The higher your metabolic rate, the more calories you burn for Weight-Loss

Are there things you can do to improve your Metabolism?

Recently, 2 clients asked me about metabolism. Around the same time I saw a supplement being advertised for weight-loss and in the picture, the product clearly stated ‘metabolism booster for rapid weight-loss’. False promises can disrupt a weight-loss journey, offering false hope.

There is no one healthy food or foods and no supplement that safely boost the metabolism delivering weight-loss without you having to make food and exercise changes BUT there are other healthy choices.

Additionally, a 30-day weight-loss challenge does not give you enough time to change habits and behaviours. The initial bumper weight-loss in week 1 & 2 is motivational but it is from week 4 onwards that the real challenge begins. Take a longer-term view on your weight-loss campaign. In 1 year, you can safely lose 3 to 5 stone and spend some of that year maintaining it.

Metabolism is the rate at which we burn calories to produce energy. When we burn we produce heat. We can measure heat and this has allowed scientists to identify the metabolic rate of various parts of our body.

Even when we sleep we are burning energy. This is called our Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) and we can improve this by changing the composition of our body. Losing fat and building muscle will result in a higher calorie burn even when we sleep.

The most obvious metabolism booster is exercise. we get hot when we move and the heavier we are the faster we get hot and it does not have to tough exercise, just move more. However there are less obvious metabolism boosters.

Firstly, rule out any hormone dysfunction by getting your thyroid checked especially if you have any other symptoms mentioned in an earlier blog  here

How the different tissues and organs set our Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR)
 Weight of Tissue% BMR
Fat Stores / tissue154
Miscellaneous- skin, intestines, bone23.1616
Whole Body70kg100

Now let’s interpret this table to see how we can improve our metabolism.


Fat stores have the lowest metabolic rate contributing just 4% to BMR. The more fat you have on your body, the lower your metabolic rate. Fat slows us down, making it more difficult and less enjoyable to exercise. So, my top tip is to follow a healthy weight-loss plan to ensure you are losing fat not muscle.

2. STRENGTHEN MUSCLES (inside and outside)

Muscles burn the most calories contributing 22% to BMR. We know this is definitely true because men, who carry more muscle, lose weight faster than women. Furthermore, muscle mass decreases approximately 3 to 8% per decade after the age of 30 and this rate of decline is even higher after the age of 60. Imagine if you are 12 stone, that could translate into an 8lb loss of muscle in your 50’s. Weight-training helps to reduce the rate of muscle loss. 

Muscles inside: From the above table, when you combine the liver, brain, heart and kidneys, they burn 60% of our stored energy at rest. Internal muscles get flabby too. For example, the heart gets flabby when it is not exercised and you get out of breath walking or climbing steps. The heart muscle struggles to pump blood and oxygen around the body but you need oxygen to burn calories. The fitter the heart, the better the calorie burn. Another example is fatty liver as a result of eating too much carb or drinking too much alcohol.

Scale Weight can sometimes de-motivate us. However, there are other ways to check if we are getting healthier on the inside. We can measure how fit our heart is. 

Wear a smartwatch and take your resting heart rate when you wake up in the morning, moving as little as possible in the bed to get an accurate measurement. Then take a 30-minute walk locally every day and repeat that same walk, measuring your peak heart rate. Try to include a hilly section in the route. As you get fitter, the resting and peak rates will drop. Your heart is getting fitter and all of the arteries and veins are too. The smartwatch gives you a view to the muscles strengthening inside your body.

Muscles outside: The biggest muscles are in your bum, thighs, belly and shoulders. You can physically see these muscles getting bigger, more defined and less flabby. Light-weights, Pilates and Yoga, using your own bodyweight, develops these muscles and you will look toned and feel strong. Feeling strong after a weight-loss programme is another non-scale measure of how effective it has been. 

3. DO not eat below 1200 kcals and have no nutritional deficiencies

If you under-eat and lose weight quickly, the body will adjust the metabolism to burn more slowly. This is evolutionary as humans hunted for food and learnt to conserve energy until they found food. The Thyroid hormone controls the rate of burn. 

This slowing down of metabolism appears to take place at <1200 calories.  If this very low-calorie approach lasts for a short time, the metabolism returns to normal with no damage. However, persistent and repeated yo-yo dieting can result in long-term damage with a lifelong reduced metabolic output from the muscles. In these cases, people find it tougher and tougher to lose weight, especially as they age and lose muscle.

Eating turns on metabolism which is an argument for not skipping breakfast or other meals and strengthens my statement that to lose weight you have to eat!

If you are low in certain nutrients such as iodine and selenium, the thyroid will struggle to work efficiently and it controls the metabolic rate. If you are low in B Vitamins or Magnesium, the energy cycle that converts food into ATP will struggle and there are many more examples. Eat nutrient dense foods – Nuts & seeds, Vegetables, Legumes, Meats, Fish and Eggs.’ If you decide on a vegetarian or Vegan route, be aware of potential deficiencies and get professional advice.

How to lose Fat and protect Muscle

Eat the right number of calories and enough protein to maintain your muscle mass. Typically, I recommend 1500 calories for a female, 1800 for a male per day with either a low carb or low-fat intake, depending on how active they are. This leaves the body short of fuel but not starving and the body will burn fat stores. Eat enough protein to keeps muscles healthy, which equates to your ideal kg body weight in protein grams. Eating less carbohydrate (<130g) pushes the body into burning fat and protects the body from the damage caused by high sugar in the blood stream. 

4. MOVE even when sitting

When you are next in a waiting room, study people. You may notice that over-weight people when they sit down, remain very still. You may notice normal weight and especially very slim people are constantly moving. This is called non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT) and is almost certainly a contributor to weight maintenance. 

We can all develop the habit of moving more. Standing up from our desks every 20 minutes. Standing from a seated position, boosts the metabolism by 10%. 

Exercise stimulates the thyroid gland secretions increasing tissue sensitivity around the body to the thyroid hormones and your calorie burn rate increases. You don’t have to kill yourself in a gym for an hour, just move more.

Aerobic exercise (walking, cycling, rowing, running, football etc) improves the body’s use of oxygen and weight-training strengthens the muscles. You need oxygen to burn calories, increasing heat as you exhale carbon dioxide.

5. CUT BACK on carbs and avoid trans-fats

Protein and Fat produce more heat than carbs when they are burnt and they release more energy. Protein foods are quite complex to break down and the body uses 30% of their calories in the process. Eat protein with every meal.

Certain fats tend to be burnt for energy rather than stored such as the medium-chained fatty acids found in coconut oil. This oil is a good oil to use for high heat cooking such as stir-fries. Margarines and high-heated polyunsaturated oils (sunflower, sesame, safflower) cause terrible damage to the arteries and are to be avoided.

Earlier we mentioned fatty liver as a result of eating too much carbohydrate. You can reverse fatty liver with a low-carb diet which demonstrates the effectiveness of following a low-carb diet. 

Vegetables and fruits are carbohydrates and provide you with plenty of energy, especially the starchy vegetables like carrots, potatoes, parsnips and they are nutrient dense.


At low temperatures, the resting metabolic rate increases in order to produce more heat and protect you. This is effective at a non-shivering state which does not involve muscle contraction. To increase your calorie burn rate, you either wear less clothes or reduce the heat in your house but not to the point of getting a cold!


Stress hormones stimulate appetite and they release stores of sugar from the muscles and fat from the fat stores. If you are stressed and are sitting, not moving, the blood is rich in energy (food) but you are not burning it. It tends to get re-stored around the middle, packing around organs like the liver and fattening the middle. I wrote a blog with tips on managing stress.

Looking back at the table, the brain burns 20% of our calories. It has been shown that sleep deprivation and sleep disorders alter human metabolism. Growth hormones, stress hormones and appetite hormones are adversely affected by poor sleep leading to weight gain. For example, night-shift workers have been shown to experience cardiovascular health issues in later years. I gave some tips in this blog on improving sleep.

8. Nicotine, caffeine and alcohol increase the body’s heat. 

Stimulants increase BMR. 

A cup of coffee can increase the BMR by 5 -10% over an hour or two. During peri-menopause women experience the thermogenic effect of caffeine with hot flushes. Coffee is excellent for morning time to get us going but it is over-stimulatory for the evening time, an extra load for the liver to clear and a stressor. Enjoy caffeine but no later than mid-day.

Smoking a pack of 20 increases energy expenditure by 5% to 15% but gives you cancer, heart disease, wrinkles, smelly breath and when you give them up, you gain an average of 7kg. 

Alcohol increases the metabolism but suppresses fat oxidation allowing more fat to be stored and after a few drinks, you risk losing control over restrained behaviour around food. 

Spices especially chilli’s have a warming effect on the body. This raises our metabolic rate for a short while after we eat them but the overall effect on weight-loss is negligible. However, they do satisfy appetite sooner and in this way are useful to include in a weight-loss diet.

There are drugs that increase the metabolism such as Amphetamines but seriously damage your health, physically and mentally. 

What damages metabolism

The Textbook of Functional Medicine mentions the following as creators of high levels of oxidative stress within the body that damage energy metabolism.

  • Avoid chargrilled / burnt foods such as meat, toast
  • Avoid excess sugar – it damages the arteries, heart and wrinkles the skin (glycation)
  • Excess alcohol increases cytokines (inflammation)
  • Exposure to petrochemicals  and heavy metals in the diet
  • Over-eating and excess calories 
  • Processed and poor-quality food low in nutrients
  • Rancid fats – margarines, high heated poly-unsaturated fats
  • Under-eating and nutritional deficiencies 

In conclusion, there is no magic bullet to faster weight-loss. Our body needs balance in everything. Not too much calorie but not too little either. Movement but not too much movement and so forth. 

We are controlled by hormones and they all communicate with one another in what is called in functional medicine the ‘dance of hormones’. If one hormone becomes dysfunctional, in time it can have a knock-on effect on other hormones and other systems begin to fail. Metabolic Syndrome is the best example of this inter-connectedness and the metabolism going wrong. 

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