Can You Really Increase Your Metabolism?

by Millie
can you really increase your metabolism

I first became interested in metabolism and my metabolic rate years ago when I saw the headline of a magazine while checking out at the grocery store. The headline read, “Foods That FIRE UP Metabolism!” Most of us with any weight to lose are convinced that we have a slow metabolism and we want to increase it. But can you really increase your metabolism?

In addition to ‘fire up’, I frequently see other headlines that will show me how to ‘increase’, ‘speed-up’, ‘boost’, ‘kick-start’ and even ignite my metabolism. And trust me I have tried them all.

Here’s a quick list of ways to increase your metabolism according to research and many experts (in no particular order):

  • Green Tea
  • Coffee
  • Water
  • Ice-cold drinks and foods
  • Spicy foods
  • Protein
  • Grapefruit
  • Eat organic
  • Celery
  • Energy drinks
  • Eating smaller meals, more often
  • Avoid crash diets/eat enough
  • Lifting weights
  • High-intensity exercises
  • Stand more
  • Less stress
  • More sleep

What is Your Metabolic Rate

Metabolism is what changes the food you eat and your stored fuel into energy. The higher your metabolism, the more calories you will burn. Obviously, as someone trying to lose weight, your metabolic rate is a big deal.

And of course, you will immediately respond when you see a headline offering you ways to increase your metabolism.

Sometimes you see references to Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) which is the number of calories your body needs for basic functions like breathing, digesting food, circulation, and cell production.  

You may have also seen articles discussing your Resting Metabolic Rate. This refers to the number of calories you burn while doing nothing. Sometimes the terms are used interchangeably. 

Why is Your Metabolic Rate Important

Metabolism is important to weight loss

If you are trying to lose weight, I am sure you have heard that you need to burn more calories than you consume. In other words, you need to have a calorie deficit. 

One pound is equivalent to 3,500 calories. So if you want to lose one pound per week, you need to have a minimum calorie deficit of 500 calories per day (3500 divided by 7 days). 

It doesn’t take too much of a stretch of your imagination to hope that you have a fast metabolism. I, and many people I know, frequently blame our slow metabolic rate for our weight gain, a weight problem and difficulty losing weight.

How to Calculate Your Metabolic Rate

How to Calculate your BMR

You can estimate your RMR online here.

Here is a formula if you want to manually estimate your BMR:


655 + (4.35 × weight in pounds) + (4.7 × height in inches) – (4.7 × age in years)


66 + (6.23 × weight in pounds) + (12.7 × height in inches) – (6.8 × age in years)

Next, you need to multiply the above number by your activity level:

  • Sedentary. If you get little or no exercise, multiply by 1.2
  • Lightly active. If you exercise lightly one to three days a week, multiply by 1.375
  • Moderately active. If you exercise moderately three to five days a week, multiply by 1.55
  • Very active. If you engage in hard exercise six to seven days a week, multiply by 1.725
  • Extra active. If you engage in very hard exercise six to seven days a week or have a physical job, multiply by 1.9

The number you end up with is the number of calories you need to maintain your current weight. And if you want to lose weight, you need 500 calories less if your goal is to lose one pound per week.

Slow or Fast Metabolism

If you have a slow or fast metabolism depends on several factors. Your Metabolic Rate varies by:

  • Genetics – yes, you can blame the genes you inherited for your slow metabolism
  • Ethnicity – your ethnicity can affect your metabolism
  • Age – your BMR decreases about 2% every year from the age of 20
  • Gender – men usually have a higher BMR than women
  • Height – tall people have a higher BMR than shorter people
  • Weight history – long term or extreme dieting can significantly lower your BMR
  • Weight – the more you weigh, the higher your BMR
  • Body composition – a lower body fat percentage usually equals a higher BMR

Can You Really Increase Your Metabolism

Can you really increase your metabolism?

Can you really increase your metabolism? What I found is that all the various research concludes that you can increase metabolism … temporarily. This is especially correct if you have a lot of weight to lose.

Let’s take a look at drinking more water – one of the ways to boost your metabolism, One study had overweight female participants drink an additional 6 glasses of water a day. The researchers found that the women burned an additional 50 calories per day. So it would take about 70 days (over two months) to lose one pound!

Another study found that the increase in metabolism from drinking two glasses of water started 10 minutes after the drink and lasted for about 30-40 minutes. Can you drink two glasses of water every 30-40 minutes to get the metabolism benefit of water? Probably not!

I am not saying don’t drink water. There are lots of good reasons to drink water, but increasing your metabolism is not one of them. 

Also read How Much Water to Drink Daily for Weight Loss

Similarly, if you eat or drink green tea, coffee, or chilli peppers, the increase in your metabolism is negligible and short-lived,  

A review of 20 research studies on capsaicin (the thing that makes peppers spicy) also found that you can burn about 50 more calories per day. Once again, not enough to have any significant impact on your weight loss.

In fact, I know first-hand that eating spicy food will not increase your metabolism and help you lose weight. I put cayenne pepper, chilli powder or hot sauce on practically every meal for most of life. If this were true, I would be supermodel thin.

I frequently see articles extolling green tea for boosting your metabolism and weight loss. However, the research is conflicting. But, even those studies which found a positive effect, concluded that the weight loss was low.

One group of individuals who drank tea lost only one to two pounds more than the non-tea drinking group after 12 weeks.  

The bottom line is that you will be wasting your time trying to increase your metabolism. In fact, for some of us dieting may have hurt our metabolism and has caused us to actually have a low metabolic rate.

The Real Danger of Dieting on Metabolism

can you really increase your metabolism
Dieting can lead to a decrease in your metabolism

One reason why most diets fail (and there are many) is that due to our frequent, restrictive or extreme diets our metabolic rate has decreased.

You may have heard or read about the study of past participants of the reality TV show, The Biggest Loser. The study looked at 14 past contestants and found that they regained two-thirds of the weight lost on the show. 

But what’s worse is that the researchers found that the biggest losers had a metabolic rate similar to that when they were at their lowest weight. When compared to people of similar age and body composition, they were burning an average of 500 calories less per day!

Unfortunately, extreme dieting had lowered their metabolic rate! And that is probably the same effect that most of us have experienced. Have you noticed how losing weight becomes harder and harder? And how gaining weight after your restrictive diet is easier and easier?

How to Really Increase Your Metabolism

Move more to increase your metabolism

Sadly, most of the stuff you see about foods that boost your metabolism is just click bait or an obvious attempt to get you to pick the magazine.

Rather than focusing on trying to increase here’s what you should focus on instead. First, take another look at how your activity level changes your metabolic rate, 

  • Sedentary. If you get little or no exercise, multiply  by 1.2
  • Lightly active. If you exercise lightly one to three days a week, multiply by 1.375
  • Moderately active. If you exercise moderately three to five days a week, multiply by 1.55
  • Very active. If you engage in hard exercise six to seven days a week, multiply by 1.725
  • Extra active. If you engage in very hard exercise six to seven days a week or have a physical job, multiply by 1.9

So one way to increase your metabolism is to increase your activity. 

Also read 4 Best Exercise for Obese Women for Weight Loss

For example, if you are a 30 year old woman, 5 feet 6 inches, 200 pounds and you are sedentary, your daily calories to maintain your current weight is 1973. But if you exercise four or five times a week, your daily calories jumps to 2408. Or you can now burn 435 calories more a day – just shy of one pound per week.

Second, take another look at the factors that affect your metabolism:

  • Genetics 
  • Ethnicity 
  • Age 
  • Gender
  • Height 
  • Weight
  • Body composition
  • Weight history

So you could change your metabolism by changing your body composition. In other words, you should aim to decrease your body fat percentage. This is a long term strategy, but you can do it. So far, I have reduced my body fat percentage by 10%. 

Also read My 80 Pound Weight Loss Success Story

Also, and probably most importantly, focus on lifestyle changes to achieve permanent weight loss. No more fad diets, no more restrictive diets. Eat healthily, move more and you will see results. This is a slow marathon and not a sprint.

Also read Best 5 foods for Permanent Weight Loss

The Bottom Line

Don’t waste your time trying to increase your metabolism

Don’t waste your time trying to increase your metabolism. You will burn more calories when you are more active and eventually when you have more lean muscle. Finally, dieting as we traditionally think of it will only decrease your metabolism.

Can You Really Increase Your Metabolism?

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Angela -

Thats so useful article for who wants to lose weight. My metabolism is really bad so always hard for me to lose weight bcz of pcos.

Millie -

Thanks, Angela. I can empathize with people suffering from PCOS. Keep well.

Yonca -

Helpful article for people who wants to loose weight. That’s true!Stay active to stay healthy.

Millie -

Thanks, Yonca! Keep moving!

Nikki Wayne -

I really can’t tolerate green tea’s bitter taste so glad coffee is in this list

Millie -

Hi Nikki, the good news is that you don’t have to drink green tea to increase your metabolism. 🙂

Renata Feyen -

That was such an interesting read – I have tried a few of those foods but they didn’t make me lose weight just like you said 🙂

Millie -

Hi Renata, Thanks for reading. As we both know, don’t waste your time trying to increase your metabolism with food.

Olufunke Kolapo -

I love your suggestions. They are quite awesome than anything else I have come across. Because I have been using some of them and they are helpful

Millie -

Thanks, Olunfunke. I am so happy for you.

Kathy Kenny Ngo -

I have a really slow metabolism which is why I gain weight easily plus the fact that I don’t really work out. If I could increase my metabolism and help me lose weight.

Millie -

Hi Kathy, I completely understand how you feel. Try exercising a bit more and eating healthy foods; that will help you lose weight.

Mosaic Designs -

My metabolism is so so bad and that is why i work out a lot. I didn’t know that some of these foods help increase the metabolism! This is awesome.

Millie -

I know what you mean. I also have to exercise a lot everyday.

Everything Enchanting -

What an informative post! People who are on their weight loss journey will find this info very helpful. I guess I have high metabolism because I lose weight fast ?

Millie -

Thanks for stopping by. Can you bottle your high metabolism and sell it to me?


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