Can you really speed up your metabolism by changing what you eat?

If you’re trying to whittle your waistline, you might’ve heard that certain supplements, tea detoxes or particular foods (like chilli or coffee) can speed up your metabolism and supercharge weight loss.

But do they really work? Here’s what you need to know.

What is your metabolism?

Essentially, your metabolism is your body’s engine room. It’s all the processes that are involved digesting nutrients from food and using those nutrients to maintain your muscles and organs.

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Your metabolism can be divided into three broad categories: your basal metabolic rate (or BMR, for short), the thermic effect of food, and energy used for activity. The first, your BMR, is the number of calories your body burns through to fuel the basic functions that keep you alive. The thermic effect of food is the number of calories used to digest food.

And the third component, energy used for activity, is exactly that – the number of calories burned when moving around, whether that be activities of daily living (like making your bed, doing your groceries and walking to the bus stop) or a dedicated sweat session.

The vast majority of the number or calories you burn are due to your basal metabolic rate. A relatively small portion (read: five to ten per cent) is thanks to the thermic effect of food. And the most variable portion, energy used for activity, is dependent on your lifestyle – how active you are in your day-to-day life and how much you exercise.

Can food speed up your metabolism?

Food most certainly has an effect on your metabolism – but given that the thermic effect of food only accounts for a small portion of the total number of calories you burn, any changes to your diet on their own probably won’t be as fruitful on your metabolism as you might’ve thought or hoped.

That’s not to say diet doesn’t play a role in weight loss (because it obviously most certainly does!) – but if you’re nit-picking certain foods to eat in the hope that it’ll seriously rev up your metabolism, you’re probably wasting your time and money.

Instead, I’d recommend shifting your attention on a healthier overall eating pattern for sustainable, long-lasting weight management.

Food aside, one of the most effective ways to boost your metabolism is by focusing on healthy, sensible movement (read: not over exercising). This is two-fold: for one, moving more burns more calories. Simple. Two, through exercising, your body builds lean muscle, which increases your basal metabolic rate.

That’s because it takes quite a lot of calories to maintain muscle mass (a lot more than it does to maintain fat mass). So, even when you’re not huffing and puffing, your body will burn more calories because you have more muscle.

Melissa Meier is a Sydney-based accredited practising dietitian. You can connect with her on Instagram @honest_nutrition.

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