Metabolism is a word thrown around quite often when it comes to diet and exercise. It’s an easy target to blame when weight loss goals aren’t going according to plan, but let’s not point fingers and instead support our metabolism for our own benefit! The tricky thing here is which myths to believe and which to toss to the curb. Before we delve into the truth about metabolic myths, lets discuss what metabolism is and how it functions.
In a nutshell, metabolism is the process by which our bodies convert what we eat into the energy we need to survive and function. It is the energy output of your body that is going head-to-head with the energy input (calories in).
Metabolism encompasses five different categories of energy expenditure:
- Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR) – More than 60% of our energy is required for all of the basic functions that keep us alive! We burn calories while breathing, thinking, pumping blood, etc., just as a natural process of life.
- Thermic Effect of Food (TEF) – About 10% of our energy is required to eat, digest, and process the food we eat.
- Physical Activity (PA) – We all know exercise burns calories, so this one should be no surprise!
- Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption (EPOC) – This refers to the process our body undergoes after exercise, continuing to burn calories in order to return itself to pre-exercise levels.
- Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT) – This is somewhere between RMR and PA, essentially any movement performed that is not considered exercise, ie standing, fidgeting, reaching, etc.
To sum it all up: ENERGY OUT = RMR + TEF + PA + EPOC + NEAT
Whew, glad that’s out of the way. Now that we’ve broken down how metabolism works (no pun intended), lets focus on debunking some misleading myths.
MYTH #1: Skinnier individuals have a higher metabolism.
THE TRUTH: Metabolism actually has quite a bit to do with body size, but not in they way many think. According to Dr. Yoni Freedhoff, Asst. Professor at the University of Ottawa, “Skinny individuals almost invariably have slower resting metabolisms; there is literally less of them to burn while at rest.” Which means that larger individuals usually have a higher metabolism. The important distinction to make here is not so much body size, but instead body composition. We can boost metabolism by increasing lean muscle mass. Muscle burns more calories per hour than fat, which means that someone with a lean, muscular body needs more calories to function than a person of the same size with a higher percentage of body fat.
MYTH #2: Eating little meals throughout the day speeds up your metabolism.
THE TRUTH: Turns out the old notion of eating a meal every few hours to ramp up one’s metabolism wasn’t exactly perfect advice. Small meals throughout the day are helpful in portion control and curbing hunger cravings, but how frequently someone eats has little to do with speed of metabolism. Instead, the quality and quantity of foods have greater bearing on metabolism than how often you eat.
MYTH #3: Eating spicy foods boosts your metabolism.
THE TRUTH: Finally, a myth that we can (kind of) keep believing! Although it is on a very small scale, hot foods have been shown to play a little roll in metabolic rates. Hot peppers contain capsaicinoids, phytochemicals that produce the spiciness of the pepper. The theory is, they increase the heat your body produces (which takes energy to produce) and enhance fat breakdown. They may also help you eat less and potentially feel full longer. It’s not a huge boost, but adding some heat regularly to what you eat may help a smidge.
MYTH #4: Skipping meals can lead to weight loss
THE TRUTH: Weight loss is all about creating an energy deficit — ingesting fewer calories than your body expends each day — but creating too large of a calorie deficit can backfire. Our bodies are smart and programmed for survival. Severely limiting calories can make your body think it’s entering a famine, and that it needs to do more with fewer calories. Your body adapts to the restricted caloric intake, and uses fewer calories to perform the same tasks. So what’s the trick to healthy calorie cutting? Do it slowly and don’t go below your resting metabolic needs—slow and steady weight loss wins the race.
Okay. We’ve done it. We’ve spelled out metabolism and discovered the truth behind some common misconceptions. On any general day, everyone’s metabolism works pretty well, and the most surefire way of giving it a boost is increasing your muscle mass. Aside from that, the best day-to-day metabolic supporting strategies involve getting plenty of sleep, eating a high-protein breakfast, staying hydrated, avoiding skipping meals, and being mindful of food quality. All of these habits, along with adequate movement and exercise, can only help you in the long run!
Ready, set, metabolize!