We’ve all heard the term “metabolism” and that it somehow affects weight gain and weight loss, but what exactly is it? I just finished reading a very interesting and informative article on the subject in “Redbook” magazine and of course thought, “This would make a great blog!” The article was a roundtable of sorts of various doctors and was full of easy to understand information that I’m hoping clears things up for you as well as it did for me.
Basically, one doctor said, metabolism can be considered your car engine and an engine that is forever running. No idle or neutral here. Just like a car engine, metabolism needs gas to keep going and the faster it goes, the more gas it needs. Just how much fuel your metabolism engine needs depends on how you’re built and how active you are, Leaner, more muscular people are usually more active and burn more calories so they need more fuel. In other words, they need to eat more. Less active people need less fuel, ie: food.
This is where your basal metabolic rate comes in. Your BMR is the number of calories you’d burn if you stayed in bed all day and did nothing. It’s basically your body’s resting state and is used to figure out how to lose weight or maintain weight. Don’t fret though, your BMR changes depending on your age, weight, and activity level.
Okay, so what does “boost your metabolism” even mean and why would you want to? Let’s review since it’s often a topic concerning weight loss. Your metabolism is the process of how your body functions and is the rate at which you expend the energy you take in from food. People with high metabolisms tend to be thin but seem to eat everything in sight. Hate them! This could be from genetics or from maintaining a healthy lifestyle and exercise regimen. People with low metabolisms tend to put on weight very easily even when they eat healthy. Of the calories you put into your body, about 60 percent are used by your metabolism and the remaining 40 percent is burned by exercise. Increasing exercise is easy, but since more calories are burned by your metabolism, it is also worth trying to boost your metabolism, which ironically can be done by exercising 4 times a week for one hour…and also eating smaller meals.
So, what to do, what to do now? It’s simple: eat right, workout, and get your rest!
Eat to Win
Let’s start with eating right. To keep your metabolism stable, it’s advised you eat a balanced diet of lean protein as well as fiber-rich good carbs like whole grains, fruits, and veggies. If possible, you should also include a healthy fat at each meal, especially breakfast. Why? Because fiber and good fats work together to boost your metabolism and help you feel full between meals and experience fewer cravings. What you don’t want to do is fall into the no-fat or low-fat approach because these products often have added sugar, which makes your metabolism climb but ultimately crash. Not good, right?
So, more exercise. How and what though? Think HIIT, as in high-intensity interval training. I remember my wonderful trainer Lauren stressed this too. HIIT basically means short, intense intervals of a specific work-out routine in between slower ones. I’ll use a bike for example. Lauren would have me pedal one minute at a steady pace and then really push it for 15 or 30 seconds, then repeat. Again and again. You can do this running, walking, or on the stair step and treadmill too. This type of work-out burns a huge amount of calories.
Two other tips: include resistance training in your weekly exercise plan, which results in caloric burning even after your session is done. Yet another way to look at it is to think about constantly moving, even in just little ways. This could include taking things up and down stairs, cleaning, gardening, dancing, or anything that gets you moving. Experts call this moving around non-exercise activity thermogenesis, or NEAT, which is the process that produces heat in our bodies, making us expend more energy and increasing our BMR.
Time for Bed
Activity is important to maintaining a healthy metabolism, but so is rest and sleep. Research shows that people who don’t get enough rest have lower levels of ghrelin, the hormone that makes you feel full, and higher levels of leptin, the hormone that controls how hungry you feel. In other words, if you don’t get good sleep, you may always feel hungry and never really feel full. Not all of us need a full eight hours of sleep every night. Quality, not quantity, is the key here. You want to wake up feeling rested and restored.
Something else that’s connected to metabolism that has always been a bit confusing and mysterious to me is the thyroid. According the article, the thyroid gland is the “master control” of metabolism and something that makes it perform really well and produces thyroid hormone is iodine. We all know where we often get iodine: that little blue tubular box with a girl holding an umbrella on it…salt! What are many of us trying to eliminate from our diets? Salt! Every time I buy salt I wonder why some is “iodized” and whether I should buy it or another type. Now I know. I also like sea salt but guess what, most of it does not contain iodine.
Yes, reducing salt from your diet is probably smart, but eliminating it may not be. Research shows that a lack of dietary iodine may lead to enlargement of the thyroid gland as well as lethargy, fatigue, weakness of the immune system, slow metabolism, autism, weight gain and possibly even mental states such as anxiety and depression.
If you have taken salt out of your diet, you may want to increase your intake of food that contains iodine, like cranberries, strawberries, yogurt, cheese, and potatoes. Eating foods rich in iodine ensures the thyroid is able to manage metabolism, detoxification, growth, and development. Medication can also be subscribed by your physician, but perhaps you could try meditation first, which will help reduce the stress that can wreak havoc on our thyroids.
As with anything, age doesn’t help matters. As you mature, your body secretes hormones that prevent you from feeling full and your muscles become less efficient at burning calories and breaking down glucose. Cool! This is the time to cut back on white foods like bread, pasta, and rice because unlike whole grains, these refined carbs trigger a large release of insulin, which stores fat. One good thing, the resveratrol found in red wine has been shown to help metabolize the sugars you eat so a glass or two may be just what the doctors ordered!
Figuring out Your BMR
Lastly, Redbook included a guide on how to figure out your personal metabolism and how much you need to cut back on “fuel” to lose weight. Again, it’s all in your BMR and here’s how to figure it out:
BMR = 655 = (4.35 x your weight in pounds) = (4.7 x your height in inches) – (4.7 x your age in years.) Then, multiply that number by one of the numbers below, depending on your exercise routine level:
1.2 – little to no exercise
1.375 – light exercise 1-3 days a week
1.55 – moderate exercise 3-5 days a week
1.725 – hard exercise 6-7 days a week
1.9 – hard daily exercise and a physical job.
The number you get is how many calories you should eat on a daily basis to maintain your weight. If you’re hoping to lose weight, get more exercise and reduce your daily calorie count number by 10 percent.
Get healthy, get moving, and good luck!