I have a friend; let’s call her Carla. Like a lot of us, Carla wants to lose a few pounds. Like a lot of us, Carla has a serious sweet tooth. And like a lot of us, Carla often blames her displeasure with her weight on her metabolism, neglecting the fact that she finishes most nights with a delicious but unhealthy bowl of mint chocolate chip ice cream.
While your metabolism does play a role in your weight, that role is typically misunderstood. Here are three things you may not know about your metabolism.
1. It Isn’t One Single Thing
For the longest time, I thought that a person’s metabolism was a single process in his or her body, like breathing. Boy, was I wrong.
Your metabolism is a group effort by several smaller, individual metabolic processes. One of these is your resting metabolism, which is what most people are talking about when they refer to their metabolism.
A more accurate way of thinking about your metabolism, especially with regard to weigh management, is to think of it as your totally daily energy expenditure. Your TDE is based on three things:
Your resting metabolism (as mentioned above)
How much energy your body needs to digest food
How active you are
Together, these three processes make up your overall metabolism. Your resting metabolism is the biggest piece of the TDE pie. It makes up roughly 70% of your metabolism. The energy your body needs to process what you eat is the smallest slice at 10%.
2. It Adapts to Your Lifestyle
My friend Carla isn’t alone in blaming her metabolism for those extra pounds she wants to shed. Plenty of women assume their metabolism is this fixed thing over which they have plenty of control. If you have a fast metabolism, you can eat lasagna three meals a day and never gain weight. If you have a slow metabolism, simply looking at a piece of birthday cake can make you go up a dress size.
None of that is correct. Your metabolism isn’t a fixed, singular process. As you change, it does too. The more calories you eat and the more you move around, the more calories you burn. Conversely, if you eat less and move less, your metabolic rate slows down as well.
What can we take away from that? Load up on healthy, whole foods and stay active, and you’ll encourage your metabolism to kick into high gear. Lie on the couch, sipping on diet soda and forcing down carrot sticks, and your metabolism will slow down accordingly.
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3. There’s No Such Thing as a “Broken” Metabolism
Maybe you’ve heard a friend say that she can’t lose weight because her metabolism is broken. Maybe you’ve even though that about yourself once or twice. Here’s the thing: Your metabolism can’t break. As you’ve already seen, it’s not one specific thing; it’s a network of processes. If you want it to speed up, you need to give it fuel in the form of nutrient-dense, unprocessed food and plenty of movement.
It’s worth nothing that that movement doesn’t have to be 90 grueling minutes at the gym every day. Chasing after your grandkids or running errands are both great for your metabolic rate, too. The main thing is to get off the couch or away from your desk as much as possible. Barring thyroid or other hormonal issues, the biggest culprit for a sluggish metabolism is a sedentary lifestyle.
If you’re unhappy with your weight, it may be time to take control of your metabolism. By moving more and filling your plate with useful calories, you can make your metabolic rate work for you instead of against you.