Here’s a scary Halloween statistic. Oct. 31 marks the beginning of the holiday season, the time of year when the average American gains the most weight. In my last article, I discussed how it all starts with the simple equation, calories in versus calories out. In this article I will strive to help you ward off the horrors of becoming a weight-gain statistic by exposing another myth. Is it possible to be overweight because of a slow metabolism?
The answer is, probably not. You may know someone who eats nothing but junk food and never seems to gain an ounce, so you assume they have a fast metabolism. For the same reason that no particular type of food makes us fat other than the calories supplied, it is also possible to stay lean eating junk food. It may be tempting to blame your metabolism for weight gain, but only in rare cases do you get excessive weight gain from a medical problem that slows metabolism.
Metabolism is the process by which your body converts what you eat and drink into energy. Even at rest, your body needs energy for functions such as breathing, circulating blood and cellular repair. The number of calories your body uses for these basic functions is known as your basal metabolic rate (BMR). Similar to your BMR is your resting metabolic rate (RMR), which is just slightly higher and is the amount of calories burned while your body is awake and at total rest. Energy needs for your body’s basic functions stay fairly consistent and aren’t easily changed. Your resting metabolic rate accounts for about 60 to 75 percent of the calories you burn every day.
The variables that determine metabolic rate are:
— Your body size and composition. The bodies of people who are larger or have more muscle burn more calories, even at rest.
— Your sex. Men usually have less body fat and more muscle than do women of the same age and weight, therefore burn more calories.
— Your age. As you get older, the amount of muscle tends to decrease and fat accounts for more of your weight, slowing down calorie burning.
Other factors that can contribute to lowering your metabolic rate include heredity, certain medications, lack of sleep, and starvation diets.
Although your metabolism influences your body’s basic energy needs, weight/fat loss is determined by your daily caloric deficit. You create a caloric deficit through your total daily energy expenditure (TDEE). In addition to your basal metabolic rate, another factor that determines how many calories your body burns each day is food processing (thermogenesis). Digesting, absorbing, transporting and storing the food you consume also takes calories. This accounts for about 10 percent of the calories used each day.
Exercise adds to your daily calorie needs, and as long as you don’t consume more to compensate (keeping your intake below your needs) the body must draw on its fat stores and you’ll lose fat. Aerobic/cardio exercise is the most efficient way to burn calories and includes activities such as walking or bicycling. Remember, the more active you are, the greater the benefits.
Strength training helps counteract muscle loss associated with aging. And since muscle tissue burns more calories than fat tissue does, muscle mass is a key factor in weight loss. With both cardio and strength training, you have the benefit of what’s called EPOC (Excess Post-exercise Oxygen Consumption), meaning a higher metabolic rate for an extended period of time after your exercise session is completed. Lifestyle activities including all your daily walking, recreation, work, and house chores add up to more than you would imagine (it’s called non exercise activity thermogenesis, or N.E.A.T.).
There’s no magic pill, so don’t look to dietary supplements claiming to speed up your metabolism. These products are often more hype than help, and some may cause undesirable or even dangerous side effects. Dietary supplement manufacturers aren’t required by the FDA to prove that their products are safe or effective, so view these products with caution, and always let your doctor know about any supplements you take.
It’s simple but not always easy, especially over the holidays, but take in fewer calories than you burn, and you will lose weight and avoid the Halloween to New Year’s creep.
Perry Buchanan, owner of PT Gym, is certified as Health Fitness Specialist through the American College of Sports Medicine and has been in the fitness industry for over 30 years.