Image: Runner
Scott Olson  /  Getty Images
You can burn more calories by exercising outdoors when it's chilly.
By Lisa C. Cohn, R.D.
msnbc.com contributor
updated 10/20/2006 11:38:46 AM ET 2006-10-20T15:38:46

A 40-year-old female patient came to me stressed over her inability to lose weight. As a busy law student she ate on the run, often skipping meals. She wasn't losing weight on 1,200 calories a day. She envied her husband's ability to shed weight more easily.

Another frustrated client found himself 40 pounds overweight after having knee surgery. After getting back into body building and working out, he was having trouble controlling his appetite.

“I am eating more than before — what do I do?" he asked.

Like many of you, these dieters were ignoring a key factor in managing weight: metabolism. Your metabolism, the amount of energy your body uses each day, can determine whether you will be successful in losing weight and keeping it off. Controlling your weight is easier if your metabolism is faster because you can eat more calories. So, is it possible to speed up your metabolism?

Yes, although your metabolism is usually fairly stable, there are several things you can do to help rev it up.

Exercise is No. 1

Working out builds muscle. Muscle speeds metabolism. As the body works more efficiently, it processes food faster and your appetite increases. This is why my client who had been body building was having trouble controlling his hunger.

Men, being the more muscular sex, generally burn more calories than a woman of the same weight. This is why the law student was having a harder time losing weight than her husband.

Don't skip meals
Space meals 3-4 hours apart. That way you have enough energy throughout the day and you'll be free of the headaches, hunger pangs or mood swings you get when you're famished.

Eating erratically signals the body to burn slower and conserve fat. This is whythe law student who has been skipping meals is not losing weight on 1,200 calories. She would be better off having smaller, balanced meals and snacks throughout the day.

The way to lose more fat than muscle is to follow a balanced nutrition and exercise plan which promotes an average weight loss rate of 1-2 pounds per week.

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Food affects mood
What you eat influences your metabolism and mood, making you either sluggish or energetic. Foods high in sugar, saturated fats, artificial sweeteners and low in water and fiber will slow digestion, can cause weight gain and leave you feeling like a couch potato.

Whole grains, vegetables, fruits, beans and legumes, fresh herbs and spices provide the proteins, carbohydrates and fats that give you energy and even blood sugar levels. Healthy fats (olive oil, avocado, fish oils, seeds, nuts, soybeans) promote longer-lasting, stable energy levels. Lean proteins (fish, soy foods, white meat poultry, lean meats and low-fat dairy) offer essential proteins for better digestion and muscle building.

By drinking eight glasses of water each day, you will have better digestion (better emptying of the stomach and intestines, less gas, bloating, constipation) and a flatter tummy. Staying hydrated also reduces headaches and fights fatigue. 

You should also get pleasure from eating. Even if adding a piece of dark chocolate is your wish, go for it, one square at a time, as it aids in happy brain chemistry and adds a natural bitter which aids digestion. Improving digestion this way also strengthens the liver, kidneys and lungs, all which facilitate a healthier metabolism.

Stay cool
Metabolism calculatorColder weather increases metabolism in order to keep the body warm, although it can be a challenge to maintain your weight during the holidays and colder months when exercise levels tend to drop and pounds often pile on.

By keeping indoor temperatures cooler and exercising outdoors, you can burn more calories.

As your metabolism increases, you'll feel more energetic, lighter — and hungrier. But don't worry. As digestion improves, the stomach empties more regularly and you feel thinner in the waistline and less full in the chest. People who have a faster metabolism have fewer food cravings and feel more in control of their eating.

Don't get stuck in a rut
Some dieters get stuck at a certain weight. To keep your weight from plateauing, you must make small changes to keep your body from adapting to a routine of eating the same amount of calories. 

If you can't lose those last five pounds, add a couple hundred calories more a day for two weeks and then return to a lesser amount. Over time this strategy will allow you to increase the amount of calories you can eat and continue to lose weight. 

Be patient
It may take you some time to increase your metabolism — three months is a reasonable timeframe to expect to see changes.  If you are having a hard time losing weight, you might consider having your metabolism tested by a professional nutritionist. 

The key is to be persistent, have confidence and be patient.

Soon you will feel healthier and stronger, and in time you will see the results of a toned, healthier body. Best of all, you will have a clearer understanding of what makes your body feel and work better, so you will be able to more effectively control your weight for years to come.

Both my law student and body builder clients achieved results this way

A regular routine of having easy meals and snacks on hand and spreading her calorie intake throughout the day gave the lawyer-to-be increased, longer-lasting energy levels.

And the body builder lost weight by eating more regular, balanced meals and including more whole grain, fruits, vegetables and healthy fats into his snacking routine.

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