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Losing or maintaining weight can seem like a never-ending battle, and metabolism often gets blamed as a weight loss barrier. Linsey High, PA-C, UnityPoint Health, explains metabolism in detail, including natural tips to help increase it and common misconceptions.
In simplest terms, metabolism is the rate the body produces energy from the food we eat through many complex biochemical processes. Metabolism is regulated by the thyroid gland, and every person metabolizes at a slightly different rate.
“Metabolism can vary greatly from person to person,” High says. “For example, two women who are the exact same height and weight can have completely different metabolisms, due to many different factors.
High says the market is full of metabolism pills or products claiming to speed up metabolism, but in reality, no supplements actually boost metabolism significantly. She explains there are two safe and easy ways to increase metabolism: eating a healthy breakfast and strength training.
“Our energy use slows overnight and is usually lowest in the early morning. Eating breakfast is an easy way to ‘wake-up’ your metabolism. People who don't eat breakfast often have several hours of slower metabolism compared to people who do eat breakfast,” High says.
While eating breakfast can help speed up metabolism, High stresses there are no magic foods that boost metabolism, and it is important to recognize the value, or lack there-of, in the foods we eat.
“Food is divided into three basic building blocks: fat, protein and carbohydrates. Swapping out high-carb foods for high-protein foods will increase the amount of energy the body uses to digest food, burning more calories in the digestion process alone. This is why paying attention to the nutritional content of our foods is so valuable. It’s also why junk food, which is typically high-fat and/or carb, is detrimental to our health,” High says.
Strength training helps boost metabolism because it builds muscle tone, and muscle burns more calories than body fat. She also says age can take a negative impact on metabolism, as muscle mass is usually shown to decrease while body fat increases the older we get. However, High says conflicting opinions exist about whether people naturally lose muscle mass and gain weight, or if it’s the direct result of less activity.
Regardless, High says to be cautious of metabolism products or supplements claiming to help consumers lose weight. The safety of these products is questionable, and they are often not well-studied, including no data about safety when taking with other prescription drugs.
“There are a lot of products that claim to be ‘clinically-proven’ to help people lose weight. The details of this research typically show very small groups of people studied and short trials of the product, so there is no proof of any long-term effect, with modest weight loss at best,” High says.
Her last piece of advice: there are no short cuts to boosting metabolism, and nothing is more valuable than a healthy diet and exercise. If you’re looking to change your diet and begin an exercise plan, talk with your primary care provider.
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