When starting any weight loss program, it helps to understand how your body works to facilitate the weight loss results you are seeking. Though weight loss obviously has a great nutritional and emotional element to it, the science of weight loss can be summarized as the amount of calories you burn, minus the amount of calories you consume each day. If you burn more calories than you are taking in, you WILL lose weight.
Your metabolism (in simplified terms) is the rate at which your body burns calories naturally. It may seem hard to believe at times, but your body naturally burns calories during everyday activities like sleeping, eating, breathing, chewing gum, and even sitting on the couch watching TV. Your body constantly burns calories in order for your anatomy to function properly. Think of calories as fuel for you body. Your metabolism simply burns that fuel to keep you operating. But exactly how many calories do our bodies burn naturally so we can gauge how many calories to consume each day and still lose weight? Well, that’s where your metabolism comes in to play. Manipulating your metabolism so it works for you can be the deciding factor in losing a few pounds and avoiding weight loss plateaus. Luckily for you, there are many ways to help increase your metabolism and help ease the burden of losing weight and keeping it off!
Here are a few techniques to help ensure an efficient metabolism for you:
1) Calculate your RMR. Your RMR, or resting metabolic rate, is the rate at which your body will naturally burn calories. Think of your RMR as the MINIMUM energy requirements needed in order for you to stay alive (allows for organ function, respiration, digestion etc.). Imagine a car running idle in the driveway. It is not going anywhere, but it still requires fuel to run right? Well your body does too. The idea is to use your RMR in conjunction with a diet and exercise program to increase your “idle speed”. RMR takes into account specific characteristics of your body and genetics such as your age, gender, and daily activity level. Unfortunately we cannot control our genetic make-up, but the amount of activity you participate in can be increased to produce a higher RMR for yourself. Try plugging in your personal attributes into the Mifflin St. Jeor Equation, and estimate how many calories your metabolism burns each day. From there, ensure you are consuming fewer calories than you are burning off, or increase the amount of calories you burn through your activity level, and watch those unwanted pounds melt away.
For Males: RMR = 10 x weight + 6.25 x height – 5 x age + 5
For Females: RMR = 10 x weight + 6.25 x height – 5 x age – 161
Your RMR has to be multiplied by the appropriate activity factor below:
1.200 = Sedentary (little or no exercise)
1.375 = lightly active (light exercise/sports 1-3 days/week)
1.550 = moderately active (moderate exercise/sports 3-5 days/week)
1.725 = very active (hard exercise/sports 6-7 days/week)
1.900 = extra active (very hard exercise/sports and physical job)
2) Increase Lean Muscle Mass. Your metabolism is a function of your body composition. The amount of fat vs. the amount of muscle your body carries, is a key component in determining how fast or slow your metabolism is. Muscle consumes more calories to maintain itself than fat does. Therefore, people who are more muscular, have a higher metabolism than those of us who lean more on the heftier side. When choosing an exercise regimen for you, it is important to find a proper balance between cardiovascular and strength training exercises. The biggest problem most people face is just focusing on one and not the other. If all you do is cardio, you will naturally deteriorate your muscle mass in other parts of your body. If you do nothing but weight training, you neglect the most important muscle in your body, which is your heart. Be sure to build lean muscle and burn fat when exercising, and your metabolism will burn more calories for you naturally.
3) Your Diet Combats Aging Effects. Unless you have discovered the fountain of youth, there should be no surprise that you are getting older by the minute. Now this is not to depress you, but the truth is, the older you get, the more your metabolism slows down. In fact, many studies show that your metabolism naturally begins to slow down when you hit your 30’s. Now this does not mean your life is over at 30 by any means! It simply means that you have to be more mindful of what you are putting into your body after your 30’s. A healthy diet can truly go a long way in combating the natural aging effects we all experience as we get older. Believe it or not, even with the millions of nutritional studies that have been conducted over time, there is still no set of medical nor nutritional guidelines established to increase your metabolism. But this does not mean your diet cannot help increase your metabolic stability either. Take the common cold for example. There is no cure for a common cold right? But there are many remedies you can try to help relieve cold-like symptoms such as taking medication, drinking plenty of fluids and getting some rest. Well, approach your diet the same way. Though there is no medical solution to increase your metabolism, there are many studies that show certain nutrients and food groups tend to stimulate metabolic growth. Antioxidants and high fiber foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and spicy chili peppers; also green teas and organic herbal supplements, all show signs of flushing out your system and supporting your metabolism to burn more calories.
4) Drink PLENTY of COLD Water. Optimal hydration is like providing oil for your engine. Our bodies after all are made up of 70% water aren’t they? So the more water you drink, the better your body and metabolism will function. Most nutritional guidelines suggest a minimum water intake of 64 fluid ounces each day for the average person (or 8 standard cups). But with increased activity levels, you will not be just average anymore! The more active you are, the more you sweat, and the more water you have to drink. If you want some variety in your fluid intake, try low-calorie teas or lemonade as a flavor substitute. All water based drinks count towards your water intake for the day. Another great tip is to drink colder tempered drinks. Did you know your body naturally burns more calories while drinking colder drinks than warmer ones? This is because our bodies average an internal body temperature of 98.6oF. When you drink something cooler than this temperature, your body must heat up the liquid in your body to absorb it properly. Just like when you heat water on a stove, it requires more work for you body to heat a cooler liquid than a warmer one. Burn more calories by consuming colder drinks, does it get any easier than that?
5) Eat smaller Meals More Frequently Throughout the Day. The amount of food you eat, when you are eating, and how frequently you are eating, are very key factors in ensuring great metabolic stability. To start off your day, you should eat your first meal within 30 minutes of when you wake up in the morning. Getting a source of food and energy in your body right away, helps your metabolism get off on the right track. Remember when Mom said, “Breakfast is the most important meal of the day”. Well, now you know why. Start early, and burn early! Eating smaller portioned meals but more frequently (every 3-4 hours) will help you in 2 ways: 1) It helps keep your metabolism more efficiently burning calories like a fine tuned machine, and most importantly 2) It helps you consistently feel fuller throughout the day so you don’t go into starvation mode and feel like you are always hungry. The age-old myth that starving yourself helps you lose weight is simply untrue! When you are hungry, your body naturally holds on to fat because it does not know the next time you will be able to feed it. Also, think of your body as a furnace or campfire. Every time you eat something it’s like adding a log to your fire or furnace. You can burn all of your logs at once and ignite a large flame to start, but the flame will slowly fizzle out over time. Or, you can periodically put a log on the fire and keep a steady flame burning, and provide a more efficient source of heat throughout the day. That’s how you want to approach your food and caloric intake. If you eat everything in the morning, your metabolism starts cranking at first, but then it will get slower and slower later in the day when you are desperate for an energy boost. Or, you can periodically fuel yourself to keep your metabolism burning and better distribute your energy source. Manipulating your metabolism by such eating techniques can go a long way in avoiding binge eating and going overboard with your calorie consumption.
6) Use the Thermal Effect of Food (TEF) in Making Food Choices. TEF describes how your metabolism works to break down different types of foods into calories. Our bodies need energy to function right? Well, digesting your food requires energy (burned calories) to function as well. Lean proteins are more beneficial to your diet than most carbohydrates and fats, because protein requires your more energy to break in your body. There is a general 10% guideline regarding TEF that estimates how many calories of the foods you eat, are actually available for your body to use as fuel. For example, if you consume 1000 calories in one sitting, your body generally uses about 10% of those calories (100 calories) for digestion. Therefore you are roughly left with 90% (900 calories) that your body can use as energy, or store as fat if it is not burned off adequately. When selecting a diet regimen for you, remember to always focus on food choices that help increase metabolic growth and require your body to exude more effort in breaking them down.
7) Change Your Body Type. Your family history and hereditary characteristics also play a role in manipulating your metabolism. Your body type and shape carry with them genetic qualities that we cannot always avoid. People come in all shapes and sizes based on our bone structures and the way we carry fat and muscle tissues. If your mother or father is a little “heavy in the hips”, you are more prone to carrying fat in those areas as well. Therefore, it is good to know how body types are categorized and more importantly how they may affect the efficiency of your metabolism. When researching body types, you will often hear the terms Mesomorphic, Ectomorphic, and Endomorphic used. Mesomorphs tend to be hard bodied, muscular, and athletic. Think of Sylvester Stallone during his “Rocky” boxing days. I know, I’m jealous too! Ectomorphs are people who are generally lean, flat chested, and small shouldered. Brad Pitt for example is an Ectomorph. Yes, still jealous! Endomorphs describe those with rounder figures, who gain weight easily, and have underdeveloped muscle definition. The majority of people who struggle with weight issues fall into the Endomorph category. The good news is that by increasing your activity level and developing some lean muscle mass, you CAN increase your ability to alter your body type and increase your metabolism. After you lose some weight and find an exercise regimen that suits you, most people evolve into being categorized between more than one body type. This will certainly help you sustain your weight loss results in the long term.
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Neil Tejwani is a former contestant on NBC’s the Biggest Loser. He was the at-home runner-up in season 4. He lives in Connecticut.