By Shawn McKee
Growing up, my brother was "big-boned." I was skinny. My dad affectionately called us the stick and the brick. As we got a little older, my brother's bone affliction was redefined as a slow metabolism and his problem was at least identified.
Unfortunately, there's nothing you can do about a slow metabolism…right?
The truth is that genetics do define our metabolic rates to some degree but, like other genetic predispositions, there are factors that we can control. Diet and activity levels are lifestyle choices that affect metabolism, according to eDiets Director of Nutrition Services Pam Ofstein.
"Even if slow metabolism is in your genes, you can do things to help increase it. Focus on exercise (to build lean muscle) and eat more often," says Pam. "Yes, I definitely said to eat more. Each time you eat, you stimulate your metabolism and feed your muscles. If you starve your body, it actually stores more fat. You defeat the purpose and can actually gain weight."
Pam recommends eating 5-6 times a day (every 2-3 hours). It will keep your metabolism running smoothly and help you avoid the pitfalls of hunger, such as overeating because you're starving. Proper nutrition is the first step of supercharging your metabolism, but to really get your metabolism firing on all cylinders, you will also need to add a fat-blasting workout.
Many people looking to lose weight incorrectly assume that lifting weights will lead to a bulky look and they can achieve their goals with cardio alone. This is a fallacy. While cardiovascular exercise is crucial to weight loss, weight training is crucial to boosting your metabolism.
Experts agree that resistance training is the best way to build and preserve lean muscle mass, which speeds up your metabolism. You can get the most fat-burning benefits by using a combination of strength and cardio training to lose more weight.
"There's a fitness term called the 'after burn'," says eDiets Chief Fitness Pro Raphael Calzadilla. "This refers to the calories that you burn 24 to 48 hours after your exercise session. What that means to you is a faster metabolism that burns fat at an accelerated rate."
Not only will exercise speed up your metabolism after your daily workouts but, if you are building lean muscle mass, it will increase over the long run as well. This is crucial because your metabolism actually decreases as you age.
"Unfortunately, our metabolisms slow as we age -- especially for us women," says Pam. "But eating right and exercising can help speed up that slowing metabolism and help reduce a number health risks like heart disease and osteoporosis."
Pam is also quick to point out that it's important to make sure your caloric intake meets your needs. You may need to reassess your caloric intake as you lose weight and adjust it higher or lower. Often, eating more of the right foods will stimulate your metabolism.
Ultimately, we discovered my brother's weight issues were due to a combination of his diet of sugary treats and salty snacks and a fairly excessive cartoon habit. But, don't worry, this story has a happy ending.
My little brother joined the Marines, where he got all the exercise he could handle. When he came home he was a lean, mean fat-burning machine. I, on the other hand, went to college and -- without sports to keep me active -- focused my efforts on fast food, beer and my studies (read: girls).
I couldn't blame my ballooning waistline on genetics or a rare bone-enlarging phenomenon. I had to face the facts and get myself back in shape. I ate better, moved more and got myself back on track for better health.
Your metabolism can either be your ally or enemy. If you can get it to work with you, it will make weight loss much simpler. It's never too late or too early to change how your body looks, runs and feels -- so get started!