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If you’re reading this, chances are pretty good that you don’t have a metabolism that lets you eat as much as you want without ever gaining an ounce. Maybe (like me) you’re even at the other extreme, where it seems like all you have to do is smell the foods you love to start packing on the pounds. Does this mean you’re doomed to a lifetime of munching on carrot sticks with fat-free dressing, while watching your hollow-legged friends enjoy their pasta Alfredo and chocolate cheesecake? Not at all.
There are lots of things you can do to turn your body into an efficient fat-burning machine, and they don't include depriving yourself of foods you love, resorting to unhealthy gimmicks, or taking expensive “fat-melting” supplements that fail to deliver what they promise. All you have to do is avoid a few common mistakes, and include some simple ways to boost your daily calorie burn.
Don’t reduce your calorie intake too low. The fact that you gain weight easily is proof that your body likes to shift into fat-storage mode at the drop of a hat, and going too low on calories is one of the easiest ways to trigger that reaction (often referred to as starvation mode). Don’t fall for the mistaken idea that the less you eat, the more you’ll lose—that’s just not how your body works. Staying within your recommended calorie range will keep your internal furnace stoked so that you have more capacity to burn stored fat.
Don’t skip meals. Going too long between meals affects your body chemistry in ways that can make weight loss more difficult. Most people can manage their hunger and avoid cravings and overeating by spreading out their calories into four to five small, well-balanced meals or snacks during the day. Try not to go more than four to five hours without eating something.
Don’t short yourself on shut eye. More research is showing that chronic sleep deprivation plays a significant role in weight gain. Your body needs plenty of “downtime” for the internal housekeeping that keeps your metabolism in good working order. The occasional late night won’t hurt you, but consistently sleeping just one hour less than you need may slow down your weight loss considerably.
Build muscle! This is the most important action you can take to maintain a high metabolic rate while trying to lose weight. Strength training prevents you from losing a lot of muscle along with the fat you lose when dieting. If you don’t strength train regularly, up to 30% of the weight you lose could be muscle tissue. Considering that a pound of muscle burns about 3 times more calories per day than a pound of fat even when you’re sitting still (and up to 15-20 times more calories per minute when you're physically active), you can see the problems this can cause. If you lose 20 pounds of weight (and 30% of that weight loss is muscle—seven pounds), you’ll be slowing your metabolism and your fat burning capacity down by a significant amount. A simple strength training program twice a week can limit your muscle loss to almost zero, and keep your metabolism running high.
Stay as active as possible. The more you use your muscles, the more calories you will burn. Moderate exercise like walking can burn three to six times more calories per minute than sitting still, and high intensity exercise like interval training can burn more than 12 times as much. Likewise, the more you vary your daily activity and exercise, the more you keep your body on its fat-burning toes.
Don’t just sit there. If you’re watching TV or sitting at your desk, get up frequently to do a few exercises. Keep those resistance bands and dumbbells nearby at all times—you can fit a complete strength training workout into the commercial breaks of a one-hour TV show. Ditch your chair and sit on a stability ball (or a stationary bike) instead—even fidgeting can help!
Exercise in the morning or in frequent bouts. Both strength and cardio exercises boost metabolism by increasing your calorie burn even AFTER your session is done. You can get the most out of this perk by starting your day with a workout or by incorporating multiple exercise sessions into your day. Longer or intense workouts have a greater "after burn” but even a 15-minute walk will make a difference.
Try interval training. The harder you work, the more calories you will burn both during and after exercise—plus your fitness level will really improve. Studies show that exercising as intensely as you can, for at least 10 minutes per day, produces the best results. Interval training is an effective way to increase the intensity and duration of your workouts without running yourself into the ground or risking injury.
Include mental exercises. One of the most important (but least recognized) factors in keeping your metabolic fires well stoked is managing stress effectively. Chronic stress disrupts the hormones that regulate everything from appetite to fat storage, and can defeat even the best exercise and eating plans. The more effort you put into recognizing and handling stress, the better off you’ll be. Include some time in your schedule every day for relaxation exercises, yoga, journaling, and other stress management activities.
And Most Importantly…
Make exercise and healthy eating FUN! Experiment frequently with new exercises and recipes, or anything that keeps you interested and adds some spice to your program. Well, don’t stop there. The more variety you can put in your diet and your exercise routine, the more stimulating it will be. That makes it easy to put your best efforts forward, and get a major metabolic return on your investment.
Dean Anderson has master's degrees in human services (behavioral psychology/stress management) and liberal studies. His interest in healthy living began at the age of 50 when he confronted his own morbid obesity and health issues. He joined SparkPeople and lost 150 pounds and regained his health. Dean has earned a personal training certification from ACE and received training as a lifestyle and weight management consultant.
See all of Dean's articles.
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