Metabolism & How It Affects Your Weight
If you feel as though you’re doing all the right things for your body – good food in moderation and adequate exercise – but your shape and health are still not improving, it may be time to delve a little further.
We know a healthy metabolism is important in achieving and maintaining a happy weight, but how do you improve yours?
Symptoms of an impaired metabolism
Metabolism is affected by multiple systems in our body. With its various roles in energy production, our thyroid is primarily responsible for metabolism. However, our genetics, sleep, nutritional status, stress response, muscle quantity, and quality also play a major role.
The following symptoms can be indicative of impaired metabolic function:
- Weight is slow to lose and quick to gain
- Lethargy and chronic fatigue
- Lack of muscle tone
- Dry and cracked skin
- Abnormal hair loss
- Feeling cold or difficulty staying warm
- Physical stiffness, inflexibility, general weakness
- Sugar cravings
- Difficulty concentrating
The energy (kilojoules) we expend over a day in order to survive is called our basal or resting metabolic rate. Although you can't control your metabolism specifically, it can be stimulated through various means. Resistance training and intermittent fasting, for instance, can improve muscle mass.
The process of metabolism converts food into energy that is then used to provide fuel to all cells in the body. Our metabolic rate is influenced by various factors including age, gender, weight, physical activity, and health status.
8 facts you may not know about your metabolism
1. Your metabolism is in every cell in your body. It is not one specific thing you can manipulate.
In reality, your metabolism refers to a series of chemical processes in each cell that turn the calories you eat into fuel to keep you alive. Your basal (resting) metabolic rate measures how many calories you burn while you're doing nothing. It's the accumulation of all your tissues and organs with their different needs that require X amount of calories to keep them functioning.
2. There are three main ways your body burns energy each day.
- Energy used for your body's basic functioning which mostly involves the heart, brain, liver, and kidneys (resting or basal metabolism)
- Energy used to break down the food you eat
- Energy used in your physical activity
3. Your resting metabolic rate actually accounts for the majority of your total calories burnt each day.
Physical activity, on the other hand, accounts for only about 10 to 30 per cent (unless you're an athlete or your job is very physically demanding). Digesting accounts for about 10 per cent.
4. Our metabolic rates are different in some cases and we just don't know why!
Two people of the same sex, size, and body composition can both eat large meals but one gains no weight while the other has to carefully count calories to avoid the extra kilos.
5. Age slows down the metabolism.
The effect happens gradually, even if you have the same amount of fat and muscle tissue. So when you're 60, you burn fewer calories at rest than you did in your 20s.
6. One of the variables we can control which mostly affects our resting metabolic rate is the amount of lean muscle we have.
At any given weight, the more muscle and less fat in your body, the higher your metabolic rate. That's because muscle uses a lot more energy than fat while at rest.
7. Drastic and unrealistic weight loss through crash diets actually SLOWS DOWN the metabolism.
While it's extremely hard to speed up metabolic rate, researchers have found that most people are willing to take ‘shortcuts’. It is called metabolic adaptation – as people lose weight, their BMR actually slows down to a greater degree than would be expected from a normal amount of size reduction or muscle loss. Additionally, researchers have found that these people show significant reductions in the hormone leptin (regulates hunger), leaving them hungry all the time. When it does bounce back it can sometimes be only at 60% of their previous levels.
8. You can step up your metabolism with resistance training.
High volume, heavy resistance training (which is what builds muscle) significantly increases fat burning and the body’s resting metabolic rate specifically in the hours and days that follow.
10 ways to boost your metabolism
If you believe a slow metabolism is preventing you from achieving a happy weight, implement these ten tips into your daily life.
- Start having a portion of protein with every meal.
- Stay active and ensure weight-bearing exercise is part of your weekly routine.
- Avoid binge eating or overburdening your digestive system.
- Engage in stress management daily by doing things to raise your dopamine: laugh, do yoga or Pilates, meditate, practice breathing techniques and spend time with nature.
- Have your thyroid levels assessed by a Naturopath: Free T3, Free T4, Thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) and reverse T3.
- Eat more vitamin B- rich foods like leafy green veggies and whole grains which provide the cofactors to our energy pathways.
- Have your vitamin D3 levels tested.
- Consider genetic testing for methylation.
- Get into bed at a reasonable hour which allows for 6-8 hours of restorative sleep.
- Drink green tea, matcha or oolong tea.
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