What Is Metabolism?

By: Danny Moon

Metabolism refers to the chemical (metabolic) processes that take place as your body converts foods and drinks into energy. It’s a complex process that combines calories and oxygen to create and release energy. This energy fuels body functions.

Your metabolism never stops, even when your body is at rest. It constantly provides energy for basic body functions, such as:

  • Breathing.
  • Circulating blood.
  • Digesting food.
  • Growing and repairing cells.
  • Managing hormone levels.
  • Regulating body temperature.

Instead of being grateful for metabolism, we tend to blame it. Have you heard someone say or even said yourself, “I can’t lose weight. My metabolism must be slow.”? It seldom is. Factors such as age, sex, and body size cause natural variations in resting metabolic rate (the number of calories, or units of energy, that we burn just by being alive). But those differences are normal, and they are not usually the root cause of weight gain or inability to lose weight.

The real problem is almost always consuming too many calories and not getting enough exercise, which leaves us with excess energy that we store as fat. The best ways to lose weight are staying active and eating a healthy diet, not trying to change the speed of your metabolism.

But even though we can’t usually increase the speed of our resting metabolic rate, our habits do affect our metabolism in many important ways:

  1. How what you eat affects your metabolism

You might have heard that eating certain foods, or eating at a certain time of day, can make your metabolism faster. In reality, the speed of your metabolism remains roughly the same no matter when or what you eat.

The few exceptions to this rule are not always good weight loss strategies. Studies have shown that caffeine slightly increases the rate at which you burn calories in the short term. But your body becomes used to caffeine over time, so the effect doesn’t last if you’re a regular coffee or tea drinker. Products promoted as metabolism boosters tend to be similarly ineffective, and some have dangerous side effects.

So don’t get caught up on how fast you metabolize food, but on the way, you metabolize it — that means avoiding fried foods, such as potato chips, and refined sugars, such as those found in soft drinks, candy, and many baked goods. These energy sources are the ones most likely to end up stored as fat. Instead, choose whole grains, lean proteins, vegetables, and fruit, which your body can easily use to fuel its functions and activities.

  1. How exercise affects your metabolism

You can’t do much to affect your resting metabolism, which accounts for most of the calories most people burn each day. But building muscle can help. Muscle tissue uses more energy than fat tissue does, even when you’re at rest. Because one pound of muscle burns up to 50 calories at rest while fat only burns 3-4 calories per pound.

This is a big reason that women, who tend to have less muscle tissue than men, also burn fewer calories. And it’s why older people tend to burn fewer calories than younger people do. Loss of muscle mass is a normal part of aging, but regularly working your muscles can help combat it.

Remember, while building strength can boost your resting metabolism, getting more aerobic activity is the most efficient way to burn more calories. Even walking 25 or 30 minutes a day, five days a week is helpful. And more intense exercise running or aerobics burns even more calories.

In addition to burning calories and building muscle, exercise has been linked to increased amounts of brown fat. The vast majority of our fat is white fat, the kind that stores energy. But we also have a few ounces of brown fat, often around our neck or shoulders, which uses energy to help keep us warm.

  1. How your current weight affects your metabolism

The process of metabolism has two main parts. Anabolism helps you grow new cells, store energy, and maintain your body tissues. Catabolism breaks down fat and carbohydrate molecules to release energy that fuels anabolism, keeps you warm, and enables your muscles to contract.

Insulin is one of the many hormones that helps regulate this cycle, by triggering anabolism after you eat. If you’re significantly overweight, there’s a high risk that your body will stop responding to insulin. As a result, the sugar stays in your blood instead of being stored as energy. This is the condition we call Type 2 diabetes. It can damage your organs and put you at risk for health problems such as heart disease, stroke, and kidney disease. But Type 2 diabetes isn’t always permanent. Many people can reverse Type 2 diabetes by losing weight through exercise and healthier eating habits.

  1. How your former weight affects your metabolism

Having been overweight can continue to affect your metabolism even after you’ve lost weight. That’s one reason maintaining a weight loss is much harder than keeping weight off in the first place.

For example, there are two people who weigh the same: one who has maintained a normal weight all their life and one who has struggled with obesity. The first person can get an average amount of activity and eat an average amount of food, and nothing will happen to them. But often, if the second person goes from a restricted diet back to an average one, they will have a high risk of putting a lot of the weight back on.

Researchers are still trying to figure out exactly what causes this phenomenon. But more studies have suggested that it has to do with hormonal changes after weight loss that both slow your metabolism and make you feel hungrier.

  1. How deprivation of food or sleep affects your metabolism

Regardless of your weight, eating too little can backfire by slowing the rate at which your body burns calories.

A lot of people skip breakfast and lunch and just eat dinner. But not eating all day signals to your body that there’s a shortage of food, so your metabolic rate goes very low keeping your body in starvation mode. And as soon as you eat, no matter how healthy the food, your body is trying to store every single calorie in that food as fat.

Even if you want and need to lose a lot of weight, you should aim to eat three or four small meals a day, comprising mostly vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins.

Finally, make sure you’re getting a good night’s rest — seven to nine hours of sleep each night. Sleep deprivation can cause your body to produce too much insulin, leading to increased fat storage.

Take the information into consideration and keep that metabolism battery charged. If you are having trouble with losing weight or have questions contact your doctor or weight-loss specialist.

By: Danny Moon