So. You're trying to lose weight ... join the club. (No, seriously -- find weight-loss support among more than 120 other people in EatingWell's Losing Well online community group.) Wouldn't it be great if you could just turn a knob and rev up your metabolism, your calorie burn, just like that? (Imagine me snapping my fingers here.) Well ... we all hear about diet and exercise strategies that supposedly do just that. But do they work? Yes -- and no. Read on for the skinny on strategies to outsmart your metabolism.
You Can Boost Your Burn By ... Spicing Things Up.
Studies suggest that capsaicin, an antioxidant in chile peppers (and also what makes them hot), increases the body's metabolic rate -- slightly.
Would we recommend it? Sure! While the metabolic boost you get by added chiles to your diet isn't likely to melt away pounds, some research also suggests that capsaicin may stimulate brain chemicals in a way that helps you feel satisfied. And when you make your foods delicious with spices -- instead of huge amounts of butter or cream -- you save calories.
You Can Boost Your Burn By ... Eating More Often.
By having many mini meals instead of fewer, larger ones, you can shift your metabolism into a higher gear more often -- and burn more calories. Our metabolisms rev up slightly each time we eat, as our bodies process what we've consumed.
Would we recommend it? Sure, if it helps keep your hunger in check so that you don't overeat when you finally sit down to a meal. (And you're not having a bunch of snacks that are actually the calorie-equivalent of big meals.) But keep in mind "The calorie difference [of eating more, versus fewer meals] is so small it doesn't add up to a hill of beans," Dr. John Foreyt, director of the Behavioral Medicine Research Center at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston told EatingWell contributing editor Joyce Hendley.
You Can Boost Your Burn By ... Adding Coconut Oil To Your Diet.
There is some preliminary research to suggest using coconut oil in place of butter, olive or canola oil might help people lose weight by boosting their calorie burn, as Joyce Hendley has reported in EatingWell. The fatty acids in coconut oil (called medium-chain triglycerides, or MCT) are shorter and more water-soluble than those in other oils, such as olive or canola, so they're routed directly to the liver where they're readily burned for fuel. There's no scientific evidence to show that consuming coconut oil helps people lose weight, but research suggests that using an MCT oil in place of olive oil might.
Would we recommend it? Probably not. Even if coconut oil does indeed help people lose weight, few nutrition experts recommend it, since coconut oil is loaded with saturated fat: 12 grams in one tablespoon versus seven grams in a tablespoon of butter. It also has 120 calories per tablespoon, like all other oils.
You Can Boost Your Burn By ... Exercising.
As you age, muscle metabolism decreases -- by 1 to 2 percent each decade after age 30. When you're young, muscle burns up to 10 times more calories per pound than fat. So even if you maintain the same level of exercise and calorie intake, you tend to accumulate fat. Regular exercise can help offset reduced muscle metabolism and help you stay lean.
Would we recommend it? Absolutely! Exercise not only boosts your resting metabolism so that you're burning more calories when you're at rest, heart-thumping activity blasts away calories while you're doing it and makes you feel great.
Nicci Micco is editor-at-large for EatingWell and co-author of EatingWell 500-Calorie Dinners. She has a master's degree in nutrition and food sciences, with a focus in weight management.