It can be tempting to blame your weight gain on your 'slow metabolism.'
I mean… Take a look at all the skinny people on YouTube, ‘mukbang-ing’ (read: mukbang is an online broadcast in which a host consumes large quantities of food in a sitting) their way through buckets of fried chicken.
And there you are, eating mainly chicken breasts and broccoli – and yet, the numbers on the scale continue to creep up daily. How unfair.
Well, I hate to break your bubble, but as counterintuitive as this might seem, the truth is that your skinnier friends/family members/loved ones likely don’t have faster metabolisms than you (no matter what those ‘slow metabolism symptoms’ articles tell you).
Research shows that the heavier you are, the more calories you burn daily. Meaning? You’re burning way more calories than anyone who weighs lighter than you.
Wait, but why?
And more importantly: what’s up with your unrelenting body weight? Continue reading to find out.
What is metabolism?
Scientifically speaking, ‘metabolism’ refers to a series of chemical processes in each cell that convert the calories you eat into fuel to keep you alive.
There are 4 main ways your body burns energy each day:
- Basal metabolism rate (BMR) – Energy used for your body’s basic functioning while at rest.
- Non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT) – Energy used during physical activity that's not intended to be exercise (e.g. fidgeting, strolling, standing around).
- Exercise activity thermogenesis (EAT) – Energy used during conscious exercise (i.e. when you’re training/working out).
- Thermic effect of food (TEF) – Energy used to break down food.
A deep-dive into your BMR
It’s worth paying extra attention to your BMR; it accounts for a huge amount of total calories you burn each day (roughly 60%).
Even when you're completely still (e.g. sleeping), your body needs energy for functions such as breathing, circulating blood, and repairing muscle tissues. The number of calories your body burns for these essential functions – that basically help 'keep the lights on' – is known as your basal metabolic rate.
Imaginably, your body will require more energy to perform these functions when it's larger. Think higher volume of blood to circulate, more tissues to repair, and bigger lungs to fill. And that’s why the bigger (or heavier) you are, the more calories you burn.
Of course, your basal metabolic rate isn't only influenced by your weight. 2 other factors determine the number of calories your body burns at rest:
- Muscle mass – You probably already know that muscle is aesthetically-pleasing. But did you know that muscle also burns more calories than fat on a pound-by-pound basis? To be specific, scientists estimate that 10 pounds of muscle would burn 50 calories at rest daily, while the same amount of fat would only burn a meager 20 calories.
- Age – This is somewhat related to the first point. As you get older, your muscle mass decreases. And this, in turn, slows down the rate at which you burn calories (and metabolism).
Most of us don't suffer from a 'slow metabolism'
Alright. Here’s what you’ve learned thus far: 1) The number of calories you burn daily is primarily determined by your BMR, 2) The heavier you are, the more calories your body has to burn to sustain your everyday functions, 3) Individuals with a higher percentage of muscle mass burn more calories than others at the same weight.
With all this information laid bare right in front of our eyes… We can only draw one conclusion: the concept of a 'slow metabolism' is flawed.
Except for medical conditions like Cushing's Syndrome and thyroid dysfunction (which need to be diagnosed by a doctor – you can't just say that you have it!), most of us have, well, normal metabolisms.
Okay... so, why am I not losing weight?
As difficult as this may be to hear, rather than slow metabolism, your difficulty in losing weight comes down to a simple formula: you're in a calorie surplus. In other words: you're eating way too many calories than your body is capable of burning on any given day.
And because it bears repeating…
No, it doesn’t have anything to do with the rate at which your body burns calories.
Instead of blaming your weight gain on your metabolism, here are a few areas you can look into to reverse the upward trend of your weight:
• Calorie intake – Research consistently shows that people tend to eat more than they think and typically report eating less food than they actually do. Even dieticians make this mistake! So, do take a closer look at your meal portions. Are you eating more than you should? Are you sure of the calorie count of your meals? Also, if you're tracking your food intake, are you really accounting for every single bite of food (e.g. snacks you grab on the way to work)?
• Macronutrient profile of your meals – You don’t need to be on a ketogenic diet to lose weight. All you have to do is prioritize protein intake in your meal (no matter your dietary preferences); in addition to being one of the most satiating macronutrient around, it also has a much higher thermic effect (i.e. your body burns more calories in the process of digesting and absorbing it) compared to either carbs or fats.
• Physical activity – You can't change your basal metabolic rate (except for weight changes), but there is an aspect of your metabolism you can tweak: physical activity. Thus, you'd want to be honest with yourself: are you as physically active as you can be? And if you really want to increase the number of calories you burn in a day? Be sure to include strength training (helps you build muscle!)
Not sure where to start?
Sometimes, trying to find your footing while losing weight can be challenging – there are so many factors to account for: your calorie intake, meal macro-nutrient breakdown, physical activity, training programming, etc.
Well… What if we told you we could take something off your hands entirely while lending you support for the rest? Well, that's exactly what we're doing with GymStreak: the AI-powered personal trainer app that gives you everything you need to get started on your fitness journey. Plus, it also comes with a super-supportive community and various resources that’ll help answer any burning questions you have! Get access today.Get GymStreak
Galgani, J., & Ravussin, E. (2008). Energy metabolism, fuel selection and body weight regulation. International Journal of Obesity (2005), 32(Suppl 7), S109–S119. https://doi.org/10.1038/ijo.2008.246
McPherron, A. C., Guo, T., Bond, N. D., & Gavrilova, O. (2013). Increasing muscle mass to improve metabolism. Adipocyte, 2(2), 92–98. https://doi.org/10.4161/adip.22500
Pesta, D. H., & Samuel, V. T. (2014). A high-protein diet for reducing body fat: Mechanisms and possible caveats. Nutrition & Metabolism, 11. https://doi.org/10.1186/1743-7075-11-53
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Sánchez López de Nava, A., & Raja, A. (2021). Physiology, Metabolism. In StatPearls. StatPearls Publishing. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK546690/