When attempting to lose weight, men and women can expect to hear or read a lot about their metabolism.  The process by which the body converts the foods we eat and the beverages we drink into energy, metabolism is widely misunderstood.

Many people may have been told that a naturally slow metabolism might be to blame for their weight game.  But according to The Mayo Clinic, a slow metabolism is rarely to blame for excess weight gain, which can most often be attributed to both poor dietary choices and inactivity.  Certain conditions that slow metabolism, such as Cushing’s syndrome or hypothyroidism, can cause excessive weight gain, and people who have been diagnosed with such conditions should consult their physicians for advice on dealing with their conditions.  But those without conditions that affect their metabolisms may need to make certain life-style adjustments that can speed up their metabolisms and help them lose excess weight.

Start strength training.  Muscle burns more calories than fat, even when the body is at rest. Building muscle is a great way to speed up metabolism.  Each pound of muscle your body has burns roughly six calories per day just to sustain itself.  That’s three time the calories that each pound of fat burns.  Add that disparity up over time, and a body with significant muscle is burning considerably more calories than one with excessive fat.

Stay hydrated.  Dehydration takes its toll on the body in myriad ways, including affecting metabolism.  Even mild dehydration can slow metabolism.  When the body is dehydrated, its ability to use fat as fuel is compromised, slowing metabolism as a result.  In addition, muscles need water to generate energy, so dehydrated muscles will not be burning as many calories as those that are fully hydrated.  Make an effort to stay hydrated throughout the day, whether you’re sitting at your desk in the office or working up a sweat at the gym.  

Snack, but snack healthy.  Healthy meals benefit metabolism, but unhealthy snacks can derail your dieting efforts.  Metabolism speeds up and burns calories each time the body eats, and many people adhere to the concept of “grazing” for that very reason.  Grazing involves eating several small meals every three to four hours throughout the day rather than the more traditional three full meals each day.  Grazing devotees feel that the approach burns more calories than more traditional diets, but the difference in calories burned may actually be negligible.  Still, healthy snacking can speed up metabolism and help men and women avoid overeating at breakfast, lunch and/or dinner.  In lieu of snacking on potato chips or baked goods, opt for healthier fare such as Greek yogurt or a serving of fruits or vegetables. 

Eat more protein.  The thermic effect of food refers to the process by which the human body uses energy to absorb, digest and dispose of the food it ingests.  Protein stimulates the thermic effect of food more significantly than foods that are high in fat or carbohydrates, so the body will burn more calories digesting dietary protein than it will other foods.  In addition to speeding up your metabolism, dietary protein also helps people feel full longer, reducing their risk of overeating.

Understanding metabolism can help men and women as they attempt to lose weight and maintain healthy weights once those extra pounds have been shed.

This article appeared in the Opelika-Auburn News special section for the Women’s Expo, which took place September 22nd, 2016.