Sanchita can eat as much as she wants without having to worry about gaining weight because ‘her metabolism is high’. Ayush gains weight quickly because ‘his metabolism is low’ and thus must count every calorie on his plate. That’s all there is to metabolism, right?
Spoiler alert: There’s more to metabolism than just a measure of how much one can eat without gaining weight. Our Health Coach, Saraswathi Usha, digs deeper and shares interesting facts about metabolism that you might have not known before.
What is metabolism?
In simple terms, metabolism is a process by which your body spends energy and burns calories. It runs 24/7 to keep your body moving, even when you’re resting or sleeping — converting food into the energy your body needs to breathe, circulate blood, grow and repair cells, and everything else it does to survive.
When we speak about metabolism, there is something else you need to be familiar with. Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) or the Resting Energy Expenditure (REE). This is the number of calories your body burns while it is at rest.
But how exactly does this play a role in our body weight, you ask? Someone who has a higher BMR tends to burn more calories in autopilot mode, directly resulting in weight loss. On the other hand, the metabolism of someone with lower BMR is sluggish, resulting in fewer calories getting burned.
Now that we have these basics in place. Let’s separate the myths from facts.
Smaller, thinner individuals have a higher BMR
While body size, body composition (fat tissues vs muscle tissues), age and gender all play a role in determining the speed of your metabolism, the idea that only smaller, thinner individuals have a higher BMR is false.
So, the larger you are, the more fuel you’ll need to function and the higher your BMR will be. However, it is often seen that larger individuals do have a lower BMR and gain weight easily. This happens when they don’t meet their Recommended Dietary Allowance or RDA.
Our metabolism is stirred when we eat a balanced diet including thermic foods (foods that boost metabolic rate) like high-quality proteins. When we don’t consume these in the recommended amount and instead go for meals rich in carbs and fat, our metabolism slows down — thus resulting in weight gain.
It is also seen that men tend to have a higher BMR than women in general because of:
- Higher muscle mass
- Heavier bones
- Less body fat
Genetics affect the BMR
Definitely! Genetics do play an unfair role in determining your BMR. For instance, if you come from a family of naturally slim ancestors, chances are you will have a higher BMR.
Your BMR slows down with age
Evidence-based studies show that our metabolism slows down with age; by approx. 2% every 10 years beginning from your mid-20s. This can largely due to be two factors:
- We lose muscle tissues as we age
- We tend to decrease physical activity as we age
Hormones affect BMR
Yes! Your thyroid gland is the master controller here. Your brain sends messages to the thyroid gland when it comes to energy production, protein production, hormone regulation and other processes like digestion.
Now, an under active thyroid gland negatively impacts your metabolism or BMR by slowing it down. The resulting effects of this change are seen in many more ways than just weight gain:
- Hair loss
- Poor libido
- Dry skin
Eating less helps increase metabolism
No! Crash dieting in fact resists weight loss since your body is deprived of fuel and vital nutrients. In fact, consuming less than 1,200 calories a day slows down your metabolism since your body thinks it’s starving. So it goes into starvation mode to conserve energy and run essential chemical processes. Thus, keeping your body fueled with healthy food at regular time intervals is essential if you want to boost your metabolism.
So, is there a way to increase metabolism?
Here are some that you can try:
- Exercise: The idea here is to exercise at a rate that raises your heart rate when it comes to cardiovascular activity. Resistance training is one of the best options here.
- Caffeine: Studies show that drinking 1 cup of coffee before working out can boost BMR by 3%. Note: Excessive caffeine is dangerous.
- Chili: Capsaicin, an active compound found in chili peppers, can slightly stimulate BMR by turning up the body’s core temperature.
But the bottom line…
It is possible to speed up a naturally slow metabolism, or rev up one that has become sluggish over time, but only to a certain degree. Along with adopting a healthier balanced diet and making sure to get enough exercise, many people might get the extra push they need to lose and maintain weight. The key thing to understand here is that we all have different metabolic rates so don’t compare yourself to someone else. Focus on you and what works best for your health.