Boost Your Metabolism to Help Lose Weight – Part 1

All overweight people overeat.  Right?  Wrong.  That opening statement is an oversimplification of the problem, which could actually be dangerous.  It is true that you must burn at least as many calories as you consume to maintain or lose weight.  But you could be eating a dangerously low 800 calories and still gain weight.  To lose weight, some overweight people need to eat more, others less.  Regardless, losing weight requires you to speed up your metabolism and properly balance your food intake.

If you’ve been a dieter, please stop dieting.  You need to give up the idea that you need to be on a diet.  Diets are not the answer.  What you need is a lifestyle change because this is truly what it takes to lose weight and keep it off.

Also, don’t expect dietary supplements to help you burn more calories.  While there are some real foods that do help speed up your metabolism, dietary supplements are more hype than help.  In fact, they may even be harmful because they, unfortunately, are not regulated.  Also, they can cause hormone problems and interact with other supplements and medications.

The best way to achieve your goals is to have a weight loss plan and an understanding of how your body works, so you can make the most of your efforts.  Many people start exercising and trying to lose weight and yet give up when the weight doesn’t come off fast enough or when they hit a plateau.  In many cases, people are not timing the eating and exercising correctly.  In others, the body adapts, so you need to keep ahead of it.  How does one do that?  In this “Boost Your Metabolism” series, I’m going to help you to understand how your body works, how to take advantage of this, and how to create a weight loss plan.

What Is Metabolism?

When people talk about “metabolism” in regards to weight, they are really referring to the basal metabolic rate (BMR), which determines the amount of energy expended while at rest, measured with about twelve hours of fasting.  The calories consumed by your body at this time are sufficient only to maintain the functions of the vital organs.

Ideally, you want to increase your BMR, so it speeds up even when you are sleeping.

What Affects Metabolism?

Many things affect metabolism: genetics, age, thyroid problems, menopause, illness, hormones, activity level, food and nutrients, sleep, stress, hydration, and muscle mass.  Take heart.  While you can’t change your chronological age, genetics, etc., you do have the ability to make positive changes to the other factors and boost your basal metabolism.  The more you can increase your BMR, the more calories your body will use to maintain itself.

Obesity Key Breakthrough

In the latest issue of Food & Fitness Advisor from Weill Cornell Medical College, there was an article on the discovery by Mayo Clinic and teams from several universities of the molecular mechanism that controls energy expenditure in muscles and helps determine body weight.  Basically, people who gain weight more easily have more efficient mechanisms.  Sigh.  Sometimes being too efficient isn’t such a good thing, at least not in our modern society.  Read the article “Mayo researchers find obesity key” on the Science Centric site.


There are many factors that affect your hormones, including the factors that affect your metabolism.  You have the ability to affect your hormones through the food you eat, your environment, stress level, etc.

The very food you are eating may be creating hormone problems and effectively slowing your metabolism.  Please read my article “Are Corn and Other Food Additives Causing Weight and Other Health Problems?” Get rid of as many processed foods as possible. While “organic” can have several definitions, it typically is better than the non-organic products.  Buy organic when possible.

Activity Level

You know what I’m going to say.  Increase your activity level.  How much is enough?  There is no set answer here because it depends on the individual’s needs.  If your body is efficient at storing fat, you will most likely need to exercise more.  Thirty minutes of moderate physical activity is the minimum amount that healthy adults ages 18-65 should be doing every day, according to the American Heart Association, not just to lose weight or keep it off, but also to maintain your health.  (Please note the American Heart Association has additional guidelines for those 65 and older and those with chronic conditions or physical functional limitations that affect movement.) If you are trying to lose weight, you may need to increase your exercise time.  Some people, especially formerly obese people, may need up to ninety minutes per day. There is an interesting article “Your Exercise Routine: How Much Is Enough?” at WebMD.

I know it’s very difficult to get motivated when you’ve been sedentary, discouraged by former weight loses and gains, etc.  Also, there are just days when life is too hectic, or you don’t feel well.  However, if you don’t use your muscles, you will lose them, just through the aging process.

Food & Nutrients

The foods you eat, when you eat them, and how much you eat directly affect your metabolism.  If you don’t get the right nutrients, you could be slowing your metabolism.

The bottom line is that you should get rid of as many processed foods as possible and eat a well-balanced diet.  If you are like I was, I had no idea of what a well-balanced diet meant.  Books, articles, etc. tell you to eat in such a manner, but they hardly ever lay out the percentages.  If I did see percentages (20% protein, 60% carbs, 20% fats), I instinctively knew these were wrong for me, although they may be right for your metabolism type. More discouraging for me was that most of the books and articles I’ve read that talk about well-balanced diets and give a meal plan actually don’t follow the well-balanced philosophy, especially for breakfast (for whatever reason). I wasn’t interested in trying different diets, I just wanted some reasonable percentages for how much protein, carbs, and fat I should be eating.

It’s so common to find suggested breakfasts with orange juice, cereal, and a piece of toast or some sort of bread product.  I just never liked these types of breakfasts because in my mind this was carbohydrate overload.  So, unless breakfast included eggs, I almost always skipped breakfast, unless I was working out.  BIG MISTAKE! Skipping meals slows down your metabolism.

In my series, I will talk about what a well-balanced diet actually means.  Also, I will discuss when you should eat, how much, and foods that will help speed up your metabolism.


For years I had heard that people who don’t get enough sleep tended to be obese.  There is a hormonal link.  Leptin, the hormone that tells you when you are full, balances the hormone ghrelin, which stimulates appetite.  Lack of sleep will reduce your leptin levels, which in turn increases ghrelin, in a checks and balances type system.  Without enough sleep, you may never feel full, even though you’ve overeaten.  Check out the fascinating article “How Sleep Affects Your Weight.”


Stress can create a multiple whammy.  You may not only eat more in an attempt to fulfill emotional needs, but also stress slows the metabolism, appetite (temporarily), and other non-essential bodily systems to handle the acute threat.  The hormones released when we’re stressed include adrenalin, which gives us instant energy, along with corticotrophin releasing hormone (CRH), and cortisol. While high levels of adrenalin and CRH decrease appetite at first, the effects usually are temporary.

Cortisol actually is there to replenish the body after the stress has passed, so it remains in the bloodstream much longer.  Cortisol helps to increase the appetite.  With chronic stress, cortisol levels remain elevated, creating a need to eat. (There’s a great article at WebMD “Can Stress Cause Weight Gain?” and another at MedicineNet “Stress, Hormones, and Weight Gain”)

According to the MedicalNews Today website article “Study Examines Effects of Stress On Weight Gain In US Population,” it says, “Stress-induced weight gain is influenced by a person’s gender, what types of foods people eat when they change their eating behaviors, and whether the person is already overweight or obese.”


Water is necessary to maintain your health for many reasons, and proper hydration is essential to keep your metabolism running efficiently.  Most adults should drink eight to twelve 8-ounce glasses of water per day.  When you are exercising, you will need to drink even more since you will lose a lot of water through perspiration.  The article “Water & Weight Loss” says, “A small study has indicated that metabolic rate increases following water consumption by as much as 30% and is sustained for over an hour.”

Take heed though.  If you are dehydrated and drink too much water all at once without also drinking electrolytes, this can cause water intoxication and a dilution of sodium in the body, known as hyponatremia.  Don’t guzzle the water.  Sip it throughout your workout. For more information, read the article “How Dehydration Affects Metabolism.”

Muscles – The Metabolic Engine

While there are other factors that affect the metabolism, muscle mass drives the engine.  The more muscle mass you have, the higher your BMR.  Yes, folks, this means you should do some strength or resistance training if you seriously want to increase your BMR.  This isn’t just for bodybuilders, and you don’t need to look like Arnold Schwarzenegger.  Ladies, if you don’t want to strength/resistance train because you don’t want to look muscular, don’t worry.  I’m not talking about needing serious weight training.  Three twenty-minute sessions a week (not on consecutive days) will suffice.  Check out this great Foundations of Wellness article “Building Muscle and Bone — At Home, On Your Own.”

For every pound of muscle that you gain, you burn fifty extra calories each day. By the same token, however, when you lose weight, your metabolism will start to slow down. Statistics show that losing 10% of your body weight leads to an approximate 15% decrease in your metabolic rate. Therefore, the more weight you lose, the harder it gets to lose any more weight.

Aging and Metabolism

According to estimates, we can lose five to seven pounds of lean muscle mass for every decade in adult life.  Yuri Elkaim, a certified kinesiologist and highly acclaimed personal trainer and strength & conditioning coach, further qualifies the loss in his article “Age-Related Muscle Changes.” He says, “The age related decline in muscle mass appears to occur in 2 phases. The first or ‘slow’ phase of muscle loss, in which 10% of muscle mass is lost, occurs between the ages of 25 and 50. The majority of muscle loss occurs thereafter where an additional 40% is lost from the ages of 50 to 85. Overall, the human body loses 50% of its muscle mass by the age of 80. This muscle atrophy can be explained by significant decreases in both the total number of muscle fibers, as well as in muscle fiber size.”

A study detailed in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition may explain why this happens.  The article “Key found to muscle loss as we age” says, “The researchers also noticed during the course of the study that the blood flow in the leg was greater in the younger people than the older people. This suggests that the supply rate of nutrients and hormones is lower in the older people and may explain why muscle wasting occurs.”

However, the article goes on to say that muscle wasting can be reversed by doing three twenty-minute sessions a week of strength training.  Muscle loss occurs from the lower body up, so you must strength train both the upper and lower body.

Next Article

Boost Your Metabolism – Part 2: The Case Against Too Much Added Sugar
Boost Your Metabolism – Part 3: Proper Hydration Is Essential


  1. Lynn Obermoeller says:

    I’m feeling a little overwhelmed with all this information, but it’s great to have and so… thanks!

  2. Thanks, Lynn! Yes, it can be overwhelming. That’s why I’m suggesting that you start slowly and just throw out the worst of your processed foods. Making too many changes at once can be a problem.

    Thanks for the feedback! I’ll post a series of shorter articles which focus more on one subtopic.