How Your Metabolism Really Works


According to Webster, metabolism is “the chemical and physical processes continuously going on in living organisms.” Unfortunately, not all of us living organisms have metabolisms that “process continuously” in the same. Some have fast ones, others slow.

Many of our site visitors have written to us with questions about speeding up or slowing down their metabolisms. Both “Alis” and “Athan” have questions about speeding up their metabolisms. “Alis” asks what vitamins, when taken properly, can help speed up metabolism. While, “Athan” wants to know “if there are foods that will help speed up your metabolism. I know there are drugs that supposedly help speed up met an, and exercise also helps. I run 4-6 miles a day and eat about 7 servings of fruits and vegetables. I have lost 48 lbs., but am having problems getting the last 12 lbs. off.”

The metabolic rate varies from one person to another and is affected by sex, age, and amount of lean body mass (muscle). Many vitamins and minerals are involved in the metabolic processes in the body, however, once the required amount is obtained, the excess is either eliminated or stored in body tissues. Toxic amounts of vitamins and minerals may lead to serious health consequences. Iodine, for example, forms part of the thyroid hormones that regulate metabolism. An iodine deficiency results in sluggishness and weight gain. Excessive intake can enlarge the thyroid gland (as does a deficiency), a condition known as goiter. Herbs associated with weight loss, such as Ephedra (Ma Huang), are stimulants of the nervous system and can lead to side effects such as nervousness, tremors, sleeplessness, and loss of appetite. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not regulate herbs and supplements, so you can’t always be assured of the quality of what you are purchasing. It is uncommon for a particular food to have the required medicinal properties to treat a medical condition.

There are certain foods that contain nutrients that can resolve a state of deficiency if that is an issue of concern. However, this needs to be evaluated before making a recommendation. What is important in every case is the recommendation to eat a variety of foods in adequate amounts to meet individual needs while maintaining a desirable body weight. Eating a healthy, balanced diet will usually provide the necessary nutrients for normal body processes. Exercise, probably due to an increase in muscle mass, does increase the body’s metabolic rate. The amount depends on type and duration as well as percent of existing muscle mass. It is the only completely safe (unless contraindicated by a medical condition) and natural method to increase the metabolic rate. If you have difficulty maintaining a desired weight, you may need the help of a registered dietitian who can provide an individualized and safe plan that addresses your specific needs. Also, check with a doctor. A physical exam can rule out any medical conditions that affect body weight.

There are many weight loss products available that claim to curb your appetite, melt away fat or increase your metabolism. Be aware that using some of these without medical clearance and guidance may be harmful.

“Susan” is curious to find “if there is any advantage to taking amino acid supplements. I suffer from depression and am currently taking Effex or XR. While it helps me feel normal, some of the side effects are feeling tired and weight gain.”

Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins, which include neurotransmitters such as serotonin. Neurotransmitters transmit nerve impulses through nerve cells (neurons). Some people diagnosed with depression have a deficiency of brain serotonin. Serotonin-deficient individuals should consume foods that are high in the amino acid tryptophan, such as milk, eggs, turkey, and lentils. Adequate protein intake minimizes the need for tryptophan or 5-hydrozy-tryptophan supplementation. The medication “Susan” is taking inhibits serotonin uptake, resulting in higher availability of the neurotransmitter. Like many drugs, there are side effects associated with its use. If these are a problem for you, you should certainly discuss it with your physician, and perhaps explore the possibility of alternative therapies or methods of alleviating your symptoms. Do not discontinue or make any modifications in your current treatment without consulting your doctor. Amino acid supplementation may be beneficial for some people with depression, but it is not a replacement for medical treatment. Consult with your doctor to see what is helpful in your situation. Here are some suggestions that may also help:

1. Eat a low-calorie, well-balanced diet (a registered dietitian can provide a meal plan that fits your needs and lifestyle).
2. Include sufficient protein and calcium (low-fat milk, low-fat cottage cheese, and nonfat yogurt).
3. Increase intake of omega-3 fatty acids (fatty fish, flaxseeds).
4. Exercise regularly.
5. Take time for leisure and pleasurable activities.

To learn more about how to master your metabolism have a look at the new Metabolism.com book. Included in the book is a 20 page guide to weight loss we call the Personalized Nutrition Profile containing full instructions for meal planning, snacks and useful supplements.

On the flip side, there are also many readers who feel they need to slow down their metabolic rate. “Mark” wants to know how you slow down a high metabolism. He asks if there are “any special foods or exercises” he can use. He is 27, 6’2″ and weights 140 lbs. he says he “eats like a pig, but can’t seem to put the weight on.” “Raj” says, ” I am 26 and 5’9″, but I weight only 130. I need to increase my weight. It looks like I am a high metabolic person. I eat a lot, but still I am not gaining weight. What can I do to reduce my metabolism and gain weight?”

First, of all, there are probably hundreds of people who wish they had this problem, but for those who feel like the skinny guy on the beach who will never fill out; it is a serious question. Body size has a lot to do with genetics. Both “Mark” and “Raj” should ask their fathers or uncles what they weighed at their ages. Chances are they were thin too, and could eat any amount of food without gaining weight. But, look at them now. Are they still slim or did middle age bring changes? Some people are thin due to heredity and may find difficulty in gaining weight. Unless there is a medical condition that is resulting in weight loss, the weight loss is recent and unexplained, or there is a risk of malnutrition – as is often the case with eating disorders, being underweight is far less of a health problem then being overweight. Weight gain is achieved when the calories consumed outnumber the calories spent. Gaining weight for appearance’s sake, or gaining both muscle and fat weight, should consist of a high-calorie diet in combination with regular exercise. Your nutrient needs depend on your own particular rate of metabolism, which may be very high at your age. You not only need calories but also protein, vitamins and minerals. The best way to get these nutrients is to choose a balanced, varied diet from among the different food groups. “Mark,” says he is “eating like a pig,” but is it mostly pizza, burgers, fries and soda? Other nutrients are necessary for you body to metabolize and build new cells. You need 6-11 servings of cereals and grains, 2-3 servings of protein foods, 2-3 servings from the dairy group, 2-4 fruits, and 3-5 servings of vegetables. A varied selection from these groups should be the basis of your diet to which you then add fats, oils and sugars to add calories. Some other suggestions for gaining weight are to be sure to eat a good breakfast, lunch, and dinner, with nutritious snacks between meals. Try to eat in a relaxed atmosphere instead of on the run, as this improves the way your body uses nutrients. Avoid drinking too much liquid with your meal so you don’t fill up too quickly. Make exercise a regular part of your healthy routine, but not to the extent that you skip meals and burn a high amount of calories. The body’s metabolic rate is not normally modified unless there is an existing disorder that requires medical treatment. It is something that varies from one person to another and affected by many factors, such as age, sex, and amount of lean body mass (muscle).

To learn 7 strategies to add healthy weight please have a look at the new Metabolism.com book. Also included in the book is a 20 page personalized guide to weight gain we call the Ultimate Weight Gain Program. The program contains complete instructions for meal planning, snacks, exercise routines and useful supplements

Although the above suggestions will usually lead to weight gain, it is always wise to check with a physician in order to discard any metabolic or other medical disorder that may be attributed to weight loss. Consulting a registered dietitian can provide better insight on the nature of the problem, and result in more accurate recommendations that are better suited for individual lifestyles and food preferences.

Everyone’s focus should be on a healthy weight, one where you feel vital and energetic, not an ideal seen in magazines. With wholesome eating habits and other measures such as not smoking, drinking or using drugs, avoiding risky behaviors, getting enough sleep, stress management, moderate exercise and stretching, and working towards mental and emotional maturity, you will start on a lifetime of wellness, whether you are trying to loss or gain weight.

Good luck!

Metabolism.com

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39 thoughts on “How Your Metabolism Really Works

  1. Kyle

    I too ,like Mark, suffer from a high metabolism. I do eat well but, I have to eat in high stress situations and have very little time to sit and eat. The protein shakes and granola bars burn like kindling, especially if I exercise. The Vegetable fat is a good idea but I eat more servings of veggies than my vegetarian wife. I really want to look good for the holiday season instead of the ol’ roof over the shed, which happened to the older males in my family. What puts on the good weight and is quick and easy?

    Reply
  2. George

    I’m not worried about my weight, as I’m high metabolised, but i was just curious; I eat about 4 healthy meals a day with all of my servings of vegetables, fruits, grains, and meat. I also drink 3 tall glasses of milk everyday, not including the milk I add in my cereal (I tend to eat at least 2 bowls a day). However, I’m having trouble with gaining muscle. I’m fit and energetic, but I just want some muscle mass.

    So my question is; could my difficulty in muscle gain be caused by a lack of nutrition? I have heard from a fitness instructor that the body will eat muscle before fat to save itself.

    Reply
  3. Santosh Savak

    Dear Sir/Madam,

    I am Skinny type person (Male) Weight 50 Kgs, Height 5 feet 5 inch and age 33 years.Also my food intake is very low.

    I want to put on my weight, Do i have to Increase my metabolic rate or to decrease it.

    Please suggest and how do i do it. Please please reply for my problem.

    Thanking you,

    Santosh Savak

    Reply
  4. Eric

    I have the same issue as george. I eat very good and stay away from caffine and fast burning calories. All of my food intake is two to three times that of my friends. I work as a iron worker and welder so muscle mass is my concern. Every one around me at work is huge yet i am stuck at 135 and have been for years. it doesnt effect my job much but i certanly get enough excersise. my only real question is how to gain the fat that is right for gaining muscle and not just for weight.

    Reply
  5. nickie

    i dont have high metabolise but im overweight and need a diet plan that dosent include pills or special powders one that will give a better body!?!

    Reply
  6. Bill King

    Nice post buddy, couldn’t agree more. Weight loss is all about three simple things, mindset, diet and exercise

    Reply
  7. Nick

    George, i too having the same problem. Actually mine is more of an issue now because of my high paced, no time-to-sit job. I’ve always had a fast metabolism but now it’s catching up to me because I can’t eat or exercise the way i used to. The worst part is people seem to think it’s ok to ask why are you getting skinny? You wouldn’t say to someone gaining weight, “Why are you getting fat?” I’m learning to use this as ammunition though, because amongst diet and exercise, mindset definitely needs to be there. Also as far as the info you heard, your body will actually break down excess fat first, then it will proceed to fat around muscle tissues, then start breaking down proteins for energy, starting on muscle protein and in the case of starving, organ proteins. That is only in dier cases tho

    Reply
  8. Angie

    can u help me and advise wat are d things i can do to make my metabolish work fast?is there anything i can drink?

    Reply
  9. Jason V

    I’m 19. I’m 6’1″ and I weigh 125 lbs.
    It frustrates me when I see people who are as tall as me but weigh more… or shorter even. And complain. My elbow bones jut out (funny bone area) and catch on things.
    I eat furiously, drinking through a few litres of milk every day, with toast, pasta, cheese, meat, crisps, chocolate, banana’s all in my diet.
    Currently I am still loosing weight and have been tested negative for any metabolic disorders.
    I have no stress or depression. I’m a happy person who isn’t overally active to burn calories. What on earth is wrong with me!?!?!

    Reply
  10. Anna

    Say I was to go on a fast, how long would it take for my metabolism to slow down? I heard answers from anywhere from one day to 2-3 weeks. Of course, I wouldnt go on a fast for 3 weeks, but I am curious!

    Reply
  11. jason

    jason v:
    the honest problem with you not gaining weight is 1st you had a bad genetic(heredity)
    and also you eat so much food you burn calories.
    basically you are speeding up your metabolism! take a week and eat 1800 cal
    then go up to 2000 and 3rd week stuff yourself again. just keep doing this routine and ur body will store more fat trust me
    I am a skinny guy to but you are just eating to much all the time
    jason

    Reply
  12. Dustin

    i am 22 years old 6 feet tall and way 120lbs i have a 27″ waist with a 31″ inseam and a 30″ chest i can count my ribs in the mirror from aprox. 5 feet i eat 6 hearty meals a day with a 8000-10000 caloric intake a day i excercise but not excessively i try to minimize my cardio with out taking away from weights i lift heavy with low reps for an hour daily my biggest meal is just before bed and im still having problems gaining weight i adjusted all my nutrient intake to match with the higher caloric intake and i eat healthy with 0 fast food ive had all kinds of examinations to determine if my problem is a glandular or chemical disorder but everything seems to be working properly i am the tallest person in my family the next tallest is 5’3″ and weighs 140lbs that is my dad apparently i went completely oppisite of my family seeing as they are all vertically challenged and hefty and im tall and scrawny please help i cant stand this

    Reply
  13. Breanna

    my friends have been bugging me about my high metabolism saying that i am gunna get fat when i am older because they think that some of the worlds “largest” people had a high metabolism.
    I was wondering..
    is it true that if you have a high metabolism all of the food you eat now will catch up with you and you will become fat when you are older??

    Reply
  14. Sophie

    Hey, I have had a normal/high metabolism for my whole life and now it is suddenly slowing down. I have never eaten healthy and I loath exercise of any type. However, I ride my bike to school every day, eat three meals and one snack a day and walk a lot. I have done this for the past years and now suddenly I am gaining wieght drastically and both my thighs and my stomach fat is increasing. Although I used to do sit ups and crunchies to mentain my stomach muscles, not even that helps now. Last year I spent a week in hospital (not beause of tehis but still) and since then its only gotten worse. can anyone help me whith this? is it just that as I age my metabolism slows down or is it something worse. Thanks

    Reply
  15. Dody Nettles

    Dr. Pepper, here is my problem , I am 50 years old, 5’8” weigh 129 lbs. I have a high metabolism, I can eat breakfast at 7 am and will be starving by 10:30, I usually eat yogurt and fruit for breakfast. I eat lunch at 11 and then by 2:00 am starvin again. what should I eat that will sustain me without gaining weight

    Reply
  16. Barnacle

    My problem is definitely genetic as when i was 10 yrs old they thought i was anorexic,
    but i wasnt, now at age 47 and still slim i have a new problem…
    My wife was a skinny little girl who… was teased at school for being so skinny.
    her father was so skinny they fed he and his sister some sort of liver something ot other to try to get him fatter…
    it did not work.
    My parents both are slim to this day even though they eat also well as they always have.
    my wife cooks good healthy meals, vegetables and meats,
    all my kids are slim.
    BUT BUT BUT
    my daughters school now think she is anorexic and have made an appointment at an anorexic clinic for her ???????
    what is going on i wonder, why is no one seeing the whole picture.
    She eats okay, shes a little picky just like me, she cuts the fat off her meat if its slimey.
    if its crispy then yum yummy yum yum.
    how do you get through to a school doctor that its completely normal that my daughter is skinny?
    we are very happy with the way things are.
    i have filled out beautifuly as has my wife who has a lovely figure and no one would believe that she has given birth to four children and has a tummy as flat as a pancake with NO EXERCISE.
    Help please what should we say to the school doctor.

    Reply
  17. Jacquie

    I need to speed up my metablism quickly, due to medical issues exercise is not an option are there vitamins supplements I could take to help? I currently take B-complex and fish oil.

    Reply
  18. Claire Dumont

    How do I speed up my metabolism when I can not exercise much because of medical issues? I”m 80 and wallk with a walker..
    Thanks for much Claire

    Reply
  19. cherry

    i can relate to some of the people on here. I have been skinny all my life & have been teased & picked on so much about how little i am. I have such a high metabolism & can eat alot most of the time and dont gain weight. I dont wanna get fat by no means but i would like to be able to put on 20 to 30 more pounds for me to feel alot better about myself. It gets so aggrivating not being able to wear certain clothes that u like beacuse u cant fill it out. I’ve heard that when u get a little older than ur metabolism will start changing so maybe mine will get better to where i can be alot more comfortable with my body. But like i said i dont wanna gain to much weight & get fat i just wanna gain enough to make me look better & feel better about myself.

    Reply
  20. Peg Degidio

    Hi, its great to read some info my a fellow nutrition and fitness enthusiast. I personally am not a fan of whey protein, I know that on paper it is very efficient. But i have always wondered of the dairy aspect. A protein straight from milk, something great for weight loss and weight gain depending on usage but in terms of some folks you may find yourself to have a low metabolic tolerance to dairy (some people find the same with wheat). I prefer to diversify and try different proteins. This is all my personal opinion of course but i find all our body’s are different and you must do your own search to find the right form of powder for you. i personally shift between promasil and myofusion with some mutant mass if i feel like bulking or even as a recovery drink after a power cardio workout (such as plyo). Try to visit http://www.squidoo.com/best-whey-protein-shakes if anybody want more info.

    Reply
  21. jennise king

    i too have a fast metabalism and was slim for as long as i could remember. i have a daughter that is in her teens and i still haven’t gain any weight. i’m now in my 40’s and still weighting the same thing 120lbs. sometimes i think i should be grateful

    Reply
  22. chelsea

    im 17 almost 18, 5’8″ and weigh 105
    i eat a lot of fast food and restaurrant food and am super picky.
    whenever my family does make home cooked meals, i dont like it and have trouble eating food at home now. it sucks.
    maybe ill try forcing some healthy food down my throat and eat actual meals and see what happens.

    Reply
  23. cygnia

    Really understanding dietary fat is also a part of managing healthy weight and boosting metabolism. For an in-depth understanding of dietary fat, read Dr. Mary Enig’s book, “Know Your Fats: The Complete Primer for Understanding the Nutrition of Fats, Oils, and Cholesterol” (2001). Dr. Enig is a world-renowned PhD researcher of 40 years specializing in dietary fats and oils. According to Dr. Enig, eliminate all hydrogenated oils from our diet, cut back on oils high in omega 6s (because it increases deficiencies in Omega 3s), avoid cooking with oils high in polyunsaturated fats, eat oils high in monounsaturated fats like olive oil and healthy saturated fats like virgin coconut oil. There is one butter substitute that I like a lot, “Melt Buttery Spread”. Its the yummiest of all the butter substitutes (believe me, I have tried them all), it’s organic (no chemicals or weird additives), and high in Omega 3s and medium chain fatty acids (the good fats).

    Reply
  24. EC

    I’ve had a fast metabolism most of my life, especially through high school and college. But now that I’m heading into my thirties, it seems that weight seems to stick to me more than ever. I’m intrigued by medium-chain fatty acids. I wonder if products like Melt could bolster my metabolism and keep my figure thin through my thirties? That way I could ditch the butter and eat something similar that won’t add on the pounds.

    Reply
  25. andrea

    I am taking vitamin B complex metabolism support and fish oil as well and I take one metabolism support pill a day but I was wondering is it ok if I take one in the morning and one at night? Will this be ok and will it help me burn off some weight a little faster without working out like 3 times a week.

    Reply
  26. iveta

    I have one question: I met few very fat peoples with high metabolic rate. I never saw such high metabilic rate non of the athleets i know…please advise

    Reply
  27. kelly

    im only 17 and my metabolism is quite high, and find it very difficult putting on weight.
    i also have no idea where to find the right help to give me advice?

    Reply
  28. the counter

    Have you ever thought that maybe you’re highly sensitive to insulin/your body is not producing enough of it.The calorie law assumes that the person has regular insulin levels because if little or no insulin is released excess calories will not be stored as fat.Hence this is why undiagnosed diabetics lose weight when their body stops producing insulin.

    Reply
  29. abdul

    ummm..hi
    im 17,54kg,173cm high
    n i have very high metabolism.

    Question?? : am i a normal person??(i mean,is it better for me to stay this way or should i u know do something to lower my metabolism)??

    if its better 4 me to stay this wy,can u gimme some advice on what should i do to live a much better life…plzz advice
    Thank you

    Reply
  30. Jean Dittmann

    I am 61, have a petite frame. I also have Hashimoto’s disease. I have had to fight all my life to get to and maintain normal weight. Now I weigh a whopping 123 lbs. And even though I walk 2-4 miles a day,it stays. I haven’t lost an ounce. Help!I haven’t seen my endocrinologist in over a year. Maybe my levothyrozidine level needs to be upped? I am also a nurse.

    Reply
  31. gurpreet singh

    sir i really need a help …my weight is 59 kg and my height is 5 feet and 11 inches.
    i want to gain some weight as i know my weight should be near about 70 kg.
    i am really a skinny guy and want to be a hale man.
    plz suggest me …thanx in advance

    Reply
  32. Flo

    gurpreet singh

    You need to lift weights, and eat more (but eat healthy).

    Look into it, contact a gym and get into it.

    But when you do start exercicing, I have this advice for you: Compound exercises. Don’t bother with isolated exercises like dumbell curls; if you want to put on muscle mass, you gotta do deadlifts, squats, bench press. You’ll bulk up in no time, I promise.

    I am the same height as you, and at the start of the year I weighed 60kg. I put on almost 10 kg since then, by doing what I said: compound weight lifting. Do it.

    Reply
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