Boost your metabolism for healthy weight loss

Written by Catherine Saxelby on Friday, 28 November 2008.
Tagged: exercise, healthy eating, healthy lifestyle, metabolism, supplements, weight loss

Boost your metabolism for healthy weight loss

Many people complain they can’t lose weight simply because they have a “slow metabolism”. And they think this is just them, something they have to live with. Is this fact or fallacy? And can you do anything to speed it up? Here’s the real story.

 What is metabolism?

Metabolism is the collective word for all the processes by which your body converts food into energy. Think of metabolism as your body’s engine, burning fuel (kilojoules or Calories or energy) and regulating your energy needs.

Many factors determine how fast your engine runs. Some of these you can control, such as your level of activity, the ratio of muscle to body fat, and the number of meals you eat throughout the day and others, like your genes, gender and age are all factors you can’t change.

9 easy ways to boost your metabolism, burn more energy and promote healthy weight loss

  1. Exercise

    A sure-fire way to increase your metabolic rate is to exercise. You can feel the immediate effects when you do aerobic exercise such as running, fast walking, dancing or cycling, and the benefits remain for a couple of hours after you stop. And don’t forget to be more active in your daily life too – take the stairs, walk to the post office, put on your favourite CD and vacuum in time to the music. Anything that gets your body moving will help speed your metabolism and your weight loss.
  2. Fidget

    Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT) or fidgeting, as it’s commonly known, is thought to be even more powerful than moderate exercise in determining how fast you burn kilojoules. So don’t just sit there – wiggle, wriggle, squirm and jiggle those feet – and the rest of you - as often as you like.
  3. Drop the diets: healthy eating = healthy weight loss

    Crash dieting or fasting actually slows your metabolism because your body tries to conserve energy. Never cut your kilojoules to less than 4000 per day as it will send your body into starvation mode and your metabolism – and your weight loss efforts - into low gear.
  4. Eat regularly

    Make sure you eat every three to four hours. The body works hard to digest the food you eat and your metabolism revs up to do this. Just remember to keep your portion sizes down. The idea is to eat more often throughout the day, not to eat more. Aim to divide each of your meals into two mini-meals. For instance, have a small bowl of cereal and milk first thing at home, then eat a piece of toast with cheese at about 10am.
  5. Add more protein for a bigger metabolic boost

    Eating any food will give your metabolism a slight boost, but protein will give your body a bigger metabolic boost (20-30%) than eating carbohydrates (5-15%) or fat (less than 3%). To maximise your results, simply increase the amount of meat, fish, chicken, eggs and tofu you eat – just be sure to keep it lean. Plenty of protein – around 130g a day, or up to 30% of your kilojoules – also helps you maintain muscle mass, which in turn significantly boosts your metabolic rate and your weight loss.
  6. Eat brekkie

    People who eat breakfast are far more likely to be a healthy weight than those who tend to skip it. Researchers believe that breakfast somehow “switches on” the metabolic rate after it has been in a resting phase during sleep. If you skip breakfast you’re missing out on nutrients and a kick-start to your metabolism that can really help with weight loss.
  7. Add spice to your food life!

    Spicy foods, such as chilli, horseradish, ginger and cayenne pepper can increase your metabolism by up to 50% for up to three hours after eating. So be liberal with the chilli sauce, indulge in a hot curry or snack on a fiery salsa. Try my recipe for Easy Thai fish cakes with fresh red chillis.
  8. Stay cool

    Being cold can increase metabolism by up to 20 per cent. The theory is that you burn kilojoules through shivering, as well as the internal biochemistry needed to “warm” the body back up to its set point of 37°C. If shivering doesn’t take your fancy, then drink your water icy cold.
  9. Bulk up

    Build muscle with strength training or activities using weights. More muscle means a higher metabolism that “idles” at a higher rate, burning up more kilojoules even when you are doing nothing which means you’re more likely reach your weight loss goal. 

Factors you can’t control

  • Your genes

    Some people are lucky enough to be born with a metabolism that is set on high, while others spend most of their time in the slow lane. It’s not hard to spot the difference.
  • Your gender

    Men typically have faster metabolisms than women, because they have less body fat and more muscle.
  • Your age

    The reality is that metabolism slows down as we age because we tend to lose muscle and become more sedentary. An average 40-year-old burns 400 fewer kilojoules a day than a 25-year-old. You can delay this by staying physically active over the years and building muscle mass through strength training or weights.

Metabolism boosting supplements – help or hoax?

Sales of supplements are booming with enticing claims such as “enhances fat oxidation” or “facilitates cellular fat breakdown”. But do these pills really work?

Supplements usually contain a number of different ingredients, including chromium picolinate (supposedly to help insulin work better), guarana (a herbal form of caffeine), iodine (to boost the thyroid), chilli extract as well as vitamins and Ayurvedic or Western herbs.

Be aware that there is little evidence for any real weight loss effect from any supplement. Without changing your diet and exercise routine, you’ll be wasting your money. If there is an effect, it’s quite small – much less than what you can achieve by a heart-pumping workout or a session doing weights.

References cited:

  • Lejeune MPGM et al. Ghrelin and glucagons-like peptide 1 concentrations, 24-hr satiety, and energy and substrate metabolism during a high protein diet and measured in a respiration chamber. Am J Clin Nutr 2006;83:89-94
  • Ravussin E. Physiology: A NEAT way to control weight? Science 2005; Vol. 307( 5709):530 – 531
  • Levine JA et al. Interindividual variation in posture allocation: possible role in human obesity. Science 2005; Vol. 307(5709): 584 – 586.

Downloads / Fact Sheets

Print out a Fact Sheet for your fridge A salad a day keeps the kilos away.

Catherine Saxelby

About the Author

Catherine Saxelby knows nutrition! She is an accredited nutritionist, food commentator, blogger and award-winning author. Her latest book Catherine Saxelby's Food and Nutrition Companion answers all those tricky questions on healthy eating, diets and supplements. It draws together a lifetime of advice and gives you all you need to know to eat right! It's a complete A to Z. A handy desk go-to reference.