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How To Increase Your Metabolism for Weight Loss

Focus on your body’s metabolic set point by eating healthy foods, making exercise a part of your routine and reducing stress

Female and friend jogging outside

Your metabolism is a delicate, very personal dance between your hormones, behavior and environment. For example, your friend seems to eat and drink everything in sight, but always maintains their weight. You, on the other hand, diligently count calories but can’t reach your weight goals. What gives?

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Endocrinologist and obesity specialist Marcio Griebeler, MD, says the answer is (unfortunately) a bit complicated.

“Metabolism is a hormonal process. It’s what the body will do to keep it going,” Dr. Griebeler explains. “It needs to capture, convert and burn energy. How efficiently your body does this depends on each person. Genetics play a critical role.”

Understanding and changing your metabolism often seems like rocket science. But armed with the right information, you can achieve your health goals.

Dr. Griebeler explains how to increase metabolism and if the foods you eat can help boost it.

Ways to increase your metabolism

Instead of focusing on how to speed up metabolism, Dr. Griebeler says you should work on changing your body’s metabolic set point (also known as your basal metabolic rate or BMR).

Think of weight set point like an internal thermostat. Your body wants to keep your weight at whatever number it’s set to — even if that number is higher than it should be.

“Your body is fighting to keep your weight as is. But over time, you can change that weight set point,” Dr. Griebeler says.

Here’s how to boost metabolism:

Eat healthy

Educate yourself about proper portions, plus which foods are healthy — and which aren’t. Then, make gradual changes to align your diet with your findings.

Dr. Griebeler says your meals should consist of lean proteins, fruits and vegetables. Think about how much protein you’re consuming. It can be helpful as part of a balanced diet to help you feel fuller longer and preserve lean body mass.

When it comes to what you eat, the Mediterranean diet may be a good option — it focuses mostly on plant-based foods, healthy fats and grains.

And remember, you don’t want to starve yourself or follow a diet that’s very restrictive. Reduce your caloric intake too fast and by too much and your body will go into survival mode.

Focus on when you eat

Does it matter when you eat for weight loss? Research says yes. Typically, your body responds differently when you eat the same number of calories at different times of the day. The news is bad for all those late-night noshers: The earlier you eat, the better.

“We have enough evidence saying that people who work the night shift tend to gain more weight,” notes Dr. Griebeler.

To counteract your body’s natural tendencies, try to eat regularly throughout the day to curb hunger and prevent mindless snacking at night.

He also says it may be worth having a conversation with your doctor about anti-obesity drugs. Many of these newer weight loss drugs focus on appetite and weight regulation.

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Make exercise a part of your routine

View exercise as a lifestyle marathon, not a quick-fix sprint. While exercise can help jumpstart weight loss, you get more bang for your buck in weight maintenance.

“Do both aerobic exercise (calorie-torching and good for your heart) and resistance training (builds and maintains muscle mass, which in turn burns more calories) for 150 minutes each week,” recommends Dr. Griebeler. “Start slowly and progress steadily.”

Aerobic exercise options include walking, jogging, running, hiking, biking, swimming and jumping rope. When it comes to resistance training, think about push-ups, lunges, squats and other moves where you can use weights, kettlebells or resistance bands.

You may also want to consider high-intensity interval training (HIIT) or low-intensity interval training (LIIT).

And one small change you can make throughout the day? Stand more. Research shows that people who sit excessively (think of all the hours you’re typing away at your computer) may have an increased risk for obesity, diabetes and even heart disease.

Manage stress

“I almost never see people losing weight if they’re stressed,” shares Dr. Griebeler. “Cortisol (a stress hormone) levels change, making it more difficult to lose weight. And then, stress often causes us to eat or drink everything in sight to cope.”

Instead, cultivate stress-busting habits that don’t involve eating or drinking, such as deep breathing, meditation, yoga and making time for hobbies.

Prioritize sleep

Lack of sleep causes cortisol levels to rise, which triggers your body to save the energy needed to get you through your sleep-deprived day. (Your body’s preferred fuel source for storage? Fat.)

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Not enough sleep also affects your brain’s decision-making abilities. Translation: Your willpower flies out the window. Aim for seven to nine hours each night to help tame your temptations.

Give yourself a break

Worried that a cheat day (or week) will affect your weight? While it may seem like you gained five pounds overnight after indulging, it’s simply not possible.

“For you to gain one pound of fat, you need to eat an extra 3,500 calories or so,” explains Dr. Griebeler. “You may weigh more because you haven’t finished digesting your food. Or maybe you had a very salty meal and are hanging on to some water weight.”

His main message? Just be balanced. Enjoy that glass of wine or favorite dessert once in a while. And if you’re going to have a period of not-so-healthy-eating (are the holidays looming?), make some adjustments. Compensate by exercising more or eating a little less at the meals you can control.

Are there foods that boost metabolism?

Unfortunately, no. You may have heard that spicy foods like peppers (which contain capsaicin), coffee and green tea are metabolism boosters. While each food may have other health benefits, they aren’t a miracle ingredient that will increase metabolism.

Bottom line?

If you’re looking to maintain or lose weight, remember that your metabolism is just one unique part of your wellness journey.

Consider working with your healthcare provider or a registered dietitian who can help you navigate why you might not be reaching your weight goals and provide solutions that can help.

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