Fitness Articles

Kick Your Metabolism Into High Gear!

The Dos and Don'ts of Efficient Fat-Burning

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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.

Metabolism DON'TS
  • 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.
Metabolism DOs
  • 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.

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Member Comments

  • Well, due to the amount of meds I take, I cannot afford to skip meals, otherwise I become ill I tend to have 3 meals per day, but no snacks.
  • IF works for me. I'm still eating the calories I need, but skipping breakfast (I have coffee and that's it outside of water until lunch). I'm more alert and active and I don't have any cravings. I've lost 3.6 lbs already and I'm seeing a real difference in my clothes already. I've been doing IF for 2 weeks now.

    I've been struggling to lose weight by eating 3 meals and I've tried 3 small meals and 2 snacks. It just makes me hungry all the time. But with IF I will feel hungry once in a while, but then I will drink water and be not hungry anymore.

    This isn't for everyone. It's just what works for me. I took a resting metabolic rate test and the energy I burn is 84% from fat and 16% from carbs. That's optimal and it puts me in the best position to lose weight.
  • Wondering about the reality of fasting for altering blood sugar and insulin in the body...?! Seems like NOT eating 1 or more days of a week, keeps the body refreshed and able to better handle what comes.

    I believe that healthy eating (extra fruits & veggies) combined with fasting 1-2 days each week can really make a difference in stubborn weight plateaus.
  • For me, eating throughout the day is crucial. I get hangry very easily and need to maintain my blood sugar in order to be nice! One thing I do to make sure I'm not overeating is to try not to ever feel full. Once the headache, stomach pains, moodiness, and color come back to me...I know I've had enough (and I eat as slowly as possible).

    A spoonful of peanut butter or a granola bar on the run usually do it. Meals usually consist of a side of veggies and maybe some rice. It's easy for me in restaurants because I order from the "sides" part of the menu. I'm also a lifelong vegetarian, so that may have something to do with it. However, I've lost a ton of weight (over 45 lbs) & still eat all the time. I also never feel so full I'm sick, and I can still enjoy meals with family & friends. It works for me so I thought I'd share. :)
  • TOOMUCHSUGARTOO
    This is a great article, but being almost 71 years old, it made me feel like it will take forever to lose the weight. It is coming off very slow. I need to lose at least 50 pounds. At this rate I wonder if I will ever get it off.
  • ETHELMERZ
    See a real live dietitian to help you lose weight. All extra exercises are fun if you don't need your job or have anyone to take care of and can go and do as you please...reality bites, the writers of these articles need to find some reality !!
  • I joined Spark people a month ago.. I love this site.. I know I shouldn't feel discouraged, but this week I stayed the same on the scales.. I have counted my calories and walked a mile and a half everyday.. I eat a lot of veggies and low calories meals.. What do I need to do to change things, so that I can keep my weight going down.. I 'm sure I'm not alone on having days that the scales stay the same... I don't like to feel discouraged and give up..I have lost a total of 14 lbs so far.. I am proud of that..Just venting lol..
  • There is no such thing as "fun exercise". Exercise is something I do because I have to. I do not enjoy it. I'm not an athletic person, so I don't play sports, run races, or do something as crazy as a triathlon. I really get sick and tired of reading "find an activity that you like to do". Surprise!!!! The activities I like to do are reading, playing the piano and singing. It is not my idea of fun to get up at 5:15 am, go to the gym, ride a recumbent bike, and then go home and get ready to go to work.
  • CGLIDER
    Intermittent fasting works. The starvation mode myth is just that....a myth.
  • I don't mean to be picky but isn't 30 percent of 20 pounds SIX pounds of muscle?
  • This is mostly good information but suggesting that "starvation mode" is real always jars me. There's no good research to support this position; creating a calorie deficit will always cause weight loss even if not in a healthful way.
  • The answer to WLIBERTY's question is NO, questions are not answered here. The comment information specifically states "Please do not ask questions here. If you have questions, please post them on the Message Boards in order to get a response." So try that if you have questions.
  • JGMARIE80
    I have started yoga and journaling my fitness workouts. It helps me to see that I'm sticking to my goals.
  • I have a question. When I read the comments on this article and others I often see questions. I never see answers. Are the questions answered? If so where?

About The Author

Dean Anderson Dean Anderson
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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