Everyone knows that person who is able to eat whatever they want and maintain a healthy weight thanks to their "fast" metabolism, while other people struggle to lose weight while dieting heavily and exercising religiously due to their "slow" metabolism.
But does metabolism and gut health really play a role in weight loss or is it just something convenient to blame your weight loss woes on? The truth is, your body's metabolic rate truly does dictate how easy (or difficult!) it is for you to lose weight. Understanding your metabolism and how you can affect it can help you finally get over that weight loss plateau.
If you find that you need to jumpstart your metabolism consider incorporating probiotic supplements in your diet to help you break out of your plateau.
Understanding Your Metabolism & Weight
First of all, let's clarify what your metabolism is. Simply put, "metabolism" refers to the total set of chemical processes that your body carries out to stay alive, such as pumping blood and breathing. These basic processes require energy, and the number of calories that your body needs in order to complete them is known as your basal metabolic rate (BMR).
Your BMR accounts for about two-thirds of the calories your body burns each day; the remaining third is expended through daily activities and exercise. Together, the total number of calories your burn each day is known your total daily energy expenditure (TDEE).
In general, if you consume fewer calories than your TDEE, you'll lose weight; eat more than you burn and you'll gain weight. But the major component of your TDEE--your basal metabolic rate--is influenced by a number of factors, many of which are outside of your control.
Your age, gender, muscle mass, hormone levels, genetics and more all play a role in determine your basic caloric needs. This is what people typically mean when they refer to a "slow" or "fast" metabolism; those who are lucky enough to have high daily caloric requirements are said to have fast metabolisms, while those whose bodies burn fewer calories at rest due to any combination of factors are deemed to have slow ones.
One of the most frustrating things about your metabolism is that many of the factors that contribute to it are beyond your control. As you age, your metabolism naturally slows and your BMR decreases at a steady rate. Men have higher BMRs than woman do. Evidence also suggests that much of your metabolism is inherited, putting you at the mercy of your genetic makeup.
Thankfully, there are things you can do--and things you can avoid doing--that can help boost your metabolism and aid in your weight loss effort.
How to Manage Your Metabolism's Speed
If you're trying to shed pounds, dieting is likely the largest part of your effort. It makes sense: eat fewer calories than you burn and you should lose weight. Cutting your calories too much and too rapidly, however, can actually have the opposite effect. In a recent study, participants who dramatically cut their caloric intake by half found that they ended up burning 72 fewer calories per day within three weeks of beginning dieting.
You can call this the "Biggest Loser effect": participants on the reality TV show lost weight quickly on rigorous diets, but the long term effects on their metabolism meant that almost everyone gained most (or all!) of their lost weight back.
In other words, establishing sustainable healthy eating habits is ultimately more productive than trying out the latest and overly-restrictive fad diet.
It's frustrating, but true: the less you weigh, the lower your body's daily caloric needs. In other words, as you lose weight, the total number of calories your body needs to burn each day decreases. This effect holds true regarding exercise as well; a 150-pound woman will burn fewer calories doing the same exercises as she would at 200 pounds.
While this might be a frustrating truth about the way your metabolism works, understanding this principle can help you work around weight loss plateaus and avoid discouragement on your weight loss path.
How to Speed Up Your Metabolism
While exercise helps with weight loss by directly burning calories, physical activity has another role to play: regular exercise can help rev your metabolism. Researchers have found that maintaining a regular exercise schedule after successful dieting helped to combat the metabolism-tanking effects of losing weight.6 In other words, keeping up your workouts even after you've reached your goal weight can help you stay there.
While what you eat obviously plays a huge role in weight loss, when you eat may be a factor as well. About 10 percent of your BMR is made up of the calories your body needs to digest the food you eat. Known as diet-induced thermogenesis, studies have shown this caloric burn is higher in the morning than at night.7 In other words, you can help boost your metabolism by making breakfast the biggest meal of your day and eating lighter at dinner.
The billions of microorganisms that call your digestive tract home--known as your gut microbiome--play a huge role in breaking down the food you eat and can contribute to how well your metabolism functions. You can boost the effectiveness of your gut microbiome by adding a daily probiotic supplement to your routine. Indeed, studies have found that probiotic supplements have the ability to alter metabolic function and change how your body processes fat.8
While much of your metabolism may be outside of your control, understanding how it works, knowing what your particular basal metabolic rate is, and doing what you can to boost your metabolism is a huge step towards achieving your weight loss goals for good.
Shimokata H, Kuzuya F. Aging, basal metabolic rate, and nutrition. Nihon Ronen Igakkai Zasshi. 30(7):572-6. 1993.
Lzzar S, Bedogni G, Lafortuna C, Marazzi N, Busti C, Galli R, De Col A, Agosti F, Sartorio A. Relationship Between Basal Metabolic Rate, Gender, Age, and Body Composition in 8,780 White Obese Subjects. Obesity. 18: 71–78. 2010.
Kastenmuller G, Raffler J, Gieger C, Suhre K. Genetics of human metabolism: an update. Hum Mol Genet. 24(R1): R93–R101. 2015.
Muller M, Enderle J, Pourhassan M, Braun W, Eggeling B, Lagerpusch M, Gluer CC, Kehayias J, Kiosz D, Bosy-Westphal A. Metabolic adaptation to caloric restriction and subsequent refeeding: the Minnesota Starvation Experiment revisited. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 102(4): 807–819. 2015.
Fothergill E, Guo J, Howard L, Kerns JC, Knuth ND, Brychta R, Chen KY, Skarulis MC, Walter M, Walter PJ, Hall KD. Persistent metabolic adaptation 6 years after "The Biggest Loser" competition. Obesity (Silver Spring). 24(8):1612-9. 2016.
MacLean PS, Higgins JA, Wyatt HR, Melanson EL, Johnson GC, Jackman MR, Giles ED, Brown IE, Hill JO. Regular exercise attenuates the metabolic drive to regain weight after long-term weight loss. Am J Physiol Regul Integr Comp Physiol. 297(3):R793-802. 2009.
Morris C, Garcia J, Myers S, Yang J, Trienekens N, Scheer F. The Human Circadian System Has a Dominating Role in Causing the Morning/Evening Difference in Diet-Induced Thermogenesis. Obesity, 23: 2053–2058. 2015.
Martin FP, Wang Y, Sprenger N, Yap I, Lundstedt T, Lek P, Rezzi S, Ramadan Z, Van Bladeren P, Fay L, Kochhar S, Lindon J, Holmes E, Nicholson J. Probiotic modulation of symbiotic gut microbial–host metabolic interactions in a humanized microbiome mouse model. Molecular Systems Biology. 4: 157. 2008.