So, you’ve just discovered a new word in your vocabulary: Metabolism. “They” say that it is the key to weight loss or weight management and that the goal is to speed it up, but what does that even mean? And what is metabolism anyway?
As usual, in order to fully understand this topic, we’re going to break it down… just like the metabolism breaks it down… because that’s what it does in a way…
I’m going to repeat myself here a little bit. I just wrote an article on carbohydrates (Please check it out!) and in it I explain that it doesn’t make sense to say things like “Low carbohydrate diets will make you skinny!” because they often don’t explain what “low carb” actually means. All carbs are not made the same. There are starchy carbs, simple carbs, etc.
This “metabolism” thing is very similar. I think most people have the idea that their metabolism is essentially their digestive system (which they also do not fully understand) and that by speeding it up they are going to make foods go through the digestive system faster and that their calories will be burned faster. That is not entirely true, so if you want to know how to speed up metabolism, this article will explain that you actually don’t need to.
Your body needs a certain amount of calories to keep on working and it needs more if you work out or have other needs. While your metabolism does break down your food and turn it into energy for your body… “speeding it up” wont necessarily make you burn more calories. You will burn calories when you need them. You can’t trick your body into burning calories… and why would you want to. You’re body is your best friend.
Metabolism happens all over your body in every single cell you have. Everywhere. In your brain, in your heart, in your blood, in your liver… you name it. It’s working all the time. A single persons “Metabolism” may be described as a sum of all metabolic processes occurring all over the body. And get this, not all metabolic processes are for metabolizing food.
I understand that those are the ones people are concerned about so for the purpose of this article that is the metabolism we will be referring to, but all metabolic processes (actually every process that happens in the body) needs energy (calories) in order to take place and it is in the deficit of total calories that we see fat loss.
Now lets go further. Not only does your body obviously need calories. It needs a variety of different kinds: from fat, carbs, and protein. Beyond that it also needs vitamins and minerals.
Without a healthy balance of all these things metabolic processes can’t even happen. To metabolize, you need vitamins and minerals and calories. If you are deficient in a certain vitamin and mineral or have an excess of something that you don’t need then you will not metabolize properly.
So, I want to start something right here, right now. I want everyone to stop saying they want to “speed up” their metabolism. I want people to start saying that they want to “balance” their metabolism so that they may keep their body running in tip-top condition without deficiencies and excesses.
To explain what metabolism is in a simple way:
Be wary of where you get your information from on the internet. Just because you read something from a reputable website doesn’t mean that they got their information from a reputable scientific study.
Sometimes it just takes one book or one health and fitness guru to say one simple thing and it gets twisted, taken out of context and tried in a million different ways that someone swears to work… but nobody actually knows the book or the scientific study or the guru who started the whole thing.
Remember that every body is different. There are many different diets and things out there that have worked for people, but they may not work for you, and the reason why some of those diets work might not actually be because of the reason they claim it’s working. Let me give you an example.
This is somewhat out of context, but there is a diet called the paleo diet. It is basically where people don’t eat what their ancestors couldn’t eat. There is a lot of controversy about it, but some people swear that our bodies metabolisms aren’t truly capable of handling certain grains, animal products, processed foods, etc. That may be true, I don’t know; that’s a topic for a different day, but hear me out:
Say a person goes on the paleo diet. They don’t drink milk, they don’t eat any processed foods and they don’t eat grains. They lose a bunch of weight, have a ton of energy and freak out because they finally found something that works! It’s because our bodies are caveman bodies! Maybe, but I’m going to guess not. It may be because you have an allergy to gluten, and guess what; you don’t eat your usual wheat bread on the paleo diet.
It may be because you stopped eating MSG in the fast food that you were always eating. It may be because you stopped drinking milk and you didn’t realize that you were lactose intolerant. You may have been iron deficient and started eating more meat (as people do on the paleo diet) and all that extra meat supplied the iron you were depriving yourself. You see where I’m going with this?
There is a lot of information out there about how to speed up your metabolism and lose weight, but you’ve got to remember that a lot of these places are trying to sell something or get likes on their pages. They know “metabolism” is a great buzz word to get people going and get some traffic to their site. Make sure when you are doing your research to get your facts from the right source!
So, without further adieu, here are some common myths you will find about the metabolism:
Eating 6 small meals a day speeds up your metabolism and makes you lose weight.
This has got to be one of my personal favorites. This whole 6-meals-a-day thing has actually never been proven by a scientific, scholarly journal. I looked all around and found nothing. And the claim that it “speeds up your metabolism” is even funnier.
Yes, it’s true. When you eat, you have to metabolize your food. So, yes, when you are constantly eating you are going to be constantly metabolizing. But wait, does that actually sound right? Don’t we want our bodies to metabolize our fat stores? So, why would we constantly want our bodies to be metabolizing the food we eat rather than metabolizing some of that fat we’ve got?
This is a classic case of “I have no idea what metabolism really is”. There are many different metabolic processes. If you want to focus on just one for weight loss, then focus on the one that causes fat stores to deplete. Furthermore, eating 6 meals a day or 3 or 2 meals a day isn’t going to help weight loss if you are eating the wrong foods and the wrong amount of calories.
I really just don’t understand the thought process behind this one. Who agrees?
– You’re so skinny!
– I just have a fast metabolism.
I’m not sure I fully understand where this saying comes from. I grew up hearing my super skinny friends say this and I always thought I needed to figure out how to speed mine up to look like them.
Now that I’m older I know about something called a BMR. BMR stands for Basal Metabolic Rate. It is the base amount of calories that a person needs everyday to run its basic bodily functions even if that person just lies in bed all day long. (Believe it or not you still burn calories doing this. Lazy people for the win!) A persons BMR is to be determined when a person is in a basal state.
Goodheartmedwriters.com basal conditions:
You may also use your resting metabolic rate (RMR) to figure out how many calories your body needs, but it is somewhat less accurate. You will find that the terms are used interchangeably, but I wanted to specify here that they are in fact different.
Okay, now lets play around with a BMR calculator. All the people in this example are 25 year old females and 5’5” tall.
Notice any kind of pattern here? The more you weigh, the higher your BMR. So, Skinny people actually need to metabolize less energy while resting than heavier set people. I don’t know how fast a person’s metabolism may be when they are digesting food or doing an exercise, but I think this BMR example is a pretty good indicator that those with less mass don’t need as much energy and therefore have slower metabolisms.
Are you overweight? Well, you can’t blame your slow metabolism anymore. You are actually metabolizing much faster than a slimmer person.
If I don’t eat all day, my metabolism will burn my fat
I feel like I need to make a point here for anyone who might be thinking some unhealthy thoughts: You can’t just not eat anything all day and have your body metabolize all your fat. You need to eat because in order to metabolize anything you need vitamins and minerals and calories.
So, these people who don’t eat much of anything will lose weight, but they actually just make their metabolic processes “imbalanced” by not getting the nutrients they need. By not eating the right foods in the right amount they’re body literally cannot take care of itself. That’s why when they start eating regularly again they just gain all the weight back.
They are deficient and so the “supplies” needed (calories, vitamins, minerals) are gone. Now they have to spend all this time giving their bodies the correct foods so they can metabolize foods and fats effectively. And it doesn’t take much time for this to start happening, especially if you don’t currently eat a balanced diet.
Trust me when I say that when you give your body the nutrients it needs it will compliment you by looking fantastic.
Once again, we need to focus on having a good balance of nutrients, so that we may have balanced metabolisms and efficient metabolic processes.
If you want to lose weight, stop eating after 8pm. Your Metabolism slows down at night
This one is a little bit harder to tackle. There is a lot of other stuff that happens in your body throughout the day and at night. You are full of so many complex systems all working together. So, I’m just going to say this as a general rule: Simply not eating after a certain time every night is not going to do anything for you.
As I said before, it matters what you eat and how much you eat more than when you eat. And furthermore, having a slow or fast metabolism is not what we want to focus on. It is whether our metabolism is efficient because we ate the correct nutrient dense foods.
Your metabolism slows down as you age
Maybe. Your metabolism might “slow down” if you lose muscle mass. That would be the only reason. You’re body would then need less energy for your muscles every day, and therefore wouldn’t need to metabolize as much energy… but you don’t need to be aging to have this issue.
Fasting is bad for your metabolism
Here, the word “fasting” is pretty vague. There are so many different kinds of fasting. Some last a few hours and some last days, and depending on the person and how healthy they are normally will determine how different fasting lengths will affect them.However, generally speaking, for someone who is pretty healthy and fasts for a day or so and still drinks water… they will be just fine and so will their metabolism.
People have been doing it for centuries, and generally speaking, they tend to speak very fondly about how it makes them feel. (I am a 25 year-old female who is generally pretty healthy and I fasted for 3 days, about 16 hours per day (Only drinking water) to see how it would feel and I honestly felt great. I felt super energized and I didn’t feel hungry during the time I fasted.
As far as my metabolism is concerned, there is no way to know for sure, but I really felt great. I did find it kind of hard to get all of my calories in during the day as my hunger did feel somewhat suppressed, but that was my only issue.)
This one super food will speed up your metabolism
Any kind of saying similar to this one is just ridiculous to me. If there was one special food or drink that could magically cure all your problems then we would all be perfectly fit and healthy. It takes a lot more than just incorporating this vegetable and that fruit into your diet and there are no quick fixes people. It’s about a healthy lifestyle. That’s really what’s up.
I wanted to debunk the myths first in order to help you understand the differences between what metabolism does and doesn’t do. What I hope you took out of all that is that you need to eat a healthy, balanced, nutrient dense diet and lead a healthy lifestyle psychologically.
Okay, so lets answer the question: Can you speed up your metabolism? If you’re not metabolizing efficiently and you’re unhealthy then you can do things to get your metabolism back to running smoothly. I don’t think many people are perfectly healthy, so first of all, you need to eat healthy food.
If you haven’t already come across it, I would like to introduce you to the ANDI Guide. It is the “Aggregate Nutrient Density Index” and it basically scores foods on how nutrient dense they are. It is on a scale from 1 -1000 and takes into account a wide range of micronutrients, including antioxidants, phytochemicals, minerals and vitamins.
This is the whole foods markets ANDI guide
Nuts & Seeds:
Now you can play around with all the most nutrient dense foods and make a super salad! Here are a couple of great salad recipes using some of the ingredients from this list to get you started:
Collard greens and kale salad by yours truly
Simply wash all fruits and vegetables thoroughly, chop however you’d like, throw everything into a bowl and serve!
Spinach and chard salad with baby reds
Super summer kale salad
Go ahead and play around with these recipes to add more nutrient dense food and make them to your liking. Remember that the more unprocessed, fresh fruits and vegetables you use, the better. Try not to buy your ingredients pre-packaged or canned. If you must buy them canned, look for canned fruits and vegetables that don’t have added salt or syrup.
Exercising will help you have a more efficient metabolism by keeping the amount of energy to be metabolized higher. In other words, when you work out, you need more energy. When you need more energy, you need to metabolize by either breaking down food or getting the energy from your body energy storage.
Build Muscle: Building more muscle will raise your resting metabolic rate which means you will burn more calories while you aren’t doing anything. Why? Every pound of muscle uses about 6 calories a day and every pound of fat uses about 2. It doesn’t seem like much of a difference, but over time it can really add up. So, find a great strength-training regime that you enjoy!
Aerobic Exercise: Exercise that gets your heart rate up can also help raise your resting metabolic rate after your workout. Some studies claim that aerobic exercise will drastically change the amount of calories you burn after your workout, meaning it will raise your BMR after your workout, but trust me when I say it is not as drastic as they say. Every little bit helps though.
No matter what you do, find something that keeps you going. There are some people who say certain exercises are better than others, but if you’re not already doing some sort of exercise then just focus on finding something you actually enjoy.
As you continue on your path of living a healthy lifestyle, you will learn more and more and your interests will change. For now, just do what makes you feel happy!
Water is so important for healthy metabolic processes. Every single cell in your body needs water. It helps flush out toxins and regulate nutrient amounts. Drinking adequate amounts of water, depending on activity level, will surely aid in having a more efficient metabolism.
Generally speaking, you should be drinking half your body weight (in pounds) of water (in ounces) per day. You do need more if you drink caffeine, work out, have a lot of salt or are severely dehydrated.
Also, here’s a fun fact: Every chemical metabolic reaction needs oxygen. Water has perfectly simple hydrogen and oxygen molecules that are super easy to break down!
Have a hard time drinking water? Here are some things you can do to get yourself drinking more water:
This is perhaps the most important part of balancing your metabolism. Honestly, no matter how well you eat or how much you exercise… stress does a whole lot of funky things to your body. There have been a growing number of studies which suggest, but do not conclude, that stress affects metabolic processes in a negative way. The-Scientist says something about it in an article titled Metabolism and the Brain:
The connection between metabolic disturbances and neuropsychiatric disorders has been strengthened by recent and ongoing human clinical studies, which document numerous and complex interactions between metabolism and the brain. For example, individuals suffering from depression have an approximately 60 percent higher risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.
Conversely, individuals with diabetes are at an elevated risk of developing depression. Metabolic disturbances are also reported to be two to four times higher in people with schizophrenia, and patients prescribed psychotropic medications, such as antipsychotics and antidepressants, often experience disturbances in metabolic parameters, including high blood sugar, impaired glucose tolerance, and Type 2 diabetes.
Metabolic disturbances have also been implicated in neurodegenerative disorders, including Alzheimer’s, Huntington’s, and Parkinson’s diseases. Multiple clinical observations have demonstrated that dementia in general, and Alzheimer’s disease in particular, are associated with Type 2 diabetes and obesity.
Moreover, Type 2 diabetes is considered an independent risk factor for dementia; with the prevalence of dementia in diabetic populations double that of healthy patient populations.
Other clinical observations have shown that prevalence rates for Type 2 diabetes and insulin abnormalities are approximately 7-fold higher in patients with Huntington’s disease when compared to healthy controls, and impaired glucose tolerance affects up to 80 percent of Parkinson’s patients.
Taken together, clinical studies have provided ample evidence supporting an overlap between metabolic disturbances and neuropsychiatric disorders. The question now is: What links the two? The data suggest that an imbalance in brain function and metabolic status share underlying pathophysiological mechanisms and common intracellular signaling molecules.
If true, targeting these underlying pathways could serve as novel therapies for both types of disorders.
Ways to help you mentally de-stress:
As I always say, the body is an intricate web of systems all working together to keep you happy and healthy. It’s pretty amazing and crazy, so one word that can describe it is: awesome! Your metabolism works together with lots of other areas of your body, but it is especially close to your thyroid.
In fact, thyroid hormones control metabolism as well as growth, body temperature, appetite and many other things. If you were lead to this article about metabolism because you feel unwell, then maybe looking a bit further into what controls you metabolism would help.
Thyroid disease happens when your thyroid is either over-producing or not producing enough thyroid hormone. It can be caused by a large number of other issues such as pituitary problems, autoimmune conditions, and Grave’s disease.
This happens when there are not enough thyroid hormones in the blood causing your metabolism to slow down. The following symptoms were found at Medbroadcast:
And in extreme cases:
This occurs when your thyroid produces too much of the thyroid hormone.
And in extreme cases:
Educate yourself and go to a doctor’s office if you feel like your metabolism issues are happening because of a more serious problem!
Making lifestyle changes can be difficult. Whether you are a seasoned nutri-nut or just starting your quest for a healthy lifestyle, there is always more to be learned about how the body works. We hope that this article helped you to better understand how your metabolism works and revealed some ways to make it run more efficiently.
If you take nothing more from this article, just remember that doing something healthy for yourself is never bad. Adding more vegetables and doing a little exercise is always a positive thing and truth be told, you’ll never really know for sure if your metabolism is starting to work better. You will only know because of how you feel.
If you feel energetic and happy, then I think you’re doing something right and you should keep on doing it. If you feel sluggish, tired, and lethargic all the time, then adding a couple healthy vegetables to your diet and trying some simple de-stress techniques is a great place to start.
Don’t worry about where you are on your journey right now, but think about how you want to feel and give yourself some positive reinforcement. Start slowly and eventually you will get where you want to be.
Lauren is a writer and painter. When she's not painting or writing, she enjoys cooking, exercising, playing music, singing, and getting lost on YouTube for hours on end.
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