Is it true certain people can eat whatever they want and not gain a single pound? We’ve all met someone like that: the super-skinny girl who can eat as many hamburgers her heart (and stomach) desires or that guy at the office who, despite going to every after-work cocktail hour, never develops a beer belly.

What about the ones who struggle with their weight? Are they just hard out of luck with a slow, unforgiving metabolism? Contrary to popular belief, a slow metabolism is rarely the cause of weight gain. Though your metabolism (the process by which your body converts what you eat and drink into energy) influences your body’s basic energy needs, it’s your food and beverage intake and amount of physical activity that ultimately determines how much you weigh.

Simply put, metabolism comes down to math. If energy consumption (calories) equals energy production (through exercise, for example), overall weight will stay the same. Weight loss happens when a person expends more energy than he or she consumes. On the other hand, if the body consumes more calories than it burns, those calories are converted stored as fat.

Here, we uncover five metabolism myths with help from Gretchen Spetz, a registered dietician at the Cleveland Clinic:

Myth 1: Metabolism is genetic and can’t be changed.1393178480-metabolism
True… and false. While metabolism is as unique as a fingerprint—some people are born with the ability to break down food very fast and others very slow— there are other factors to consider. “Genetics and age play a role, but diet, exercise and lean body mass are very important things that can be controlled by the individual,” says Spetz. “It is possible to speed up your metabolism by building up lean body mass and doing things to reduce body fat mass, such as eating a diet consisting of lean protein, vegetables, fruits, low-fat dairy, whole grains and healthy fats.” In addition, a combination of strength and cardio exercise also promotes fat loss and the growth of lean mass. Simply put, lean mass speeds up your metabolism because this tissue uses more energy than fat mass.

Myth 2: Eating a big breakfast will boost your metabolism.
True. Breakfast definitely plays a role in increasing metabolism, says Spetz. Though our metabolic rate decreases significantly while we are asleep, eating a high-protein breakfast is one way we can jump-start our metabolism. “Breakfast doesn’t have to be big in order to boost metabolism,” Spetz says. For example: try two eggs with two slices whole wheat bread or 3/4 cup plain, nonfat Greek yogurt with 1/2 cup pineapple.

Myth 3: Certain foods, like hot peppers and green tea, will speed up your metabolism.
False, Sort of. “It seems like every other day there is a new food, powder or tea being advertised as a ‘metabolism booster,’” says Spetz. While some studies have shown that very spicy foods can increase metabolism, the boost won’t last more than a half hour and the rate of metabolism will be back where it started. The same is true of green tea, though noteworthy for its wealth of antioxidants, any spike in metabolic rate will be merely a blip on the radar and not a permanent change. “Unfortunately, there are no miracle foods or drinks that significantly increase metabolism to an extent that it will influence your weight, body fat or lean mass,” she says.

Myth 4: Your metabolism drastically changes after childbirth.
True, kind of. For new moms, it’s possible to “reset” metabolism after childbirth. The best way to do this is through breastfeeding. Lactation requires a huge amount of energy and can burn up to 500 calories per day! “In order to build lean body mass after childbirth, it’s also necessary to follow a diet rich in healthful foods and do a combination of strength and cardio exercise,” Spetz recommends.

Myth 5: Anything you eat after 9 p.m. will turn into fat.
False. “There is no magic time when your body starts turning whatever you eat into fat,” Spetz says. However, it’s important to avoid eating a meal and going to bed right afterwards since we burn less calories when we’re sleeping. Spetz recommends waiting to hit the sack at least two hours after eating to give your body the opportunity to burn some of the calories you’ve just consumed. But if you’re hungry late at night, opt for healthful choices. Eating high-sugar or carb-dense foods, no matter what time of day, is a sure-fire way to pack on unwanted pounds. MS&F

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