calorie-burning engine:

1. Eat breakfast – Eating breakfast literally helps to rev up your engine. While sleeping, everything in your body slows down including the rate at which you are burning calories. Once you wake up and you skip breakfast, your metabolism will be running on empty with nothing to help get it kick started. You’ll feel sluggish and by mid-morning you’ll be seeking out a sugary carbohydrate to keep you alert. Think of your metabolism sort of like a vehicle – if it’s running near empty, it won’t go far. Add fuel, and it’s ready to go. When you eat breakfast, it adds fuel to the body which helps speed up metabolism aiding in appetite control and feeling satisfied preventing that mid-morning hunger cycle.

2. Eat consistent meals – Eating consistent meals means trying to eat at regular times throughout the day. Breakfast, lunch, dinner and with one to three snacks depending on individual needs. By doing so, your body gets into a routine and can rely on being fed. Skipping meals frequently or having a chaotic meal pattern can lead to a slowed metabolism as the body thinks it’s going into a starvation mode making it hold onto extra weight since it doesn’t know when you’ll eat next.

Dr. Samadi suggested, “Try eating five or six small meals per day versus three big meals and eat approximately every three hours. Many people, when trying to lose weight, think starving themselves is going to do it. This will backfire. If your body doesn’t get enough nutrients, it automatically enters into starvation mode, working overtime, ultimately storing more fat.”

3. Eat at least 1,200 calories a day – Why 1,200? One reason is its very difficult to get in all the necessary nutrients needed daily on less than 1,200 calories and another reason is it eventually puts the brakes on your metabolism. Women should not go below 1,200 calories a day and men should not go below 1,500 calories a day. Crash dieting (less than 1,000 calories a day) may result in weight loss but it’s unsustainable as eventually your body thinks it’s in starvation mode, slowing your metabolism so you end up burning fewer calories. Not taking in enough calories can slow metabolism by as much as 30 percent. In addition, muscle mass is lost that is replaced with fat and fat mass burns less calories than muscle. Once you go off the crash diet and go back to eating normally, because of your metabolism being slowed down and reduced muscle mass, the weight comes right back on and then some.

“Did you know that over time if mistreated with yo-yo diets or rapid weight loss, our metabolism may become damaged?” Dr. Samadi said. “Luckily, with the right lifestyle changes, you can repair it. Your metabolism depends heavily on nutrition in order to produce energy. The way to start the repair process begins with ‘stoking the fire’, if you will, in order to pump up the ability to burn calories (and fat) for energy.”

How many calories should a person consume daily? This is based on age, gender, weight, height and physical activity amount. ChooseMyPlate.gov offers an easy guide for determining calorie levels to maintain your current weight or to move toward a healthier weight: www.choosemyplate.gov/myplate/. Generally, for a 1-2 pound weight loss a week, subtract 500-1,000 calories from the daily calorie level that maintains your weight.

4. Build muscle – There are two ways to do this, strength training, and consuming sufficient protein evenly distributed throughout the day.

Strength training means lifting weights. Weightlifting helps to slow down or reverse muscle loss associated with aging. Maintaining muscle mass is critical for maintaining metabolism as muscle tissue requires more calories to function than fat tissue. This is one of the reasons people tend to gain weight as they age because of reduced muscle mass. Each pound of muscle will burn about six calories a day in sustaining itself compared to each pound of fat which burns only two calories a day. Therefore people with more muscle mass will tend to burn more calories even at rest.

Sufficient protein intake at every meal is another important factor in keeping your metabolism running well. Digesting protein requires more calories than does fat or carbohydrates which can speed up metabolism slightly. It’s best to spread intake of protein evenly as possible over each meal – 25-30 grams of protein at breakfast, lunch and dinner is ideal – that way your body has available amino acids to help build muscle throughout the day. Excellent sources of protein include lean beef, poultry, fish, eggs, low-fat dairy, nuts, beans and tofu.

5. Aerobic exercise every day – Aerobic exercise is physical exercise of low to high intensity that gets your heart rate elevated for a sustained length of time such as jogging or walking. You may not build big muscles with aerobic exercise but even hours after an exercise session, your metabolism will still be humming along at a higher rate burning off more calories. The more intense you make the workout, the more sizable and longer the rise in metabolic rate will be than with low-to-moderate intensity workouts. At least 30 minutes every day of aerobic exercise is recommended, but up to 60 minutes or more may be necessary to shift weight loss into a higher gear.

6. Add some spice to your meals – If you can take the heat, adding some spicy ingredients may be just the answer to taking your metabolism up a notch – at least temporarily. The compound responsible for giving spicy foods like chili peppers their fiery flavor is capsaicin. Capsaicin helps to generate heat, raising body temperature and helping to slightly raise metabolism. The rise in metabolism is not a lot, about eight percent, but that is higher than non-spicy foods offer. Some studies have shown that eating spicy foods increases the feeling of fullness and may work as an appetite suppressant. Consider trying out jalapenos, habaneros, cayenne, garlic and chili peppers to help accelerate metabolism.

7. Drink water to boost metabolism – We all know water is necessary to keep hydrated but when it comes to stepping up metabolism, it’s the best drink around. Studies have found drinking one to two cups of water before a meal can create a fuller feeling resulting in eating less food.

“Drinking enough water is important for keeping your metabolism burning all day,” Dr. Samadi said. “German researchers have found that after drinking about 17 ounces of water, study subjects’ metabolic rates increased by about 30 percent. Small changes like this will begin to repair any damage your metabolism has suffered over the years.”

Another factor that could be hurting BMR is dehydration. A report in 2013 found that up to 75 percent of Americans may have chronic dehydration, often due to reaching for sugary beverages instead of water, and not eating enough fruits and vegetables, which also contribute to fluid intake. This can have an impact on metabolism as mild dehydration can cause BMR to decrease by up to three percent.

In conclusion

If you’re dissatisfied with your weight loss efforts and feel that part of the problem is a slow metabolism due to a thyroid issue, seek out the advice of a physician. Otherwise, jump start your metabolism by incorporating these suggestions and your motor will be running like a well-oiled machine.

Cheryl's-Headshot-2015-80x1Cheryl Mussatto MS, RD, LD, is a registered dietitian and an adjunct professor at Allen Community College, Burlingame, where she teaches Basic Nutrition, and at Butler County Community College, Council Grove, where she teaches Therapeutic Nutrition. She is also a certified health and wellness coach. She writes Eat Well to Be Well, a column about health and nutrition, and is also a blog contributor for Dr. David Samadi at www.samadimd.com. Contact her at [email protected].


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