How is it that two people of the same age, gender, and height can eat the same foods and be equally active, but one gains weight while the other loses it?
One piece of the puzzle is metabolism. How well your body burns energy to keep up basic functions like heartbeat, breathing, and thinking is called your basal metabolic rate. We often just call it "metabolism."
Can you change your metabolism? Yes. Whether you're born with a fast, average, or slow metabolism, there are things you can do to speed yours up or slow it down. That means you can tweak your metabolism to help manage your weight.
The age-metabolism-body fat equation
As you age, your metabolism naturally slows down. This is one of several reasons why most people gain weight as they get older. And any extra body fat you gain slows your metabolism further.
But here's the good news—your metabolism and weight are not out of your control. You can boost your metabolism by following some basic tips.
Taking steps to raise your metabolism helps you to:
- Burn extra food calories before they get stored as body fat.
- Burn off extra body fat that you already have.
What to do
When you eat more calories than your body burns in a day, they're stored mainly in your fat cells as body fat. So if your goal is to lose weight, you need to eat fewer calories, burn more of the calories you eat, or even better, do both.
You can think of this in terms of boosting your metabolism. To boost your metabolism and help manage your weight:
- Be more active. When you exercise, your metabolism speeds up. For a few hours afterward, it stays slightly higher. And over time, regular exercise builds muscle. The more muscle you have, the more of a boost your resting metabolism gets. And remember that any added physical activity makes a difference in your health.
- Eat smart. That means eating less fat and eating more fiber and complex carbohydrate (carbs)—which you get from fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Eat lean meats and low-fat dairy products. And drink water instead of sugary drinks. For each snack or meal, include a little fat and some protein along with carbs. Also limit alcohol and sugar, which have lots of calories but offer no nutrition.
- Track and plan your meals and snacks.
- Plan what you'll eat, and eat on a regular schedule. It helps you avoid overeating or making poor food choices when you're hungry.
- Keep track of how you eat. Write down everything you eat and drink. Count up the calories you've eaten at each meal and snack. Then use this data to decide if your portions are the right size. Check to see if you are eating a variety of foods. You might find that making a few small changes will help you eat healthy.
- Eat a little before you get active. If you can, have a snack before you go out for that vigorous walk. It gives you energy so you can enjoy the activity.
Other Works Consulted
- Whitney E, Rolfes SR (2013). Energy metabolism. In Understanding Nutrition, 13th ed., pp. 195–219. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.
- Whitney E, Rolfes SR (2013). Fitness: Physical activity, nutrients, and body adaptations. In Understanding Nutrition, 13th ed., pp. 435–462. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.
- Whitney E, Rolfes SR (2013). Weight management: Overweight, obesity, and underweight. In Understanding Nutrition, 13th ed., pp. 259–291. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.
Current as of: December 10, 2019
Author: Healthwise Staff
Anne C. Poinier MD - Internal Medicine
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
Martin J. Gabica MD - Family Medicine
Rhonda O'Brien MS, RD, CDE - Certified Diabetes Educator