The Link Between Metabolism And Your Weight

By MaryAnn DePietro, CRT. May 7th 2016

Most people have heard of the process of metabolism, but they may not understand exactly what it is and how it may relate to weight. Through the process of metabolism, calories are converted into energy, which the body uses to function properly. When a person takes in more calories than are needed or used, the excess calories are converted to fat, and weight gain occurs. How fast the body uses or burns those calories is based on a person’s individual metabolic rate. The process of metabolism is the same for everyone, but the speed or rate a person converts food to energy varies.

What Is Metabolism?

To simplify how it works, metabolism is an involuntary process, which takes place in the cells of the body to convert food into energy. A certain amount of calories are needed just to sustain the vital functions in the body, such as maintaining proper hormone levels, breathing and repairing cells. That basic level of energy needed is referred to as basal metabolic rate. Different factors affect how fast a person’s basal metabolic rate will be. Some factors can be changed, while others are uncontrollable.

There are two phases or parts of metabolism, including anabolism and catabolism. During anabolism, the body takes smaller, less complex molecules and converts them into larger molecules. During anabolism, energy is stored in cells for use in the future. During catabolism, fats, proteins and carbohydrates are broken down and used for energy immediately.

Factors Affecting Metabolism

There are several factors that can affect metabolism. Some are uncontrollable, while others can be controlled. Certain factors that cannot be controlled include:

  • Age: As people age, their basic metabolic rate decreases, which means the body needs less calories to maintain itself. If exercise or calorie intake is not adjusted accordingly, weight can start to creep on as people get older.
  • Gender: Women tend to have a slower metabolism, since they usually have less lean muscle.
  • Genetics: To some extent, a person’s metabolic rate is inherited through his or her genes.

Additional factors that affect metabolism, but are controllable include the following:

  • Diet: Eating too few calories can actually cause metabolism to slow. Deficiencies in the diet may also lead to problems with the endocrine system and cause metabolic disturbances.
  • Exercise: Regular exercise can teach the body to burn calories at a faster rate. Exercise can help build muscle mass, which also increases metabolism. (For more information on building muscle, read Healthy Ways To Gain Weight And Muscle.)

The Weight And Metabolism Connection

Weight and metabolism are directly connected in a few ways. When metabolism is slower, the body needs fewer calories to sustain itself. Therefore, if there is no decrease in food intake as the body’s metabolism begins to slow-down, weight gain will occur. Inversely, if the metabolism becomes faster, but there is no change in food intake, or food intake decreases, a person will lose weight. (If you’re interested in making your metabolism faster, read 10 Easy Tips On How To Kick-Start Your Metabolism.)

It is also important to remember that the rate at which a person’s body converts the calories in food into energy varies individually, and not everyone has the same calorie needs. In addition, an individual’s metabolic rate can change over time.

Metabolic Disorders And Weight Gain

Hormones, which are produced through the endocrine system, play a large role in the regulation of metabolism. In particular, the thyroid gland produces hormones, which affect the rate in which metabolism takes place. There are certain disorders of the thyroid gland which affect and lead to unintentional weight gain or loss. Two of the most common disorders are hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism.

Hyperthyroidism occurs when excess thyroid hormones are released into the body, due to an overactive thyroid gland. These hormones cause metabolism to speed up, which may lead to weight loss. Hypothyroidism is the opposite condition and develops when the thyroid gland in inactive. Too few hormones are released into the body and metabolism slows down, which can result in weight gain.

Ways To Increase Metabolism

Although some factors, which contribute to metabolism, can not be controlled, there are a few things which can be done to increase metabolism and possibly increase a person’s ability to lose weight.

  • Make sure to eat enough. Eating too few calories and restricting diet too much can have an impact on your weight. What happens is, the body reacts to fewer calories by believing it is being starved, so it slows metabolism down. However, eating small, frequent meals may be a little boost for the metabolism. Every time a person eats, the body needs to use energy to digest the food.
  • Don’t skip breakfast. According to Penn State University, metabolism slows down during sleep. The morning meal helps get the metabolism revved up. (To learn more about the importance of breakfast, read Top 10 Benefits Of Eating Breakfast.)
  • Exercise regularly including strength training. Increasing lean muscle mass may increase metabolism to some extent. As lean muscle is increased in the body, calories are used at a faster rate.
  • Take supplements. Certain vitamins and supplements, such as green tea extract and vitamin B may boost metabolic rate.

While it is clear a person’s metabolic rate may play a role in weight management, it is not the only factor that should be looked at, according to The Mayo Clinic. Eating unhealthy, fatty foods, overeating and living a sedentary lifestyle all contribute to weight gain and are usually more to blame than a slow metabolism. Still, it’s important to understand the role metabolism can play in weight management. With proper knowledge, certain changes can be made to increase metabolism, which can help in reaching weight loss goals.


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