As college students, we have a love/hate relationship with our metabolism. Our parents constantly remind us how lucky we are to be able to guzzle down cheap beer four nights a week without a resulting beer gut (nothin' wrong with a dad bod though). 

cider, juice, lager, wine, ice, liquor, alcohol, beer
Alex Frank

However, some of us may be all too aware that we’re no longer #blessed with every 17-year-old’s ability to plow through a bag of pizza rolls at midnight and still awaken the next morning with a tight stomach.

The 20-somethings of the world exist in a weird metabolic middle ground. Sure, half of our friends seem unaffected by the late-night stress snackingthat characterize the college years. The other half worries constantly about what they’re eating, how to speed up their metabolism, how to keep their weight from fluctuating, and so on.

After some scientific research (or should I say Internet research), I’ve discovered the ins and outs of our metabolisms, and how to tell whether or not yours is slowing down. Here’s what you need to know.

Let’s start with the basics, shall we? Your metabolism converts the food and beverages you consume into energy for your body. Age, gender, and body size all influence the speed of an individual’s metabolism. These are not new facts — many of us have watched as our guy friends eat mounds of food while remaining as fit as ever. Meanwhile, if I even look at a French fry I feel bloated for days.

ketchup, french fries
Alex Frank

These factors determine metabolic speed only to a certain extent. Girls, in general, tend to have slower metabolisms than guys, for example. Even if a middle-aged female’s metabolism may not move as quickly as a teenage boy’s, she can still be characterized as normal for her age and gender.

Those who fall into the “slow metabolism” category experience certain symptoms. Low or accelerated thyroid activity, dry hair or skin, difficulty concentrating, and frequently feeling cold are all prominent.

pizza, tea, coffee, beer
Alaina Tepper

Experiencing slow weight loss and quick weight gain also most commonly occurs among those with slow metabolisms. This can be caused by genetics or underlying health issues. Fear not, though — truly low metabolisms are actually relatively rare.

Looking to speed things up? Simply adding exercise into your weekly routine could do the trick. Good news for all you couch potatoes: even 30 minutes of walking counts as enough exercise. Foodies will also rejoice to hear that eating certain foods can have a positive effect on metabolism.

pizza, tea, coffee, beer
Meghan Flynn

Contrary to popular belief, your metabolism is not usually to blame for weight gain, no matter what speed it works at. Eating too many calories, lack of physical activity, genetics, medication, and lack of sleep are the biggest contributors to a few added pounds. So even if your metabolism is moving at a turtle’s speed, eating a nutritious, well-rounded diet can still keep you healthy.