Slow Metabolism or Thyroid is Why You are Obese? Wrong
How metabolism affects body mass
There’s a lot of confusion around varying levels of metabolic rates that lead to higher or lower fat burning properties. “There is no evidence that low metabolism leads to weight gain. An individual’s metabolic rate doesn’t have nearly as much variation on an average,” says Henselmans, “The main issue is energy balance and the net energy storage or loss in the body.” When the energy input or intake of calories is higher than the output or energy expended, it naturally leads to weight gain. And since obesity disrupts the hormone system in the body, it could affect thyroid levels, which control the body’s metabolism.
Thyroid and weight gain
Lower thyroid levels, especially T3 levels, affect your metabolic rate. Those with hypothyroidism have a lower metabolic rate, but it is another myth that this causes a significant weight gain. “The lower your thyroid levels, the lower your appetite,” says Leenman.
Sometimes, those who want to lose weight even go as far as taking thyroid hormones to increase their metabolism. “This messes up your natural hormone system and your appetite will increase with your thyroid levels increasing, so that still balances out your energy equilibrium if you eat more than what you’re supposed to,” says Leenman, who has worked with hypothyroid patients to achieve successful weight loss.
There is also no clinical proof to suggest that more women are prone to thyroid issues than men. But there’s good news. “Generally women have better metabolic rates, better insulin sensitivity, lower issues with fat intake,” says Henselmans, “So when women consume a high fat meal, it doesn’t suppress insulin sensitivity or induce insulin resistance as much as it does in men.”
Compared to men, women also find that fat is more satiating, but it’s important to note that fat is really good for the female hormone production. Women benefit from fat, especially when they’re really lean, because it keeps their menstrual cycle intact. “Generally, women respond better in terms of both adherence and physical change on slightly higher fat diets than men do,” adds Henselmans.
Diet and metabolic damage
It’s proven that dieting does not decrease your metabolic rate. “My research team offered a paper on metabolic damage because the theory that a lot of people have is that if you diet, you damage your metabolism and that’s why afterwards, you get fat because you have lower energy expenditure. We’ve investigated this in a series of extreme contexts like the Minnesota Starvation Experiment, which was done at the time of World War II, where they literally starved people and then fed them again until they regained their original body composition,” says Henselmans, who is also the founder and director of Bayesian Bodybuilding. The research established that as soon as you regain your original body mass, you do not have a lower metabolism after the diet than before. In fact, the reason why one’s metabolism decreases is if he does not exercise while on the diet. “This is because those on a diet lose lean body mass [when they don’t exercise] which decreases metabolic rate,” adds Henselmans.
It’s not a diet, but a lifestyle
There is no magic diet to lose weight. “It’s not that low carb or high fat forms the right diet,” says Leenman, “It’s not only healthier when you eat more fibre and more protein, but you will also find it to be more filling than when you eat junk food.”
Henselmans says that the biggest mistake that people make with their eating patterns is going on a diet for a specific period of time and going off it. More popularly known as yo-yo dieting, this form of a diet results in weight loss, but the dieter goes off the plan once the results are achieved and is back to gaining weight. “The main problem is the association with the word ‘diet’. Most think that it’s a period of suffering to achieve results,” he says, “But ‘diet’ comes from the Greek work ‘diaita’ which means ‘way of living’. If you lose weight by making sustainable changes, then you are not on a diet – you have just changed your lifestyle.”
So ditch the Atkins or some other plan that rapidly changes your lifestyle. Choose to make long-term changes instead.
Mindset over metabolism
Leenman quotes Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck’s theory on mindset and applies it to fitness and nutrition. “Dweck talks about fixed mindset and growth mindset,” she says, “Those with a fixed mindset will believe that they’re stuck with low metabolism and can’t do anything about their weight, but those with a growth mindset think about making changes to their food and exercise habits.” Leenman speaks from experience since she too grew up as a “super lazy kid.” “I wasn’t into sports of any kind and I wasn’t really motivated to take it up,” she shares, “At some point, I started getting tubby, so I started running, but hated that. I also hated strength training in the beginning.” But soon, she took to he growth mindset approach. “I set long term goals and saw my body change over months. I started to look better and that really motivated me.”
While Leenman recommends strength training, which involves building muscular endurance by lifting weights among other exercises, to increase lean body mass, she emphasises that you should pick any activity that you enjoy. “Strength training adds shape and tones the physique but if you’re not into it, then just choose any other exercise,” she says, “This too is to ensure that it is sustainable. Just like noone wants to diet for 20 years, noone will follow an exercise regime that they don’t enjoy.” Leenman practises what she preaches. If she’s not in the gym, she’s kayaking or snorkeling to fit in activities that she enjoys into her routine.
█ Those with a fixed mindset will believe that they’re stuck with low metabolism and can’t do anything about their weight, but those with the growth mindset think about making changes to their food and exercise habits