Metabolism. We hear it used all the time when people talk about their weight, “I can’t lose weight because my metabolism is too slow.” But what exactly does that mean? And is that really the case? With so much information floating around on this subject, it’s easy to get the facts mixed up. Let’s clear up how metabolism, or your metabolic system, works to help you manage your weight.

Before we break it down, you should know that you are not a victim of your metabolism. It is not something predetermined by the gods never to be tampered with. To the contrary, you can absolutely improve your metabolism and achieve healthy weight loss by first understanding how it works, and then taking action.

By the very nature of being alive, whether you get out of bed in the morning or not, your body’s metabolic system is at work. It’s like your internal engine that never turns off. In order to keep you alive, your body needs nutrients for energy, even for doing things as simple as blinking your eyes or breathing. The process of converting nutrients to energy (and subsequently discarding it) is the primary role of your metabolic system.

Now let’s say you choose not to get out of bed (which sounds like a little bit of heaven, but let’s stay focused). This is essentially your body at rest. When we measure metabolism rate at rest, we call it your Basal Metabolic Rate, or BMR. You can think of this as your baseline metabolism.

Since BMR plays a central role in the body’s total metabolism, accounting for about 70 percent of total calories burned in a day, we believe this is what people are referring to as having a fast or slow metabolism. But because of the additional components of the metabolic system – food digestion and physical activity – it’s not as straightforward as most might think. But once you understand it, you can build a very solid strategy to change it.

Science tells us that in order to lose weight, you have to burn more calories than you consume. If you know your BMR, you already know that if you don’t do anything all day, you’ll have to eat fewer calories than you burn at rest. So how can you calculate your BMR? The easiest way is to use an online BMR calculator. Simply type in your gender, age, height, and current weight to get your number.  Let’s take a look at an example of what this might look like.

A 30-year-old man who weighs 250 pounds calculates a BMR of 2,341. This simply means that his body needs 2,341 calories to maintain this weight if he does nothing all day. If he eats 2,200 calories that day, he is at a deficit of 141 calories, which contributes to weight loss.

But here’s the tricky part. Once you lose weight, your BMR naturally decreases, which means that your food intake must continue to decrease to lose weight. This becomes impossible to maintain in the long run (not to mention extremely unhealthy).

So what is the key to maintaining or increasing BMR while achieving weight loss? It may come as no surprise that a healthy diet and physical activity play critical roles in day-to-day weight management. In other words, by choosing foods and taking part in activities that support the development of lean muscle mass, your BMR will automatically benefit from it.

Now get out of bed and rev up your engines!