You’ve probably heard a lot of people blame their weight on a “slow metabolism,” but what exactly does that mean? Is metabolism really the issue? And if so, can we control it?
What is Metabolism?
Metabolism is a complex, chemical process by which your body converts all that you consume into the energy it needs to function every day. Calories are the way that we measure this energy. If you see an item contains “100 calories” you are able to determine how much energy your body will theoretically get from eating or drinking it.
Each one of us has an individual basal metabolic rate that is based off of the following:
- Your body size and composition. People who are larger burn more calories.
- Your sex. Men usually have more muscle and less body fat than women of the same age and weight.
- Your age. As you get older, the amount of muscle in your body tends to decrease, slowing down calorie burning.
Could a faulty metabolism be keeping me from losing weight?
The three factors listed above account for approximately 70 percent of the calories you burn every day. Another small portion is used up while digesting, absorbing, transporting and storing the food you consume. After that, it’s all dependent on physical activity. This portion of metabolism is called your “energy metabolism.”
Someone who goes for a run, vacuums the house, walks the dog and goes grocery shopping will certainly burn more calories than someone sitting at a desk or laying on the couch.
And while it’s true that some people seem to be able to lose weight more quickly or more easily than others, anyone and everyone will lose weight when they burn up more calories than they eat that day. It’s that simple.
So, while it may be tempting to blame your natural metabolism for unexpected weight gain or a lack of weight loss, odds are it’s really caused by something else like: genetic makeup, hormones, diet, stress or lack of sleep. Only in very rare cases will someone experience excessive weight gain from a medical condition, such as an hypothyroidism or Cushing’s syndrome. I recommend asking your doctor about this if you really suspect something’s wrong.
5 Common Myths About Metabolism You Need to Know
The Myth: Slim people naturally have a higher metabolism.
The Truth: There are as many skinny people as overweight people with low metabolisms. It’s muscle mass that counts.
It’s easy to assume that fatter people naturally have a more sluggish metabolism. That’s why they’re overweight, right? Not at all. While there are skinny people with insanely high metabolisms, it’s likely because they’re hyperactive and find themselves constantly moving. Any sort of physical activity burns calories! However, most of the time slim people are just more in tune with their bodies. They eat only what they need and no more.
Second, body weight is really a poor predictor of metabolism. You could have two people, both weighing 200 pounds; however, if one has 30 pounds of fat and the other has 60 pounds of fat, the one with less fat (and more muscle) will automatically burn more calories.
The Myth: Drinking green tea every day will boost metabolism.
The Truth: No superfood will speed up metabolism long-term.
There are many food fads that claim to help you boost your metabolism and ultimately lose weight: green tea and chili peppers are two great examples. And while some studies have shown that green tea, for example, may temporarily boost metabolic rates, it isn’t nearly enough to offset any real number of calories.
Looking to lose weight? Focus on portion control and living a more active lifestyle, not magic snacks.
The Myth: Eating late at night slows metabolism.
The Truth: Nighttime eating doesn’t cause weight gain, as long as you stay within your body’s daily caloric needs.
There is little evidence to support the idea that eating late causes weight gain. Truthfully, it’s the extra calories (not when you eat them) that causes weight gain. Netflix binge nights anyone? It’s so easy to snack while hanging out on the couch. Those calories add up!
The Myth: I cannot change the metabolic rate I’m born with.
The Truth: You may not be able to change your age or basic composition, but you can adjust your muscle mass.
While it’s true that genetics help determine approximately 70 percent of our metabolic rate, it is possible to boost metabolism by increasing lean muscle mass. Muscle burns more calories per hour than fat does, which is why lean people with strong, muscular bodies need more calories to function than those with a higher percentage of body fat.
This is why strength training (not just cardio) is so important to losing weight, particularly as you age. If you’d like to increase your metabolic rate, start lifting to pack on a bit more muscle.
The Myth: Low-calorie diets can jumpstart weight loss.
The Truth: Low-calorie diets inhibit weight loss.
Sustaining a low-calorie diet for a long period of time forces your body into starvation mode. Rather than encouraging your body to burn fat, it actually causes your body to use energy more and more efficiently (i.e. burning as few calories as possible).
Skipping meals also has a similar affect, but not for the same reason. If you skip a meal, any drop in burn rate will be so small that you wouldn’t notice it long-term. However, if you skip meals regularly, odds are you’ll overeat at your next meal because you’re overly hungry. Unless you practice intermittent fasting. In the end, it’s an issue of meal size, not metabolism.
What You Can Do
1. Commit to 30 minutes of aerobic activity every day. If you can’t squeeze in half an hour, break it up into ten minute chunks throughout.
2. Start strength training. Increase your muscle mass now so that you will be better off as you age. Hire a personal trainer to help you get started learning lifting techniques.
3. Make positive lifestyle changes. Spend more time moving and less time sitting, particularly if you work a desk job. Go for walks every day. Take the stairs. Park farther away from the office. Ride your bike to work. Make housework really count!