Dr Roberts answers: How can I boost my low metabolism, and why can’t I lose weight in the places I want? (Part 2 of a series)
Welcome back to the second of a multi-part series that discusses common questions about weight control, what you can realistically expect, and the science behind the real answers.
Although iDiet is a business, our roots are in research and we are committed to straight talk and honest solutions. Our iDieters lose more weight than with other commercial programs because our science is stronger and our strategies are better — but that is not the same as waving a magic wand to make body fat mysteriously melt away.
With that preamble, here are answers to some of the most vexing questions that bother many people who want to lose weight.
Why can’t I lose weight in the places that I want?
Although the total amount of fat we carry around is not extremely heritable (only about 50% of our body fat is accounted for by our genes, meaning there is lots of scope for self-improvement), where we keep that fat is extremely heritable. Which means that, when we lose weight, some areas of our body are more resistant to slimming down than others.
It’s a usual thing coming into any weight loss program that you have certain areas on your body you particularly want to improve, and those are often the ones that see least progress initially. The good news is that keeping at it does work. It’s almost as though our regional fat is like an airline passenger following the ‘first on, last off’ rule, because those areas that you want to shrink the most are often the very last to go. Keeping at it almost always reduces the problem areas, and once people get into a healthy weight range it is rare if the belly fat, love handles and other sensitive areas fail to normalize.
If belly fat is your challenge, another thing to be aware of is keeping your fructose consumption low, which helps keeps your blood sugar levels in a healthy range. Fructose is contained in things like table sugar and high-fructose corn syrup, and is also the dominant natural sweetener in most fruit. That means cutting out sweetened beverages and fruit juices completely will be helpful, along with having fresh fruit in recommended amounts for health rather than unlimited amounts.
Can I boost my low metabolism?
Although weight, height and age are the strongest predictors of an individual’s metabolic rate, individual variability does exist. Some people have a faster metabolism than average, which means they can burn up to about 10% more calories than expected for their body size, while others have a slow metabolism and burn 10% less. For a women, that means a low metabolic rate would be about 120 calories lower than somebody with an average value. Not the difference between eating and starving, certainly, but also not a negligible amount.
There is no safe drug that I know of to boost metabolism. Slimming herbal supplements that contain amphetamine-like chemicals will certainly have a small effect on metabolism, but the neuropsychiatric effects, raised blood pressure and dangerous bad side effects like tremors and hallucinations make these drugs too risky and likely life-shortening to be worth it.
On the other hand, caffeine is a well-known stimulant that increases metabolic rate, and although numerous studies have tried to prove that coffee is harmful to health, the best evidence we have today is that it has some valuable protective benefits such as preventing diabetes. I’m not advocating caffeine pills or supplemented drinks, but if you like one or two cups of coffee or tea every day, it’s something you can enjoy with a clear conscience, and it may even help your metabolism a little.
Likewise, moderately high protein diets are healthful and metabolism-boosting without unhealthy side effects, as long as we are talking about the healthy protein sources — fish, skinless chicken, tofu, and very lean read meats. These foods are also richer sources of protein than unhealthy fried or fatty cuts, so they are a great option for healthy eating and maintaining your metabolism, too.
Last but not least, another nutrient I would bet money has beneficial effects on metabolic rate is fiber. Although studies have not confirmed this is true, the fact that fiber increases the number of metabolically active bacteria living in our intestine suggests that this ought to be the case. I am planning to put this to the test in my lab at Tufts, but in the meantime fiber is something we should be dosing up on anyway for its effects on hunger, and its effects on metabolism may be demonstrated in upcoming research.
With best wishes,
Susan B Roberts, PhD
Coming up next… I’m tempted to try a juice cleanse or modified fast — is it safe?
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