Metabolism and Menopause: Can You Retrain, Rev and Fire Up, or Boost It?Nov 28, 2023
Retrain, boost, fire up, and rev up are only a few of the theatrical words to describe what you can do to your metabolism. Reading headlines such as "How to fix metabolic damage" or "How to reset and supercharge your metabolism in 3 days" want to make you believe that you are in complete control of your metabolism. The term 'metabolism' is branded as the ultimate culprit in your neverending weight loss battle. The endless barrage of marketing messages continuously repeats that your weight loss problems come down to your 'slow metabolism.' Is that true? If so, what exactly does that mean? I dare to say that most people claiming that they can help you retrain, rev and fire up your metabolism don't know much about the topic, but they know that it is a catchy word, and it helps them sell their "metabolic booster program."
In this article, I try to demystify metabolism and debunk the common misconceptions marketed toward women.
I often hear the claim that metabolism is not as complex as it seems and that it boils down to calories in and calories out, but that is far from the truth. Metabolism is quite complex and is, in essence, the intricate biochemical processes that occur within our bodies to maintain life. It's no big deal, just all the processes that include converting food into energy, building and repairing tissues, and regulating bodily functions. It is important to understand that metabolism is often used as an overarching term for overall energy expenditure in 24 hours. It is often simplified into higher metabolism = more calories burned = more weight loss. But metabolism is not a dial that we turn to increase or decrease as we wish. Under the big metabolism umbrella are three components that are all very different and are influenced by different factors, so using a “metabolic diet” or “metabolic workout” to drastically change your metabolism is a giant oversimplification. Here are the three components that influence overall metabolism, the rough percentage they play, what they consist of, and what potentially can influence them.
- Resting metabolism rate (RMR) (accounts for about 60-70%) and includes the functions that keep your body running, such as regulating temperature and building and repairing tissues. Eating a diet very low in calories can decrease RMR by as much as 20% as your body becomes more efficient at surviving with fewer calories because it feels like a state of starvation. This is the reason why many people who continuously cut calories or eat consistently fewer calories than required end up feeling stagnant in their goals. Eating enough calories is essential! Another component often mentioned in RMR is muscle and how muscle is more metabolically active, burning more calories. That is true, but although it is beneficial, muscle's role in metabolism is not as giant as it’s often made out to be. To put it into context, here is a quote from my favorite lecturer, Dr. Len Kravitz: “4.5 lbs of muscle mass would increase the resting metabolic rate by about 50 kilocalories per day. Although not near as much as is promoted, this small change does help to close the “energy gap” between energy intake and energy expenditure.”
- Thermic Effect of Physical Activity (TEPA) (20-30%). This includes structured exercise, such as your workouts, and non-structured exercise (NEAT). NEAT (Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis) refers to the calories burned through daily activities that are not structured exercise, such as fidgeting, cleaning, moving from place to place, standing, etc. This highlights the importance of just moving more.
- Thermic effect of feeding (TEF) (10%). It refers to the energy required for your body to digest, absorb, and metabolize food.
The Marketing Myth of "Retraining Your Metabolism"
The wellness industry often capitalizes on the natural concerns that come with menopause, promoting products and programs that claim to help you 'retrain' or 'take control' of your metabolism. These claims are not backed by scientific evidence and oversimplify the complexity of the human body. Despite promises made by many people trying to sell you their solution, there's no magic switch to 'retrain' or drastically 'boost' one's metabolism, especially in the context of menopause. There are, however, a lot of little switches that can add up to improvements in how our metabolism functions, and that’s how we can make sustainable changes that can have an impact. While we can't retrain our metabolism like a muscle, certain lifestyle choices can impact its efficiency. Physical activity, nutrition, sleep, and stress management are a few of the factors that play significant roles in how our bodies process energy. For menopausal women, these factors are even more crucial because hormonal fluctuations can impact many of them.
Hormonal Changes: Beyond Metabolism
The hormonal changes experienced during menopause have a much broader effect than slowing down your metabolism. That’s why claiming that by retraining your metabolism, you will be able to control body composition changes during menopause and even menopause symptoms (both of these I heard someone claim recently) is simply ridiculous, misleading, and predatory. The fluctuations experienced during perimenopause can alter body composition, appetite, and fat distribution, leading to changes that are often mistakenly attributed solely to a 'slow metabolism.' On top of that, hormone changes can influence sleep, cortisol levels, and muscle development, all of which play a role in physical changes in our bodies during this transition.
The Menopause Puzzle
Focusing solely on metabolism is like trying to solve a puzzle with only one piece. Metabolism is only one tiny piece of the puzzle. For a complete menopause puzzle, you need to factor in many components: physical activity, nutrition, mental health, sleep, stress level, to name a few.
I’m going to end this article with a little metabolism quiz that addresses some of the questions I have heard the most:
- Question: Does eating spicy foods significantly boost your metabolism?
Fact: While spicy foods can cause a temporary, minor increase in metabolism due to the thermogenic effect of capsaicin, the impact is minimal and insufficient for significant weight loss or metabolic change.
- Question: Is skipping meals an effective way to boost metabolism and lose weight?
Fact: Skipping meals can actually slow down your metabolism as the body tries to conserve energy. It can also lead to overeating later, as it disrupts hunger regulation. One of the biggest factors in this equation is the overall calorie consumption. Eating too few calories in a day can slow down your RMR significantly.
- Question: Can you control your metabolism, or is it entirely genetic?
Fact: While genetics play a role in determining your metabolic rate, lifestyle factors like diet, exercise, hormones, and sleep can also significantly influence metabolism. The key term here is “influence.” A lot of different factors can play a small role, but there is no one factor that will help you “control” your metabolism.
- Question: Does your metabolism drastically slow down with age, making it nearly impossible to lose weight?
Fact: Metabolism does slow with age, but not drastically. A recent study highlighted that our metabolism stays pretty consistent between the ages of 20-60.
The bottom line is that you don't have as much control over your metabolism as you’re led to believe, and although you can impact your metabolism with lifestyle changes, the impact is not as profound as you may think. Menopause is a natural, albeit complex, phase of life. While metabolism does play a role in our bodily functions, it's not the sole factor in the changes experienced during menopause. Hormonal shifts are a significant part of the equation, often overshadowed by the misleading narrative surrounding metabolism. By understanding the true nature of metabolism and the broader context of menopause, we can navigate this journey with knowledge and a sense of peace.
Did you find this article helpful? Are you interested in learning more about other topics you are confused about or are curious about? Email me at [email protected]