8 Things to Know About Your Metabolism

Doctor William C Lloyd Healthgrades Medical Reviewer
Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Written By Sarah Lewis, PharmD on September 5, 2021
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    1. Your metabolism converts food into energy.
    Your metabolism is your body’s power plant. It converts the fuel in food into energy your body can use. This powers every process in your body from moving your limbs, to thinking, to growing an eyelash. Your metabolism accomplishes all this through a series of chemical reactions. Enzymes make these reactions possible—and they work to start or stop them. There are thousands of reactions going on in your body at any given time. 
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    2. Metabolism is a balance.
    There are two main activities going on during metabolism—anabolism and catabolism. Anabolism is the process of constructing, building or storing. It drives growth, builds new cells, maintains body tissues, and stores energy for future use. Catabolism is the process of breaking down. The products of catabolism are energy and waste. Your body uses the energy to fuel anabolism. It gets rid of waste through the kidneys, lungs and intestines. A healthy metabolism balances anabolism and catabolism.
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    3. Your thyroid gland regulates metabolism.
    Your thyroid gland straddles the front of your neck. It makes thyroid hormone, which travels to every cell and tissue in your body. Thyroid hormone tells your body’s cells how fast or slow to work. Too much thyroid hormone means your metabolism works in overdrive. Too little thyroid hormone slows your metabolism to a crawl. Your pancreas also makes hormones that influence your metabolism. They tell your body how to balance anabolism and catabolism.
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    4. Your metabolism determines how many calories you burn.
    A calorie measures how much energy a food or drink provides to your body. When you take in calories, your body either uses the energy right away or stores it for later. Metabolism determines the path your calories take. And the main way you store extra energy is by forming fat tissue. So your metabolism also plays a role in your weight.
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    5. There are three ways your metabolism burns calories.
    Your total metabolic rate consists of three ways to burn calories. The first is your basal, or resting metabolic rate. This is the amount of calories you burn just to keep your body running…even when you’re sitting still. It accounts for most of the calories you burn during the day. So it can have an effect on how easily you gain weight. The second component is your physical activity. Being active burns calories and it’s the area you can control the most. The final component is the amount of calories it takes to process the food you eat. 
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    6. Several factors determine your basal metabolic rate (BMR).
    Your basal metabolic rate (BMR) has a lot to do with your genes. People whose body composition has more muscle mass generally have a higher BMR. Similarly, men tend to have more muscle mass than women, resulting in higher BMRs. People who weigh more or are large have higher BMRs compared to smaller people. Much of this comes from your parents who pass along metabolic and weight characteristics. So there’s a limit to how much you can influence your BMR.
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    7. Your activity level gives you the most control over your metabolism.
    The most variable component of your metabolic rate is your activity level. This is the area where you can exert the most control over your metabolism. You can give your metabolism a boost by increasing your physical activity and burning more calories. Getting physically fit will also build muscle mass, which helps you burn calories even at rest. This will let you maintain a healthy weight when you balance your calorie intake with increased activity.
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    8. The way you eat can influence your metabolism.
    The thermic effect of food (TEF) is the energy you use to process food. It accounts for about 10% of your daily energy use. And it doesn’t vary much from person to person. However, the way you eat can influence your metabolism. Skipping meals or eating very low calorie diets can actually slow your metabolism. Your body conserves your energy stores because you aren’t eating enough to meet your physical needs. Eating enough calories periodically throughout the day gives your metabolism consistent fuel to work at its best.
8 Things to Know About Your Metabolism

About The Author

Sarah Lewis is a pharmacist and a medical writer with over 25 years of experience in various areas of pharmacy practice. Sarah holds a Bachelor of Science in Pharmacy degree from West Virginia University and a Doctor of Pharmacy degree from Massachusetts College of Pharmacy. She completed Pharmacy Practice Residency training at the University of Pittsburgh/VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System. 
  1. Controversies in Metabolism. University of New Mexico. http://www.unm.edu/~lkravitz/Article%20folder/metabolismcontroversy.html 
  2. Metabolism. Nemours Foundation. http://kidshealth.org/teen/your_body/body_basics/metabolism.html
  3. Metabolism and Weight Loss: How You Burn Calories. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/weight-loss/in-depth/metabolism/art-20046508 
  4. Metabolism Myths and Facts. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. http://www.eatright.org/resource/health/weight-loss/tips-for-weight-loss/metabolism-myths-and-facts 
  5. Thyroid Weight. American Thyroid Association. http://www.thyroid.org/wp-content/uploads/patients/brochures/Thyroid_and_Weight.pdf 
  6. Metabolism and Body Weight. Weight Watchers International, Inc. http://www.weightwatchers.com/util/art/index_art.aspx?tabnum=1&art_id=20781&sc=801#footnotes 
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Last Review Date: 2021 Sep 5
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.