What does it take in the human body to keep the lights on? How does the human body do everything from blinking and cell healing to washing and marathon running? To put it simply, calories, which originate from the food you eat, power all of these functions. The process of converting calories into energy is known as metabolism.
Dr. Brian Quebbemann, a bariatric surgery specialist in Newport Beach, California, and author of “World’s Greatest Weight Loss: The Truth That Diet Gurus Don’t Want You to Know,” explains, “In short, metabolism is a term for all the chemical processes in our body that manage our balance of energy.” When you eat, your digestive system breaks it down into several components, which the body’s metabolic process converts to energy.
This process runs continuously inside your body to keep your organs operating properly for survival, as well as to power just about everything else you do throughout the day. “Your metabolism regulates your body’s ability to produce energy,” which is required for everything from battling infection to moving, staying warm, and thinking.
“All of these key functions begin to fail when we have an unbalanced metabolism.”
“However, most people think of weight and calories when they hear the word ‘metabolism,'” says Kacie Vavrek, a sports nutritionist at Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center in Columbus. “Metabolism involves so much more than weight on the scale and calories consumed,” says registered dietitian Jamie Feit Nutrition LLC in New York City. It is responsible for all body functions.
How Many Calories Do You Really Need?
Every day, a certain number of calories are required by the body to maintain cellular function. “When you’re at rest, your resting metabolic rate is the rate at which your body burns energy.” Even when you’re at rest, you’re burning a lot of calories for basic operations like breathing, digestion, hormone regulation, and cell growth and repair.” The vast majority of the calories you consume are burned by your body’s maintenance activities, not the walk you did after lunch. As a result, “when someone refers about their metabolism,” Vavrek explains, “they’re usually referring to their resting calorie burn.”
Your resting metabolic rate is largely determined by three factors:
• Body size and composition. People who are larger and have more muscle mass tend to have a higher metabolic rate.
• Sex. Males tend to have less body fat and more muscle mass, leading to a higher metabolism.
• Age. As you age, you lose muscle mass and your metabolism slows.
Is It Possible to Change My Metabolism?
Many people have been seduced by the idea of speeding up or raising their metabolism in order to slow down the aging process and slim down. But, for the most part, this might just be a fantasy. “Our genes determine our metabolism, and there isn’t much we can do to significantly alter our metabolism,” Vavrek adds.
“Diet or muscle mass changes may cause small or temporary changes in metabolism, but you won’t normally witness large changes in metabolism.” While many people blame their weight problems on a “slow metabolism,”Vavrek points out that “the truth is that a slow metabolism is rarely the source of weight gain.”
Focusing on calorie intake and regular exercise rather than strategies to enhance metabolism might be more effective.” That’s because you’re unlikely to be able to “increase metabolism” enough to lose large amounts of weight over time.
How to Support a Healthy Metabolism
Feit, who is also a nutritional specialist for Testing.com, a health information website, agrees that metabolism is “mostly genetic,” but adds that “there are modifications that can be done in the food as well as activity” that can affect metabolic rate to some extent.
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After all, you have complete control over what and how much you consume, as well as how much exercise you get. “We burn more calories the more active we are,” Vavrek says. Consider making the following eight dietary and activity changes to support a healthy metabolism:
• Take control.
• Eat enough.
• Boost protein intake.
• Eat breakfast.
• Limit sweets and processed foods.
• Stay hydrated.
• Get enough rest.
- Take control
“There is no strong evidence to suggest that a magic food or supplement can accelerate your metabolism,” Melissa Perry, a registered dietitian with Orlando Health in Florida, explains. “However, you have control over what you eat and how active you are.”
Make a plan and keep track of how much you eat, how much you move, and how many calories your body needs and burns each day using an online calculator and a fitness tracker. “Daily activity, especially weight-bearing exercise,” Feit says, “may help you see small changes.”
- Eat enough
By shutting down non-essential activities, starvation diets cause the body to use energy at a slower rate. This causes the body’s general metabolic rate to slow, making weight loss more difficult. Many yo-yo dieters are all too familiar with this cruel irony. Furthermore, “regularly skipping meals and then within too severely can result in muscle loss, which could have a negative impact on metabolism,” according to Vavrek.
“But, eating can support metabolic function,” Daly explains. “Food’s thermic impact (the energy required to digest and transform food into energy) contributes for 10% of total daily caloric expenditure.” In other words, if an individual eats 2,000 calories a day, the brain, heart, and other internal organs will burn about 200 calories just consuming and digesting the food, leaving 1,800 calories for the brain, heart, and other internal organs, as well as any physical activity you engage in. “But,” Daly explains, “eating can support metabolic function.”
“Thermic impact of food (the energy required to digest and transform food into energy) contributes for 10% of total daily caloric expenditure.” To put it another way, if you eat 2,000 calories a day, your brain, heart, and other internal organs will burn about 200 calories merely consuming and digesting the food, leaving 1,800 calories for your brain, heart, and other internal organs, as well as any physical activity you do.
- Increase your protein intake
Daly notes that not all foods require the same quantity of electricity to transform. “Protein digestion is the most metabolically expensive, and some fibrous fruits and vegetables cost more calories to digest than they contain.” Cucumbers, celery, and lettuce, for example, have high water content and are called negative calorie foods. Although increasing protein in the diet does not result in a major improvement in metabolism and is only a temporary change, Vavrek points out that “consuming adequate protein in your diet will help to retain muscle mass.” You don’t have to eat lots of protein, but making sure you get enough – 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day is typically suggested for an adult – will help your body repair itself. A 165-pound person would require roughly 60 grams of protein each day to convert this to pounds.
- Have a good breakfast.
To help you feel satisfied for longer and increase the thermic impact, many dietitians recommend starting the day with a healthy breakfast that combines protein, fiber, and some fat. Prepare your body for the day ahead. “Eating too little can slow the metabolism and put the body into starvation mode,’ where the metabolism will slow down,” Feit says. Because the body utilizes calories to digest food, it’s essential to eat enough.” Starting each day on the right foot with a good meal can help.
- Keep yourself hydrated
Getting enough water is also important, according to Feit, who adds that being hydrated can help your metabolism work smoothly and “is beneficial for weight reduction.” This is due to the fact that drinking water raises the metabolic rate slightly. Furthermore, drinking water aids in the removal of pollutants and the movement of waste products through the digestive tract, which can benefit overall health and well-being as well as the metabolism’s everyday functions.
- Keep sweets and processed foods to a minimum
“Eating foods that provide healthy energy is the most important part of supporting your metabolism,” says Quebbemann. This means avoiding highly processed foods that are high in “artificial chemicals that damage the body.” “Processed food has been chemically changed to make it easier to store, to make it taste sweeter, to make it easier to eat, and to make it more profitable to sell,” he continues.
The more a product is processed, the more chemicals it is likely to contain that harm our bodies while delivering little energy. The more processed a food or snack is, the more harm it does to our bodies when we consume it.
“Since ultra-processed meals are often quickly broken down by the body into sugar, your body doesn’t expend as many calories digesting them as it does unprocessed, whole foods. Perry recommends eating a “healthy diet rich in nutrient-dense foods,” such as:
• Whole Grains
• Lean Protein
- Get enough rest
Even though the link between sleep and weight loss isn’t totally clear, “the body repairs itself at night, “according to Feit, “it’s incredibly vital to make sleep a priority for all metabolic processes to work.” Your body is busy repairing tissue and removing waste items as you sleep.
To maintain general health, wellness, and metabolism, those processes must perform optimally. People who sleep poorly or have disrupted sleep habits are also known to weigh more than those who receive enough rest. They’re also more likely to develop chronic diseases like diabetes and cancer.