Can your body be a fat burning engine?

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Can you really reset your metabolism? If you have seen such promises in the past and are curious whether or not they are true, you are not alone. We’re all looking for the next best (and most convenient) thing in wellness, and the idea of ​​taking a fat-burning supplement (“burning capsules”) or eating spicier foods (e.g., ingredients like capsaicin) to burn more calories sounds too good to be true. But is it?

Paige Prestigiacomo, registered dietitian and nutritionist, knows a thing or two about the science of how we burn calories. As a sports nutrition resident at Northwestern Health Sciences University, Prestigiacomo helps clients develop healthy, sustainable eating habits and diets that inspire them to live their best lives.

So many supplements, hacks, and diet tips promise to help you “reset” your metabolism. But is our metabolism even resettable?

Always be wary of supplements or diets that promise big benefits. If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. There really isn’t any research saying we need to “reset” our metabolism. Certain supplements or foods in a diet can claim to detoxify the body, flush out toxins, and return the body to a healthier state. In reality, the body has a liver and kidneys to do this for us.

For example, spicy food has been discussed to boost metabolism. Research has shown it burns an extra 10 calories which is next to nothing and it would take so long to see any impact, if any. Be careful as a reader, as some articles may require real research and exaggerate it to seem more desirable.

“Metabolism slows down with age, but not as drastically as people once thought. According to research, metabolism doesn’t really change between the ages of 20 and 60 and gradually slows down starting at age 60.” Paige Prestigiacomo, dietitian nutritionist at Northwestern Health Sciences University

How does your metabolism actually work?

The definition of metabolism is the chemical process of converting food into energy in the body. Your basal metabolic rate (BMR) is the amount of energy or calories your body needs to maintain functions such as breathing, thinking, and heart pumping. Your BMR makes up the majority of calories needed in a day and is determined by factors such as genetics, gender, age, lean mass, fat mass, hormones, and medications.

There are other factors that contribute to metabolism: non-exercise activity thermogenesis is the energy needed for daily activities like walking and talking; exercise thermogenesis is the energy needed for intentional workouts; and the thermic effect of food is the energy needed to break down and digest the food we eat.

What is a “fast” metabolism versus a slow metabolism? What would make someone’s body burn more fat than someone else’s?

Because of all the factors that affect metabolism, everyone will be different. Metabolism slows down with age, but not as drastically as people once thought. According to research, metabolism does not really change between the ages of 20 and 60 and gradually slows down from the age of 60.

There is no scientific definition or parameters of “slow” or “fast” metabolism. The more calories the body burns, the higher its metabolism. Muscle technically burns more calories than fat – only in small amounts, but it adds up. Protein has a slightly greater thermic effect (meaning it burns more calories) when digested compared to carbohydrates and fats. However, all macronutrients are important for a balanced diet.

A big impact of metabolism is genetics, so I always insist on focusing on the aspects of life that they can control. It is essential to pay attention to lifestyle factors and how these have changed over the years.

Are there small ways to burn more fat and boost your metabolism during the day?

An important factor is movement. We drive to work, sit at a desk, come home from work and sit on the couch. Focus on the things we can control: how we feed and move our bodies.

I encourage every patient I work with to focus on a balanced, sustainable diet that they can follow for life. Increasing lean body mass will increase one’s metabolism. Establishing a regular workout routine that you enjoy and that best suits your schedule, along with a healthy diet that you can maintain, is the best formula for “boosting” your metabolism.

[If you’re just beginning], start cooking more meals at home instead of ordering takeout. Build plates with protein, fiber-rich carbs, and plenty of vegetables. Set a goal to workout over a set number of days. It’s not necessarily all or nothing! Movements like walking more or taking the stairs add up.

Eat foods you actually like, not just because they claim to boost metabolism. Eating foods you don’t like will only continue to crave foods you like, eat more, and potentially gain fat. If you like pasta, add a protein and a vegetable to balance out the meal.

Make sure you eat enough food. Following restrictive diets that do not provide enough calories can impact metabolism; the body will start working to conserve energy due to limited intake. I see this so often: people want to lose weight so they limit too much, then it’s not sustainable, and it creates the yo-yo cycle which is worse for your metabolism.

Sometimes the answer is the simplest. There is no miracle solution !


Located in Bloomington, Northwestern Health Sciences University is a pioneer in integrated natural health care education, offering degree programs in chiropractic, acupuncture, Chinese medicine, massage therapy, medical assisting, medical laboratory programs, post-baccalaureate / pre-health, radiotherapy, and completion of BS. His Bloomington clinic is open to the public and offers chiropractic care, acupuncture, Chinese medicine, massage therapy, naturopathic medicine and cupping.


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