Fire your fat

Rev up your metabolism to keep those extra kilos away. Sujata Mukherjee tells you how

By Sujata Mukherjee
  • Published 20.12.17

There are some lucky people who never gain weight no matter what they eat and then there are others who pile on the kilos even if they are living on cucumbers and yoghurt. The culprit here is metabolism - a process by which your body converts what you eat and drink into energy. Some people have a faster metabolism than others and the key to not gaining weight lies in that. If your metabolism is sluggish, you tend to gain weight. Some things that affect whether your metabolism is speedy or sluggish include things you don't control, such as the ageing process and genes.

There are certain expensive products on the market that claim to boost metabolism through a process that stimulates energy use and, eventually, burns calories. Unfortunately they are just that - claims. It is, however, possible to boost your metabolism in natural ways, unless you have a metabolic disorder, such as Cushing's syndrome or hypothyroidism. Some specific foods, simple lifestyle modifications, proper sleep, stress management and exercises can boost your metabolism and help you cut down flab. These work even on stubborn fat that resists dieting.

Eat smart: You may lose a few kilos on a starvation diet but soon you will find that the diet has become ineffective. If you consume too few calories over a significant period of time, your metabolism slows down. The basic calorie requirement for a sedentary middle-aged woman is around 1,200 calories and for a middle-aged man is around 1,400 a day. Make sure you do not consume fewer calories than that if you want to keep losing weight.

Eat 5-6 times a day, keeping an eye on nutrition and calories. To give your metabolism a jump-start, eat a protein-rich breakfast. All main meals should have a portion of proteins because these help you burn 35 per cent more calories. Have a whole fruit or a fistful of nuts for your mid-morning and evening snacks. Caffeine, cold water, organic vegetables and fruits, vitamin D, calcium and iron also boost metabolism. If you drink green tea or black coffee and do weight training, your fat burning engine will work faster.

Be active: Staying active uses up 300-400 calories a day, which is called non-exercise activity thermo genesis or NEAT. Try to use public transport, climb stairs, walk around, clean the house and cook. Even trivial physical activities increase metabolic rate substantially and its cumulative impact on metabolism helps you maintain a healthy body weight.

Exercise: Muscle cells need a lot of energy, which means they burn a lot of calories. In fact, they burn more calories than fat cells, even when you're not exercising. The more muscle you have, the more of a boost your resting metabolism gets.

When you cross middle age, NEAT may not be enough to cut down calories. The battle of the bulge gets tougher because of hormonal imbalance, ageing process and loss of muscle mass. So this is the time to do rigorous physical exercise and keep building muscle mass.

In addition to stretching, walk briskly for 5-7 minutes before starting proper exercise. According to the Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention in the US, you must do a moderate intensity cardio workout, such as walk at a speed of 5-6 kmph for at least 20 minutes, swim, cycle or do Zumba. Make it more intense, and you will burn more calories.

Sleep well: If you do not get enough sleep, the hunger hormone ghrelin shoots up and the fullness hormone leptin reduces. As a result you will eat more. You also feel tired and can't exercise properly. This will lead to an increase in weight. So you need to sleep 6-8 hours a day.

Stress less: When you are stressed, the adrenal glands secrete a number of hormones, including cortisol. It makes your metabolism sluggish and leads to those love handles. Says senior internal medicine specialist Dr Sukumar Mukherjee, "Stress management plays a key role in maintaining metabolism. You lose your mental focus in acute or chronic stress, which may encourage you to eat junk food, skip meals, sleep less and be sedentary. People also tend to drink more during stress. Scientists say that from the second peg, the body's fat burning engine becomes slower. All these factors add up to a sluggish metabolism."

He advises relaxation techniques, such as regular yoga, meditation and exercise, in addition to healthy eating, to put metabolism on the right track.