I Lost 30lbs by Boosting My Metabolism With 3 Simple Tricks

I began losing weight in 2006 when I was in high school. Each time I lost weight I'd regain it more. Each time I tried to lose weight again, it would be slower than before. After six years, I was at the heaviest I'd ever been. I weighed 150 pounds at 5 foot 3.

It was 2012. I started tracking my calories. At first, I lost around one pound a week, but then, I began to lose 0.5 pounds a week, and shortly after, I stopped losing weight completely.

I went on weight loss forums to figure out what was going on, and many people suggested I exercise more and raise my daily calories burned.

Lucy Liang metabolism boost
Lucy Liang pictured after boosting her metabolism using three strategies. Lucy Liang

So, I exercised frantically but, again, after seeing some initial weight loss, it stopped. I was at my wit's end. I thought maybe I was eating too much, so I slashed even more calories.

When you're only eating fewer than 1,000 calories a day and exercising multiple hours a day, you know what you don't have anymore? A life.

I still saw no change a week later. I felt this sense of falling behind and so in a panicked frenzy, I tried diet teas and fat-burning pills to force my body to change. None of these helped.

After my mom had a health scare in late 2014, I began to study my nutrition and metabolism properly.

Our bodies are adaptation machines and are incredibly sensitive to change. It can freak out when you eat in a big calorie deficit for too long, especially if you have a history of yo-yo dieting as well.

I lost weight by eating 1,200 calories a day but was no longer losing any weight at those same calories because my body adapted to only burn 1,200 calories.

As I kept lowering my calories even more, my body, even more convinced than ever that it was in a famine, continued to decrease my metabolism to match it.

This also explained why I was so tired and irritable all the time. I had no energy to focus because my body wasn't letting me use any of my energy.

Temporarily Reversing My Calorie Deficit

What I did instead was reverse my diet back up to maintenance for a week or two to reset my metabolism.

At first, it was scary when I saw my weight shoot up. In the past, I would have failed, but having learned that this would just be temporary water gain, I decided to trust the process.

This is when I learned to not just weigh myself but also do body measurements as well. Since weight can be made up of not just fat, but also water, muscle, and glycogen, if the weight I did gain came from water instead of fat, I should see a gain in scale weight, but not body fat percentage.

Once I reset my metabolism, it was time to go back into a deficit, albeit a more moderate ten to 20 percent this time, and I started losing weight again.

I unbroke my metabolism by using strategic refeeds, taking one week off to eat at maintenance every time I hit a plateau, which was about once every three months.

Getting Better Sleep

But I still felt something was missing. I didn't feel as energetic as I expected. And while progress no longer stalled, it felt slow. I thought, there's got to be something more than just not feeling broken.

It was during further studies that I learned that muscle burns more calories than fat at rest about three times more, according to researchers.

I also learned that because of my history of yo-yo dieting, I had lost muscle and gained more fat as a result—further slowing down my metabolism.

I already knew that muscle was good for you for many reasons, but knowing that I get to burn more calories was what finally made me start strength training, which I still do to this day. But that wasn't enough.

Although I did see my body fat drop and muscle increase, after a few weeks, I stopped seeing progress again. The insomnia I had developed all these years never really went away. I was still stressed all the time. I always knew that sleep was good for me.

But I didn't realize just how much of an impact it had on my body.

I quit caffeine, cold turkey, and started to wake up at the same time every day. The first two to three weeks sucked. I felt like a zombie. But by the end of week three, I was falling asleep and waking up regularly.

That's when something shocking happened. Without changing anything else, my workouts improved, and I started losing fat faster than I did before.

I later learned that gaining muscle as a woman is slow. Assuming you really push yourself at each and every training session, the most you can expect to gain in one year is up to ten pounds of muscle. And every year after that, the rate is halved.

This isn't to say building muscle isn't useful. It absolutely is over the long term, and I still do it today, but there was something else that helped my body drop fat more quickly immediately.

Better sleep itself improves metabolism. When you're sleep-deprived for a long time, a few things happen. Your body is so stressed that it thinks you need to conserve energy, so it hangs onto your fat a lot more than if you had gotten proper sleep.

Increasing Non-Exercise Activity

But there was one more thing that helped boost my metabolism, and this simple thing I discovered completely by accident.

Up until that point, I was still exercising nearly every day a mix of strength training, HIIT, cardio, and running. Then I attended my very first Emerald City Comic Con, a multi-day comic convention that had me on my feet all day.

Now, I was worried because I wouldn't have any time to work out on those days. Plus, I'd be eating a lot of empty calories from food courts. But it was only a week, and I was about due for a refeed week anyway.

But after the week was over, I was shocked to discover that even though I ate 200 to 300 more calories per day than before, I actually lost fat.

When I looked at my pedometer, I had been walking almost 15-20,000 steps every day, compared to my usual 5-6,000 steps a day. What I had accidentally done was increase my NEAT (Non-exercise activity thermogenesis), which are small, often unconscious movements we do throughout the day, like walking around and doing.

These are different than formal exercises. Once I saw this happen in practice, I cut back on my HIIT and running, and instead started implementing five to 15 minutes of walking throughout my day by setting timers on my phone.

Doing this four to six times a day totaled six to 10,000 steps per day. On top of that, I'd do another 30-minute post-dinner walk with my favorite podcast, which often brought me up to a total of 13,000 steps, all without feeling like I was exerting too much effort.

My Weight Loss Results

By early 2016, I had lost 30 pounds and felt like a different person.

Refeeding periodically, getting quality sleep, and prioritizing physical activity throughout the day versus doing formal exercises, had the most immediate impact on my metabolism in my journey to lose fat and get fit.

But there are, in fact, other things you can do on the spectrum of smallest to biggest bang for the buck metabolism boosters, depending on where you are at in your own journey.

In the end, if there's one secret to speeding up your metabolism, it's slow down to speed up.

Lucy Liang is a co-founder of Coach Viva, a weight loss company with a tried-and-tested system on how to create a plan you can do each and every day without struggling.

All views expressed in this article are the author's own.

Do you have a unique experience or personal story to share? Email the My Turn team at myturn@newsweek.com

Editor's Picks

Newsweek cover
  • Newsweek magazine delivered to your door
  • Unlimited access to Newsweek.com
  • Ad free Newsweek.com experience
  • iOS and Android app access
  • All newsletters + podcasts
Newsweek cover
  • Unlimited access to Newsweek.com
  • Ad free Newsweek.com experience
  • iOS and Android app access
  • All newsletters + podcasts