Why Does Boosting Your Metabolism Help Weight Loss?
The common response to this seemingly unfair situation is to throw up our hands and attribute our friend’s perfect figure to a ‘high metabolism.’ But is it correct to associate weight-loss success with an increased metabolism? And if so, what does this mean for our own attempts at staying in shape? This article will give you the low-down on the myths and realities of your metabolism, along with some helpful tips on how to boost your metabolic rate.
What is Metabolism?
Metabolism is the name given to the process of breaking down proteins, carbs and fat which the body then turns into energy. While we can try and control our food intake, or use slimming pills to lose weight, speeding up our metabolic rate can also help us shed the pounds by burning through fat more quickly. Surprisingly, although we are tempted to link a high metabolic rate to genetic factors (i.e. saying someone has a high metabolism because they are just ‘born that way’), our genes only account for around 5% of total daily calorie consumption. What’s far more likely to influence our rate of metabolism is the energy we expend during exercise. In fact, studies have shown that the body’s rate of metabolism is elevated for as much as fifteen hours following a high-intensity workout, meaning that more calories are being burnt even afterwards when the person is sitting still. The longer and more strenuous the workout, the more you will see an increase in metabolic rate post-workout; weight-lifting is best for this due to the resulting microscopic (and ultimately beneficial) tissue damage, which the body must use energy to repair.
Negative-calorie foods: debunked
One of the myths surrounding metabolism is that there are ‘negative-calorie’ foods, which contain less calories than the body uses to digest them. This has been debunked as a false hope for dieters – the chair of the department of nutrition sciences at the University of Alabama Tim Garvey explains that the existence of negative-calorie foods is “theoretically possible,” yet “in actuality there are no negative-calorie foods.” Even celery, which is often given as an example, contains about five times as many calories as it takes to digest. This does not however mean that eating more celery is pointless, as the more low-calorie foods we fill our stomachs with the less space we have left for fatty, calorie-rich snacks. While there are no negative-calorie foods, there are foods which are metabolism boosters: these foods have a high “thermic effect,” and although this only translates into around 5%-10% more calories burned in digestion, this could add up to around 10lb in a year. Eating more fibre is a great way to burn more calories, as it is a non-digestible substance that the body must still expend energy to process. Fish is also one of the best metabolism boosters – researchers from the University of Western Ontario have reported that the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil have the power to boost your metabolism by around 400 calories a day.
Caffeine as metabolism booster?
While there are slimming pills out there that promise metabolism-boosting effects, many of them rely on high levels of caffeine. Caffeine is known to have a thermogenic effect, meaning that it will speed up your metabolism. It is also a diuretic, leading to increased urination which means losing water weight from the body. However, the Mayo Clinic warns about the lack of credible studies showing that drinking coffee or taking slimming pills with caffeine as an active ingredient has a long-term effect on weight. Drinking caffeine beverages may actually lead to an increase in weight as many of them come with sugar, cream or milk. Green tea is another drink which has been touted as a metabolism booster, as well as having a range of other benefits such as increasing energy levels, helping skin conditions, aiding indigestion and supporting healthy brain functioning.
The most important meal of the day
It may seem nonsensical to suggest that eating more for breakfast could be a good way to lose weight – yet this has been proven to give a kick-start to your metabolism for the day. Many people skip breakfast in the morning either through lack of time or as a way to keep their calories down. Yet this can have a negative effect on your weight, as the body stays longer in ‘sleep mode’ where metabolism is lower. Even worse, prolonging your fast will trick your body into thinking you are starving, meaning that it will try and lower metabolism even more, burning less calories and keeping more weight on. Besides, those who think they are cutting out the calories by skipping breakfast may be setting themselves up for a fall: “breakfast skippers replace calories during the day with mindless nibbling, bingeing at lunch and dinner. They set themselves up for failure,” says Milton Stokes, RD, MPH, chief dietician for St. Barnabas Hospital in New York City.
Eat less, more often
Other changes to our eating habits can also act as metabolism boosters. John Berardi, PhD, CSCS, president of Precision Nutrition, and author of The Metabolism Advantage, recommends eating every 2 to 3 hours. This is thought to work because each time you eat, you stimulate your metabolism. This works in a similar way to the process described above – by avoiding meals, you are convincing your body that it needs to conserve energy. Conversely, by eating small, healthy meals every 2 to 3 hours you are reassuring your body that it won’t starve, meaning metabolism increases. Research from Georgia State University has shown that people who eat at regular 2 to 3 hour intervals have less body fat and faster metabolisms than those who have just 2 or 3 meals a day. Watch out though, as eating snacks regularly will still lead to putting on weight; Berardi recommends making sure your mini-meals contain a variety of ingredients, including vegetables and sources of protein such as nuts, eggs and chicken.
Take a cold shower
If your dieting efforts have so far been lacking in results, one thing you may want to try is thermal dieting. The idea behind this is that the colder you are, the more calories your body needs to burn in order to maintain the optimum body temperature of 98.6 degrees. We aren’t suggesting that you go and jump in a frozen lake, or take an ice-bath, both of which are dangerous and not likely to have a positive effect on your health. Proponents of thermal dieting have instead proposed jogging in cold weather, or exercising with cold packs strapped to your body. This may sound like far-out pseudoscience, but there is a grain of truth behind it, particularly when the link between cold temperatures and brown fat is taken into account. Unlike the more common yellow fat, which serves as storage for extra calories, brown fat is ‘good fat’ in that it burns calories to generate heat. Exposing the body to cold temperatures activates this brown fat, leading to a higher metabolic rate. Pharmaceutical companies are now researching brown fat and its reaction to cold temperatures, hoping to produce the next generation of slimming pills that will mimic the effects of cold temperatures to boost metabolism. Until this happens, the only way to harness the power of cold is to exercise more in the winter months. Brrrr.
Dream your way to a smaller waistline
Finally, we turn to a much less strenuous way of boosting metabolism. Indeed, this technique is so easy, you can do it in your sleep. Michael Breus, PhD, author of Beauty Sleep explains that “if you are sleep-deprived, meaning that you are not getting enough minutes of sleep or good quality sleep, your metabolism will not function properly.” Breus says that we all need 7.5 hours of quality sleep per night; “if you are getting this already, another half hour will not help you lose 10 pounds, but if you are a five-hour sleeper and start to sleep for seven hours a night, you will start dropping weight.” According to Breus, this has a lot to do with our hormones. When we are sleep-deprived, we have more ghrelin, the hormone that tells us when we need to eat. Additionally, sleep-deprived people have less leptin, the hormone that tells us when to stop eating. Having more of one and less of the other makes it very hard to lose weight. Berardi agrees that losing sleep will have an adverse effect on metabolic rate, stating that the calories we burn while asleep make up around 60% to 75% of total calories burnt in a day.
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