Stoke Your Fat Burning Fire!

by Jeanne Rhodes

Depending upon your biology, metabolic rate (a measure of energy produced as your body burns calories) can vary from fast to slow. Resting metabolic rate (RMR) refers to energy expenditure (calories burned) at rest and plays the most significant role in your daily energy balance. Many people place the blame, and rightly so, for weight loss difficulties on an uncooperative metabolic rate. However, there is a lot you can do that will change your biology to increase metabolism and the amount of calories you burn even at rest:

1) Food intake. Metabolic rate increases every time you eat to fuel the digestive process. Weight loss as well as health benefits occur with 5 small feedings rather than one or two large daily meals. Three smaller meals and two light snacks increase metabolism 5 times a day.

2) Brown fat. This highly specialized fat accounts for the “hollow leg” syndrome in thin individuals who can eat and never gain an ounce! Their brown fat mechanisms generate heat, which greatly accelerates the RMR, burning off excess calories. It consists of grapelike clusters of fat cells in the chest area that are connected via a nerve to the “cold center” in our brains. Their only purpose is to generate heat - requiring lots of fuel (calories) and an increase in metabolism.

Exercise stimulates brown fat keeping it active and efficient. Dieting destroys it. Studies have found a total shut-down of brown fat activity in people who are on restrictive diets.

3) Weight cycling. Frequent cycles of weight loss and weight gain slow down the RMR. The body works diligently in the face of an uncertain food supply (diet) to conserve, and becomes more efficient at storing energy (fat). Dramatic decreases in RMR have been recorded in studies with chronic dieters. Weight cycling is also harmful to your health, increasing risk of heart and artery disease, hypertension and diabetes and even cancer.

4) Body composition. Fat tissue requires little energy to maintain. All other tissue is referred to as “lean tissue,” and is metabolically active. According to Wayne Wescott, PhD., sports physiologist researcher, lean tissue requires 50 - 70 calories per pound, per day. With good nutrition and exercise, lean tissue increases which then raises RMR.

5) Gender and age. Differences in lean tissue explain why men generally have a higher RMR than women of the same size. By nature, men have larger muscles, bones, etc. (lean tissue) than women. A decline in lean tissue occurs with age for both men and women and more so in those who are not active. Age and inactivity - a “double whammy” - decreases lean tissue, which then decreases RMR. The good news is that we can prevent these decreases with exercise and nutrition!

6) Activity level and fitness. Active people have a higher RMR. The metabolic rate increases to supply additional fuel (calories) necessary for body movement (exercise).

7) Heredity. We inherit shape and body type. Physiological factors influencing RMR are also inherited. Still, the bottom line is that you can overcome heredity through lifestyle changes. You may simply have to work a little harder.


The first step is to focus on the process (a life-long healthful lifestyle) and not the product (weight loss).

Lower your intake of saturated fat and refined carbohydrates. Also, eat three smaller meals plus a healthy mid-morning and mid-afternoon snack. The amount of food should be just enough so that you feel comfortable. If on-and-off dieting has been a way of life for you, just say no to that temporary fix that has always failed you in the past.

To maximize RMR, eat more food earlier in the day and you will want to eat less food in the evening. Dinner is a big fat producer, so shore up breakfast, lunch and snacks so you eat lighter in the evening.

Remember - smaller feedings more frequently and a daily brisk walking will increase calories which increases RMR, and promotes good health. Add resistance exercise and increase lean tissue even more to boost RMR.

Jack Wilmore, Ph.D., Texas A & M University says, “Even small changes, done consistently, add up to a good deal of calories.” Learn healthy lifestyle habits to boost metabolism deliver permanent weight loss with a big bonus - major health benefits!

Rhodes, B.A., M.A., is a Nutritionist, Wellness Consultant, Author and Director of Rhodes Preventive Health Institute in Hagerstown, MD.