Like millions of people world wide, I’ve struggled with being overweight a long time, starting all the way back when I was a teenager. At my worst I weighed 330 pounds, and suffered from a pretty severe instance of heart arrhythmia during a major hike. I was 26, only four years removed from being relatively healthy and active (I was still overweight, but being large framed, at 235 I was still in pretty good overall shape) to being one step away from a major heart attack. That’s a wake up call.
The problem was, I couldn’t find anything that would work. I tried the Mediterranean Diet and it worked great, but I couldn’t afford to spend that much on food, being way down on the income level. No carb diets just have major health problems, and the moment you have any bread, it seemed like you put on ten pounds in water weight.
So what was left? The moment of embarrassment came for me in one week’s time. This was when I was all the way up to 330, and I sat on, and broke, two toilet seats in one week. Even worse, this wasn’t in the privacy of my own house, but at a friend’s apartment and at my aunt and uncle’s house. Yeah, they may have been the cheap type of cardboard like toilet seats, but the absolute humiliation of that made me determined to lose the weight once and for all.
There is no magic solution: I knew changing diet habits and starting to work out again would be necessary, but I needed to find something I could do and stick with. That’s where revving up the metabolism comes in. Metabolism is the rate at which your body burns calories (and fat). Your body is designed to burn calories efficiently, and through bad habits that can cease to happen, but with some good habits, this can be fixed.
Tip #1: Drink lots of water. This is one you may complain about seeing everywhere, but for many people this is simply the most important rule. Drink lots and lots of water. Ice water is preferable, since the body has to heat up to ingest it. Although the exact number is controversial, there are studies saying that if your 8 glasses of water a day are ice water, then your body burns up to 50 calories warming it up. That’s not a lot, but it adds up to 18,000 calories burned over a year, or roughly 5 lbs.
In addition, water helps all your organs function at top capacity, including your kidneys and liver. This is important because it makes sugars easier to process, and means less gets stored as fat. Being hydrated is the most important aspect of making sure your body is functioning normally, and research has shown from many studies that metabolism can slow down in people who are dehydrated, but can raise as much as 30% immediately after having a large amount of water.
Water also flushes out your system, fills your stomach so you’re less hungry, and can make you feel better, which makes exercise far easier.
Tip #2: Eat Breakfast. I was never a breakfast person and often skipped the meal, but it turns out this is the worst thing you can do. Your body goes into “starvation mode” when you haven’t eaten in a while, and when you’re in starvation mode, your body burns the absolute minimum number of calories. To get your metabolism going, you should eat a meal in the morning.
If you just slept (and getting enough sleep is a big part of losing weight—there’s a free tip for you) then you’ve gone about eight hours without food, even longer since your last meal. A small meal for breakfast is good, and it gives you a chance to eat foods like oatmeal, skim milk (I know 2% tastes better, but every little bit counts) and fat free yogurt. These foods have fiber and calcium, which are both strongly recommended for people trying to lose weight. Get the low or no fat kinds. Fresh fruit is good, as well, since it has natural sugars.
If you don’t eat breakfast, not only does your body burn less calories in the morning, but your metabolism isn’t kick started until AFTER lunch, which means less of that meal gets burned, and more gets stored as fat.
Tip #3: Cardio before breakfast. Yeah, I know. This is the tip I skip the most, and I shouldn’t, because it’s the best one. While cardio should be a major part of your plans since it is the best way to burn calories and fat (you should want to eventually get up to 6 hours a week if you can), by far and away the best time to do this is right before breakfast.
Why? Because the way your body burns calories varies on a lot of things. If you just ate and then exercise, it will use the “freshest” calories and carbs. In the morning, the body will see you need energy, and since it doesn’t have carbs and won’t burn too much sugar, there’s only one place left in the morning to get energy: your stored body fat. Cardio helps you at any part of the day, but if you do it in the morning before your first meal, then you will burn calories directly from your fat.
In addition, exercise creates what is called “after burn.” After burn is a raise in your metabolism (translation: a raise in the calories your body is burning) a full day or even two days after your exercise session. Basically, your body, in anticipation of needing more energy, will burn more fat and calories than usual after a work out, even for up to two days. The hottest part of the after burn is immediately after working out, and then it gradually tapers off with passing time.
So what do you think helps most? After burn from exercising at 9 at night, or after burn from right before you eat breakfast? Work out in the morning. Even 20-30 minutes on an exercise bike makes a huge difference.
Tip #4: Add in some weight lifting. It’s a myth that you can turn fat into muscle. Fat can’t just “transform” that way, but you should still weight lift. Muscle burns more calories at rest than fat does, and weight lifting not only will help you strengthen and tone the muscles you have, but it will help to shape your body so as you lose the fat there will be more noticeable differences in how good you look, and the progress you’re making.
“Resting Metabolism,” or what your body burns by itself just doing nothing, accounts for up to an amazing 70% of all calories your body burns. More muscles means more fat burning—and don’t worry, you can’t look like a body builder without supplements and a crazy diet plan that includes INCREASING your calorie intake by 1,000s a day. If you lift weights with a reasonable diet, you’ll get better results and look good doing it!
Tip #5: Don’t starve yourself. When you cut too many calories and go into starvation mode, your body may lose weight, but it’s losing muscle, not fat. Which in turn lowers your metabolism and makes your body lose less calories, which will make keeping that weight off nearly impossible, not to mention the health issues.
The human body can safely lose 2-3 lbs. of fat a week. Any other weight loss is water, bloat, or muscle. In addition, weight that you lose slowly is weight that is likely to stay off, while the body will look to recover some of its quickly lost weight. Cutting too many calories will lower your metabolism further, which is counter productive to losing fat.
Figure out what your daily calorie needs are, and then shoot for an amount that cuts a decent amount out, but doesn’t starve you. Needs are based on weight, and while you can find an exact formula online, a good rule of thumb for dieters is to go weight times 11. So if you’re 200 lbs, 200 * 11 = 2,200 calories. The weight * 11 tells you a good “diet amount.” 300 lbs would be 3,300 calories. Now these aren’t exact, but cutting this amount by 4-500 calories will get you losing weight, especially if you’re consistently exercising.
Unless you’re very short (think five feet or under) NEVER let your body go below 1,300 calories. This will put the body in starvation mode.
Tip #6: Five meals are better than three. The body needs to expend energy to burn food. So if you eat five small meals, spread out about every three hours, will maximize your body’s metabolic raise to burn food.
Obviously, these need to be smaller meals. 200-450 calories is ideal, depending on what your fitness goal is. They should be healthy whenever possible, low in fat, and if you can stay away from processed foods, that’s a good idea since a lot of processed foods have fats and sugars that aren’t natural to the body—making it harder for the body to digest. When it can’t digest it, it stores it: as fat.
Tip #7: Minor changes to what you eat/drink can have a huge difference. Learn about the effects of food and drink, and ALWAYS keep track of calories. This includes liquids. It’s easy not to count that one can of pop, one glass of milk, and one glass of juice—but that’s 400 calories right there! That’s almost 4 lbs. a month of liquid calories, so keep track of what you drink, as well as eat (that’s also another advantage of drinking water).
Calcium can help weight loss and boost the metabolism, so low to no fat cottage cheese, milk, and yogurt makes an excellent addition to your diet. In addition, if you’re a tea fan, green tea also boosts the metabolism and cleanses the system, while some studies also suggest that fish oil can do the same (both green tea and fish oil are sold in supplement form, as well).
Spicy foods are also good if you can handle them. They make your stomach feel full, as well as burn off a lot of their own calories by raising your metabolism. Protein is much harder for the body to break down than carbs, thus raising your metabolism and giving your muscles the needed nutrients to recover from weight lifting and build themselves up.
Keeping track of this type of information means even the smallest shifts in how you eat can have major effects in boosting your weight loss plan.
Tip #8: Exercise in the evening. This doesn’t mean you have to go all out twice, but after cardio in the morning, you can go to weight lifting, or if you did that in the morning, as well, then take a 30-40 minute walk. It helps relieve you of stress, is low impact, gives you time to get out of the house and think and relax, and it also is a great way to burn some calories in the evening, and boost the evening metabolism, which naturally is lower than in the morning.
Tip #9: Don’t let extreme weather deter you. This one comes with a note of caution: always be safe. Your body burns extra calories when it is either working hard to cool you down, or to keep you warm. So if you’re in good shape, dress properly and don’t be afraid to take a forty minute walk when it’s 10 degrees out, or hike in summer when it’s 101 (only if you’re in decent shape, and bring LOTS of water). The temperature extremes make your body work harder, and that can result in burning extra calories.
Tip #10: Change it up! This works in several ways. First, if you take lots of long walks, occasionally throw in a little bit of running to kick up the metabolism and keep your body guessing. If you do 40 relatively easy minutes of biking one day, do 15 minutes of cardio biking the next. The human body has an amazing ability to adapt and adjust, and keeping it guessing will help keep you avoid the dreaded “plateaus.”
Also, you need to stay interested. If you do the same routine over and over, it’s easy to get bored. When I find myself getting bored with biking, I’ll find a good hiking trail close by. When I’m tired of long walks, I go do high intensity biking. I vary my weight lifting so I exercise different muscle groups on different days.