How Your Diet Affects Your Metabolism

When you talk about "your metabolism" you are actually talking about your metabolic rate. That's the rate at which your body breaks down the larger or "macro" nutrients you get from the food you eat-mostly carbohydrates, but also fat and sometimes protein-and uses them to create energy.

Metabolism also involves using some of these same nutrients and other substances as building blocks to create new compounds that play other roles in your body in addition to energy production. The processes involved in metabolism are going on all the time, in every cell of your body. It's a complicated process, the success of which is determined, in part, by the way you eat.

Everyone's metabolism is different. Some people have faster metabolisms and some slower, which accounts, in part, for the fact that two people can eat the same amount of food over time, and one person may gain or lose weight while the other may not. Age also affects your metabolic rate, which tends to slow down by about two percent every ten years.

Eating high-protein foods temporarily increases your metabolism to help with the additional energy needed for protein digestion. Spicy foods also rev up your metabolism. But simply eating a particular type of food, or eating more or less foods from a particular food group, will not increase or decrease your metabolic rate or help you lose weight in the long term. Exercise will. When you are physically active, you burn off additional calories while exercising and continue to burn them for up to several hours afterwards. Staying fit and maintaining your muscle mass by exercising will also help prevent or delay any age-related slowdown.

Although the types of food you eat has little effect on how efficiently you burn calories, the act of eating does help rev up your metabolism. That's why it makes more sense to eat normal, healthy amounts of food throughout the day, rather than starve yourself when you are trying to lose weight. According to nutritionists at Illinois State University, eating small but adequate meals, frequently throughout the day, raises your metabolism, while skipping meals or eating too little at each meal has the opposite effect of slowing your metabolism down.

When you don't eat enough food throughout the day, your body doesn't know if you are starving or if you are on a diet. It responds to the lack of food by slowing down the rate at which you burn calories in order to conserve energy. It's your body's built-in survival mechanism at work.

To boost your metabolism, follow these tips:

Eat breakfast. Your metabolism slows down while you are sleeping. Give it a kick-start every morning.

Never starve yourself. You need at least 1,200 calories a day to maintain a normal metabolic rate and get all the nutrients you need to support metabolism and stay healthy.

Eat small meals. Divide your calories up into four to six meals and snacks throughout the day, spaced no more than three hours apart.

Drink plenty of water. Dehydration slows down metabolism.



Illinois State University Student Affairs. "Maximize Your Metabolism."  2009. Web. 24 Jan 2011.

Ophardt, C. "Virtual Chembook: Overview of Metabolism." Elmhurst College. 2003 Web. 24 Jan 2011.