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Video: Can you rev up your metabolism?

updated 7/18/2006 11:40:31 AM ET 2006-07-18T15:40:31

In this installment of “Today’s Health,” we look at how you can boost your metabolism. Many dieters are quick to blame a sluggish metabolism for their inability to lose weight. But do you have control over your metabolism? Yes and no. Nutritionist Joy Bauer tells you how you can change your diet and your workout to increase your metabolism.

Dieters often complain that they can’t lose weight because they have a “slow metabolism.” Unfortunately, many companies capitalize on this misconception by marketing products that promise to give consumers a so called “metabolic advantage” that helps melt away the pounds. Here’s the real story:

What is metabolism?
Metabolism is the process by which your body converts calories from food into energy. People often believe that a slim person’s metabolism is high and an overweight person’s metabolism is low, but this isn’t usually the case. Metabolism alone does not determine your weight. Rather, weight is dependent on the balance of calories consumed versus the calories burned. Eat more calories than you need — you gain weight. Eat fewer calories than you need — you lose weight. Metabolism is merely the body’s engine that burns calories and regulates your caloric needs.

Three ways your body burns calories:

  • Basic body functions. Basal metabolic rate is the amount of calories your body needs to sustain vital functions — digestion, breathing, blood circulation, adjustment of hormone levels, cell growth and repair, etc. Typically, your basal metabolic rate makes up 66 percent to 75 percent of the total calories your body requires for a day.
  • Digestion and absorption of food. About 10 percent of your day’s calories are burned digesting and absorbing the food you eat. Yes, you actually need calories to burn calories.
  • Exercise. Daily physical activity accounts for the rest of the calories burned.
  • Age: Metabolism slows about 5 percent for each decade after 40. That’s because as we get older, we tend to lose muscle and gain body fat. Lean muscle mass is more metabolically active than fat tissue. So when you lose muscle mass, your metabolism slows down. 
  • Gender: Men generally have faster metabolisms than women because they’re larger and have less body fat. Men’s basal metabolic rate is estimated to be 10 percent to 15 percent higher than women’s.
  • Hypothyroidism: An underactive thyroid will slow down your metabolism and ultimately lead to weight gain. The good news is that a simple blood test can determine whether you have this condition or not. If you do, you can control it with the proper medication.
  • Genetics: Some people are lucky enough to be born with speedy metabolisms — and others are not.

What you can control about your metabolism:
Diet

  • Don’t eat fewer than 1,000 calories a day. Your body and metabolism thrive on food. When you fast or crash diet, your metabolism will slow down in order to conserve energy. Imagine your metabolism as a blazing fire. If the fire burns consistently with the appropriate amount of high-quality wood, it will burn at a steady rate. But if it doesn’t have enough wood, the fire goes out. If it has too much wood, it can get out control — just like your waistline!
  • Eat every four to five hours. Our bodies work hard to digest and absorb the foods we eat,  and your metabolism revs up in response. This is called the thermic effect of food. Take full advantage of this and schedule meals and snacks every four to five hours.  
  • Make breakfast a priority. Studies show that people who regularly eat a healthy breakfast within two hours of rising are more likely to control their weight. This may be because you’re lifting your metabolic rate after it’s been in a “resting phase” during the night.
  • Eat protein with every meal:All foods create a thermic effect and will slightly boost your metabolism. However, eating protein gives your body a bigger metabolic boost than eating carbohydrates or fats. Plus, eating  enough protein will ensure you’ll maintain and build muscle mass. (Remember, the more muscle mass you have, the greater your metabolic rate). Make sure to incorporate lean protein into most every meal.

Best protein sources: fish, chicken breast, turkey breast, lean red meat, skim milk, nonfat yogurt, eggs and egg substitutes, tofu, beans, and lentils.

Meal Examples:

  • Breakfast: yogurt with fresh fruit
  • Lunch: turkey burger on whole-grain bun and a salad
  • Dinner: grilled chicken with vegetables and a baked potato 

Exercise

  • Do aerobic exercise four to five days a week. Aerobic activities, such as running, brisk walking, swimming and bike riding, burn calories and increase metabolism while you’re working out. Several studies show that aerobic activities cause your metabolism to stay at an elevated level for a period of time after you have finished exercising.
  • Work in strength-training exercise two to three days a week. Lifting weights and other strengthening activities, such as doing push-ups or crunches, on a regular basis will actually boost your resting metabolism all day. That’s because these activities build muscle. And once again, muscle burns more calories than body fat. In fact, if you have more muscle, you burn more calories — even if you’re sitting still.
  • When it comes to supplements, I do not recommend them. The ingredients that are effective tend to boost metabolism only slightly and they can be risky. High doses of stimulants can make you jittery, and increase heart rate and blood pressure.
  • The bottom line: The safest and most effective way to boost your metabolism is to eat an appropriate amount of food every four to five hours, incorporate a portion of lean protein into each meal, and exercise regularly!

For more information on healthy eating, visit Joy Bauer’s Web site.

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