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Metabolism Mythbusters

Photo: Iain Bagwell

One day we hear one study about metabolism, and the next day, another study disproves it. So what can we actually believe about how our metabolism works and which lifestyle factors affect it every day? We took a look at the most common misunderstandings about metabolism and tried to find some truth in it all.

Myth: "Breakfast is essential to getting your metabolism going."

Truth: We’ve been trained to believe that eating breakfast is essential to get metabolism burning, but recent research doesn’t necessarily support this. A 2016 study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition compared metabolic rates of breakfast eaters and breakfast skippers; they found that eating breakfast appeared to have no significant effect on boosting metabolism. Those who did eat a morning meal burned more calories from activity in the first half of the day, but they also ate more total calories, resulting in no significant calorie deficit. 

On the other hand, there is data to support that breakfast eaters consume healthier diets in general and have better long-term success losing and maintaining weight. They also have better insulin sensitivity and lower fasting cholesterol compared to skippers.

Myth: “Eating at night slows metabolism."

Truth: The standard thought has been that it’s the total calories consumed that matters, not the time of day consumed. While still accepted as true, there’s research suggesting that individuals who eat most of their calories at night are at higher risk for obesity and metabolic issues. Some speculate that metabolic breakdown may change some at night, but other aren’t sure this excess weight isn’t due night eating being associated with higher calorie foods, larger portions, and less satiety. The general thought is eating a few hours before going to bed is best for digestion, sleep, and metabolism. And if you do eat later, the key is choosing healthy options and listening to your body’s cues.

Myth: "Eating six times per day boosts metabolism.”

Truth: Eating six small meals is often recommended as a way to keep metabolism burning. However, the research findings are mixed. Several studies suggest there’s no significant change in energy expenditure over a 24-hour period when the same calories are broken into three or more meals.

We’re not suggesting you go to one meal a day, but don’t feel confined to eating six small meals. Instead, determine what frequency works best for your body and divide daily calories into at least three eating sessions to control hunger and regulate blood sugar.