Rev Up Your Metabolism

Last Editorial Review: 5/10/2005

Follow these 7 Dos and Don'ts to Boost Your Metabolism:

  1. Don't fall for "fat-burning foods."
  2. Don't fast or skip meals.
  3. Spice up for taste.
  4. Drink water.
  5. Tone up.
  6. Get moving.
  7. Watch those calories.

By Carol Sorgen
WebMD Features

Reviewed by Charlotte E. Grayson, MD

You used to eat anything -- and everything -- and not gain an ounce. Now it seems that just looking at a Krispy Kreme packs on another 10 pounds. You shrug your shoulders and say, "I'm getting older. My metabolism's not what it used to be."

You may be right (like it or not, your metabolism does slow down as you get older), but does that mean you have to live with it? Not necessarily. There are things you can do to rev up your metabolism, say nutrition experts -- just as there are things that won't work at all.

Simply stated, your metabolism is the way your body burns up all of the calories from the food that you eat, says Tammy Lakatos Shames, RD, LD, CDN. It's a complex process that includes all of the chemical reactions that take place in your body to keep your organs working and to keep you alive.

The speed at which your body burns up calories is called your metabolic rate, says Shames, who with her twin sister, Lyssie Lakatos, RD, LD, CDN, is the co-author of the forthcoming Fire It Up! 200 Simple Ways To Jumpstart Your Metabolism and Lose Weight Forever. Your sex, height, weight, genetics, age, lifestyle, and body composition affect your metabolism. Your metabolism plays a significant role in weight management: The faster your metabolism, the more calories you'll burn, and the less likely that you'll be overweight.

Here are 7 "dos" and don'ts" for revving up your engine. For more advice about metabolism and weight loss, sign up for the Weight Management newsletter.

1. Don't fall for "fat-burning foods".

Can certain foods -- such as celery and grapefruit -- help you lose weight? Not so, say Shames and Lakatos. "Celery is low in calories and has a good deal of fiber, but it doesn't speed up your metabolism," says Shames. As for rumors that grapefruit increases your body's ability to burn calories because of its acidity, there are no studies to substantiate that myth. "In fact, if you were to eat the same number of grapefruits as any other fruit, such as peaches, or oranges, you may actually be more likely to gain weight from eating the grapefruit, as they are slightly higher in calories (due to their larger size)," says Lakatos.

2. Don't fast or skip meals.

The idea that fasting or skipping meals regularly is a great way to cleanse the system of impurities, speed metabolism, and encourage weight loss is just another myth, says Sue Ayersman, a certified clinical nutritionist (CCN) at Kronos Optimal Health Centre in Scottsdale, Ariz. "Your body needs a certain amount of calories and nutrients each day for normal function," says Ayersman. "Denying the body of these essential elements throws the system into survival mode, slowing metabolism and encouraging the storage of energy in the form of fat. You have to eat in order to lose weight." Four to six small meals a day is a good way to keep your metabolism humming.

3. Spice foods up for taste.

Spicy foods don't really help you burn calories, says Carey Clifford, MS, RD, vice president of Nutricise (, an online nutrition and weight loss program. But they may help you enjoy healthy choices such as vegetables and chicken. "Spicy foods may boost your metabolism slightly, but unfortunately, it's too small a boost to be significant," says Clifford.

4. Drink water.

Lack of water can slow the metabolic rate just as lack of food can, says John Acquaviva, PhD, assistant professor of health and human performance at Roanoke College in Salem, Va. "Since water is the body's most important nutrient, the liver will turn its concentration to water retention instead of doing other duties such as burning fat."

5. Tone up.

Becoming more active will stimulate your metabolism, says Susan L. Burke, MS, RD/LD, CDE, director of nutrition services for eDiets. Muscle is more metabolically active than fat, she explains, so replacing your fat stores with lean muscle allows you to maintain your weight much more easily. "It's not necessary to become a body builder," says Burke. "Just use light weights to firm and tone your muscles."

6. Get moving.

Aerobic exercise will burn calories, says Burke, who recommends at least 60 minutes of moderate activity every day. Combined activity counts -- walk, skip, jog, or dance. Activity in your home counts, too. Garden, clean closets, or clean your house. "You'll burn the most calories, however, with sustained activity that gets your heart rate up," says Burke.

7. Watch those calories.

As you get older, your metabolism will slow down -- approximately 5% a decade, says Madelyn H. Fernstrom, PhD, CNS, associate professor and director of the UPMC Health System Weight Management Center in Pittsburgh. A slower metabolism is a natural part of aging, Fernstrom explains, so to maintain a stable weight, you must adjust your caloric intake and/or physical activity. "If someone needs 1,500 calories a day to maintain his body weight at age 40, for example, he or she will need about 1425 calories a day at age 50 to maintain that weight, without changing anything else," says Fernstrom.

The bottom line when it comes to metabolism, says Susan Burke, "If it sounds too good to be true, it is."

Originally published February 2003. Medically updated June 2004.

SOURCES: Madelyn H. Fernstrom, PhD, CNS, associate professor and director, UPMC Health System Weight Management Center * Susan L. Burke, MS, RD/LD, CDE, director of nutrition services, eDiets * Tammy Lakatos Shames, RD, LD, CDN * Lyssie Lakatos, RD, LD, CDN * John Acquaviva, PhD, assistant professor of health and human performance, Roanoke College, Salem, Va. * Carey Clifford, MS, RD, vice president, Nutricise * Sue Ayersman, CCN, Kronos Optimal Health Centre, Scottsdale, Ariz.

© 2003 WebMD Inc. All rights reserved.


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