It’s no wonder metabolism is a subject of fascination and speculation: The process that turns food into fuel powers all that we do. “Even when you’re sleeping, your body requires energy for things like breathing and repairing cell damage,” says Donald Hensrud, MD, medical director of the Mayo Clinic Healthy Living Program. The number of calories you need to perform such basic functions is called your resting metabolic rate (RMR)—and it can affect everything from your waistline to your energy level. Read on to learn how to keep your metabolism revved so your body is operating at just the right speed.
Dieting can lower your metabolism
“Whenever you cut calories, your metabolism slows down, often by more than you’d expect,” says Kevin Hall, PhD, an obesity researcher at the National Institutes of Health. Studies have found that formerly obese people have a 3 to 5 percent lower RMR than people who’ve never had to lose weight. But such a drastic slowdown isn’t inevitable. Other research has shown that regular exercise can counteract the effect. And a gradual weight-loss strategy can help keep your metabolism humming. A good rule of thumb: Reduce caloric intake by no more than 500 calories a day, and torch roughly the same number through exercise. A 1,000-calorie daily deficit should help you lose about 2 pounds a week.
Chronic stress slows your burn
Wigged-out and gaining weight? No, it’s not in your head (unfortunately). Research suggests that when you’re totally frazzled, your metabolism stalls. One reason: Chronic stress stimulates the production of betatrophin, a protein that inhibits an enzyme needed to break down fat, per a University of Florida study. Other research found that women who experienced a stressful event the day before eating a single high-fat meal burned 104 fewer calories over the seven hours following the meal than their more chillaxed counterparts. “The stressed women also had higher insulin levels, which contributes to fat storage,” says study author Janice Kiecolt-Glaser, PhD, a professor at The Ohio State University. These effects could lead to a gain of 11 pounds a year, she says.
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