Another day, another set of myths to be debunked. With so many of them floating around, what are we supposed to believe?. Well, never fear, The Healthy Goat is here! Today I’ll take on the myths about metabolism. I keep hearing people blaming their slow metabolism for their weight gain. With nonsense like, “I’m over 30” or “It’s genetic, our family has slow metabolism” or “I’m not as muscular as x,y,z”…and many other silly comments. Whilst in all those cases, there might be some slowing down of your metabolism, it’s usually not that much. In most cases, people gain weight, because of, little to no exercise, and more importantly, a bad diet. Exercise helps, sure, but you can’t bench, burpee, squat, or jog a bad diet away. You’re gonna gain weight. Let’s look into some of the more popular metabolism myths as they relate to weight loss and muscle gain.
Eat 6 meals a day to increase metabolism This, or “eat small but frequent meals to help increase your metabolism”, is a common piece of advice given by so called health experts. It is about as useful and true as diet advice from Fat Albert. Several studies have been done on this and the results are in. Basically, if your’re eating the same type of foods and the same amount of calories, it does not matter if you split your meals into 6 smaller portions or 3 large portions. Your metabolism at the end of the day would be the same [1, 2]. Now, having said that, for some people it might be useful to have smaller meals, if it helps them manage their calories better. In this case, it is psychological, and might help one to eat less overall. But, it definitely won’t speed up your metabolism.
Eating late at night causes weight gain This one is a little complicated. It’s based on the fact that at night, our metabolism slows down, so if we eat at night we will gain weight. Consider this, let’s say I ate 1000 calories in the morning (my only meal). The next day I ate 1000 calories at night (again, my only meal). On which day do you think I’ll more likely gain weight? If you said, on the 2nd day….you’re dead wrong. It’s the exact same thing, provided I’m using the lower metabolism logic. Yes, my metabolism is slower during the night or approaching bedtime. But remember, I’m still burning calories in the morning and throughout the rest of the day. The net effect should be the same.
In general, what’s really important is your overall calorie intake for the whole day. Now, if you’re the type of person who likes to snack at night because you’re stressed and you go after comfort foods (ice cream, chocolate…), then there is a problem. Your choice of late night foods is important, and so is your daytime consumption. But, for some reason, people leave a lot of junk food snacking, for late at night. So the idea is to watch your overall calorie consumption and choose wisely for snacking at night (almonds, low calorie yogurt….).
Having said that, there is some new research being done on humans and mice about time restricted feeding (TRF). In mice, it was found that restricting calories based on circadian rhythms, resulted in weight loss. Essentially if meals were eaten during an 8-12 hr period, regardless of what was eaten, the mice that followed the TRF, lost more weight than the ones that didn’t. This occurs when the feeding period ended at about 2-3 pm.
Dr. Satchin Panda, a professor at Salk Institute, first tracked the effects of time-restricted feeding in mice in 2012. Most of the research has been done on mice, with few human studies. But the indications are that, TRF can be utilized in preventing and treating obesity and metabolic disorders [1, 2, 3]. TRF does have to do with when you eat, following circadian rhythms, and not so much on the fact that the metabolism slows down. Basically a different process.
Fasting causes metabolism to slow down We’ve been led to believe that starvation causes the body to go into preservation mode and metabolism slows down. Again the health gurus point to studies that show starvation causes a metabolic slowdown. But, they never actually read the whole article. You have to look at what the definition of starvation is. There are studies that show short term starvation actually increases metabolism during the first 36-48 hrs [3, 4]. During those initial hrs. there is also no muscle loss. After that period, then there is a metabolic slowdown as the body goes into protective mode. Another myth busted.
Muscle at rest burns 30-50 calories Well, not quite so much, according to research. It’s more like 6 calories per pound compared to about 2 calories for fat. I’m not entirely sure where the 30-50 calories come from. I wasn’t able to find any reliable sources (just websites that make the claim without citing research). So, if you gain an extra 10-15 lbs of muscle, that translates into 60-90 extra calories. Not a whole lot. A half an Oreo…maybe. But, that’s just at rest.
Now, moving around would require the muscles in your body to be activated and it seems logical that you would burn more calories. Unless you sit all day in your underwear, contemplating the lint in your belly button. How much more? That I don’t know. I’ll have to look a little further (get back to you). Now a weightlifting workout does not burn that much either. Maybe a few hundred calories. BUT…your resting caloric burn does go up after the workout, as the body begins to repair the damaged muscle tissues. This can go on for several hours or days. That means the combined effect would be significant. So, it does make sense to pack on some muscle to help with your weight loss. Just remember the major calorie burn comes from the workout plus the repair afterward.
Summary Look, I know there may be people with some medical condition that leads to an unusually slow metabolism, but these are few and far. Most people who make this claim are either lazy or are in denial about how much they eat. I hear the claim that, “I don’t eat that much”, which may be true, but if it’s all sugar and refined carbs, then you’re shooting yourself in the foot. Likewise for the people who claim that they don’t consume sugars and carbs, they tend to eat a lot.
Finally, you have the ones that fall into both categories. So, be honest with yourself and keep a log of what you eat and how much. The first thing I would do is cut the junk out. Sodas, pastas, desserts…Don’t whine, an occasional cheat day is okay (don’t go crazy). Then, I would look into portion size and gradually cut down. You will find that despite your “slow metabolism” you can still lose a lot of pounds. If you really do have an unusually slow metabolism, go see your doctor. It might be the symptom of a larger problem.
P.S. The Healthy Goat was spotted raiding the fridge, late at night, for his midnight snack. He was last seen being led away in handcuffs. Mr. Goat could be heard protesting that, it’s not a crime to have a late night snack. It was later revealed that the fridge he raided, was not his own, but the neighbors.