You Should Never Believe These Myths About Your Metabolism

Whether you’re naturally thin or have always gone through life with a heftier waistline, you’re definitely somewhat familiar with how your metabolism plays a role. You know some people are born with a faster than average metabolic rate and thus can eat anything they want without weight gain. And you also know others have a slower metabolism thanks to genetics, thus making weight loss for them incredibly difficult. Your metabolism really dictates your entire body composition. These are undisputed facts … right?

Well, we have both good and bad news. The bad news is you’re getting a lot of facts about your metabolic system totally wrong. Here are the lies you must stop believing.

1. Thinner people have higher metabolisms

woman looking at the scale with doubt

You might think the thinner you are, the higher your metabolism is, but this is incorrect. | iStock.com/tetmc

You’ve heard this one before — folks who are naturally thin are the lucky ones with the fast metabolisms. Theoretically, we get where this comes from. But scientifically, this isn’t accurate at all. When you’re talking about a person with a “high” metabolism, you’re referring to someone who burns a significant number of calories while at rest. Live Science explains fat and muscle burn calories — a pound of fat burns about 10 calories, and a pound of muscle burns about 30.

If you’re a thin person with little fat or muscle, you probably have a significantly slower resting metabolism than someone with a higher body fat. Even if you’re very small and have some muscle, there’s still no guarantee you’re burning more calories at rest compared to someone much bigger.

2. Your metabolism slows considerably when you start a diet

man writing out a healthy eating plan at the kitchen table

If you’re just cutting a few hundred calories a day, don’t worry too much about starvation mode. | iStock.com/Rawpixel Ltd

Let’s say you just started a new diet. You’re excited to overhaul your pantry and get healthy, but then you remember these two words you read in a magazine a few months ago: starvation mode. In an effort to combat the mythical effects of “starvation mode,” you eat way more than you originally planned, don’t lose any weight, and go back to your old habits in a month’s time.

Here’s what the theory of starvation mode tells us — when you restrict your calorie count, your metabolism plummets in an attempt to hold onto your body fat, making it difficult to lose weight. This isn’t necessarily wrong. Weight Watchers explains your metabolism drops slightly when you’re at a caloric deficit. But if you’re only cutting a few hundred calories a day, which is recommended for steady and safe weight loss, this isn’t really enough to halt your weight loss efforts altogether. You’ll still see the number on the scale drop if you’re eating right, exercising, and cutting calories appropriately.

3. Dousing your food in hot sauce will give your metabolism a boost

Red Hot Chili Peppers

It’s nice to think peppers will help your metabolism, but they probably won’t. | iStock.com/Lisovskaya

Before you go covering all your food in Frank’s RedHot and red pepper flakes, let’s get a few facts straight. Yes, spicy foods do increase your metabolism — but the effect is so minor, it doesn’t make much of a difference. The New York Times explains capsaicin is the compound found in chili peppers that’s known to give your metabolic rate a boost. But generally speaking, eating a spicy dish only increases your metabolism by about 8% for a short period of time, which isn’t enough to make any difference.

Spicy meals may make you feel more satisfied after eating, though, so consider incorporating them into your diet plan for that reason. Your metabolism, however, won’t see any great gains.

4. Your metabolism slows with age, and there’s nothing you can do about it

an elderly couple drinking tea

Your metabolism naturally slows down, but that doesn’t mean you’re doomed to gain weight. | iStock.com

Yes, the unfortunate truth is your metabolism does slow as you get older. Rebecca Mohning, a nutritionist in D.C., tells The Washington Post your metabolism slows by about 2% every decade after you’re 25. Wondering why your weight creeps up over the years even though your eating habits haven’t changed? Here’s the reason.

You’re not doomed just because you’re getting older, though. There’s plenty you can do to keep your body burning calories efficiently while you’re at rest. Nutritionist Danielle Omar tells the publication, “The only real solution is to put on muscle.” As we said before, muscle burns quite a few more calories than fat. Building up that lean muscle mass as you age is the best way to combat a slowing metabolism.

5. Eating small, frequent meals keeps your metabolism humming

Woman eating pizza

The quality of your food is more important than how often you eat it. | iStock.com/ m-imagephotography

This advice has been circulating for years, and we’re really not a fan. Here’s the facts: You can eat 20 meals a day or two, but the frequency doesn’t really make much of a dent in your metabolic rate. WebMD explains several studies have been conducted to see whether or not eating small, frequent meals had any added fat-burning effects. The researchers generally found no difference in calorie burning or fat loss between frequent eaters and three-square-meal-a-day eaters. In fact, eating more often may actually result in eating more overall.

What matters the most is the quality of the food you’re eating and the calories, not the frequency. As for your metabolism, eat as many times a day that works for you.

6. If you’re born with a slow metabolism, you’re just doomed

Woman trying to close jeans button with difficulty

Don’t blame weight gain on genetics — look at your lifestyle. | iStock.com/wckiw

It can be a tough and daunting task to try and beat genetics. Harvard Health Publications explains your metabolism is partly genetic — keyword being partly. There are a few among us who have a fast metabolism and can eat in greater quantities without gaining weight. The rest of us have average or slow metabolisms — we can’t eat an entire pizza and get away with it.

It’s time to stop blaming weight gain on having a slow metabolism, though. Lifestyle factors matter just as much as genetics. Choosing a healthy lifestyle is the best way to keep your metabolic rate going, no matter what your genetic code is. And as we said before, building some lean muscle mass is also helpful in burning more calories at rest.

7. Your metabolism slows down at night

friends all having a meal together

If your biggest meal is dinner, it’s not really a huge deal. | iStock.com

You’ve heard the advice to stop eating after 7 p.m. After all, any calories you consume at night are more easily stored as fat due to a slowed metabolism, right? WebMD says this line of thinking is actually false. Most researchers believe a calorie is a calorie, no matter what time of day you consume it. If you overeat all morning and afternoon or just overeat at night, it doesn’t matter. Your metabolism doesn’t go through a drastic slow-down just because the sun sets.

Maybe you’re a late-night snacker and notice the scale numbers creeping up. This probably doesn’t have much to do with your metabolism. Instead, it has more to do with how easy it is to overdo it with the snacks when the evening hours hit. Cravings, stress, and boredom are big factors for night eating. But if you have to have a late dinner every once in awhile, don’t worry about your metabolism.