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Using the Cold to Boost Your Metabolism

December 22, 2010 1 Comment by Scott Isaacs MD

Everyone has been talking about a new kind of dieting called thermal dieting.  The idea is that when your body is cold, it burns more calories.  By Thermal dieting going out in the cold, taking a cold bath or swimming in a frigid lake, you force your body to rev up metabolism.  Aside from the obvious dangers of hypothermia, the basic idea makes sense.

Thermal dieting recommends boosting metabolism by allowing cold to force your body to burn more calories by generating body heat.  The science is still lacking, but the theory is that you can use cold weather to coax your body into boosting metabolism by shifting excess calories from fat production to body heat generation.  Your body wants to be 98.6 degrees.  If body temperature plummets, the metabolic machinery revs up to produce more heat.

Cold weather activates brown fat, also known as brown adipose tissue, or BAT.  BAT is a very metabolically active form of fat.  The more active your BAT, brown adipose tissue the more heat you generate and the more calories you burn.  Researchers have looked into medications that activate BAT and burn calories, but to date these mediations have been shown to have many toxic side effects.

Proponents of thermal dieting have recommended everything from exercising in cold weather to skinny dipping in icy water.  Not everyone believes that thermal dieting works. The food you eat can overcome any metabolic advantage gained by the cold. Furthermore, many other factors including age, sleep and genetics play a role in the body’s metabolic rate.

Here’s a video being shown on ABC News about this topic: Cold Weather: A Weight Loss Secret?

What determines metabolism?

  1. The amount of muscle in your body
  2. Hormones
  3. Genetics
  4. Your body’s ability to generate body heat

Hormones and metabolic rate help explain the paradox that exists between those who pig out and never gain weight and the calorie counters that gain weight even when they only smell doughnuts.

Think of your body as an engine.  Metabolism is the rate at which the engine runs.  Hormones are the push on the accelerator.  Step on the gas and raise your metabolism.

Most of us have a very efficient metabolism. (Nowadays, this is bad.)  This means that the food — the fuel — you eat is efficiently burned, conserving as much as possible.  But unlike cars, where the more efficient the better, an efficient metabolism means you need less food to maintain your metabolism. So the more efficient your metabolism, the less food you need to consume.

And what happens to that extra food?  It’s stored as fat.

Why do most of us have such an efficient metabolism?

The answer is genetics.  We have been genetically selected for our efficient metabolism. Keep in mind that, until very recently, food was scarce.  Many people died of starvation.  There was no such thing as a fat caveman. The key to survival was a slow metabolism: Save every excess calorie as fat, because you’ll need it during the famine.

And times of famine where plentiful.  The world revolved around agriculture, and agriculture was far less refined in those days.  Any natural event – and, of course, there were no weather forecasts – could wipe out a year’s crop, and influence the crops for years to come.

So only those with an efficient, slow metabolism survived.  Those people would be considered natural thin in today’s environment died in the famines.

There are some who have inefficient metabolisms who have survived the centuries.  You know these people.  These are the ones that eat and eat and never get fat.  Their internal processes are so inefficient that they need to take in as much fuel/food as possible just to keep their body going.  There is never enough left over to be stored as fat.  At one time this was a survival disadvantage, but times have changed.  The metabolic inefficient are able to eat large quantities of food and never get fat.

But what about the rest of us?  Are we doomed to keep piling fat on until the next famine?

Of course not.  There is a lot you can do to change your metabolism, and changing your metabolism will improve your health.  You don’t need to risk hypothermia to boost metabolism.  In my books, I’ve written about ways to eat and live to balance your hormones and increase metabolism.  Please check the “Books” section of this blog for more info.

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  1. […] your dieting efforts have so far been lacking in results, one thing you may want to try is thermal dieting. The idea behind this is that the colder you are, the more calories your body needs to burn in […]

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