Pity the poor metabolism, which often gets blamed for our weight issues. “It’s not me, it’s my slow metabolism,” is a common complaint. But what do we really know about this complex bodily function? Let’s separate fact from fiction – and then look at a few ways you can make your metabolism help you lose weight and keep it off.
Metabolism is the network of enzymes and hormones that converts food into fuel and affects how efficiently the body burns that fuel. In short, it is the rate at which we burn calories and the ease with which we gain and lose weight.
Metabolism varies from person to person. Heredity and age play a factor (your metabolism slows by 5 percent each decade beginning at age 40). Thyroid issues can also play a part, although this is rare.
Surprisingly, the more you weigh, the faster your metabolic rate. This is because your body has to work harder to maintain itself; conversely, the more body fat and muscle you lose, the fewer calories your body needs. This is why it is so easy to lose weight at the beginning of a diet, and so easy to put it back on.
Fad diets abound involving supposed fat-burning foods, but there is no one food or additive that will significantly raise your metabolic rate. According to studies cited by The Center for Medical Weight Loss, eating chili peppers could burn an additional 20 calories a day, and drinking four cups of green tea could burn an additional 80 calories. Of course, you would have to really like spicy food and green tea.
Muscle Up and Start Snacking
Miracle diet foods aside, there are two excellent ways to boost your metabolism.
Aerobic exercise such as walking, biking and swimming burn fat and increase your metabolism. However, the effects only last during and for a short time after the activity. In order to boost your metabolism all day, you need to build muscle.
“Muscle is what drives your metabolism,” says fitness and nutrition expert Kelli Calabrese, MS, CSCS, ACE. “For every pound of muscle on your body you need 35 to 50 calories per day to sustain it. For every pound of fat on your body, you need a modest 2 calories per day.”
More and smaller meals
Eating small, frequent meals throughout the day keeps your metabolism running at a higher rate than eating three larger meals. You should definitely also avoid the double-whammy of skipping meals and then eating large ones to compensate. Skipping a meal slows down your metabolism, so when you finally do eat, your body will be slow to burn those calories.