How Do You Boost Your Metabolism to Keep the Weight Off?

May 9, 2016   25 Comments

Last week, I shared my thoughts on the study about the Biggest Loser contestants and their inability to keep the weight off.

Metabolism Boost

The main problem for the Biggest Losers is that their metabolism tanked to the point that it was impossible for them not to gain the weight back and it never recovered.

This study has major implications for the rest of us because it supports the idea that quick, fad diets do not work.

It also focuses a bright light on metabolism - the process by which your body converts what you eat and drink into energy – and talks about weight maintenance after you lose the pounds.

1. What about slowing losing the weight so your metabolism never slows down in the first place? Would that work?

When you are on a calorie restrictive diet, your body slows down your metabolism to make up for the new lack of food.

One study had people drop about 400 calories per day – a little more than a Snickers bar in total calories - and it found that they gained back everything they lost over 3 years. Slowly cutting small amounts of calories versus chopping big amounts will get you to lose weight – but you still gain it back.

Basically, you can’t trick your body into not knowing you are feeding it less.

2. How about working out and doing cardio? That should speed things up!

Yes, you are burning more fuel when you work out but then usually you are more hungry. Your body sends you the message to make up for all that energy you spent in Zumba by eating some more food. It is uncomfortable to ignore the cravings and studies have shown that people eat the calories that exercise burns.

3. What about muscle? If I build more muscle won’t my metabolism increase?

It is true that muscles burn more calories than fat. But, muscle fibers have a very low metabolic rate at rest – and since we are at rest most of the time – this increased rate isn’t going to help that much.

4. How about if I don’t eat less but I eat differently?

Here is the one area some reputable scientists are exploring that might actually help. The book Always Hungry, which I featured in February, argues that cutting calories will not work for long term weight loss and maintenance. The author, David Ludwig, did a study published in 2012 where the participants who were on a low-carbohydrate diet burned 325 calories more than the study participants on the high-carbohydrate diet – this is with the SAME NUMBER OF CALORIES.

He argues (rather successfully) that what you eat affects your metabolism and you can increase metabolism by eating a low carbohydrate diet. The problem for many who have attempted his diet is that they find it to be a lot of work – buying and cooking food to maintain the diet – and they find it to be expensive. Hey, if you are living on frozen pizza and bread – eating a low carb diet is going to be a shock to your wallet.

Anecdotally, I will say that over the years, as I have consumed fewer and fewer “random” carbohydrates and have found that my stomach has shrunk a bit and I have more energy. Random carbohydrates are donuts, cookies, and slices of cake that pop up through out the day in places such as the work lunchroom, Costco, and my kid’s soccer game.

Please share your thoughts on weight maintenance after weight loss.

Other posts you might like:

Biggest Loser Study

Do Not Beat Yourself Up: Why We Can’t Keep The Weight Off

My favorite reality TV show of all time is The Biggest Loser. I felt that many of the messages about how to become healthy made sense....

Always Hungry Review

Always Hungry? A New Way to Look at Sustainable Weight Loss

Dr. David Ludwig has been trying to help people lose weight for 20 years at a clinic at Harvard....

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First 20 Comments: ( See all 25 )

Thank you for this, Lisa. Ludwig's work is indeed compelling. The other area that interests me is the work on our gut biome. There are some beginning data that talk about what microorganism are fed by what diets and how that could effect our weight (and general health and even mood) over time. Those data sort of hold hands with the problem of overly processed food...any thoughts?? -you're the scientist!!!!

The only way I have ever lost a lot of weight and kept it off is through a low carb diet. You are right, it is expensive and food needs to be readily available. If we put more pressure on the food industry to start using Stevia instead of Splenda and nutrisweet, the prices would go down. I'd have to make my own desserts which on a low carb diet, becomes grueling (flan, cheesecake, and if you look at any low-carb cookbook, they are all too much work if you are working). There are low-carb tortillas, which you can make into chips, if you can't handle pork rinds, readily available, but it's the desserts that we crave as foodies. I appreciate this last email. Maybe you can put some pressure on the food industry!! Good luck as it's totally sugar driven.

The only way I have ever lost a significant amount of weight (60 pounds) was with the help and support of Weight Watcher's. It took me six years (I'm 62 now) none of those get there quickly diets worked for me as I'd always gain the weight back if I ate so much as a single morsel that wasn't included in the 'diet'. Weight Watcher's is much slower and when I stick to their program I can actually not only lose, but maintain the loss. I reached my goal four years ago and recently due to lack of attention to the WW program and less than diligent efforts on my part to do what they have told me to do, I've regained 20 now I have to re-dedicate myself to the WW program and get with it...I know it works...just gotta follow the program and not go off the rails too much... :)

I stayed at the exact same weight for 2 years after a 20 lb. weight loss. Then overnight I shoot back up 16 lb. eating the same. Just makes no sense- I believe age is the reason as I'm almost 60. Very difficult when I eat so healthy, almost No sugar:(

I used Ludwig's 16:8 fasting every day and it is working for me for slow, but consistent weight loss. I have been doing this for 6 weeks now and have lost about a pound a week. I stop eating at 8 each night (dinner at 6:30 or so and a peanut butter trail bar, thanks to Snack Girl :) at 8. The next day I start eating at noon. The first couple days were a killer in terms of hunger but now I can easily do it and in fact some days I'm not hungry until 1 or 2:00. I did remove sugar from my diet about 3 months ago, before the fasting, and I don't keep any "white" carbs in the house. I don't want to take up space here but if anyone wants to know more about what I eat, I'm happy to share.

Maintaining is just as hard as losing. When I joined WW in 2007, I reached lifetime I think 2009 or 2010. I lost just shy of 80 lbs. After going to grad school in a different city and an emotional time in my life, I gained 20 of it back. Then I graduated and moved back home and gained another 10. It is taking me longer to lose the weight I gained back than when I joined WW in the first place. I think the important thing is to not feel deprived. But, no wonder maintaining is more difficult than losing if our bodies are fighting.

These studies are depressing. I lost 30 lbs on WW four years ago and have kept it off. Now I'm scared that I will gain it back overnight. I am 72, lost my husband two years ago and worried that I would fall into bad eating habits. I walk and watch my portion sizes.

I think the enemy is packaged food. Eat fresh! Probiotics have helped with

my stomach bloat.

it is all so confusing. everyone seems to have their own diet solutions from low carb no carb no sugar raw vegan paleo fasting. it's no wonder people don't know how to eat add the stress of jobs and everyday life and there's a reason for a panic attack. i think we just need to listen to our bodies and eat what we like within reason and not stress out so much about what we are eating as long as it's mostly healthy. we beat ourselves up to much over diets and life is too short.

Thanks for this post, I value evidence based findings. I actually find it helpful and have recently increased my protein and realize that I eat from habit and not always for hunger....

Karen, I would love to know what you eat & how you got off the sugar.. it is my biggest nemesis .. I hear it calling my name.. I am not " over weight" I am just over MY want weight..I am over 60, therefore realize it is not the same as when we were 30.I want to eat healthier & BE IN CONTROL & sugar is the roadblock..

Very interesting information, some of which is my personal experience too. I'd also be interested in what Karen is eating...I'm very curious..Thanks.

I loved this information! I too have tried LOTS of Diets and they all worked until I stopped them and then the weight was right back. I'm a big supporter of Weight Watchers for the fact that I lost 80+ pounds over 5 years ago and it's still gone!! Weight Watchers taught me HOW to eat. I could eat Real Food but make better choices. They also helped with maintenance ideas. That's what I needed a change in eating that I could sustainably use for life. I'm no scientist but if e want to lose weight AND keep it off, there has to be a balance of eating less but well for our bodies and using the energy we are consuming. I'm sure others have found this on their own path as well. The whole metabolic factor is interesting!!

Karen I would also love to know how u kicked sugar and the eating plan u use now. Great post!

This is so depressing. I have lost close to 90 with WW. I have maintained for 7 months. Now seeing these studies, I feel doomed.

Everyone's bodies are different. The issue I had with the biggest loser was that losing weight was pretty much their job, so when they had to go home and they had to maintain depending on what their job is it could be hard. Sugar was easy to kick for me. I don't have much of a sweet tooth, but in the Navy soda-pops and Ricky-Rockets (caffeinated coffee, Chocolate milk and a tone of sugar) were your best friend when you have been up for 12 or more hours. The moment I stopped all of that the sugar craving disappeared and I rarely eat sweets now.

For me what really helped was portion control and adding spice. Spicy food has really revved up my metabolism and green tea. I personally don't like weight watchers, I feel that you can get the education and by pass the meals. You can literally buy Beach body's 21 day fix (Ilove the containers) and get the exact same info that weight watchers gives out and you basically make a 1 time fee 3 if you can't make a 1 time fee. Not to mention the pride of doing it all on your own. I guess if you need a buddy to help keep you accountable then sure go to weight watchers, but you can have a body without as well I just find it a waist of money. I remember when I tried the eat every 2-3 hours and I was miserable and didn't lose any weight. Now I eat when I'm hungry which varies from day to day it could be 3 it could be 6, but it is only when I'm actually hungry not bored etc. When i eat when I'm hungry I never seem to over eat. Especially since I use the 21 day fix containers.

Also it helps if your workouts are fun! If you aren't into it or having fun how are you going to keep up with it?

Water! Drink water ( a little lemon or apple cider vinegar in it). A lot of the time your not hungry your thirsty. Eat lean and clean and find out what your food intolerance are and weight will drop off.

Thanks for all the info.!

I have been following Dr Ludwigs AH plan for 3 1/2 months. The plan includes more than just a food plan - it is also about listening to your body, stopping when full, stress relief, sleeping and a daily walk. The food plan helps you to listen to your body by keeping you feeling full and taking away the desperate cravings. It is NOT a quick fix. I chose not to weigh myself after a lifetime of having the scale dictate my mood. I feel so much better, I am able to listen to my body, I don't need to snack between meals, I am very slowly loosing weight (I can tell in my clothes)and not feeling deprived or hungry. Once you get used to the sorts of foods to eat its not expensive. Protein, vegies, fruit, good fats, dairy, dark chocolate, nuts. Lots of yummy foods. It doesn't feel like a diet, its feels like a way of life.

There is a Facebook page which is a fantastic resource and community. It also has lots post of interesting articles about sugar, dieting, fat, nutritional science which make fascinating reading

My daughter has lost 9 lbs by using the meal 30 plan. She has a meal plan for 30 days and shops for only those foods. I feel its working for her because all the food is right in the house. She says that she's never hungry. She looks great but it does take almost 2 weeks to really see a drop in weight. She's on her second month. I work out almost everyday with weights and cardio. I try to do 2 classes a day. I am not dieting, but thinking about it. I'm really convinced that I can't have any of the sugary foods in the house. So I am filling my fridge with fruits and veggies. It would be easier if I had a chef fix all my foods!

My biggest problem is I am hypoglycemic - low blood sugar. I have a hard time keeping my sugar level up to function . I have lost 15 lbs on ww in 3 months. It has been a real struggle, not that I get hungry but to stay within my daily points and keep my sugar up. I feel very weak many time. There must be something out there on how to lose weight for hypoglycemics? Any ideas?

Just getting back to this and noticed some of you wanted more details on my fasting and diet. Upon waking I drink a cup of warm water followed by a cup of water with lemon juice in it (1/6th of a lemon or just some of the RealLemon). Then the coffee....2-3 mugs of it. At noon my first meal of the day is usually one vanilla Triple Zero Oikos Greek Yogurt with 2 T. of peanut butter mixed into it. I slice a large apple and dip it into the yogurt. Along with this I'll have 1 slice of Ezekiel (no flour) Sprouted Bread toasted with a little butter and 1/4 avocado or a bit of cheese and garlic powder (The King Arthur Flour Cheese Powder is to die for). An alternate meal is fried egg on top of the toast. If I am still hungry I'll eat one cup of blueberries (I buy the big bag of Walmart frozen ones and keep them in a container in the fridge). I make my own kefir (easy) and put one small banana (per cup of kefir) into it as a smoothie. I eat this mid-afternoon as a snack. If it is not enough I will have a 100 calorie popcorn, with spray butter on it and salt and pepper. Dinner is at 6:30 or 7:00 and I just have smaller sizes of whatever we are having. Anything with meat is a side dish, the main meal is various veggies or pasta with pesto and veggies or sauce. We always have one of the "cups" of Mott's natural (no added sugar) applesauce with our dinner. I don't ever eat fruit alone, I always eat it with a protein. Before 8:00 (beginning of the fast) I have a peanut butter trail mix bar. I stop drinking water at this time so that I'm not up at night, lol. SUGAR - NONE - I have replaced it with this wonderful stuff (Mommy Knows Best - stevia sweetener powder - which is highly concentrated and has 1500 servings in a Ponds' cold cream size container). I also use honey or maple sugar in place of sugar when baking and cooking. I do take probiotics in addition to the kefir as I have had intestinal issues in the past.

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