How to Boost Your Metabolism to Lose Weight: Why Dieting Leads to Metabolic Slowing & What to Do Instead

How to boost your metabolism to lose weight: Dieting and counting calories actually slow down your metabolism. Here are the steps you can take to speed your metabolism back up.

If you’re interested in boosting your metabolism, conventional advice points toward strength training and packing your diet full of protein. However, in an effort to lose weight at the same time, many individuals exercise more and also eat less, which actually leads to metabolic slowing1. To learn how to boost your metabolism to lose weight, the latest clinical evidence actually shows that dieting is the opposite of what you need.

Personally, it wasn’t until I gave up dieting that I reached a healthy weight. Furthermore, I can eat much more food today than I could back in my dieting days without gaining weight, because I actually healed my metabolism in the process.

In other words, I eat more and still weigh less because I started listening to my body to inform what and when I eat. This way, I’m working with my metabolism, not against it. There is plenty of clinical evidence2 that supports this phenomenon. Diet culture is doing us all an incredible disservice. Dieting only keeps us trapped in the restrict-binge cycle.

To help you navigate the path to healing your metabolism and reaching your natural weight, I’m going to dive into the science of metabolism, how it works, and why dieting actually slows it down. Then I’ll share what you can do to boost your metabolism and lose weight without ever dieting again.

What Is Metabolism & How Does It Affect Weight Loss?

How to Boost Your Metabolism & Reach Your Natural Weight: Your metabolism is constantly running, burning up energy (calories), even while you're resting

Metabolism refers to the sum total of all chemical reactions that take place in the body. It involves the processes of producing energy by breaking down nutrients such as carbohydrates, proteins, and fats.

This energy is used by our cells to carry out life-sustaining functions like breathing, circulating blood, and maintaining body temperature. Energy is used during daily activities and also periods of rest to keep essential functions going.

Before digging into the steps on how to boost your metabolism to lose weight, it’s important to understand some of the science behind it:

  • Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) is the amount of energy expended by the body at complete rest, while in a post-absorptive state (12 hours after the last meal). BMR accounts for approximately 60-75% of total energy expenditure and varies depending on factors like age, gender, weight, and body composition.
  • Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR) is similar to BMR but is measured under less strict conditions. It considers the energy expended during rest but not in a post-absorptive state. RMR is slightly higher than BMR due to factors like recent food intake and physical activity level.
  • Thermic Effect of Food (TEF) represents the energy expenditure required to digest, absorb, and process the nutrients from the food we eat. This component of metabolism accounts for approximately 10% of total energy expenditure. TEF is different form thermogenesis, which refers to the production of heat in the body as a result of various metabolic reactions.

The type of food we eat can affect the Thermic Effect of Food, with protein requiring more energy for digestion compared to carbohydrates and fats.

Keep in mind that it can trigger disordered eating or an unwanted obsession with food when using conventional weight loss tips such as “eat more protein in order to benefit from the Thermic Effect of Food.”

Although some science supports this idea, many dieters take measures too far — like eating disproportionately high levels of protein while restricting overall calories — and end up slowing their metabolism instead of boosting it.

Factors That Affect Your Metabolism

How to Boost Your Metabolism & Reach Your Natural Weight: Your metabolism is affected by factors such as age and muscle mass — and if you're on a diet, it could be a significant factor

Before we dig into effective ways to boost metabolism without dieting, it’s important to understand some other factors that influence your metabolism:

  • Age: Metabolism tends to decrease with age, mainly due to a decline in muscle mass and hormonal changes.3
  • Genetics: Some individuals may have a naturally higher or lower metabolic rate due to genetic factors inherited from their parents. However, genetic influence on metabolism is relatively small compared to lifestyle and environmental factors.4
  • Diet: Studies have shown5, 6 that restrictive diets lead to metabolic slowing while eating according to your body’s signals (i.e. intuitive eating) leads to7 metabolic fitness. We will discuss much more on this later!
  • Muscle mass: Muscle tissue is more metabolically active than fat tissue, meaning it burns more calories even at rest. People with a higher proportion of muscle mass tend to have a higher metabolic rate. Regular strength training and resistance exercises can help increase muscle mass and boost metabolism.8
  • Hormonal factors: Hormones play a crucial role in regulating metabolism. Thyroid hormones such as thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3) have a significant impact on metabolic rate. Imbalances in hormones, such as hypothyroidism, can lead to a slower metabolism.9

If you struggle with stubborn weight gain, ask your doctor to test your thyroid to rule out any potential conditions that affect those hormones. For anyone that struggles with losing weight without any preceding medical conditions, read on to learn how to boost your metabolism to lose weight.

How Does Metabolism Affect Weight Loss?

How to Boost Your Metabolism & Reach Your Natural Weight: Dieting not only slows your metabolism, but it makes you more likely to gain weight in the long-run

Outdated science10 views weight loss as a matter of “calories in, calories out.” (The clinical study I linked here is from 1964!)

To lose weight in theory, you need to create an energy deficit by consuming fewer calories than your body utilizes. This deficit prompts your body to tap into its energy stores, resulting in weight loss.

However, it’s essential to understand that the latest clinical research11 does not support this notion as it oversimplifies complex processes within the human body that compensate for prolonged periods of caloric restriction with metabolic slowing.

When someone consistently diets by creating calorie deficits, it triggers hormonal changes12 in the body — such as the release of ghrelin, the “hunger hormone” — that cause you to seek food, especially of the high-calorie variety.

These patterns can slow a person’s metabolism through the following vicious cycle:

  • When someone restricts their calories on a diet, it can lead to metabolic slowing13, the body’s adaptive response to drastic changes in calorie intake.
  • The body then increases the production of hormones14 that stimulate appetite and make high-calorie foods appealing. This can result in overeating, especially if undereating has led to extreme hunger.
  • When calories are severely restricted, triggering a sense of famine, it can even lead to hyperphagia,15 or extreme, insatiable hunger. Researchers believe this is one of the reasons for “weight overshoot,” or the phenomenon of regaining even more weight than was initially lost.

Have you ever been there? Dieting and calorie counting with the best intentions of losing weight, only to end up overeating and gaining back all the weight that you lost — and then some?

Now you know that it’s not your fault — our bodies are wired to respond to caloric restriction this way. But what does this mean if you want to learn how to boost your metabolism to lose weight?

The good news is that there are ways to regulate your weight without dieting, particularly for people who are above their natural weight. For individuals who are at a healthy weight but still seek weight loss, it could indicate body dysmorphia, a persistent preoccupation or obsession with perceived flaws in one’s physical appearance.

If you struggle with body dysmorphia or an eating disorder, it’s important to reach out to a medical professional for help. The National Eating Disorders Association has excellent resources.

How to Boost Your Metabolism to Lose Weight Without Dieting

How to Boost Your Metabolism & Reach Your Natural Weight: Eat a normal, healthy amount of food and watch how your metabolism heals itself

Contrary to popular belief, nourishing your body with sufficient calories and following its natural cues can actually support weight loss and maintain a healthy metabolic rate. You can listen to your body to inform what and when you eat, and your weight will regulate itself.

As previously stated, when the body experiences a prolonged caloric deficit, it initiates adaptive responses to conserve energy and ensure survival. Metabolically, the body slows down its processes, leading to a decrease in metabolic rate.13

However, when you provide your body with an adequate amount of calories, several positive changes occur. Firstly, eating a healthy amount of food stimulates the release of hormones, such as leptin, which signals satiety and energy sufficiency. This hormone helps to restore the body’s metabolic balance and reduce hunger cravings.

Secondly, eating a healthy amount of food replenishes depleted glycogen stores in the muscles and liver. Glycogen is the storage form of glucose, which is the body’s primary source of energy. Restoring glycogen stores through adequate food intake provides a readily available energy source, supporting overall metabolic function.

Eating a healthy, non-restrictive amount of food also prevents the breakdown of muscle tissue for energy and preserves muscle mass, which is crucial for a healthy metabolism.

When you eat according to your body’s natural hunger and fullness cues, you establish a trusting relationship with your body. By listening to what your body truly needs and providing it with nourishment, you create an environment where it feels safe and assured that an adequate supply of food is available.

Clinical studies16 have shown that dieting is a predictor of weight gain, not weight loss. Furthermore, eating based on internal cues of hunger and fullness has been shown7 to improve metabolic fitness, which includes an elevated use of fat at rest17 and during exercise.

If you’re afraid of gaining weight if you stop dieting, rest assured that the clinical evidence is supportive. As someone that has personally struggled with compulsive eating, I understand exactly how scary it can be to give up dieting, which is akin to giving up a sense of control.

However, giving up dieting was one of the best decisions I ever made — and yes, it ultimately helped me lose weight while also healing my mental and physical health.

How Many Calories Do You Need to Heal Your Metabolism?

How to Boost Your Metabolism & Reach Your Natural Weight: Afraid of giving up dieting? Calclulate how many calories you need to maintain your current weight

Determining the exact number of calories needed to heal and support your metabolism can be a complex process. Individual needs vary. However, I can provide you with some well-respected tools to give you a starting point.

To calculate your estimated calorie needs, you can use reputable online calculators such as those provided by the American Council on Exercise (ACE), the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, or the National Institutes of Health (NIH). These calculators consider factors like age, gender, weight, height, and activity level to estimate your daily calorie needs.

Personally, I like the calculator from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disease, which rather surprised me. One thing I don’t like is that their tool can be used to calculate the number of calories needed for weight loss, which we just discussed isn’t an effective option. However, what I do like is that it gives you an idea of how many calories you need to maintain your current weight.

Personally, I find this number comforting, especially for someone toying with the idea of giving up dieting. For example, if you need somewhere around 2,200 calories to maintain your current weight, that can provide some peace of mind.

If your body is still hungry after eating a 400 calorie meal, and then you eat another 400 calories, it can be comforting to know that it’s within your body’s needs. While many dieters may view this as unacceptable, the reality is that eating 800 calories in one sitting isn’t necessarily overeating if it meets your body’s needs.

Now that we’ve discussed how eating a healthy amount of food can assist in boosting your metabolism, let’s talk about exercise.

Do You Need to Exercise to Boost Your Metabolism for Weight Loss?

How to Boost Your Metabolism & Reach Your Natural Weight: Exercise is helpful for boosting metabolism, but not when you push your body too hard

“Fad diets” tell us to strength train to build muscle so that we burn more calories at rest. As previously discussed, muscle tissue is more metabolically active than fat tissue, and therefore having more muscle means burning more fat while resting.

While exercise is undoubtedly healthy and productive, it is far more sustainable and enjoyable when we exercise for enjoyment, not weight loss. Furthermore, clinical evidence7 has found that eating based on internal hunger and fullness is enough to improve metabolic fitness, which includes an elevated use of fat at rest and during exercise.

Some people are natural gym-goers with a passion for fitness. Other people have intentions of working out but run themselves too ragged at work to have any energy left for exercise.

The good news is that, whether you’re going to the gym or exercising your brain, you’re burning more fat at rest when you stop dieting and listen to your body to inform what you eat instead.

From what I have seen as an eating psychology coach is not that people are too lazy to exercise, or that they lack accountability. Rather, I have seen the exact opposite! Almost all of my clients are excessively self-critical of their exercise goals and lack of follow-through.

Yet, at the same time, many of those clients show up still on a diet. This means they are restricting calories, undereating, and suffering the biological backlash of such choices (i.e. a slowed metabolism13 and lack of energy). It is a self-fulfilling prophecy: without a healthy metabolism, there is no energy to exercise.

In short, exercise is beneficial for overall health, but it is not a necessary requirement to boost metabolism for weight loss. Eating based on internal hunger and fullness cues is enough to improve metabolic fitness.

Tips on How to Heal Your Metabolism to Lose Weight

How to Boost Your Metabolism & Reach Your Natural Weight: Listen to your body to inform what and when you eat, and you'll be well on your way to a healthy weight

We’ve covered so many topics at this point that I thought it would be helpful to leave you with a nice actionable list of tips. Here are some steps you can take to learn how to boost your metabolism to lose weight:

  • Stop Dieting: Shift your mindset from strict dieting to a more intuitive and sustainable approach to eating. Let go of restrictive rules, calorie counting, and the notion of “good” and “bad” foods. Instead, focus on nourishing your body with balanced meals and listening to its natural hunger and fullness cues.
  • Exercise for Enjoyment: Instead of viewing exercise solely as a means for weight loss, shift your perspective to prioritize movement that brings you joy and enhances your overall well-being such as dancing, hiking, cycling, or practicing yoga.
  • Listen to Your Body: Assess your energy levels, physical hunger cues, physical fullness cues, and personal preferences to determine the right amount of food for you. You will likely find that you crave higher calorie foods on days where you’re more physically active. Listen to your body and trust that it knows how to regulate itself.
  • Assess Your True Caloric Needs: As previously mentioned, to understand your caloric needs, consider using reputable online calculators such as my personal favorite from the NIDDK. Instead of using it to calculate the number of calories needed for weight loss, focus on how many calories you need for maintenance. That way you can focus on healing your metabolism.
  • Focus on Nourishment: Instead of fixating on calorie numbers, shift your focus to the quality of the food you consume. On some days, you may naturally crave nutritious, whole foods. Other days you may crave foods labeled by the diet industry as “bad” but these foods are essential for a sense of satisfaction after eating.
  • Foster Body Acceptance: Shift your focus from weight or appearance to appreciating and accepting your body as it is. Embrace the idea that bodies come in different shapes and sizes, and prioritize your health and well-being rather than conforming to societal ideals.
  • Seek Support: Reach out to professionals, such as registered dietitians, eating psychology coaches, therapists, or eating disorder specialists, who can provide guidance and support on your journey toward giving up dieting and healing your metabolism. 

Healing Your Metabolism & Reaching Your Natural Weight Without Dieting Ever Again

Remember, the journey to boosting your metabolism and achieving a healthy weight is not about following rigid rules or restrictive diets. It’s about embracing your body’s innate wisdom, listening to its cues, and making nourishing choices.

By giving up dieting and listening to your body to inform what and when you eat, you can heal your metabolism and cultivate a positive relationship with food and your body.

If you’d like to learn more about my personal experience climbing out of compulsive eating, check out my free ebook below. It comes with a free 5-day course in Psycho-Spiritual Wellness, which is my program for breaking free from compulsive eating through purely psychological and even spiritual practices.

  1. Kouda, Katsuyasu et al. “Metabolic response to short-term 4-day energy restriction in a controlled study.” Environmental health and preventive medicine vol. 11,2 (2006): 89-92. doi:10.1007/BF02898148
  2. Maclean, Paul S et al. “Biology’s response to dieting: the impetus for weight regain.” American journal of physiology. Regulatory, integrative and comparative physiology vol. 301,3 (2011): R581-600. doi:10.1152/ajpregu.00755.2010
  3. Pontzer, Herman et al. “Daily energy expenditure through the human life course.” Science (New York, N.Y.) vol. 373,6556 (2021): 808-812. doi:10.1126/science.abe5017
  4. Kastenmüller, Gabi et al. “Genetics of human metabolism: an update.” Human molecular genetics vol. 24,R1 (2015): R93-R101. doi:10.1093/hmg/ddv263
  5. Kouda, Katsuyasu et al. “Metabolic response to short-term 4-day energy restriction in a controlled study.” Environmental health and preventive medicine vol. 11,2 (2006): 89-92. doi:10.1007/BF02898148
  6. Dulloo, Abdul G. “Physiology of weight regain: Lessons from the classic Minnesota Starvation Experiment on human body composition regulation.” Obesity reviews : an official journal of the International Association for the Study of Obesity vol. 22 Suppl 2 (2021): e13189. doi:10.1111/obr.13189
  7. Schaefer, Julie T, and Amy B Magnuson. “A review of interventions that promote eating by internal cues.” Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics vol. 114,5 (2014): 734-60. doi:10.1016/j.jand.2013.12.024
  8. McPherron, Alexandra C et al. “Increasing muscle mass to improve metabolism.” Adipocyte vol. 2,2 (2013): 92-8. doi:10.4161/adip.22500
  9. Shahid MA, Ashraf MA, Sharma S. Physiology, Thyroid Hormone. [Updated 2023 May 1]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2023 Jan-. Available from:
  10. KINSELL, L W et al. “CALORIES DO COUNT.” Metabolism: clinical and experimental vol. 13 (1964): 195-204. doi:10.1016/0026-0495(64)90098-8
  11. Hall, Kevin D, and Scott Kahan. “Maintenance of Lost Weight and Long-Term Management of Obesity.” The Medical clinics of North America vol. 102,1 (2018): 183-197. doi:10.1016/j.mcna.2017.08.012
  12. Tschöp, M et al. “Ghrelin induces adiposity in rodents.” Nature vol. 407,6806 (2000): 908-13. doi:10.1038/35038090
  13. Johannsen, Darcy L et al. “Metabolic slowing with massive weight loss despite preservation of fat-free mass.” The Journal of clinical endocrinology and metabolism vol. 97,7 (2012): 2489-96. doi:10.1210/jc.2012-1444
  14. Sumithran, Priya et al. “Long-Term Persistence of Hormonal Adaptations to Weight Loss.” New England Journal of Medicine vol 365, 17 (2011).
  15. Dulloo, Abdul G. “Physiology of weight regain: Lessons from the classic Minnesota Starvation Experiment on human body composition regulation.” Obesity reviews : an official journal of the International Association for the Study of Obesity vol. 22 Suppl 2 (2021): e13189. doi:10.1111/obr.13189
  16. Lowe, Michael R et al. “Dieting and restrained eating as prospective predictors of weight gain.” Frontiers in psychology vol. 4 577. 2 Sep. 2013, doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00577
  17. Saltin, Bengt, and Henriette Pilegaard. “Metabolisk fitness: fysisk aktivitet og sundhed” [Metabolic fitness: physical activity and health]. Ugeskrift for laeger vol. 164,16 (2002): 2156-62.

Keep It Going: Get "The Spiritual Seeker's Guide to Stop Binge Eating" (Free Ebook)

The Spiritual Seeker's Guide to Stop Binge Eating

The Spiritual Seeker’s Guide to Stop Binge Eating will show you even more insight into the subconscious reasons why we eat past fullness — even when we really don’t want to! (It’s a free, 13-page, beautifully-illustrated PDF.)

When you sign up, you’ll also get a free 5-part crash course in Psycho-Spiritual Wellness to catch you up to speed. It’s perfect if you’re new to my blog. Sign up below:

You're On a Roll: Take the Eating Psychology QUIZ!

Even if you struggle with overeating, I bet I can guess your strength around food.

If you think food is your weakness, take the quiz and give me the chance to change your mind. There are just 8 questions.

Once you finish, you can either skip the email part (because I hate quizzes that force you to enter one!) or you can sign up to get a free 5-day crash course on Psycho-Spiritual Wellness. It’s perfect for beginners!

You're Really on a Roll: Get a Handle on Self-Sabotage

Bestseller: Why We Do the Things We Do

If you’re ready to take things even deeper, check out my most popular workbook, Why We Do the Things We Do: A Workbook to Curb Self-Sabotage.

By actually putting pen to paper, you’ll be surprised by what comes up. This is how you can discover your unique psychological blocks to compulsive eating.

I swear by workbooks!!! There is something about separating our thoughts onto paper that allows us to dig DEEP at our subconscious blocks around food and weight.

If you like everything you’ve read so far, this is the perfect place to make massive progress. (It’s my bestseller, after all!)

Since you're here, I would LOVE it if you dropped a comment on this post.

I read and reply to every single one! Just like I do with my emails. Since I don’t use much social media (outside of Pinterest and YouTube), I very much enjoy this opportunity to hear your thoughts and connect ✨

2 thoughts on "How to Boost Your Metabolism to Lose Weight: Why Dieting Leads to Metabolic Slowing & What to Do Instead"

  1. Jamie Harmansays:

    Thank you for the articles, they’re so helpful. One of the many times I dieted to lose weight, I restricted calories during the week and ate anything I wanted on Saturday, and on Sunday more than usual but not going all out. I absolutely believed the increased caloric intake on the weekends shifted my metabolism and I was successful for awhile. Now to learn how to heal it and work on learning to nourish my body. I’ve been on Mounjaro since October and lost 37 pounds but then stopped losing. Unfortunately I feel like it triggered disordered eating because the eating disorder me thought this was the magic pill I’ve prayed for and I could eat anything and everything I want all the time. So my eating is totally out of control, and now my savings card is not paying as much so I can’t afford to continue taking it. Taking a deep breath. Now it’s time to read all the emails I’ve gotten from you that I’ve been meaning to read…

    1. Kari Dahlgrensays:

      Hi Jamie! Wow, I think it is so understandable how you feel. It is so upsetting that we have been trained to think that eating a normal amount of food is overeating! And I hope things go smoothly as you begin to heal your metabolism and use all your tools, like the SDF 😉 thanks for commenting!! I’m sure so many others can relate to your story. xoxo

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *