Debunking six common metabolism myths

Metabolism is a biological process that refers to all the chemical reactions that occur within your cells to convert what you eat into energy. This energy is essential for your bodily functions, including breathing, blood circulation, and even thinking. 

Many people simply think that metabolism is the rate at which your body burns calories. However, it is much more than that. It involves two main processes: catabolism and anabolism. Catabolism breaks down large molecules into smaller ones, releasing energy in the process. Anabolism, on the other hand, produces large molecules from smaller ones and requires energy. Together, both processes regulate the energy balance in your body.

Six metabolism myths

Myth 1: some foods can boost metabolism significantly

No single food has the ability to significantly increase metabolism. While some spicy foods such as capsaicin, found in chilli peppers, have thermogenic properties that can increase your metabolism temporarily, the effect is minimal and short-lived. Similarly, caffeinated drinks and alcohol can briefly increase metabolic rate, but the effect doesn’t last long.

Myth 2: crash dieting improves metabolism

Crash dieting, which involves drastically reducing calorie intake, can slow down metabolism. This is because when your body does not get enough calories, it goes into ‘starvation mode’, conserving energy and burning calories more slowly to survive. It uses fewer calories to perform the same tasks, thus causing metabolic damage. In this study, individuals who lost 10 to 20 per cent of their body weight due to crash dieting saw that their resting metabolic rate had decreased by almost four kilocalories for every kilogram per day.

Myth 3: your metabolism is solely down to genetics

Genetics do play a role in determining your metabolic rate but they’re not the sole dictator. You can still boost your metabolism by building more lean muscle mass. As muscles require energy to function, having more lean muscle helps your body burn calories even when you are at rest.

Myth 4: metabolism slows down irreversibly with age

While it’s true that metabolic rate tends to decline with age, attributing weight gain solely to age-related metabolic slowdown oversimplifies the issue. Lifestyle factors, such as decreased physical activity and loss of muscle mass, often contribute more significantly. However, research shows that regular exercise, particularly strength training, can mitigate age-related declines in metabolism, helping to preserve lean muscle mass and metabolic function.

Myth 5: drinking ice-cold water boosts metabolism significantly

People believe that consuming cold water can increase metabolism because the body spends energy to raise the temperature of water to match the internal temperature of the body. While this is true, the effect is minor and burns only approximately eight calories.

Myth 6: eating smaller, more frequent meals boosts metabolism

The belief that eating smaller, more frequent meals throughout the day boosts metabolism is a common myth, and scientific studies do not provide any evidence for this claim. 

People believe that by consuming food more frequently, your body is constantly burning calories to digest the meals, leading to a higher metabolic rate. However, the thermic effect of food (TEF), which represents the energy spent during digestion, absorption, and metabolism of food, is influenced more by the total quantity and quality of calories you consume, rather than by meal frequency alone. While it is true that TEF increases slightly after each meal, the overall effect of multiple smaller meals throughout the day does not significantly influence the total metabolic rate when compared to consuming fewer, larger meals.

Truths about metabolism

Truth 1: adequate sleep is essential for a healthy metabolism

Poor sleep quality can disrupt our natural circadian rhythm and cause hormonal imbalance, leading to changes in appetite-regulating hormones such as ghrelin and leptin. This increases hunger and cravings, affecting metabolism and leading to weight gain.

Truth 2: hydration is essential for metabolism

Water is essential for many metabolic processes, including those that break down food and metabolise stored fat into energy. Staying hydrated helps support these processes and can prevent dehydration. 

Truth 3: regular physical activity boosts metabolism

Exercise, especially cardio and high-intensity interval training (HIIT), not only burns calories during the activity but also increases metabolism for hours afterwards. This effect, known as the afterburn effect, means your body is burning calories at a higher rate up to two hours after exercise.

HIIT workouts involve exercises that are performed at maximum intensity for a short duration of 10 to 30 minutes. Each exercise is followed by a brief rest or low-intensity activity.

Truth 4: having late-night meals slows down metabolism

The timing of your meals affects your metabolism, as a late dinner alters substrate metabolism during sleep. Having late-night snacks causes nocturnal glucose intolerance and decreases the oxidation of fatty acids, increasing the risk of obesity.

Have you heard these metabolism myths before? Have you noticed your metabolism slowing down with age? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments section below.

Also read: Boost your metabolism with these simple lifestyle tweaks

Disclaimer: This article contains general information about health issues and is not advice. For health advice, consult your medical practitioner.

Ellie Baxter
Ellie Baxter
Writer and editor with interests in travel, health, wellbeing and food. Has knowledge of marketing psychology, social media management and is a keen observer and commentator on issues facing older Australians.
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