4 Myths About Metabolism You Won’t Believe

Article posted in: Diet & Nutrition
peppers planting vegetables

A fast metabolism is weight loss’ mythical buried treasure: Everyone wants the power to burn fat all day, eat whatever they want, and never gain weight thanks to their “fast metabolism.” And like any treasure, there are lots of maps on how to get there—tips, tricks, psuedoscience and other myths on how to speed yours up.

But like most treasure maps, most are too good to be true. Here are four myths about metabolism you can stop believing right now.

Myth 1: Your metabolism slows down when you age, and you can’t stop it.

This one is a case of correlation, not causation: Most people do see their metabolism slow down as they age, but not because they’re aging—it’s because they’re losing muscle mass. After age 30, people who aren’t active lose three to five percent of their muscle mass every decade—and muscle burns about six calories per pound (according to a report in Obesity), while fat burns just two calories per pound.
But losing muscle as you age isn’t a necessity: By performing strength training exercises two or three times per week (the amount recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), you can maintain more muscle—and more metabolic speed.

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Myth 2: You MUST eat breakfast to “kickstart” your metabolism.

First thing: Your metabolism doesn’t stop when you sleep. Your body continues to burn calories by pumping your heart, regulating your breathing, and doing all the other unconscious stuff that keeps you alive.
But your metabolism does slow down when you sleep—and breakfast restarts it, making it the most important meal of the day … right? Maybe not. A 2014 study found that, despite conventional wisdom, eating breakfast alone didn’t help or harm efforts to lose weight. And another study from 2014 from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that eating breakfast did not affect resting metabolism. So if you don’t like to eat in the a.m. or don’t have time, you don’t have to force down food: It won’t slow your metabolism to a crawl.

Despite these findings, here at Nutrisystem, we’re big fans of morning meals. Here’s why: Some studies have linked eating breakfast to weight loss maintenance and success. In a survey done by the National Weight Control registry, 78 percent of people who had maintained a 30-pound weight loss for at least a year ate breakfast every day, and 90 percent of that group enjoyed a morning meal at least five times per week. Plus, researchers from the University of Massachusetts found that men who don’t eat in the morning are almost five times more likely to be obese than those who eat breakfast. Some experts contend that this may be because for some, skipping breakfast can lead to extreme hunger and overeating later in the day. So despite the fact that you don’t have to eat breakfast to get your metabolism moving, per se, we do recommend eating a morning meal so you don’t overindulge later.

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Myth 3: Spicy foods “rev” your metabolism!

Hot peppers really do increase your metabolism—the capsaicin that makes them spicy has long been thought to heat up your body, increasing your metabolic rate. But it may not be the “burning” spiciness that causes the extra calorie burn: In 2010, UCLA scientists tested the effects of dihydrocapsiate (DCT), a non-burning capsainoid they suspected could have similar metabolism benefits as capsaicin. The researchers found that dieters who consumed this non-spicy compound also experienced an increased calorie burn—almost doubling their energy expenditure when compared with a group that consumed a placebo. So munch on sweet chili peppers to get the metabolism boost without the burn.

Myth 4: Eating before bed will make you pile on fat.

The logic behind this one is that your body uses carbs for energy, so if you’re not using the energy (because you’re going to sleep), your body will just store them as fat.

There’s evidence that the opposite of this myth is true, and you should front-load your day with protein, saving the carbs for later. In a European study from 2014, men who ate diets with identical calories and foods timed them differently, with some eating carbs for lunch, and others saving them for dinner. The carbs-for-dinner group burned more calories digesting the food the next day, while the carbs-for-lunch group experienced a “deleterious impact on glucose homeostasis”—that is, it messed up their blood sugar levels.

A 2011 study from Obesity used a similar protocol—this time on American police officers—and found that carbs-for-dinner cops lost more than 25 percent more fat than those on a normal diet, and felt less hungry thanks to the diet’s positive influence on leptin, a hormone in the body that’s associated with feelings of fullness.