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Can You Boost Your Metabolism for Weight Loss?

It happens to the best of us. Sometimes, even if you’re active and eating pretty healthy, weight just appears on your body as you get older. And like many people, you probably feel frustrated and are looking for ways to lose that weight.

“Metabolism” is a big buzz word that comes to mind when we talk about weight loss. There are numerous articles out there with catchy headlines like “10 Ways to Rev Up Your Metabolism” or “The 6 Best Foods to Eat to Boost Metabolism”. It’s easy to get caught up in these tips and tricks when you want to drop a few pounds. But can you actually speed up your metabolism in order to lose weight?

Understanding Metabolism

Metabolism is generally misunderstood, probably because of all of those articles just begging us to click on them. And it’s not just misunderstood by the average person; scientists don’t fully understand metabolism either. (1)

When we offer metabolism-boosting tips like “drink green tea” or “take this supplement”, we operate as though metabolism is something simple that we can control. But it’s actually a lot more complicated than that.

Metabolism is present in every cell of your body. It is a series of chemical reactions that convert that calories you eat into fuel to keep you functioning. The way your body uses that fuel may also be somewhat surprising. (1)

How You Burn Energy

Your body burns energy in three major ways every day:

  1. your basal metabolism, which is the energy used to fuel your body’s basic functioning while you’re at rest. Half of this energy goes to your body’s major organs, the brain, heart, liver, and kidneys. The other half goes to the muscles, fat, and digestive system.
  2. the energy you use to break down food
  3. the energy you use for physical activity (1) 
Your basal metabolism, the energy your body uses while at rest, accounts for most of the calories your body burns each day. In fact, it accounts for 60 to 80% of your daily calories burned. For the average person, physical activity uses only 10 to 30% of the calories used each day. And the last 10% of energy goes to digesting food. (1)

Everyone’s Body Is Different

One thing researchers don’t understand is why metabolism varies so much between people. Two people with the same body weight and composition can have vastly different metabolisms. (1)

However, scientists have found some factors that help decide how fast your metabolism will be. They include:

  • lean muscle – Lean muscle burns more calories at rest than fat does, so people with more lean muscle have a higher basal metabolism.
  • age – Even if the amount of fat and muscle tissue you have stays the same, your metabolism declines as you age, starting at 18. Researchers are not sure why this is the case, but they do know that it happens.
  • sex – Women burn fewer calories than men with similar body composition, no matter their age.
  • genetics – Some families tend to have higher or lower metabolic rates, although this is another factor that scientists don’t know the reason behind. (1)

Can You Really Speed Up Your Metabolism?

With all of that information about metabolism, we come back to this question: Can you speed up your metabolism to lose weight?

The attention-getting headlines promising you the best foods to speed up your metabolism are wrong. There’s not a food, dietary supplement, or specific diet that will boost your metabolism. While some foods, like coffee and chili, do speed up your basal metabolism a bit, the amount of change is so slight and brief that it doesn’t lead to weight loss. (1)

While that might be discouraging, don’t despair. There are a few things that you can do to increase your metabolism and help you lose weight and keep it off for the long-term.

Build Lean Muscle

Building muscle is one of the most effective ways to speed up your metabolism. Muscle uses more energy than fat while your body is at rest, so having more lean muscle boosts your basal metabolism, which accounts for most of the calories you use in a day. (1)

To build lean muscle, try to engage in two or three strength building workouts each week. While your mind might immediately go to weight lifting when you think about building muscle, you can also build lean muscle through bodyweight exercises and high intensity interval training (HIIT). Taking a power yoga class can also help you build lean muscle, as many yoga poses are actually bodyweight exercises. (2)

The more lean muscle you build, the more calories you will burn while at rest. If your goal is to lose weight, make sure that you don’t increase the number of calories you eat. (1)

Avoid Crash Dieting

Crash dieting, where you lose a large amount of weight over a short period of time, actually slows your metabolism down long-term. This makes it harder to keep the weight off. And even if you regain that weight, your metabolism may remain slower than would be expected for someone of your weight. (1)

Instead of overly restricting your caloric intake, find a diet that will work for you for the long-term. It’s better to lose weight slowly and be able to keep it off than to drop pounds quickly only to regain them because a diet isn’t sustainable.

Get Enough Sleep

Sleep deprivation is linked to obesity and diabetes. It alters glucose metabolism, as well as the hormones that regulate metabolism. (3)

If you’re having trouble getting a good night of sleep, try setting up a nighttime routine where you go to bed at the same time every night so your body knows what to expect. It’s also helpful to limit your exposure to blue light from smartphones and computers in the evening. Try to put your phone away an hour before bed. If you have to use your phone or computer late in the evening, wear blue light blocking glasses. (4)

While speeding up your metabolism isn’t as simple as some articles may suggest, it’s still possible. Focus on making long-term, sustainable changes in order to increase your metabolism and lose weight.

Sources:

  1. https://www.vox.com/2016/5/18/11685254/metabolism-definition-booster-weight-loss
  2. https://www.healthline.com/health/fitness-exercise/how-to-build-lean-muscle#4-ways-to-build-muscle
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2929498/
  4. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/17-tips-to-sleep-better

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