You have probably heard people blame their weight on a slow metabolism, but what does that mean? Is metabolism really the culprit? And if so, is it possible to rev up your metabolism to burn more calories?
It’s true that metabolism is linked to weight. But contrary to common belief, a slow metabolism is rarely the one and only cause of excess weight gain. Although your metabolism influences your body’s basic energy needs, how much you eat and drink, along with your physical activity, are important factors that ultimately determine your weight.
What is Metabolism
Metabolism is the process by which your body converts what you eat and drink into energy. During this complex biochemical process, calories from what you consume are combined with oxygen to release the energy your body needs to function.
Even when you are at rest, your body needs energy for involuntary functions, such as breathing, circulating blood, adjusting hormone levels, and growing and repairing cells. The number of calories your body expends to carry out these basic functions is known as your basal metabolic rate (BMR) or what you might call metabolism.
Several factors determine your individual basal metabolism, including:
- Your body size and composition: Contrary to popular belief, individuals who are bigger in size and/or have more muscles have a slower metabolic rate. Well, that’s not entirely true. Studies have revealed that individuals with a larger amount of muscle will generally have the faster metabolism.
- Your sex: Men usually have less body fat and more muscle than do women of the same age and weight, which means men burn more calories.
- Your age: As you get older, the amount of muscle tends to decrease and fat accounts for more of your weight, slowing down calorie burning.
If you weren’t born male, with an increased BMR, or you’re just not that muscular, that doesn’t mean you’re doomed to struggle with weight gain. Our weight is ultimately determined by how we balance our calorie intake with our energy output. The key is in regulation and not the extreme overhaul that will ruin your body.
Is it even possible to change your basal metabolism rate?
You may have heard of the various kinds of (ridiculous) DIY tools and techniques that could increase your metabolism. If you’re loading your food with chilis to lose weight, stop! Metabolism boosters like green tea or hot sauce may give your metabolic engine a slight push, but it won’t last! In fact, studies have revealed that high BMR actually increases the risk factor for mortality as health status declines. If you really want to shed excess pounds, cutting calories from your diet and exercising more regularly are probably your best bets.
Metabolism and Weight
It may be tempting to blame your metabolism for weight gain. But because metabolism is a natural process, your body has many mechanisms that regulate it to meet your individual needs. Only in rare cases do you get excessive and sudden weight gain that stems solely from a slowing metabolism.
Weight gain is a complicated process. It’s likely a combination of genetic makeup, hormonal controls, diet composition and the impact of the environment on your lifestyle, including sleep, physical activity and stress.
All of these factors result in an imbalance in the energy equation. You gain weight when you eat more calories than you burn — or burn fewer calories than you eat.
While it is true that some people seem to be able to lose weight more quickly and more easily than others, everyone loses weight when they burn up more calories than they eat. Theoretically speaking, to lose weight, you need to create an energy deficit by eating fewer calories or increasing the number of calories you burn through physical activity or both.
A closer look at physical activity and metabolism
While you don’t have much control over the speed of your basal metabolism, you can control how many calories you burn through your level of physical activity. Physical activity may sound intimidating for some of us who have never been to the gym, but there are many ways to be physically active without committing to a sport or buying an expensive gym membership. As you will see below, even walking for 30 minutes a day can make a surprisingly large improvement to your metabolism and overall wealth. The logic is simple: The more active you are, the more calories you expend.
Here are three hassle-free methods for improving your metabolism through physical activity:
- Regular anaerobic exercise
Anaerobic exercises are the most efficient way to burn calories. An example of an anaerobic workout is high intensity interval training (HIIT). HIIT often involves quick and very intense bursts of calisthenic exercises like sit-ups, lunges and burpees, which can all be done in the comfort of your bedroom. Studies have also revealed that HIIT can help you burn more fat by increasing your metabolic rate, even after your workout has finished.
- Strength training
As we age, we lose muscle. This phenomenon is more pronounced in physically inactive people, who may lose 3-5% of their muscle mass with each passing decade after the age of 30. This loss of muscle is often associated with a slowing metabolism, simply because muscle tissue burns more calories than fat tissue does. Experts recommend strength training exercises such as weightlifting at least twice a week, as they serve to counteract muscle loss to some extent.
Walking may seem like an insignificant form of exercise, but it has tremendous benefits. In addition to directly energising your metabolism, walking also regulates your blood sugar levels and your risk of chronic diseases, restores your digestion and appetite, reduces muscle loss and boosts mood. There are always opportunities to be mobile a few minutes more each day than the day before. Opt to take the stairs and park farther away from your destination. Even day-to-day activities such as washing your car and doing household chores contribute to your level of physical activeness.
Eat your way to a healthier metabolism
Energy needs for the body’s basic functions stay fairly consistent. However, shifts in diet and body composition can alter the body’s functioning.
It is very important to meet your daily caloric needs. Eating too few calories, such as in extreme dieting, can actually slow down your metabolism. Additionally, eating an unhealthy diet and too many calories can lead to other metabolic syndromes.
Complement your work out with these timeless eating guidelines:
- Practice portion control
Limiting portions helps to ensure that you don’t overload your metabolism with a surplus of energy (i.e. food). Controlling the amount of food you consume can be very daunting at the start and It’s almost hard to ignore those hunger pangs. But, fret not! You will eventually get used to it and realise that you are consuming lesser than before. Here’s a quick guide if you don’t know where to start:
- A closed fist equals a serving of fruit
- A cupped hand equals a serving of cereal or grains
- Two cupped handfuls equal a serving of leafy green vegetables
- An open palm equals a serving of meat.
- Power up with protein
Eating protein is a proven way to raise metabolism. A study found that people were likely to eat around 441 fewer calories per day when protein made up 30% of their diet. Eating more protein can also reduce the drop in metabolism often associated with losing fat. This is because it reduces muscle loss, which is a common side effect of dieting. However, do take note that you should not go overboard with your protein intake. A recently published study has found that people who consume large amounts of protein, especially in the form of red and processed meat, are more likely to be obese or develop type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and colon cancer.
If you’re at a healthy weight, don’t lift weights and don’t exercise much, then aiming to eat 0.8–1.3 gram of protein per kg in body weight is a reasonable estimate. This amounts to:
- 56–91 grams per day for the average male.
- 46–75 grams per day for the average female.
- Refrain from taking dietary supplements
Don’t look to dietary supplements for help in burning calories or weight loss. Products that claim to speed up your metabolism are often more hype than help, and some may cause undesirable or even dangerous side effects.
The bottom line
There’s no easy and standard method of losing weight. The foundation for weight loss continues to be based on physical activity and diet, which we have laid out above. In theory, you lose weight when you take in fewer calories than you burn.
In reality, though, many other lifestyle factors complicate the process of weight loss. Time-poor professionals find it challenging to conform to a strict dietary regime, especially if work requires them to travel often, sleep irregular hours, or entertain clients and coworkers. For parents of young children, consistent dieting and exercise understandably takes a backseat to errands, school events and visits to the doctor. Even the most committed dieter may find many aspects of weight loss beyond her control, such as the speed and ease at which weight is lost, or the inability to lose stubborn fat in some areas of the body despite having lost a respectable amount of weight.
These shouldn’t discourage you from making an effort! Making small, incremental changes to your diet and physical activity level is an excellent place to start. No holistic or natural weight loss regime can be successful without some extent of sensible eating. Moreover, the best benefits that will come from eating, working, playing and living more healthily go beyond your weight – you’ll also be doing a favour for your overall cardiovascular health, energy levels and (hopefully!) self-esteem. Start today!
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