To lose weight, you need to expend more energy than you consume. And that means a high Basal Metabolic Rate to burn calories.

“My friend can eat anything and she doesn't gain weight, while I eat one extra peanut and it goes straight to my hips!!” was a tearful complaint I heard from a young lady I met recently. Sounds familiar? Unfortunately not all of us are blessed with a high metabolism, which keeps us from steadily gaining weight over a period of time. A speedy metabolism helps one burn more calories even while at rest. For most of us ill-fated beings however, the Basal Metabolic Rate or BMR slows down after the age of 40 and then it is a tailspin thereafter. Your Basal Metabolic Rate or BMR is essentially the calories you burn while at rest. Your BMR is primarily genetically determined.

In order to lose weight one needs to expend more energy than one consumes. The Total Energy Expenditure or TEE has to be consistently higher for prolonged periods of time for the results to show on the scale and the inch tape. If one's BMR is even marginally elevated, it would help tilt the scale by expending more calories.

Here's hope. There are ways in which one can keep one's BMR raised and manage one's weight reasonably well.

Weight Train: Weight training is the corner stone of elevating BMR. Building muscle with weight training will help burn more calories. A pound of muscle burns about 6 calories daily, while an equivalent amount of fat will sit around burning only 2 calories a day. Here is then yet another reason to pick up those dumbbells.

Don't just play around with lightweights; Train hard to build muscle. Use a weight that enables you to perform 12 repetitions of a given exercise with good “form” and no more. If you can perform 12 reps too easily, and may be able to do a few more, then you need to increase the weight used. This one is not working any more.

Increase the Intensity of your workout: A high intensity cardio workout, or better still a high intensity routine that combines cardio and weights will help you burn more calories and also keep the BMR elevated post workout. This is called the “after-burn”.

If you have been partaking in Walking as your mode of cardio all along, try a higher intensity Step class. This not only adds variety, challenging different muscles but also burns more calories during and after the workout

Low intensity, long duration workouts will burn calories during the exercise session, but the post-exercise calories burn is not significant. As one gets fitter, you can manage to achieve better, faster results with a shorter duration, high intensity workout.

Eat smaller meals (snacks), more often: Eating small quantities of food at frequent intervals (3-4 hours) helps to keep the metabolism elevated. Long periods of hunger sends your body into starvation mode encouraging it to store calories rather than burn them. One also tends to eat much more and indiscriminately when one is hungry over a prolonged period of time. One study found that people who snacked often tended to consume less calories over the course of the day. The key of course is to snack sensibly. Eating a packet of potato chips does not count for a snack. That is an indulgence.

Avoid starvation diets: the biggest mistake people make when wanting to lose weight is going on very low calorie diets. The body has a certain minimal energy requirement in the form of calories just to survive. When you deprive it of that energy, the metabolism slows down to compensate. As a result you are, in effect sabotaging your weight loss efforts. Not only is one depriving oneself of essential nutrients when on an extreme low calorie diet, but also one is setting oneself up for a struggle with ones weight in the future. Crash dieters tend to regain lost pounds, and more. Repeated efforts at crash dieting to lose weight become more and more difficult. The end result is a depressed and frustrated individual, who is unable to achieve ones weight loss goals despite the agony of starvation. To add insult to injury you seem to be gaining weight as the body tends to burn far fewer calories (it becomes more fuel efficient!) and holds on to fat.

Many people (women more often) prefer to “diet” than exercise. It seems to be easier. This is an error of mammoth proportions if you look at long-term consequences. The word “diet” should not be synonymous with “starvation”. A diet is essentially a sensible eating plan that one can follow most days of out lives. It should enable us to lead normal lives, exercise, work and be productive. What would be the point of being hungry and irritable a large part of the day in the hope of losing weight only to gain it all back?

Eat more protein: Eating the required amounts of protein is essential to keep your metabolism elevated. Consistently consuming large quantities of refined carbohydrates makes the metabolism sluggish in addition to adding calories, elevating blood sugar and insulin levels. Evaluate how much protein you need for your body weight, gender and activity level and consume lean proteins with every meal. Good sources of protein are lean meat/ chicken, fish, lentils, eggs, low fat diary products and nuts.

Stay active during the day: Staying active, moving around, working, bending, lifting and so on keeps the body burning calories all day. An hour of exercise is no reason to remain sedentary the rest of the day. However insignificant it may seem just moving around during your day has significant benefits.

Stay well hydrated: Water is said to increase metabolism and aid digestion. Drink enough water during the day. Don't wait to get thirsty before you reach for your bottle. 8-10 glasses a day. More if you are very active of if the weather demands.

Most importantly, remember that we all are different. Our body type, metabolism, shape and size vary. One needs to individualize ones fitness routine and eating pattern to suit our needs not follow some random plan that was meant for someone else in the hope of achieving an imaginary number on the scale. Your friend may eat all she likes, you, however need to focus on what your body needs and act accordingly.

Dr. Sheela Nambiar M.D, is a Obstetrician/Gynaecologist, Fitness and Lifestyle Consultant NAFC (US) and Director, TFL Fitness Studio, Chennai. E-mail drsheela@tfl-inc.com

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Sunday MagazineJune 28, 2012