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Truth or Myth: Boosting Metabolism for Weight Loss

By Shari Broder February 26, 2022 Health and Fitness

Have you been curious about whether those ads claiming you can miraculously lose weight effortlessly by boosting your metabolism are true? Ads that say things like this:

  • Lose 30 pounds in 30 days (or fewer days).
  • Boost your metabolism and lose weight while eating all the food you want!
  • To lose weight permanently, all you have to do is take this pill.
  • This amazing coffee diet will boost your metabolism & melt the fat off you effortlessly!

Spoiler alert: Any promise of miraculous weight loss is not true. There is no magic way to lose weight. You cannot eat all the food you want whenever you want it and still lose weight. Any products promising unbelievably fast weight loss are a scam, and are very likely dangerous.

What Is Metabolism Anyway?

Your metabolic rate is the amount of time it takes your body to process and burn the energy from the food you eat. Your basal metabolic rate (BMR) is the amount of energy (calories) your body needs to maintain basic functions while you’re resting. It accounts for about 70% of your daily energy use.

Many things affect your BMR, including genetics, your age, gender, weight, height, body composition, how active you are, and your diet. Your metabolism can also be affected by medications, your climate, and medical conditions.

There are other things that influence your metabolism, including hormone levels and your sex hormones, which is why men need more calories than women to maintain the same weight. The two things you have the most control over are what you eat and how active you are. And those are the things you can change if you want to lose weight and keep it off!

The Claims of “Fat Burners”

Supplement manufacturers claim that ingredients such as caffeine, capsaicin, green tea, chromium picolinate, CLA, resveratrol, and selenium can create “a thermogenic fat-burning complex,” as one advertiser said. True or false?

With all of these ingredients, there is either no evidence that they affect our metabolism, inconsistent evidence, or the ingredients have a fairly insignificant effect.

Green Tea and Caffeine

For example, green tea has a very modest effect on boosting metabolism, but of the many studies done, few have reported significant results when it comes to weight loss.

Green tea contains caffeine, and research has shown that caffeine can increase metabolism, but you have to consume a fair amount of this for it to make a difference, and if you drink caffeine on a regular basis, the effect may be reduced.

Furthermore, if you consume caffeine in the form of several sweetened coffee or tea beverages a day, your increased consumption of sugar and calories will more than counter any effect the caffeine might have. Not only that, but for many post-menopausal women, caffeine can make us feel anxious and jittery.

Capsaicin

Capsaicin, the chemical in hot peppers, may increase the amount of calories you burn by 50 per day, depending on how much of it you eat. This is hardly significant, but if you want to spice up your diet, and your gut can handle the extra heat, go for it!

Other Substances

Then there are the substances that either have not been shown to produce weight loss or increase metabolism, or which have produced mixed results in studies. These include L-carnitine, resveratrol, CLA, and chromium picolinate. None of these substances, together or by themselves, will produce rapid, effortless weight loss.

How can advertisers make these claims? In the United States, they can’t, and eventually, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) catches up with them and shuts them down. The problem is there are so many companies and people out there trying to scam you that the FDA can’t keep up with them!

Dieting Has a Permanent Harmful Effect Upon Metabolism

Going on a diet can actually cause metabolic suppression – a slowing of your metabolism. You see, your brain wants to keep your body within a certain weight range. You’ve probably heard the term “set point” before, right?

Set Point

Set point is your body’s way of preventing you from starving to death by keeping your weight at what your body thinks is where it should be. Your set point is what your brain believes is the right weight for you. That might not be the same as the weight you’d like to be at. It may be the weight that you’ve been at for the past 30 years, which is 50 pounds higher than is a healthy weight for you. But your body has a bias to keep you at that weight.

When you gain weight and stay at that weight for years, your body wants your weight to stay there to protect you from starvation. Although most people in the western world do not have to worry about finding enough food, our brains and bodies don’t know this. Evolution is slow, and an abundance of food is, in terms of the timeline of humans, a very new thing.

Consequently, to protect you from starving to death, when you start eating less, your body slows down your metabolism. Your brain looks at weight loss as an emergency of sorts, and this causes your body to conserve energy.

What Diets Actually Do

If you go into high deprivation mode by seriously restricting calories, your metabolism slows down. Not only that, but your body starts producing more of those hormones that make you feel hungry. So your body slows down the burning of calories, and your hunger hormones make you hungrier.

I know. It seems like an uphill battle. It seems kind of crazy. If you’re at a weight where you’re at risk of heart attack, stroke or diabetes, you’d think your brain would know that it’s a good thing to help you bring your weight down so you can avoid serious illness. But our internal systems haven’t evolved to that point.

Yo-yo dieting makes this worse. Long-term studies have proven that dieters are more likely than non-dieters to become obese. In one study, young women who had gone on two or more diets were five times as likely to become overweight.

There is a large amount of research supporting the fact that diets actually cause weight gain in the long run. Let’s take a look at the winners of “The Biggest Loser.” Six years after losing weight on the show, the average contestant had gained back more than two-thirds of the weight lost, and their resting metabolic rate was an average of 500 calories lower than expected for people of their age and body composition!

You see, maintaining a 10% or greater weight loss is accompanied by a 20-25% reduction in your daily calorie needs. One study showed that the more you lose and the faster you lose, the more your BMR will go down long-term.

Presumably, the reason why they regained the weight was because their bodies needed a lot fewer calories than before, but they didn’t significantly change their eating habits. The fact that fast weight loss messes with your metabolism is yet another reason to look the other way when tempted to go on a diet or buy a diet product.

Increasing Your Metabolism Is Difficult

According to Eric Ravussin, director of the Nutrition Obesity Research Center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, there’s very little hope of changing your BMR because you’re fighting your biology. Ravussin says that “revving up” your metabolism is largely a doomed quest, like trying to become taller. Not only that, but metabolism can slow down as we age from factors such as muscle loss.

Our metabolism is at a peak around age one, when babies burn calories 50 percent faster than adults. It then declines gradually, around 3 percent per year, until we reach age 20. It then stays fairly steady until we reach age 60.

According to Susan Roberts, director of energy metabolism at the Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University, there are a few dietary changes that can increase metabolism a little by increasing the amount of energy your body needs for digestion.

#1: Fiber

Eating 25-35 grams of fiber per day is the amount needed to have healthy elimination. However, it is about half of what the average US adult consumes in a day.

#2: Protein

Consuming between 25-30% of your calories as protein. That’s between 500 and 600 calories per day for someone normally consuming 2000 calories per day. Humans need only around 10% of their daily consumption to be from protein.

According to Harvard Medical School, eating too much protein, can be harmful. Very high protein diets that are popular these days can increase your risk of kidney stones, and consumption of a lot of red meat can increase your risk of heart disease and colon cancer. To reduce these risks, consume mostly plant-based proteins like beans, nuts and high protein grains.

#3: Muscle Mass

Increasing your muscle mass will slightly boost your resting metabolism because your body burns more energy to maintain muscle than fat. The thing is that to increase muscle mass, you need to do more than just lift weights. You need to engage in heavy resistance training.

It’s easier to maintain muscle that we build in our 30s and 40s than to start building muscle in our 60s. Weight training, however, has other benefits as well, including reducing the risk of bone loss, which is a great reason to lift weights 2-3 times a week.

Dieting, on the other hand, especially diets that produce rapid weight loss, cause people to lose muscle tissue, which is another way that dieting contributes to a slower metabolism.

#4: Water

Increasing the amount of water you drink can help a little. In one study, adding three half-liter servings of water per day to their normal fluid consumption caused young overweight women to burn an average of 50 additional calories per day. That’s hardly going to make a difference in weight loss, but it can’t hurt.

You Can Lose Weight After 60

Yes, various things are working against you when you try to lose weight, even if you’re following my Weight Loss for Foodies guidelines for eating in tune with your body’s signals. But that doesn’t mean you can’t lose weight. Your chances of losing weight this way are much better than on any diet.

You just need to be patient because the weight will come off slowly. And that’s a good thing because making this new way of eating your permanent habit is what’s going to keep the weight from coming back.

You need to learn to pay attention to your body’s signals of hunger and fullness and eat what your body tells you it needs. When you give your body the amount of food it needs, over time, you become your naturally healthy weight.

Ending emotional eating, which is a major cause of weight gain, will also help you to stop consuming more food than your body needs and drop those extra pounds.

You can also help your metabolism by giving your body food when it needs it, instead of at random times or by skipping meals.

Regular exercise will also help you burn more energy, but it is not a substitute for eating in tune with your body’s signals. Remember, it takes less time to eat less than to exercise more.

If you want to try a system that will not only work, but it will help you make peace with food and eating, which I personally think is even more instrumental in your future happiness than losing weight, check out the free resources on my website and listen to the Weight Loss for Foodies podcast.

What was the last weight loss ad you saw? What did it advertise? Have you tried any supplements or weight loss products? What did they do for you in terms of losing weight?

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The Author

Shari Broder works with foodies who want to be a healthy weight. She teaches women how to ditch diets, stop emotional eating, and enjoy the foods they love while losing their desire to overeat along with their excess weight. She is a health coach and host of the Weight Loss for Foodies podcast. Learn more at http://sharibroder.com and on the Weight Loss for Foodies YouTube Channel.

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