Some blame their weight gain on slow metabolism, which can affect the ability to keep off extra pounds, but other factors play a role.
Metabolism is the way your body processes energy for rest and activity, according to Dr. Luigi Meneghini. The executive director of Parkland Hospital’s Global Diabetes Program and professor of internal medicine at UT Southwestern Medical Center says the energy comes mostly from what you eat. Those calories get processed and then stored by the body for later use.
“There are people that, for example, have a faster metabolism and therefore, tend to burn energy more and are leaner,” he said, “and people who have a slower metabolism and tend to conserve energy more and store it as fat.”
To avoid storing fat, Meneghini suggests figuring out your metabolic rate, and then trying to plan caloric intake, physical activity and your lifestyle so that you maintain a healthy weight, or lose some calories if you’re already overweight.
How metabolism affects weight: If you have a fast metabolism, you’ll have individuals who are thin despite eating huge amounts of foods. That fast metabolism processes that food very effectively. Now, those individuals may not only have a genetically fast metabolism. They may be younger, they may have more lean muscle mass, which burns calories more effectively. They may also be individuals who eat a lot of calories, but they’re healthy calories – more proteins, fats or carbohydrates.
Metabolic rates change over time: The metabolic rate gets slower with age. With age, you tend to conserve more calories. The metabolic rate can also be altered by the types of food that you eat, how frequently you eat those foods and your physical activity. If an older person does not reduce their caloric intake as they age, and they don’t increase their physical activity, they will tend to gain some weight.
Downside of slow metabolism: When people with a slower metabolic rate or people who tend to gain weight in areas where they shouldn’t have it — such as the inside of the abdomen, around the organs, in the liver — that type of weight gain is associated with bad things like diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, strokes and a lot of other health consequences.
To avoid effects of slow metabolism:
- Determine your metabolic rate. There are calculations you can use to find out on your own.
- Eat healthy foods: lots of fiber and lots of fruits and vegetables.
- Stay away from saturated fats and simple carbohydrates such as processed or refined sugars.
- Eat lean proteins.
- Space out your calories throughout the day with smaller meals and healthy snacks so your body will consume more energy. Eating only one meal could cause your body to go into starvation mode and hang on to every calorie you eat.
- Hydration is important to digest and use those calories. The more water you drink, the more urine you make, the more calories you burn.
- Stress and too little sleep slows down your metabolic rate. Your body then hangs onto calories and stores them as bad fat.
Interview responses have been lightly edited for clarity and length.