Aim for a breakfast that has plenty of high-fiber carbs: When researchers at the University of Sydney in Australia compared the effects of high-fat and high-fiber-carbohydrate breakfasts, they discovered that people who ate the fatty meal got hungry sooner afterward. "High-fiber carbohydrates take longer for your body to digest and absorb than fats; thus they don't cause rapid changes in your blood sugar, so your hunger is kept at bay longer," says study coauthor Susanna Holt, Ph.D. Some good choices: a bran-rich breakfast cereal with low-fat milk; whole-grain toast topped with low-fat ricotta and sliced banana or berries; an egg-white veggie omelette with whole-grain toast.
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.
You might want to think twice before ditching dairy if you’re trying to lose weight—despite what your Paleo-preaching CrossFit friends tell you. Cheese is a satisfying, portable, and inexpensive food that’s packed with calcium, vitamin D, and protein. “Calcium can also promote weight loss because it helps maintain muscle mass, which boosts and helps maintain metabolism, helping you burn calories more efficiently throughout the day,” says Tanya Zuckerbrot, RD, author of The Miracle Carb Diet: Make Calories & Fat Disappear—With Fiber! That doesn’t mean you can help yourself to a cheese-drenched casserole, though. Work cheese into fiber-rich snacks to make them more satiating.
Believe it or not, it may be the most important meal of the day as far as metabolism (and weight loss) is concerned. Breakfast eaters lose more weight than breakfast skippers do, according to studies. "Your metabolism slows while you sleep, and it doesn't rev back up until you eat again," explains Barbara Rolls, Ph.D., professor of nutrition at Penn State University and an author of The Volumetrics Weight-Control Plan. So if you bypass breakfast, your body won't burn as many calories until lunchtime as it could. That's why it's smart to start the day with a solid 300- to 400-calorie meal; it jump-starts your metabolism.
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This antioxidant-rich, traditional Chinese tea not only helps keep cholesterol levels in check and aids digestion, it can also help rev up your metabolism. Like green tea, oolong is packed with catechins, which boost weight loss efforts by improving the body’s ability to metabolize fat. A study in the Chinese Journal of Integrative Medicine found that participants who regularly sipped oolong tea lost six pounds over the course of six weeks.
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Get aerobic: This type of exercise is especially good in the hours following a workout, D’Ambrosio says. “Aerobic exercise burns more calories than resistance training,” she says. “Therefore, think of aerobic exercise as the better way to boost metabolism in the short term and strength training as the better way to boost metabolism in the long term.” Aim to do high-intensity exercise like spinning, jogging or a step class two to three times per week.
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."
Add mustard to your meal, and feel the burn—literally! Scientists at England’s Oxford Polytechnic Institute found that by eating just one teaspoon of mustard (about 5 calories) can boost the metabolism by up to 25 percent for several hours after eating. The benefits, researchers say, may be attributed to capsaicin and allyl isothiocyanates, phytochemicals that give the mustard its characteristic flavor.
We all know sitting around too much is really bad for our health: One meta-analysis reported that prolonged sedentary time was associated with harmful health outcomes, and many other studies have shown it can (obviously!) lead to weight gain. Limiting your time in front of the TV at night and even trying to stand more while you're at work — perhaps with a standing desk — can increase your metabolism, helping you lose weight with minimal effort.
In a study conducted by Swiss and German researchers, lucky participants ate about 1.5 ounces of dark chocolate daily for two weeks. Ultimately, these chocolate nibblers had lower stress-hormone levels and a more regulated metabolism than a control group. Scientists speculate that chemicals in cocoa, such as flavonoids, play a role in regulating metabolism by alleviating stress that can cause your fat-burning engines to go on the fritz. Should you think this is a license to go wild, take heed: We’re talking small amounts of high-quality dark chocolate. Researchers say 1.5 ounces is enough.
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.
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