You’ve probably heard people complaining that they barely eat anything and yet gain weight due to slow metabolism. Or you might have met people who eat whatever they want (including large portions of junk food!) but don’t gain weight, thanks to their fast metabolism. What do these two opposite scenarios mean? Is metabolism really the culprit for weight gain? And if it’s true, can you rev up your metabolism to burn more calories?
The fact is that although metabolism is linked to weight. But contrary to the common belief, slow metabolism is not often the cause of excess weight gain.
The truth is metabolism does influence your body’s energy needs; actually, how much you eat and drink plus how much physical activity you do are the main factors that ultimately govern your weight.
Metabolism Rate: Converting Food & Beverages Into Energy
Metabolic rate or metabolism is the process by which your body transforms what you eat and drink into energy. During this process, calories from foods and beverages get combined with oxygen to produce the energy that your body requires to function.
Even when you’re resting, your body requires energy for all its “less obvious” functions, like breathing, circulating blood, growing, and repairing cells, and adjusting hormone levels. The number of calories your body needs to carry out these basic hidden functions is known as your basal metabolic rate (BMR) – what is popularly called metabolism. Your BMR level partly depends on the genes you inherit.
Here’s a good analogy to understand metabolism. Think of your body as a car engine that is always running. When you’re sleeping or sitting still, your body engine is idling just like a car at a stop light. A small amount of energy is being burned to keep your body’s engine running. For your body, the fuel source is not gasoline. It’s the calories (energy) contained in foods you eat and beverages you drink. This energy may be used right away or stored (particularly in the form of fat) for use later.
How many calories you burn depends on how fast your body’s “engine” runs. If your metabolism rate is “high” (fast), you will burn more calories (consume energy) at rest and during activity. A high metabolism thus means you have to take in more calories to maintain your body weight. That’s a leading reason why some people can eat more than others without gaining weight. A person with a “low” (slow) metabolism burns fewer calories at rest and during activity and therefore needs to eat less to avoid becoming overweight.
Metabolism and Weight
It’s part truth and part myth that metabolism is responsible for weight gain. The rising tide of obesity can’t be blamed entirely on an inherited tendency to have a slow metabolism. Rather our diet along with not exercising or too little exercising, are likely to be the main culprits.
Irrespective of whether your metabolism is slow or fast, your body is designed to store unused energy in your fat cells. Therefore, if you eat and drink more calories than your body burns, you will gain weight. On the other hand, if you eat and drink fewer calories than are expended through your daily activities (including exercise, rest, and sleep), you’ll lose weight. Your body is also programmed to sense a lack of food as starvation. In response, your body adapts, and your BMR slows down, meaning fewer calories are burned over time. That’s one reason why losing weight at times is difficult.
Whereas we don’t have much control over the speed of our basal metabolism (BMR), we can control how many calories we expend (burn) through our level of physical activity. The more active we are, the more calories we expend (burn). Actually, some people have a fast metabolism because of the fact they are more active than others.
Your basal metabolism (BMR) depends on several factors, including:
- Body size and composition: People who are larger or have more muscle mass burn more calories, even when they are resting.
- Sex: Men typically have less body fat and more muscle mass as compared to women of the same age and weight, meaning men burn more calories.
- Age: With age, the amount of muscle mass tends to decrease, and fat accounts for more of an individual’s weight, which slows down calorie burning.
The above factors for your energy needs remain fairly consistent and aren’t easily changed.
In addition to the basal metabolic rate (BMR), two other factors affect how many calories your body burns every day:
- Food processing: Digesting, absorbing, transporting, and storing the food we eat also require some calories. About ten percent of the calories from the carbohydrates and protein we eat are used during the digestion of the food and absorption of nutrients.
- Physical activity: Exercise and routine physical activities like walking to the store, playing sports, chasing after the dog, and various other physical movements also burn up calories every day. Physical activity is by far the most variable factor that determines how many calories you expend each day.
Scientists call the activity you do during a day that isn’t deliberate exercise as “nonexercise activity thermogenesis” (NEAT). This activity includes walking from room to room, activities such as gardening, and even fidgeting. NEAT accounts for about 100 to 800 calories used every day.
How You Can Speed Up Your Metabolism To Burn More Calories
Regular Aerobic Exercise: Aerobic exercise is the most effective way to expend calories. Some examples of this type of activity are walking, bicycling, and swimming. As a general goal, one should do at least 30 minutes of physical activity in their everyday routine. To lose weight or meet specific fitness goals, one may need to increase the time one spends on physical activity even more. The key is that the more active you are, the greater the benefits.
If you can’t set aside time for a longer workout in one go, break up your workout into 10-minute chunks of activity throughout the day.
Strength Training: Experts suggest strength/weight training exercises, such as using dumbbells, resistance bands, or other weights, at least twice a week. Strength training is recommended as it counteracts muscle loss associated with aging and helps gain muscle mass. And since muscle tissues help burn more calories than fat tissues do, muscle mass is an important factor in weight loss.
Extra Physical Activities: Any extra physical movement helps expend (burn) calories. Look for opportunities to walk and move around a few minutes more every day than the day before. Some practical examples to burn more calories are using the stairs more often and parking your car farther away from the store. Even activities like washing your car, gardening, and doing other housework expend calories and contribute to weight loss.
No Miracle Cure
Don’t rely on dietary supplements to help you in burning calories or weight loss. Products that claim to boost your metabolism are often more hype than helpful, and some may even cause dangerous side effects.
There’s no magic bullet to lose weight. Although some people may lose weight more easily & quickly than others, the key to losing weight is to create an energy deficit. That is, burning up more calories than you eat, which is basically based on diet and physical activity. You can achieve it by eating fewer calories or increasing the number of calories you burn through physical activity, or both.
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends reducing calorie intake by 500 to 700 calories per day to lose 1 to 1.5 pounds (0.5 to 0.7 kilograms) per week. And, if you add some physical activity during your day, you’ll achieve your weight-loss goals even faster.
About Author: Renu Bakshi, AKA Fitness Buffhq, is ISSA Certified Elite Trainer. He passed Personal Fitness Trainer Course, Nutrition Health Coach course & Specialist Exercise Therapy course from ISSA, the USA obtaining + 97% marks. He shares his experience and knowledge about nutrition and effective workouts to get you in the best shape of your life, no matter how old you may be. The author says: “For me, age is just a number!”