Ever wonder why your best friend can go through a pint of Ben & Jerry's without gaining a pound while just one spoonful goes straight to your hips? The answer lies in your metabolism, that little engine in your body that burns calories all day, every day. Because of genetics, some women burn fat faster than others. But age, weight, diet, and exercise habits also play a role.
Sure, losing weight involves cutting calories, but limiting your calorie intake too much can deliver a double whammy to your metabolism. When you eat less than you need for basic biological function (about 2,000 calories for most women), your body throws the brakes on your metabolism. It also begins to break down precious, calorie-burning muscle tissue for energy, says Dan Benardot, PhD, RD, an associate professor of nutrition and kinesiology at Georgia State University. "Eat just enough so you're not hungry—a 150-calorie snack midmorning and mid-afternoon between three meals (about 430 calories each) will keep your metabolism humming."
Stress can actually cause the body to metabolize food more slowly, according to research published in the journal Biological Psychiatry. To make matters worse, the food we crave when we’re stressed out tends to be fatty and full of sugar. Researchers say that the combination of high-cal cravings and a stress-induced, snail-paced metabolic rate can result in significant weight gain. To keep your metabolism running strong, fight stress with laughter. Research shows that smiling and laughing causes levels of stress hormones to diminish.

Your body may burn a few calories heating the cold water to your core temperature, says Madelyn Fernstrom, Ph.D., founder and director of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Weight Management Center. Though the extra calories you burn drinking a single glass doesn't amount to much, making it a habit can add up to pounds lost with essentially zero additional effort.
Although it’s true that egg whites are low in calories, fat-free, and contain most of the protein found in an egg, eating the entire egg is beneficial to your metabolism. The yolk contains many metabolism-stoking nutrients, including fat-soluble vitamins, essential fatty acids and—most significantly—choline, a powerful compound that attacks the gene mechanism that triggers your body to store fat around your liver. Worried about cholesterol? New studies have found that moderate consumption of two whole eggs per day has no negative effect on a person’s lipid (fat) profile and may actually improve it.
Spreading your meals throughout the day might keep you from getting too hungry and overeating. If so, it is a good idea. Athletes perform better when they eat more often in smaller amounts. If you are someone who has a hard time stopping once you start eating, 3 meals a day may make it easier for you to stick to an appropriate intake than lots of little snacks.
Whenever possible, slice each of your workouts into two smaller sessions. For example, do a 15-minute weight-lifting session in the morning, then do your 30-minute walk on your lunch hour or at night. You'll burn an extra 100 to 200 calories that day, explains Kelly Tracy, M.A., fitness coordinator at Duke University Diet and Fitness Center. Don't have time? Just add in some stair climbing or short walks throughout the day. Even small bursts of activity are enough to get your metabolism revved, according to a study in the scientific journal Nature. "I call it the mini stoke: For five minutes out of every hour, get up and do something, even if it's just walking around your office," says professor of medicine Peeke. "You can end up burning a couple of hundred extra calories.
Some things, though, aren’t that simple. For instance, someone with a higher metabolism burns more calories at rest than someone with a lower metabolism, and can therefore get away with eating more food—even junk food. But a high metabolism isn’t a privilege reserved for a select few lucky enough to be born with it. You can raise yours and reap the benefits, too.
So how many calories should you consume? Depending on your level of activity, you can safely lose anywhere from half a pound to two pounds a week if you multiply your current weight by 11, says Applegate. (For example, if you're 120 pounds, aim for around 1,320 calories a day.) Unless you're less than five feet tall, don't let your daily calories dip below 1,200. "Research shows that women who consume less than this amount see their resting metabolic rate plummet by as much as 45 percent," notes Dale Huff, R.D., a St. Louis nutritionist.
Not only does muscle weigh more than fat, but it uses more energy, too. The average woman in her 30s who strength-trains 30 to 40 minutes twice a week for four months will increase her resting metabolism by 100 calories a day. That means you're resetting your thermostat to keep running at that rate even on the days when you don't make it to the gym, Hunter explains.
Spreading your meals throughout the day might keep you from getting too hungry and overeating. If so, it is a good idea. Athletes perform better when they eat more often in smaller amounts. If you are someone who has a hard time stopping once you start eating, 3 meals a day may make it easier for you to stick to an appropriate intake than lots of little snacks.
Not only does muscle weigh more than fat, but it uses more energy, too. The average woman in her 30s who strength-trains 30 to 40 minutes twice a week for four months will increase her resting metabolism by 100 calories a day. That means you're resetting your thermostat to keep running at that rate even on the days when you don't make it to the gym, Hunter explains.
Dried goji berries might be a staple of every health food store, but it’s worth looking for them a couple aisles over in the tea section. Lycium barbarum, the plant from which goji berries are harvested, is a traditional Asian therapy for diabetes and other diseases, but it also boasts a slimming effect. In a study published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition, participants were either given a single dose of L. barbarum or a placebo after a meal. The researchers found that one hour after the dose, the goji group was burning calories at a rate 10 percent higher than the placebo group, and the effects lasted up to four hours. Bonus: Most goji teas are mixed with green tea, further boosting your calorie burn.
Even the fittest and most health-conscious people can’t avoid aging. And while, there’s nothing wrong with adding years of experience and memories under your belt, sometimes age adds a bit more than that. Plenty of factors contribute to increased weight over time, but decreased metabolism is a main culprit. In fact, even if you continue with your regular eating and exercise plan every year, you’ll still gain two pounds per year, says Kimberly Corp, certified Pilates instructor, and co-founder of Pilates on Fifth. The good news is that you still have a lot of control over your metabolism after 50. Here are some expert tips to help rev up your engines.
Like many of you, these dieters were ignoring a key factor in managing weight: metabolism. Your metabolism, the amount of energy your body uses each day, can determine whether you will be successful in losing weight and keeping it off. Controlling your weight is easier if your metabolism is faster because you can eat more calories. So, is it possible to speed up your metabolism?
Most of us choose one time of day to get our exercise in—whether that’s first thing in the morning or right after work. Though having a routine is helpful, Katherine suggests incorporating physical activity into both morning and night. For example, if you typically only exercise in the morning, then do a little something in the afternoon or early evening to bring the heart rate back up for a bit. “Evening exercisers can do the same thing in the morning,” she says. “Ten to 15 minutes of some activity in the morning will jump-start your metabolism for the day and will do a world of good.”
Cardio is still important, too. "Respiratory function is another big part of metabolism, and to increase that you need to be regularly getting your heart rate up," says Sasso. She recommends extended periods of walking, jogging, or some other form of moderate to intense aerobic activity, as well as body-weight circuit training with no rest between sets. Gibbons points out that cardio workouts generally burn more calories during exercise than strength-training—also important if your overall goal is weight loss or weight maintenance.
Skimping on sleep can derail your metabolism. In a study at the University of Chicago, people who got four hours of sleep or less a night had more difficulty processing carbohydrates. "When you're exhausted, your body lacks the energy to do its normal day-to-day functions, which include burning calories, so your metabolism is automatically lowered," explains Peeke.
Most of your resting metabolism is taken up by your organs—brain, heart, liver, etc. But the biggest factor affecting your metabolism that you can control is your ratio of body fat to lean muscle mass. "Muscle burns more calories than fat tissue, because muscle requires more energy to maintain," says Harold Gibbons, New York State Director of the National Strength and Conditioning Association. "The more fat you have, the slower your metabolism will be."
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Whenever possible, slice each of your workouts into two smaller sessions. For example, do a 15-minute weight-lifting session in the morning, then do your 30-minute walk on your lunch hour or at night. You'll burn an extra 100 to 200 calories that day, explains Kelly Tracy, M.A., fitness coordinator at Duke University Diet and Fitness Center. Don't have time? Just add in some stair climbing or short walks throughout the day. Even small bursts of activity are enough to get your metabolism revved, according to a study in the scientific journal Nature. "I call it the mini stoke: For five minutes out of every hour, get up and do something, even if it's just walking around your office," says professor of medicine Peeke. "You can end up burning a couple of hundred extra calories.
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