Understanding a Complicated Collection of Chemical Reactions

Have you ever heard someone say, “I have a slow metabolism so I don’t lose weight easily?” If a person has a fast metabolism, do they really lose weight faster? What is metabolism anyway?

Metabolism is a process that converts food and drink into energy. (1) This fundamental definition is a notable simplification of a complex process, but it is valuable to our understanding of the above question. So, how can a metabolism be “fast” or “slow?” As it turns out, using these terms to describe the human metabolism is erroneous. 

To clarify, your body uses a specific amount of calories to maintain vital processes every single day, such as cell repair and breathing. The number of calories required by these processes is referred to as your basal metabolic rate. (1) Your basal metabolic rate is determined by your age, sex, and body size and composition (Mayo clinic). Physical activity and food consumption also affect the calories you use in one day.

Technically, this rate cannot increase or decrease in normally functioning individuals as conventional nutritional wisdom would purport. What does this mean? Your body cannot burn calories faster or slower, but your net expenditure of calories can be large or small, depending on your own health statistics and daily activities. Thus, you gain weight when you consume more calories than you need, and you lose weight when you burn more calories than you consumed. These two facts should be guiding principles in any health regimen. 

Beyond magic pills claiming to “ramp up your metabolism,” special diets that “supercharge your metabolism,” and even foods that are reported to “boost your metabolism,” be aware that maintaining a healthy weight depends on a variety of intrinsic and environmental factors. the above clarification of metabolism provides a foundational understanding for healthy habits.

Understand the basics for food consumption and energy conversion, and you’re well on your way to healthier choices: @@your metabolism is designed to help you, not hurt you.@@


1. Staff, Mayo Clinic. “Weight Loss Metabolism and Weight Loss: How You Burn Calories.” Mayoclinic (19 Sept. 2014): n.pag. 14 Sept. 2015. <http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/weight-loss/in-depth/metabolism/art-20046508>.

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