Metabolism Myths, or Going Beyond Calories


Over the last several months, I’ve been regularly writing articles for Spry Living and am pleased to feature some of them here on A Weight Lifted. Today’s post on metabolism was written in response to a request from Spry Living to write about “surprising metabolism saboteurs.” I frankly had a hard time coming up with any. Here are a few myths about metabolism that I came up with instead. I’m not sure how surprising they are.  Further, it isn’t surprising either how often I found them printed as truth when I was researching this article. And even less surprising is that the articles I found about metabolism and weight almost universally focused on calories, without any reference to the many other factors that are involved in successful weight management.  As regular readers of A Weight Lifted know, we believe that while calories may be at the physiologic basis for successful weight management, there’s so much more to it. And a focus on calories tends to distract folks from bigger issues.  All that said, here’s some information about metabolism that I hope you’ll find useful as part of the big picture of health.

Myth: There’s not much we can do about the fact that our metabolism slows as we age. What really happens as we age is that we lose muscle, and muscle is our metabolic engine. We can protect against muscle loss by staying active, especially with strength training exercises like weight lifting, spri tubes and the like.

Myth: Eating grapefruit speeds your metabolism. Sorry, there’s no magic to grapefruit, unless of course you count the great taste and nutrition it offers. But while it doesn’t help us burn calories any faster, it may have some important health effects. A recent study showed improvements in blood cholesterol levels when grapefruit was eaten before meals. Now there’s some magic for ya!

Myth: High-intensity workouts are the best way to get weight-loss results. That depends on how long you’re working out. Certainly, for the same period of time, you’ll burn more calories if you’re working out harder. But you can get the same calorie burn at lower intensity, too, just by increasing the time you go at it. So if you’re not up to running, walk a little longer. Also – important point here – don’t exercise for the calorie burn; do it because it feels good. That way, you’ll keep doing it.

Myth: You can boost the burn with spicy foods. Research does suggest that spicy foods can temporarily increase the rate at which we burn calories but the effect is so short-lived, it doesn’t have a significant impact. Some studies show spicy foods help us feel more satisfied, however, so there may be benefit there…as long as your spice regularly comes from, say, a peppery stir-fry instead of salsa on top of tortilla chips.

Myth: Our metabolism is genetically determined and there’s not much we can do to change it. Actually, there’s a lot we can do to change what we were born with – that sends it in the wrong direction. Not eating regular, well-balanced, healthy meals, not getting enough sleep, and not staying physically active can act alone or in combination to slow our bodies down. These healthy living basics keep our bodies functioning at their best.

Bottom line: There’s no quick fix for a healthy metabolism. A steady focus on taking the best care of ourselves as possible, focusing on the many different elements of self-care that go beyond burning calories, wins hands down every time.

One version of this article was originally printed on Spry Living.  I’ve made a few changes in it here.

One response to “Metabolism Myths, or Going Beyond Calories”

  1. AlejandraE says:

    would lead to starvation?. . Just something extremely random to ponder….hahah. . I was watching a show on the food network earlier about myths, and it said that celery IS actually negative calories and that got me thinking…..

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About the Author

Marsha Hudnall, MS, RDN, CD

If you’re looking for an embodiment of dedication disguised as obsession, look no further. Marsha is a registered dietitian who has spent the last four decades working to help women give up dieting rules and understand how to truly take care of themselves. Her mission in life is to help women learn to enjoy eating and living well, without worries about their weight. She encourages women to embrace their love of food, which you might call being a foodie. If so, it’s appropriate because being a foodie means you pay attention when you eat. That’s a recipe made in heaven for eating well. Marsha is the President and Co-Owner of Green Mountain at Fox Run.

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