Metabolism and Weight Loss: What You Need to Know

Health Tips | Weight Loss and Management

Multiple pills and supplements are scattered on a marble countertop and set aside on glass and cork dishes

Is metabolism the only key to successful weight loss?

Do you feel your metabolism is to blame when trying to achieve weight loss?

Being overweight and obese is common these days. If you are unhappy with your current weight, or have trouble maintaining a healthy weight, you are not alone. Two-thirds of adults in the United States are experiencing obesity right now. With the extra weight, comes multiple risk factors like developing type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and even some cancers.

Metabolism is a process that takes the food you eat and converts it into energy, which has an impact on your overall health and well-being, but it’s not the only factor when trying to achieve weight loss. “Eat less, and move more” does not quite cover the complexities of weight loss and weight management.

As a Registered Dietitian, I’ve worked with countless clients who have struggled to lose weight, and from my experience, although metabolism is important, it is not the only factor for achieving your long-term weight loss goals.

In this article, we’ll review the role metabolism plays in weight loss and my top six strategies for helping you lose and maintain weight.

What is metabolism and how can I lose weight?

There are numerous factors that affect your weight. Some are controllable and others are not. For example, your family history, your genetics, and even your hormones can affect your weight, but there’s not too much you can do to significantly change those. On the other hand, decisions around food, physical activity, sleep, and the amount of stress you are under can all contribute to weight and are factors you have more control over.

Here’s how metabolism fits in with weight. The body uses a specific amount of energy to perform essential bodily functions like breathing and pumping blood or maintaining body temperature. This is called your “basal metabolic rate”. Your metabolism or your metabolic rate (BMR) is responsible for two-thirds of the calories your body burns each day.

Metabolism is the process by which your body converts the food you eat into energy. This energy is used for everything your body does, from breathing and moving to digesting food and circulating blood (according to the Mayo Clinic).

A woman works out in a gym on a cycling machine with a sweat towel around her neck, metabolism and weight loss

Metabolism is a highly individualized process

There’s no one-size-fits-all approach because your metabolic rate (the speed at which you burn calories) is influenced by a variety of factors. Age, sex, genetics, and body composition all play a role. For example, men tend to have a higher resting metabolic rate than women because they have more muscle mass. Unfortunately, as we get older, our metabolic rate generally slows down, making it harder to lose weight.

Other factors that can affect your metabolism are hormonal conditions like Cushing’s syndrome, polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), or hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid). These diseases can slow down your metabolism and often come with a range of other symptoms beyond just weight gain. If you feel you might have an underlying medical condition, make sure to speak with your doctor.

A slow metabolism may be one factor that influences your weight, but it’s not the only one. The process of digesting food and how active you are also burns calories and affects weight. As an example, in order to digest carbohydrates and proteins in the body, the body would need to use 10 percent of the calories coming from these macronutrients to do so.

Generally speaking in order to lose weight, you will need to create a calorie deficit by consuming fewer calories than you burn although as we just described above, other factors are also at play.

 The effects of dieting and metabolism

While there is no magic diet plan that works for everyone, understanding your body’s metabolic process can help you create a plan that will be the most effective for you. For instance, some diets may cause dramatic weight loss but may cause other problems like muscle loss, or they may be difficult to sustain in the long term.

On the other hand, moderate and consistent caloric deficits, combined with smart food choices and regular exercise, can help you achieve lasting weight loss while still maintaining your metabolic rate and overall health.

Processed and sugary foods have more calories pound-for-pound than complex carbohydrates and lean proteins. By swapping out processed foods for healthier options, you’ll reduce the number of calories you consume without feeling deprived.

A woman stares directly into the camera as she lifts a free weight, metabolism and weight loss

Boosting your metabolism for weight loss

Physical activity and exercise

To maximize metabolism and weight loss, consistently engaging in physical activity is a must. Participating in moderate-intensity exercise such as walking, cycling, or swimming for at least 150 minutes a week is a great start!

Strength training and muscle mass

Strength training is a terrific way to boost your metabolism and build muscle mass. The key to weight loss is to not lose muscle. By incorporating weight or resistance exercises into your routine, you can easily create a calorie deficit that will help you reach your desired weight loss goals. Plus, the added bonus of strength training is with increased muscle mass comes an even greater ability to burn more calories at rest – so you’ll keep seeing results long after each workout session!

A thin woman drinks from a glass of water, metabolism and weight loss

The impact of hydration and sleep on metabolism

Without adequate hydration, your metabolism can suffer, making it more difficult to lose and manage weight. When you drink enough water throughout the day, your body will be able to break down food and absorb nutrients more efficiently.

Additionally, sleep also plays a role in metabolism since it affects hormones that regulate appetite and energy expenditure. Aim for 7-8 hours of restful sleep each night to keep your metabolism running optimally.

Metabolism-boosting foods

Despite the hype of certain foods as metabolism boosters, there’s limited hard evidence to back these claims. That said, high protein and fiber-filled whole grain options will help you reach your weight reduction goals while also increasing your metabolism.

A fish filet sits atop a green sauce and yellow rice, served with a lemon wedge

Common misconceptions about metabolism and weight loss

One of the most common misconceptions is the “starvation mode” myth. Some people believe that drastically reducing calorie intake will cause the body to slow down its metabolism, making it harder to lose weight. While it is true that your body may adjust to fewer calories over time, starvation mode won’t kick in until you’ve lost more than 15 percent of your body weight and have been severely restricting calories for months or even years — not days or weeks.

Another common myth is that you can take metabolism-boosting supplements to supercharge your metabolism. There are thousands of supplements on the market that claim to boost metabolism and promote weight loss. Since the USDA doesn’t require proof that supplements are effective for weight loss, according to the Mayo Clinic, the claims on the bottle can’t be trusted. Additionally, some supplements may contain hidden ingredients that could cause adverse health effects and do more harm than good. If you are considering adding supplements to your diet, schedule a complimentary consultation with me so we can explore the best options for you and your health.

The last myth I want to discuss here is the one that says your genetics are 100% to blame for slow metabolism. While it’s true that some people may have naturally slower metabolic rates than others, the impact of genetics on your metabolism is small. Lifestyle factors like your diet and exercise habits can make a much bigger impact on your metabolism than genetics.

Six weight loss and maintenance strategies

Before you decide on a weight loss program, be sure to speak with your healthcare provider. Depending on your current health, some of these “diets” or weight loss programs might be harmful. Buyer beware when it comes to products or programs that promise quick, long-lasting, or easy weight loss. According to Salisbury University, your behaviors and habits have a huge influence on your weight. Managing your eating through appropriate portion control and food selection, as well as increased physical activity, may be a more efficient and effective way to reach your weight loss goals.

Here are my top six strategies for weight loss and maintenance:

A woman sits at her desk and journals, goal setting, metabolism and weight loss

1. Set realistic, specific, and kind goals

  • Aim for smaller and more specific goals. A goal to “lose weight” does not give you specific action steps to get there.
  • Daily or weekly goals can be cooking a vegetable for dinner and having leftovers 2 times a week, or walking the dog for 20 minutes at least 4 days a week.
  • Try being consistent with a habit for at least a week or two to start making it routine. When that habit becomes consistent, add another one.
  • Remember, it’s normal to take 6 months to lose 5% of your body weight, so that may be a goal that might be more realistic to aim for.

2. Focus on making sustainable improvements to your health and ditch the “diet” mentality

  • Rather than “dieting” for weight loss, focus on improving your food choices and the way you approach eating (how and why you eat) for overall health.
  • Enjoy a variety of fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains.
  • Opt for healthier fat options that promote satiety like olive oil, nut butters, and avocados rather than unhealthier fats like saturated and trans fats.

A fork lifts up spaghetti from a blurred out plate decorated with sliced baby tomatoes, basil, and cheese

3. Approach meal time differently and see what works for you

  • Aim to slow down your eating by taking at least 20 minutes to eat at each meal. Enjoy your food more and tune in to fullness cues that signal when it’s time to stop eating.
  • Pay attention to the food’s texture, smell, and taste as you are eating. Being mindful and focusing on your meal will allow you to enjoy it more.
  • Try putting your fork down or sipping water between bites. Chewing your food thoroughly before swallowing will allow you to eat less and feel fuller quicker.
  • Avoid distractions like eating in front of a computer or television screen because you will ultimately end up eating more.

4. Stick with physical activity that you enjoy and can maintain

An active lifestyle is key to regulating your metabolism and supporting weight loss. In order to be successful, try choosing activities that are fun and provide enjoyment. In this way, you can incorporate these activities into your weekly routine long term.

Here are a few examples to consider:

  • Running, swimming, cycling, or attending a group fitness class. Aim to do at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise each week.
  • Weight training builds your muscles and increases your metabolic rate. Aim for at least two weight training sessions per week.
  • Take the stairs more often, park further away, or do housework or gardening—everything counts toward your physical activity for the day.
  • Fidgeting counts, too. Your non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT), like shaking a leg or tapping a foot also burns some calories.

A woman sleeps comfortably, metabolism and weight loss

5. Get adequate sleep and hydration

Getting enough sleep and staying hydrated are important components of a healthy lifestyle that can also support weight loss. Aim for 7-9 hours of sleep per night, and drink plenty of water throughout the day to keep your metabolism running smoothly.

6. Reward your successes and persevere

According to the National Institutes of Health, “frequent small rewards, earned for meeting smaller goals, are more effective than bigger rewards that require more effort.”

  • Each time you reach a goal, however small, reward your success with something other than food. For example, you may want to treat yourself to a spa day, buy yourself a book or enjoy a craft or hobby.
  • Losing and maintaining weight can be challenging and most people have to keep trying before they find what works best for them. The key is to stay positive!
  • Every day is different. If you get off track with your goals, remember it’s an opportunity to learn what didn’t work and try again.

A large woman runs with a fit man outside in a snowy, winter setting, metabolism and weight loss

Final Thoughts on Metabolism and Weight Loss

While weight is only one measure of health, it is the focus and concern of many people. Losing weight is not easy. This is because your metabolism is affected by factors that are under your control, like what you eat, as well as factors you can’t manage, like your genes.

What’s important is to focus on sustainable and healthy habits that support long-term weight loss success, which at times can feel like a balancing act. This can include meal planning, practicing mindful eating, managing stress, and seeking support from a professional like a Registered Dietitian.  The way you approach your eating, set goals and reward yourself, and the way you persevere are also important factors to consider.

Ultimately, for long-term success in managing your weight, a holistic approach is essential. It’s important to remember that everyone’s body is different and that there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to losing weight. Your best bet for sustained weight loss is taking an all-rounded approach by developing healthy habits which can be sustained for life!

If you’re struggling with weight loss, I encourage you to book a complimentary consultation with me. I’ve helped thousands of people manage their weight, and I’d love to help you too! Don’t put your health on the back burner any longer – contact me today and take the first step towards achieving the weight loss success you deserve.

Voula Manousos’ writing is featured in the “Winchester Living Magazine” and “The Winchester Star” of Wicked Local.

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