When we talk about metabolism, it’s often a complaint: “I wish my metabolism let me binge on potato chips and pizza like my friend and not gain weight.” The reality is that we all have some kind of metabolism, and almost everyone’s falls somewhere in the “normal” range.
Metabolism is defined as the series of chemical reactions that burn calories. Those chemical reactions can be further refined into three categories: your resting metabolic rate (RMR), the thermic effect of physical activity (TEPA), and the thermic effect of feeding (TEF).
Thermic Effect of Physical Activity
The word “thermic” refers to heat. And in this case, we’re talking about the heat generated while moving. That can mean working out, but it can also mean walking to your car or doing the dishes. TEPA accounts for about 15% to 30% of your total calories spent in a day, depending on how active you are. Even shivering and fidgeting count toward this total.
Fact and Fiction
The word “metabolism” gets thrown around a lot in dieting circles. Sometimes that advice is useful, but at other times it turns out to be misleading. Should you try a new food? A new workout? More protein? We’re here to help you separate metabolic fact from fantasy. Read on for medical facts verified by health experts that can help you understand the role metabolism plays in weight loss, as well as tips for maintaining a healthy metabolic balance.
One common recommendation for increasing your metabolism is to lift weights. While this advice is frequently offered, the impact of your musculature on your resting metabolic rate (RMR) is often wildly exaggerated.
Gaining muscle has only a small positive impact on your resting metabolism. But what about your active metabolism? Now here’s an opportunity to make some significant improvements, right? Well, yes and no.
Drinking water to use up extra calories has been controversial. You may wonder, “If water is zero-calorie, how could drinking it burn any calories at all?” A study published in 2003 seemed to have the answer.
The stimulants found in energy drinks can help you shed fat—for a little while. Caffeine can increase your energy briefly, but after you’ve consumed enough lattes your body adjusts to the stimulation and soon the small metabolic benefit evaporates.
This is another metabolic myth with a sliver of truth to it. Yes, spicy foods do help you burn calories a little bit faster, but the improvement is slight and fairly insignificant for weight loss. There are better ways to reshape your nutrition than blisteringly hot spices.
So the bad news? Drinking a lot more water, consuming more caffeine, eating smaller meals and building muscle are all largely insignificant when it comes to shedding pounds. But that doesn’t mean you should just give up on raising your metabolism. There is one part of the metabolic equation that can be used to your weight-losing advantage.
So it turns out most of the metabolic miracles touted in the past burned more hot air than calories. But that doesn’t mean sustained weight management is impossible—just that it requires a different approach. The problem with your weight-gain woes has nothing to do with how many lattes you slam in a day—and has a lot more to do with how active you are each day, and how many calories you eat and drink.