Your Metabolism and Weight Loss: What You Should Know
Metabolism refers to the chemical reactions in the body that convert food into energy for performing daily activities.
An individual can have a higher or lower basal metabolic rate (BMR), depending on factors like their age and sex. Your BMR impacts how quickly the body digests food and can impact weight management.
Strategies like increasing physical activity, eating more protein, and getting better quality sleep can help you boost your metabolism, which may promote weight loss.
When it comes to weight loss, understanding the role of the metabolism is essential.
Not only does metabolism affect how efficiently the body functions, releases energy, and burns calories, it’s also important for effective weight management.
Understanding what exactly metabolism is and how it works can help you learn how to support its optimal function.
What is Metabolism?
Metabolism is a term used to describe all the chemical processes in the body that breaks food down into energy.
Our bodies need this energy to perform day-to-day activities — everything from moving to thinking and breathing.
Metabolism has two main components — basal metabolic rate (BMR) and thermic effect on food (TEF).
BMR refers to the energy (calories) our bodies require to perform basic functions, like maintaining body temperature and supporting organ function.
TEF is the energy we use to digest, absorb, and process nutrients from our food.
Certain foods — like protein that breaks down into essential amino acids — have a higher TEF and may require more energy to obtain its nutrients.
What controls metabolism?
Several hormones in the endocrine system — a network of glands and organs — control your metabolism. Key parts of this system that influence metabolism include:
The thyroid gland, which produces a hormone called thyroxine that influences how quickly cells burn energy, affecting the overall metabolic energy rate.
The pancreas, which produces insulin, the hormone that helps regulate blood sugar levels and promotes the use of glucose (sugar) for energy.
The adrenal glands, which produce hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. These hormones influence how the nutrients are broken down at different times, like when we exercise.
The pituitary gland, which produces various hormones that influence metabolism, including those that promote tissue growth, improve protein absorption, and support energy production.
Common Metabolism Myths
Metabolism is a topic that is often surrounded by misinformation, especially when it comes to weight loss.
Myth 1: Slow metabolism is the main cause of weight gain
While some individuals have a naturally slower metabolism than others, it’s not the only reason for gaining weight.
Weight gain typically occurs when there is a consistent calorie surplus — when you burn fewer calories than you consume. This happens regardless of a person’s metabolic rate.
Factors like diet and physical activity also influence weight management.
Myth 2: Metabolism can be increased with supplements or special foods
Many products may claim to boost metabolism, but the reality is that the effect is often minimal or short-lived.
Certain foods — like green tea or spicy ingredients — may slightly increase the amount of calories you burn, but it’s not substantial enough to cause weight loss on their own.
Myth 3: Eating frequent, small meals boosts your metabolism
The idea that frequent small meals have a significant effect on your metabolism isn’t currently supported by any strong scientific evidence.
The number of meals you consume or the time that you eat hasn’t shown any significant effect on your metabolic rate.
Understanding Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR)
A person’s BMR refers to the minimum number of calories your body needs to function at rest — this is the state you’re in whenever you’re not physically exercising.
Your BMR typically accounts for 60-70% of your total energy use but can vary from person to person.
What influences BMR?
Age usually has the most significant impact on BMR because our metabolic rate tends to slow down as we get older.
This is because we lose muscle mass when we age. Muscle mass is one of the main factors that determine how high our metabolic rate is.
Your sex also impacts your metabolic rate, as men generally have a higher BMR than women.
The differences in men's and women’s body composition and hormones are responsible for their varying BMRs.
Key Point: Does a High Metabolic Rate Mean Weight Loss?
While a high metabolic rate can contribute to weight loss, it doesn’t guarantee it. Having a higher metabolism means that your body burns calories faster, which can help with weight management.
However, weight loss ultimately depends on balancing the calories you consume and the ones you burn.
If you’re consistently consuming more calories than your body needs, you may still gain weight even with a high metabolic rate.
Factors That Affect Metabolic Rate
There are several factors that can influence your metabolic rate apart from age and sex.
As we’ve said before, muscle mass plays an important role in metabolic rate. This is because muscles are more metabolically active than fat tissue, meaning they burn more calories.
Your proportion of muscle to fat tissue also influences your metabolic rate. Individuals with more muscle tend to have a faster metabolism than those with more fat tissue.
Activities like strength and resistance training can help you increase your muscle mass and reduce fat tissue proportions.
As you build more muscle, your metabolic rate will increase, and you’ll start to burn more calories throughout the day. Over time, this can lead to weight loss.
Regular physical activity is an important part of increasing your metabolism.
When you engage in cardiovascular exercises — like running, swimming, or cycling — your body burns calories during the activity and for some time afterwards. This is known as post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC).
The more intense the exercise, the more calories you burn and the longer the EPOC effect can last, helping you to increase your metabolic rate.
A hormone deficiency — like the one produced by the thyroid — can lead to an imbalance in the metabolic process.
When you don’t have enough of a specific hormone involved in the metabolic process, your BMR can slow down.
A slower metabolism can make it harder to manage your weight and may also contribute to fatigue, low energy, and other health complications.
Various lifestyle factors can influence your metabolic rate. Two main things to consider are stress and sleep quality.
If you experience chronic stress, this can disrupt your hormone production and lead to problems with your metabolism.
Good quality sleep is also essential for proper hormone regulation, so deprivation can cause an imbalance that may impact your BMR.
Metabolic conditions and disorders
Some people may have medical conditions that impact their metabolism, usually causing it to slow down. These conditions include:
- Cushing’s syndrome
- Gaucher disease
- Mitochondrial disease
- Tay-Sachs disease
- Wilson disease
These disorders may also affect how your body processes certain nutrients and enzymes, which can impact your BMR.
If you suspect that you have any of these conditions, you should see your doctor for a professional diagnosis.
Strategies for Boosting Your Metabolism
When it comes to weight loss, boosting your metabolism can be an important part of reaching your goals.
A higher metabolic rate means your body burns more calories — even when you’re not physically active — which can help you lose weight.
There are many practical ways to increase your BMR to support your weight management strategies.
Getting more regular exercise
Regular physical activity is essential for boosting your metabolism. Including both cardiovascular exercises and strength training in your routine will help increase your BMR.
Cardio exercises help you burn calories and increase your heart rate, while strength training builds muscle mass that increases your metabolic rate.
It’s recommended that you aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity cardio sessions and two to three strength training sessions per week.
Eating a balanced diet
Enjoying a balanced diet is a key part of increasing your metabolism. Here are some key factors to consider when it comes to eating habits:
Focusing on consuming more protein can help you preserve muscle mass and boost calorie burn.
Include more fiber-rich foods — like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains — that require more energy to digest.
Healthy fats like avocados and nuts can help your body support hormone production and improve overall metabolic function.
Proper hydration is essential for supporting a healthy metabolism. Drinking enough water helps the body digest food, absorb nutrients, and transport waste through the gastrointestinal tract.
This can boost your metabolic rate over time, helping you to reach your weight loss goals.
Keep a water bottle close by and aim to drink at least two liters daily. You can also include water-rich foods like fruits and vegetables in your diet.
How Nutrition Impacts Your Metabolism
The relationship between nutrition and metabolism is crucial for overall health and weight management.
Any food we consume provides fuel for our bodies that it needs to function. These foods also have a significant impact on our metabolic rate.
TEF refers to the increase in metabolic rate — or how much energy is used to digest food — that occurs after eating a meal.
It involves the body breaking down nutrients, storing them, and converting them into energy to perform tasks.
Impact of specific nutrients on TEF and metabolism
Protein has the highest thermic effect, which means it takes more energy to digest foods that contain larger amounts of this nutrient.
Using more energy to absorb nutrients can temporarily boost metabolism and support a healthy BMR that may promote weight loss.
Carbohydrates can also have a significant impact on metabolism. Although they are less thermic than protein, carbs provide energy for daily activities and exercises.
Complex carbohydrates are also digested more slowly, helping the body release sustained energy throughout the day.
Healthy fats have an even lower thermic effect than carbohydrates, but they are important for optimal metabolic function. They typically support hormone production which is essential for a good metabolism.
The impact of nutrients on metabolism shows how important it is to make healthy dietary choices.
Incorporating a wide variety of nutrients and eating a balanced diet is key to supporting a healthy metabolism. Over time, this can also increase your BMR and help you lose weight.
Where Can I Learn More About Metabolism and Weight Loss?
If you want to learn how to maintain a healthy metabolism to promote weight loss, LifeMD is here to help.
A medical professional can assist you with information about healthy metabolic strategies and weight management programs — all from the comfort of your own home.
You may also be interested in enrolling in the LifeMD Weight Management Program. Enrolling in the program means you’ll be working closely with licensed clinicians who will design a personalized plan to help you lose weight.
Get started today to learn more.