Julie Revelant is a health journalist who has written hundreds of stories for magazines and outlets such as FoxNews.com, First for Women magazine, Woman’s World magazine, WhatToExpect.com, and Reader’s Digest online.
Although genetics has the biggest effect on your ability to burn fat, certain foods can rev up your metabolism or seriously slow it down.
When we can’t lose weight or our weight loss stalls, we blame it on our faulty metabolism. Yet if metabolism really is to blame, can you counteract the effect by eating certain metabolism-boosting foods?
Possibly. What we eat can help influence our metabolic process and make it a little more or a little less efficient. But before you overhaul your diet, it’s necessary to understand how your metabolism functions.
What Is Metabolism and How Does It Work?
“Your metabolism is what’s in control of your body and how it makes and burns energy from food,” says Melissa Majumdar, RD, a senior bariatric dietitian for the Brigham and Women’s Center for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery in Boston and a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “We rely on our metabolism to do everyday activities but also to breathe, think, digest, circulate blood, and regulate temperature,” she explains.
Metabolism consists of our resting metabolic rate (RMR), which is the energy our body uses to breathe, circulate blood, and perform other basic functions; activity thermogenesis, which is any type of activity or exercise; and the thermal effect of food. “By just eating, we’re burning calories to turn that food into energy,” Majumdar explains.
Each one of these factors makes up a typical percentage of the total energy expenditure, but there is some variability. For most people, thermogenesis makes up about 10 percent of their total energy expenditure, while resting metabolic rate accounts for about 60 to 70 percent. The most variability occurs with activity levels and can vary from 100 calories burned for a sedentary person to up to 3,000 calories or more for a training athlete.
What Affects Our Metabolism, for Better or Worse?
Genetics play the biggest role in metabolism, but some variations are seen among certain ethnic groups.
Lean muscle mass, which accounts for about a 5 percent difference between men and women, also affects metabolism, because muscle burns more calories than fat, even at rest. Increasing muscle mass through exercise increases your metabolism even when you’re not actively exercising.
The most variability in metabolism among individuals is also seen with activity thermogenesis (the number of calories you burn by being active).