Your body’s metabolism, and more specifically your metabolic rate, seems to be one of the key factors in whether you are overweight or not.
It can also help or hinder your attempts to lose weight.
Here we look at some things people do to speed up their metabolic rate to help with weight-loss.
What is metabolic rate?
Metabolism involves all the biochemical reactions going on in your body, keeping you alive and functioning normally.
These chemical reactions use energy, and your metabolic rate is the speed at which those reactions are taking place.
The minimum amount of energy for these biochemical reactions to take place is called the Basal metabolic rate (BMR).
Basal metabolic rate is sometimes also called your resting metabolic rate, since it is the amount of energy your body’s processes use when you are at rest. That is, not moving around with your muscles using additional energy. We’ll call it resting metabolic rate here since it’s a more helpful way to think about it.
Low metabolic rate and weight gain
From the point above it follows that if you have a low resting metabolic rate you will burn fewer calories than someone with a higher resting metabolic rate. This means that you will be more likely to gain weight while eating the same things, and find it harder to lose weight if you try to eat less.
This is why increasing resting metabolic rate has become one of the key things that people focus on when trying to lose weight.
Weight loss supplements to increase metabolism
If you search online you will find there are lots of weight-loss supplements, or “weight-loss pills”, available to buy. The idea behind many of these supplements is that they speed up your metabolism, so you have a higher resting metabolic rate, burn more calories and lose weight.
Calories is the way that dietary energy is usually described. The increased calories that are burned could be calories in food you are eating, or calories already stored in your body as fat. This is why these supplements are sometimes described as “fat burners”.
Examples of these weight loss supplements that you may have heard about include DNP and raspberry ketones.
One of the things that influences your resting metabolic rate is how much “brown fat” you have.
The kind of fat you normally hear about is “white fat”, which consists of cells that store excess calories as fat.
Brown fat is different, in that it helps generate heat in your body, which burns calories. More brown fat means more calories get burned while you’re at rest.
DNP stimulates the biochemical processes that enable calories to be burned to generate heat, mimicking what happens naturally in brown fat.
Research evidence has shown that DNP does this quite successfully, but the problem is that it’s very difficult to control. There have been a number of deaths as a result of people taking DNP, and you may have seen it described as people “burning up from the inside”.
So DNP is really too dangerous to be used for increasing your metabolic rate in an attempt to burn fat and lose weight.
Raspberry ketone is a chemical found in raspberries, hence the name. Interestingly it is chemically quite similar to capsaicin, which is what gives chillies their “heat”.
One way that raspberry ketones could help when trying to lose weight is that they seem to reduce absorption of fat in the diet.
This means that less of the fat you eat finds its way into your bloodstream, so fewer of these calories in your diet actually get into your body. This requires high levels of raspberry ketone, and it’s not the main way that raspberry ketones work on fat metabolism.
The main effect of raspberry ketone seems to be the way that it speeds up fat breakdown in fat cells. This happens in white fat cells, as well as the brown fat cells mentioned above. This means that it seems to reduce both fat and sugar-induced weight gain.
So research is showing that raspberry ketone does have an anti-obesity effect. There don’t seem to be any reports of adverse side-effects so far, so if used with care some people say that this may be a useful supplement to help with weight loss.
Omega 3 fatty acids
You have probably read about the health benefits that seem to come with increasing the amount of Omega 3 fatty acids in your diet.
The Omega 3s, as they are often called, seem to reduce your risk of all sorts of cardiovascular health problems, including strokes and heart attacks.
What you may not know is that scientists are looking at how they might help with weight loss.
Firstly, it’s been shown that people who are obese have lower levels of Omega 3 fatty acids in their bloodstream than people with a healthy weight. So, do Omega 3 fatty acids help you maintain a healthy weight?
One suggestion is that Omega 3 fatty acids help to speed up the breakdown of fat stores by stimulating the metabolism of fat to produce heat. This is similar to the process described for DNP above.
Omega 3 fatty acids in the diet also seem to increase the feeling of “being full” when eating a meal. This can help with appetite control, which is useful when we are trying eat less to control our calorie intake.
Other studies looked at how Omega 3 fatty acid intake can help with weight loss and reported that supplementing the diet with Omega 3s doesn’t promote weigh loss when combined with a low calorie diet.
However, having examined the actual results obtained it seems the researchers are being very cautious when reporting results, and it looks like Omega 3 fatty acids could actually have an effect on weight loss.
Lifting weights to speed up metabolism
Doing exercise of any kind will increase your metabolic rate. Your metabolism increases when you are doing the exercise, because your muscles burn calories to provide the energy for the exercise.
As a result of the exercise your resting metabolic rate can also increase, so you burn more calories even when you are not actually doing any exercise. You need to continue with the exercise program though, otherwise you lose the resting benefits.
I first came across the idea of lifting weights to help lose weight several years ago in a bookshop in San Francisco. At the time I was thinking of ways to cultivate a six-pack and I thought that ever more exotic ways to do sit-ups would be the answer.
However, a fitness book I was looking at explained how many sit-ups are needed to burn a small number of calories, and how lifting weights burns fat faster.
Eureka! Using the most muscle mass will burn the most calories.
As a result, I designed myself a weight-training program and, with a sensible diet, I lost a lot of body fat very quickly. I also noticed that rather than just getting thin by losing fat and muscle, I maintained muscle mass.
This actually made me look (and feel) pretty good, although I do say so myself.
It’s not just my experience though. Research also shows that training with weights as part of a weight loss program reduces the loss of fat free mass, which is mostly muscle.
You probably know that when you eat less to lose weight your resting metabolic rate can go down, which makes weight-loss more difficult. Fat free mass is one of the things associated with resting metabolic rate, so retaining more muscle should help you burn calories more effectively.
Green tea for weight loss
Green tea is available as a tea that you drink, and also as green tea extract, which contains a higher concentration of the active ingredients. The ingredients in green tea that seem to be most important are catechins.
It seems that catechins can help with weight-loss and weight maintenance by increasing the breakdown of fats to produce heat by various means. This will have the effect of increasing your resting metabolic rate, so more calories are burned.
Research suggests that the effect isn’t that big, but every little helps when you are trying to lose weight.
Don’t skip breakfast
The National Weight Control Registry contains information about the strategies used by people who have been successful in losing excess weight and keeping the weight off in the long term.
Guess what? People who eat breakfast regularly, together with some other factors, are more successful and losing weight and keeping it off.
So what should you have for breakfast?
There are many healthy, low-calorie options such as fruit, that can work in a healthy weight-loss diet. But the one that may surprise you is eggs!
It’s been found that people who eat eggs for breakfast as part of a weight-loss diet, rather than bagels containing the same number of calories, lose more weight.
There must be something in the eggs that promotes weight loss, maybe by increasing metabolic rate, but it’s not clear what that is.
Increasing metabolic rate for weight loss
So, increasing your resting metabolic rate is an important part of a weight-loss program. This means exercise is important as a calorie-restricted diet can reduce your metabolic rate as your body tries to hold on to the energy stores it has, which can hinder weight-loss.
It seems there are things we can do to increase resting metabolic rate, and we’ve had a look at some of them here. I’d be interested to know your thoughts so please leave a comment below.