by Marcelle Pick, OB/GYN, NP
It is almost impossible to be on the internet now without pop-up advertisements and click-here links that appear out of nowhere. They claim miracle weight-loss, or get-fit fast techniques that sound effortless, and I often wonder, is that possible? I have had years of medical practice and nutritional training, but still I wonder, have they found the secret? Can I really boost my metabolism overnight and lose 20 pounds in two weeks? Unfortunately the answer is no, at least for now. The only way to truly balance metabolism, lose weight, and get fit is by changing our lifestyle on a daily basis, and understanding how to achieve great results in a natural and healthy way. This is something humans have been working on for quite some time.
600 million years of evolution is a long time to build bodies able to endure famines and feasts, survive plagues and disease, and live longer, healthier lives. Our bodies are predisposed to certain things, including our shape, size, and weight. But in spite of evolution, we do have some control over how much we weigh. By understanding our metabolism we can make some adjustments that can change things for the better, slim our waistlines and improve our overall health.
In a nutshell, metabolism is a chemical process that occurs in all living things to maintain life. It is divided into two categories. Anabolism, which is a series of chemical reactions to build up molecules by using energy, and catabolism, which is the breakdown of molecules to obtain energy.
Anabolism is like a builder that uses certain hormones to create a finished product – such as more muscle mass, or stronger bones. Some well-known anabolic hormones include insulin, estrogen, testosterone, and human growth hormone.
Catabolism is like a processor that uses certain biochemical processes to provide energy, so our body can actually move around. Some of these processes include breaking down proteins into amino acids to make glucose (blood sugar), nucleic acids which transmit our genetic information, and carbohydrates, which help fuel our body.
Basal metabolic rate (BMR) is the amount of energy used by these two categories when a person is at rest. It measures how much energy is used to keep the body functioning — circulation, brain, breathing, body temperature, and other processes, and accounts for more than half of the calories burned each day.
How does all of this affect our weight? The scientific formula is catabolism (the amount of energy we use), minus anabolism (the amount of energy we make), equals our body weight. If we produce more energy than we use, we will store that extra energy in the form of fat.
Fat cells by nature, are inactive and do not use much energy. If they are not used, their storage contributes to a slower metabolism and excess body weight. To improve our metabolism, we not only need to move more, we need to ensure proper and adequate nutrition. When we eat, our body uses energy to digest and absorb nutrients, so the process is actually a cycle. Energy is needed to function, eating and movement use energy, requiring the need for more energy to keep functioning. In this process, raw materials are broken down, new molecules are made, heat and metabolic waste are generated, energy is used, toxins and unusable materials are excreted, and extra fat is stored for later use.
This explains the need for healthy foods and adequate exercise to process energy, remove wastes, and keep fat storage to a minimum. But remember we are all different, and some women do indeed have weight loss resistance, which means they eat well, exercise regularly and still are not able to lose weight. If this is you – read our article on weight loss resistance.
How metabolism rates are determined varies from person to person. We aren’t sure why that is, but Dr. Mark Hyman in his book, Ultra-metabolism, explains that metabolism depends largely on mitochondria, or little powerhouses inside our cells that help generate energy. Dr. Hyman describes how the rate at which these mitochondria transform food and oxygen into energy is dependent on several things – including genetics, hormones, age, and body composition.
Everybody is different, but everyone can improve his or her metabolism, regardless of age, weight, or fitness level. There is no magic cure, or quick and easy method. To increase metabolism we need good, old-fashioned effort and a positive attitude. I have often said that the success of our efforts is based in our own belief that we can achieve something, and the choices we make to get there. There is a unique recipe for each of us to regulate our metabolism, and with a realistic approach and natural support, we can do it.
What are the nutrients for a healthy metabolism?
Proteins – Nuts, soy, fish, legumes, lean meats and eggs.
Complex carbohydrates – Unrefined, natural products including whole grains, fresh fruit and vegetables, and no refined sugars or processed foods.
Healthy fats – Foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids including fish, eggs, and organic dairy. Omega-3 supplements are also a good way to receive this important nutrient.
Other vitamins, minerals, and enzymes – Important ones to help support metabolic function include B vitamins, green tea, magnesium citrate, D-ribose, chromium picolinate, alpha-lipoic acid, acetyl-L-carnitine, NADH (a coenzyme found in all living cells), capsicum (paprika, chili and cayenne peppers), cinnamon, and turmeric.
What kind of a lifestyle supports a healthy metabolism
Nutritious eating – Follow a plant-based, nutrient-dense, low-glycemic (appropriate blood sugar) diet, along with taking a high-quality multivitamin and other supplements, such as the ones formulated for Women to Women, as needed.
Time your meals – Eating breakfast is a surefire way to jumpstart metabolism. It helps regulate blood sugar both after we wake and throughout the day. Smaller meals that include protein, eaten more frequently (every two to three hours), helps keep the energy output working in our favor.
Regular exercise – When we exercise, we use our stored energy and build muscle mass, which means more efficient metabolism. There are many forms of exercise, it’s important to find on you enjoy so you will do it. I recommend four or five times each week, utilizing both aerobic exercise and strength training.
Adequate sleep – Getting enough sleep is so important to our metabolism. Lack of sleep is scientifically linked to an increased output of the hunger hormone ghrelin, insulin resistance, Type 2 diabetes, and weight gain.
Keep stress levels to a minimum – How we feel mentally and how we handle our emotions also contributes to our BMR. Stress hormones, like cortisol, can affect our metabolism greatly, in fact it can put the brakes on the process completely, and when we are stressed we may eat more, sleep less, and ignore our need for exercise. Over time, this will impede our metabolism too.
Most importantly, I encourage you to follow the natural rhythms of your body, and adjust your lifestyle to enhance functioning. Each day is different, we have fluctuating energy levels, appetites, and emotional states. While there may not be one magic bullet to control our metabolism, when we balance our choices with our bodies and our minds, we can optimize our metabolic rate and improve our functioning starting at the cellular level.