Back to Basics:
Last week, we went back to the basics of calories. We ended that post by talking about how eating too many calories and storing them as excess fat can start to affect your metabolism. So, here we are again with a big concept that we hear a lot about, but may not fully understand. Your metabolism. We’re going to break it down to the basics and talk about how it works, how it stops working, and what you can do to boost it back up.
Basically, your metabolism is the rate at which you burn calories (aren’t you glad you know what calories are now?!). We used the analogy of a fire last week to understand that calories are the fuel you put on that fire. Your metabolism- that’s the actual fire. It’s the flame that burns up the fuel you pile on. If your metabolism is slow, you have a small flame burning and it will take awhile to burn up your fuel. If you can eat whatever you want and never gain a pound, then you have a roaring inferno going on. But, like any fire, your metabolism can also go out, or turn off in a sense, and it can be a challenge to get it going once again.
Factors That Affect Metabolism
We all know people who don’t worry about what they eat, consume large amounts of food, haven’t seen a gym in ages, and never seem to gain weight. Then, there are those of us who need to be very careful with our food choices, make sure we carefully eat a balanced diet, and workout super hard to maintain a healthy weight. Why those differences? Well, there are many, many factors that play into your metabolism and the rate at which you burn calories.
None of these factors should keep you from reaching your goals, they simply play a part in your journey of getting there. Let’s break them down:
Things you can’t change:
- Gender: Sorry ladies, but we tend to get the short end of the stick on this one. Additional factors such as lean body mass can make our metabolisms a bit slower than the guys.
- Age: As we age, our metabolisms slow down. Basically, because we start to lose muscle mass. More on that in a second.
- Genetics: You certainly can’t change what yo mama gave ya. You may genetically have a fast metabolism or a slow metabolism- but, either way, it’s up to you to work with it and make it work for you.
Things you can change
- Lean body mass: A.k.a. muscle mass. We learned that moving our bodies is what burns up calories. Our muscles are responsible for our movement. The more muscle we have, the more calories we use to fuel them and keep them happy and growing, even when they are resting.
- Fat mass: The refers to the percentage of our body that is made up of fat. Muscles use up calories, fat does not, it just sits there being lazy. The more fat we have and the less muscle, the fewer calories we burn in a day.
- Hormone levels: Hormones are the messengers in your body. They send signals about hunger, fullness, storing fat, burning fat, stress, mood, reproduction, and the list goes on and on. If certain hormone levels are off, there is a good chance your metabolism could be affected. This is one of those instances where you may feel like you are doing everything right (eating well, exercising) but you are not seeing results. Getting regular blood work done can help identify issues.
- Nutritional deficiencies: Vitamin and mineral deficiencies can also cause our systems to run inefficiently. Eating a balanced, nutrient dense diet is important, and getting regular blood work at the Dr. can help pinpoint anything out of the ordinary.
- The food you eat: Our bodies run on nutrients. If we eat nutrient dense foods then we are putting the best fuel on our metabolic fire. Our bodies will be happy and run like well-oiled machines. If we eat junk food devoid of nutrients, we are putting crappy fuel into our bodies and asking it to run like a well-oiled machine. Not gonna happen.
- Activity level: Movement burns calories - burning calories is the job of our metabolism – the more you move, the more you burn, the greater your metabolism becomes.
- Sleep: The amount of sleep you get really, really matters. Sleep is a time for your body to reset, your hormones to return to normal levels, and to recover from the demands of the day. If you do not sleep and allow your body to hit the reset button, your hormones can get out of whack, making it harder for them to do their jobs.
Boosting a Sluggish Metabolism
A sluggish metabolism can be a result of gaining weight, but gaining weight can also be a result of a sluggish metabolism. So, which came first? Well, I can’t answer that question without knowing your situation. But, I can tell you this. Any excess, unused calories consumed will be stored as fat – no matter what your metabolism. If you continue to eat an unhealthy diet, accumulate excess fat, and lack exercise, you begin to affect every single one of the factors listed above that you can control. You lose lean body mass, gain fat mass, throw off hormone levels, create nutritional deficiencies, and well, you get the picture. The situation is self-perpetuating and you get stuck. You’re now trying to start your metabolic fire in the wind and rain with soaking wet logs – definitely not ideal.
Ok, don’t worry. If you feel like that’s where you are, you can still recover! And, you can also avoid a situation like that completely. Here’s how: Eat a balanced diet filled with nutrient dense foods, avoid eating junk food filled with additives, artificial ingredients, pesticides, and chemicals, check in with your Dr. for regular blood work, exercise, and sleep. Your metabolism will be a roaring fire once again.
Next week, we’ll dive a little bit deeper into body fat.