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Can you boost your metabolism to lose weight?

Can you boost your metabolism to lose weight?

Metabolism is a common term that we all hear. It’s not unusual for people to link weight gain to a slow metabolism, or their weight loss on a fast metabolism. But is this a legitimate claim? What exactly is metabolism?

Simply put, metabolism refers to the reactions that happen within our body on a cellular level that turn the calories we get from food and drinks into usable energy. There is evidence that suggests that having an understanding of your metabolism can help identify an increased risk of obesity, and aid weight loss by creating a diet plan that is catered to your own metabolic needs.

Extreme diet plans, like most crash diets, can slow down your metabolism and make it harder for you to lose weight long term. Whereas aerobic exercises paired with weight training can help speed up your metabolism, and help you achieve weight loss goals.

Daniel Atkinson
Medically reviewed by
Daniel Atkinson, GP Clinical Lead
- Last updated August 02, 2022
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Medically reviewed by
Dr Daniel Atkinson
GP Clinical Lead
on August 02, 2022.
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What is metabolism?

Metabolism encompasses all the chemical processes that happen within your body on a cellular level, on a daily basis. This is what allows you to breathe, digest foods, think and make decisions, and everything else necessary to keep you alive.

Although your metabolism does a lot of things, the term got popular when associated with weight loss or gain. Saying that a slow metabolism makes you fat and a fast metabolism makes you thin is a common claim, but it’s not that simple.

Every chemical process that happens in your body requires energy, and the minimum amount of energy necessary to keep you going is referred to as the basal metabolic rate (BMR). This can be translated to the number of calories you burn just by existing. So a slow metabolism would mean that you need less energy to survive than someone with a fast metabolism, that would need more calories to function properly.

Can you have a fast or slow metabolism?

The speed of your metabolism depends on your gender, age, genes, and current body size. Metabolism is not a set value, but rather a dependent variable – meaning that as you age, lose or gain weight, or gain or lose muscle – your metabolism will change.

One of the biggest factors is muscle. The speed of metabolism can all boil down to how much muscle you have, as someone with a lot of muscle will have a much higher BMR compared to someone who has a high body fat percentage with little muscle.

Knowing whether you have a slow or fast metabolism can be pivotal in your weight loss journey. By being aware of your resting metabolic rate, you’ll be able to create a diet plan that takes into account exactly how many calories your body needs to survive. Once you’ve got that down, you just need to subtract 100 to 200 calories to ensure you’re in a caloric deficit.

Does a slow metabolism make you overweight?

Your basal metabolic rate, or BMR, is the minimum amount of calories/energy your body needs to function on a daily basis. And a slow metabolism usually just means you have a low BMR. While your body thinks it is being smart by using energy as efficiently as possible and by being able to live on fewer calories, this usually just lowers your calorie threshold and will force you to restrict your calorie intake to avoid gaining weight.

But the truth is, your metabolism isn’t entirely to blame. The main things that contribute to weight gain are genetics, a sedentary lifestyle, eating too many calories, or even certain medications and bad habits, like not getting adequate sleep.

To stay fit and maintain a healthy weight with a slow metabolism, you may want to look to restrict your calorie intake and/or increase your activity level. If you find out what your BMR is and subtract 200 calories from it, then you should have a guideline daily amount of calories. This can aid a gradual weight loss, but without being too extreme, as that can slow your metabolism even further.

How can I speed up my metabolism?

There are many things you can try if you want to speed up your metabolism. Evidence suggests that weight gain and obesity can be largely attributed to a lack of physical activity, and a slow metabolism can be remedied with a regular exercise routine.

Consuming certain foods and drinks can be a metabolism booster, namely coffee, tea (hold the sugars), protein-rich and spicy foods. But there is limited evidence proving these claims. Including these foods and drinks in your diet can help with long-term weight loss and maintenance, but the best thing you can do is make sure you burn more calories than you consume. A combination of aerobic exercises and weight training can be used as a good foundation to help speed up your metabolism and lose excess weight.

Foods that increase metabolism

There isn’t a single type of drink or food that speeds up metabolism. But there are some metabolism-boosting foods that can help little by little, as well as general tips that when applied to your diet regularly, will have a noticeable effect on your health, such as:

  • Focus on protein. Not only will this keep you fuller for longer, but it can also increase your metabolism for a few hours. Usually, those who follow high-protein diets are able to keep their daily calorie intake lower overall.
  • Drink more cold water. If you replace sugary drinks with water you’ll see a significant drop in your daily calorie intake. Also, drinking water right before meals can help you fill up faster.
  • Drink green or oolong tea. These are notorious for increasing your fat-burning rate as well as your metabolism.
  • Drink coffee. Much like tea, coffee can increase your fat-burning rate and boost your metabolism. Just avoid using too much sugar, milk, and cream, as this can increase your daily calorie intake by a lot if you’re not careful. Don’t over-do the coffee though, too much can give you palpitations or make you feel anxious or feeling a little shaky.
  • Eat spicy food. This won’t help massively. In fact, you might barely see any difference if that’s the only thing you do to try and speed up your metabolism. But if you’re trying a few different things, eating spicy foods may help a little.
  • Eat seafood. Not only is it low in calories, but it’s also full of protein and omega-3 fatty acids, which will keep you full longer, and boost your metabolism in the long run.

Exercises that boost metabolism

There’s no guaranteed method to increase metabolism, but some exercises are great for improving your health and potentially increasing your BMR, such as:

  • High-intensity interval training, or HIIT, can help you burn fat, but can also increase your metabolic rate, resulting in increased weight loss over time.
  • Practice regular weight training. You burn more calories to sustain muscle than with fat, so building and maintaining muscle is a sure way to boost your metabolism.
  • Stand up more often. It’s often too easy to spend a large chunk of our day sitting down. Instead try to simply stand up more often. Perform your work tasks standing whenever possible and avoid sitting for long periods of time when you’re home. This will burn extra calories at the end of the day.
  • Move more. Keeping a daily exercise routine, even if it’s a light one, will help you get stronger and burn a high amount of calories. For example, walking is a powerhouse of exercise: it burns calories, improves cardiovascular health, increases your resistance, and prevents joint problems, and of course, it boosts your metabolism. Going for a 30-minute stroll every day is all you need to kickstart your weight loss journey.

Do I need to boost my metabolism in order to lose weight?

No, you don’t necessarily need to boost your metabolism in order to lose weight. There are a lot of things you can do to try to achieve significant, long-term weight loss. You can try a high protein, low-fat diet. You can try eliminating fried foods, sweets and pastries, and other calorie-dense foods. You can incorporate an exercise routine. Depending on your BMI you can even try weight loss medication. But you’ll only really lose weight if you take in less calories than you use. So the slower your metabolism, the less food you can eat, and the slower your weight loss might be. In other words, boosting your metabolism isn’t essential, but it’ll help.

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When we present you with stats, data, opinion or a consensus, we’ll tell you where this came from. And we’ll only present data as clinically reliable if it’s come from a reputable source, such as a state or government-funded health body, a peer-reviewed medical journal, or a recognised analytics or data body. Read more in our editorial policy.

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