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Boosting Your Metabolism

Topic Overview

How is it that two people of the same age, gender, and height can eat the same foods and be equally active, but one gains weight while the other loses it?

One piece of the puzzle is metabolism. How well your body burns energy to keep up basic functions like heartbeat, breathing, and thinking is called your basal metabolic rate. We often just call it "metabolism."

Can you change your metabolism? Yes. Whether you're born with a fast, average, or slow metabolism, there are things you can do to speed yours up or slow it down. That means you can tweak your metabolism to help manage your weight.

The age-metabolism-body fat equation

As you age, your metabolism naturally slows down. This is one of several reasons why most people gain weight as they get older. And any extra body fat you gain slows your metabolism further.

But here's the good news—your metabolism and weight are not out of your control. You can boost your metabolism by following some basic tips.

Taking steps to raise your metabolism helps you to:

  • Burn extra food calories before they get stored as body fat.
  • Burn off extra body fat that you already have.

What to do

When you eat more calories than your body burns in a day, they're stored in your fat cells as body fat. So if your goal is to lose weight, you need to eat fewer calories, burn more of the calories you eat, or both.

You can think of this in terms of boosting your metabolism. To boost your metabolism and help manage your weight:

  • Be more active. When you exercise, your metabolism speeds up. For a few hours afterward, it stays slightly higher. And over time, daily exercise builds muscle. The more muscle you have, the more of a boost your resting metabolism gets.
  • Eat smart. That means trying to eat less fat and eating more fiber, complex carbohydrate (carbs), and water—which you find in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat meat and dairy. For each snack or meal, include a little fat and some protein along with carbs. Also limit alcohol and sugar, which have lots of calories but offer no nutrition.
  • Track and plan your meals and snacks.
    • Keep track of how you eat. Write down everything you eat and drink. Count up the calories you've eaten at each meal and snack. Then use this data to decide if your portions are the right size. Check to see if you are eating a variety of foods. You might find that making a few small changes will help you eat a healthy, balanced diet.
    • Plan what you'll eat, and eat on a regular schedule. It helps you avoid poor food choices that are easy to make when you're hungry.
  • Eat a little before you get active. If you can, have a snack before you go out for that vigorous walk. It revs up your metabolism, which makes you burn a few more calories when you exercise.1

What not to do

To avoid slowing your metabolism:

  • Don't skip meals. Eating breakfast can increase resting metabolism by 10%.1
  • Don't starve yourself. A very low-calorie diet slows metabolism and doesn't burn much fat. Instead, it burns the lean muscle mass that helps boost metabolism.
  • Don't favor fats. Eat more carbs, some protein, and a little fat. Why eat less fat? Most of the dietary fat you eat (but don't burn) goes straight to your fat cells.

References

Citations

  1. McArdle WD, et al. (2010). Human energy expenditure during rest and physical activity. In Exercise Physiology: Nutrition, Energy, and Human Performance, 7th ed., pp. 192–205. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins.

Other Works Consulted

  • Whitney E, Rolfes SR (2011). Fitness: Physical activity, nutrients, and body adaptations. In Understanding Nutrition, 12th ed., pp. 456–490. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.
  • Whitney E, Rolfes SR (2011). Metabolism: Transformations and interactions. In Understanding Nutrition, 12th ed., pp. 205–229. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.
  • Whitney E, Rolfes SR (2011). Weight management: Overweight, obesity, and underweight. In Understanding Nutrition, 12th ed., pp. 271–282. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Matthew I. Kim, MD - Endocrinology
Last Revised January 23, 2012

This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information. Your use of this information means that you agree to the Terms of Use. How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.

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