Many people are quick to chalk up their metabolism to genetics, claiming that no matter what they do, it cannot be changed. This gives a seemingly acceptable excuse for weight loss struggles, food intake, and energy levels. What exactly is the body’s metabolism and can it be altered? Here, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics helps debunk some common claims regarding metabolism.
Metabolism is our body’s rate of using the energy we ingest from food. It powers every bodily process we have keeping us alive, from breathing to running. While it is true that genetics plays a role in a person’s metabolic rate, it is not the only factor in play. Here are some common claims and the truth about them:
Claim: Our metabolic rates can’t change.
Truth: We can actually alter our metabolic rates via several avenues. Muscle mass plays a big role in metabolism; the more muscle mass you have, the higher the metabolic rate because it takes more energy to keep muscle tissue alive and pumping than it does fat tissue. Fat cells are simply storage vesicles while muscle cells are living, functioning cells that constantly need nutrients. Therefore, increasing muscle mass can help boost metabolic rates. Unfortunately, age causes a natural reduction in metabolic rate over time, so adding resistance training exercises to a workout routine is especially important as you get older!
Claim: A diet of green tea and chili peppers will boost metabolism.
Truth: While these foods may temporarily boost your metabolism during the digestive processing, no food is a magical metabolism booster. And even with this temporary boost, it doesn’t allow for the intake of too many extra calories because of it. The best way to achieve weight loss is through a balanced, healthy diet, not through the addition of “metabolism-boosting foods.”
Claim: Eating late at night slows metabolism.
Truth: It is likely not the time of day that the snacking took place, but instead the amount of calories taken in during the eating session. Evidence does not show that eating past 8pm causes weight gain. It is known, however, that mindless eating occurs often in the evening hours while snacking and watching television, surfing the internet, etc. So instead of blaming the time of day, instead be mindful of the amount of food being eaten!
Claim: Very low calorie diets and skipping meals can jumpstart weight loss.
Truth: While is it true that weight loss requires less calories in that the number of calories out/burned, a technique such as this can easily backfire on the dieter. Our bodies need a certain amount of energy (food) to survive, and when it does not receive this amount for a period of time (e.i. when someone starts a very low calorie diet and skips meals) it can enter into a starvation mode. This means that instead of using the calories that are eaten, it slows the metabolism down and stores what it can in order to preserve energy for a longer period of time. The body thinks that it needs to conserve what it has in order to survive and outlast the starvation period. This is exact opposite of the intended result that the dieter wanted.
The best way to keep a strong, healthy metabolism is to eat a balanced, healthy diet and follow a smart exercise program that includes resistance training to build lean muscle mass. Forget the claims and stick to the science!