August 23, 2020/Weight Loss

Metabolism Plays a Major Role in Weight Loss

An endocrinologist offers tips to start losing weight and stay on track

Woman working out on an exercise ball.

It seems like 99.9% of Americans want to shed a few pounds right now. There also seems to be an endless number of diets to choose from — keto, intermittent fasting, delivered-to-your-door meal plans. How can you possibly know which weight loss path is right for you? And why is it so darn hard to get started?


Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy

Endocrinologist Shirisha Avadhanula, MD, goes back to the basics to help you kick off a successful weight loss journey.

Metabolism 101

“We measure the body’s energy in calories. Weight loss occurs when you burn more calories than you consume,” says Dr. Avadhanula. “ Simply put, weight loss occurs when you consume less calories or exercise more, preferably both.”

The term often used to describe your body’s metabolic set point is BMR or basal metabolic rate. There’s no perfect formula to determine BMR, but online calculators can give you a good estimate by considering your gender, height, weight, age and activity level.

“To lose weight in a healthy way, you need to make lifestyle changes that work for the long-haul while your body’s hormones adjust,” says Dr. Avadhanula. “It’s reasonable to lose one or two pounds a week. Any more than that is tough to sustain.”

Exercise is a metabolism booster

“Exercise is a key component of weight loss because when you build lean muscle mass, your body has to use more energy to maintain it,” says Dr. Avadhanula. “Ultimately, this means you’re burning more calories when resting. While food plays a huge role in weight loss, adding in muscle-building exercises can be a game-changer.”


Dr. Avadhanula says a proven fat-burning form of exercise is high-intensity interval training (HIIT). HIIT uses short intervals of high-intensity exercises to burn fat and build lean muscle.

“Remember that it’s a journey. If you’re very inactive, start slow — aim for 5,000 steps a day. Gradually increase the goal to 10,000 steps a day. Then build up to exercising three to four times a week for 30 to 60 minutes,” she says. “Use a stepwise approach and find activities that fit your lifestyle and schedule, so you don’t lose motivation.”

The key to sustainable weight loss is accountability

“Studies have shown that there isn’t one superior diet — popular diets all result in the same amount of weight loss,” says Dr. Avadhanula. “Diets work because they hold you accountable. Regardless of the diet plan you pick, if you stick with it, you’ll probably lose weight.”

Dr. Avadhanula says to stay away from diet plans that seem like a magic pill for weight loss. Those diets are dangerous and unrealistic. Whether too strict or too expensive, people end up quitting the diet and feeling discouraged. Weight gain often follows.

“I urge people to stay away from fad diets because most of them aren’t sustainable,” says Dr. Avadhanula. “Focus on lifestyle changes — exercising more, choosing lean meats and eating fruits and veggies. Stay motivated by pairing up with a family member or friend so you can hold each other accountable. It’s easier to lose weight if someone has your back.”

Count calories and hide your scale

“Few people realize that it takes a deficit of 3,500 calories to lose just one pound,” says Dr. Avadhanula. Since many people underestimate how many calories they eat throughout the day, she recommends using a food log to track everything you put in your mouth. Strive to take in fewer calories and be more active.


“I also tell patients to hide their scale when they start a weight loss journey,” says Dr. Avadhanula. “Don’t pay attention to your weight for the first three to four weeks. People often lose weight initially then the weight loss tends to slow down. Many people get discouraged at this point and give up.”

The three or four week mark is a good time to step on the scale and see your progress. There will be daily fluctuations, but the goal is an overall downward trend.

Learn more about our editorial process.

Related Articles

Spoonful of apple cider vinegar
March 27, 2024/Weight Loss
Does Apple Cider Vinegar Help You Lose Weight?

The science on ACV isn’t very promising for weight loss or appetite suppression

Female struggling to push a large rock up a hill
March 21, 2024/Weight Loss
Why It Really Is Harder for Women To Lose Weight (and What To Do About It)

Genetics, metabolism and hormonal fluctuations can all make weight loss more difficult

female sitting meditating, eyes closed
March 19, 2024/Weight Loss
14 Ways To Lose Belly Fat

Losing belly fat can reduce your risk for chronic health conditions — try focusing on a diet high in lean protein, exercising regularly, reducing stress and getting quality ZZZs

Person eating healthy bowl of noodles with fitness items floating around head
January 17, 2024/Weight Loss
How To Shed 10 Pounds — For Good!

Actively choose healthy habits not only when it comes to food and nutrition, but also physical activity and your mental health

person in wheelchair lifting weights in gym
December 26, 2023/Heart Health
7 New Year’s Resolutions To Improve Your Heart Health

Resolve to move a little more, drink a little less, eat a little healthier, sleep a little better and destress a lot

close up of green coffee beans
December 14, 2023/Nutrition
Should You Go Green? What To Know About Green Coffee Bean Extract

There’s no evidence to prove this supplement can help with weight loss, and it may come with risks

clock with diet foods and water
November 14, 2023/Weight Loss
The 10 Worst Ways To Lose Weight

Trying fad diets and skipping meals won’t do you any favors

Sad thin elderly adult looking out window.
November 7, 2023/Brain & Nervous System
Alzheimer’s Disease and Weight Loss: Why It Happens and What Can Be Done

Finding the causes of weight loss is key to treatment

Trending Topics

Person in yellow tshirt and blue jeans relaxing on green couch in living room reading texts on their phone.
Here’s How Many Calories You Naturally Burn in a Day

Your metabolism may torch 1,300 to 2,000 calories daily with no activity

woman snacking on raisins and nuts
52 Foods High In Iron

Pump up your iron intake with foods like tuna, tofu and turkey