Make Your Metabolism Hum: Part I • 12.23.09
Having a healthy metabolism is an important component of being optimally health and fit. Metabolism is the amount of energy the body uses to run. More specifically, it involves a complex network of hormones and enzymes that take the food we eat and then convert it into build blocks that we use for energy. That energy is used for everything from cellular reproduction (which affects how our bodies age) to muscle building and repair.
Metabolism is one of the many catch words in the weight loss industry. You’ll see metabolizers, metabolism boosters, metabola-this and metabola-that. And it’s true that having a healthy metabolism is important to being right weighted. However there are some myths to uncover too.
One of the largest myths: if you are overweight, your metabolism is slow. The opposite is actually true. If you are overweight, you have a higher metabolism than the right-weighted person next to you. The more weight the body has, the more energy the body has to use to keep it running. That’s why when many go on a diet they initially lose a lot of weight quickly and then plateau. The body is revving at a high level so even a modest reduction in calories brings weight loss. The plateaus begin when the body realizes there is less to “run” and it slows down the metabolism. To continue weight loss, understanding what in your lifestyle helps or hinders your metabolism is important. In addition, the things that slow down our metabolism are the very things that challenge our optimal health and fitness from A to Z. Our body is a whole and there isn’t one thing that doesn’t impact another.
That said, and considering how a healthy metabolism is critical to ideal health… let’s look at what we know that slows our metabolism:
1) Age. The first is one we can’t do a blessed thing about and that’s our age. As we age, our metabolism slows. However, the reasons for that, we can control. Typically, as we age, we slow down our physical activity which in turn reduces our muscle mass and fitness. That’s a one-two punch to the metabolism.
2) Eating too much OR too little. Life, in every facet, requires balance. The quantity of food we eat is no exception. If we eat too much food, we give our body more calories or “energy” than our body can use and it is forced to store it as fat. This includes how much you eat at each meal. Eating your calories in three large meals a day will slow your metabolism. On the other hand, eating those same calories in 5-6 smaller meals through the day will increase your metabolism.
Now eating too little – this is the first way most people want to lose weight. The adage is the less calories the more weight you lose. And while it is true that if you expend more energy than you consume, you will lose weight, there is once again a balance of approach to take into consideration. Eating too little is counterproductive to weight loss goals. This is true for a couple of reasons:
- The first is that the body, when not given enough food, will conserve its resources and slow down the metabolic process.
- When you do lose weight, it isn’t fat but instead lean muscle mass (the very last thing you want to lose if you want to have a high-charged metabolism).
- We deprive our bodies of critical nutrition.
3) Lack of sufficient sleep. Not getting enough sleep reduces the amount of Leptin in our bodies and increases Ghrelin. Leptin is created at night while we sleep. Leptin is responsible for telling the brain that whether there is fat in the body. When leptin isn’t produced, the brain doesn’t know there is fat in the body. In turn, the lack of leptin signals the body (i.e. the appetite) that more food is needed when it isn’t. Simultaneously, Ghrelin is increases. Ghrelin is hormone that both increases our appetite and suppresses use of fat as a source of energy for our bodies. It’s a double-whammy. Leptin isn’t there to tell our bodies that we have enough fat and to slow down our appetite and Ghrelin increases and intensifies the bodies cravings for more food. In addition, if we skimp on sleep, we put ourselves at increasing risk for diabetes. Ghrelin has been found in recent years to play a key role in balancing our insulin and glucose levels.
4) Skipping breakfast. Our bodies are literal in their translation. We skip food in the morning and it assumes we are starving. The metabolism slows to a crawl to make sure that we aren’t losing and begin storing energy. That energy storage… yeah, it’s fat. The other problem, when skipping breakfast, most people tend to overeat the rest of the day.
5) Stress. Hormones are at the core of so much of our bodies function. Keeping them in balance and working correctly and all goes well. If they get out of whack, a domino effect begins and our health can deteriorate. An example of this is cortisol. Cortisol is a powerful hormone that is elevated when we are stressed. During times of stress, cortisol can overpower the rest of our hormones. At appropriate levels, cortisol is valuable and even provides a boost to our bodies. But when it periods of prolonged stress, overproduction of cortisol creates reduced mental clarity and ability, thyroid suppression, blood sugar imbalances, reduction in bone density, loss of muscle mass, lower immunity, increased abdominal fat, and of course, higher blood pressure.
Next post on metabolism: let’s get our bodies humming! We’ll cover what we can do to increase our metabolism.