Are you familiar with this scenario? You get on the scale and see that you’re five pounds heavier than you were at this time last year. And yet you’ve been really careful about your eating and kept up your exercise plan. Why is this happening?
A recent study published in the journal Obesity followed fourteen contestants from the reality show The Biggest Loser who lost huge amounts of weight in a relatively short period of time through diet and exercise.
But six years later, thirteen of the fourteen people regained a significant amount of weight; four of them were even heavier than when they started on the show. Even worse, measurements showed that their metabolisms had slowed down, with their bodies burning an average of 500 calories less per day than would be expected, given their weight.
Research indicates that slowing metabolism is the body’s evolutionary way of defending itself against weight loss. Your body fights much more strongly to keep weight from dropping than it does to keep weight from increasing. This is not good news for most of us who struggle with dieting.
Why Metabolism Matters
Is it possible to outsmart your metabolism? Yes, but what works is a sustainable approach to lifestyle, diet, and exercise and an understanding of root causes.
The key is to resolve to eat smart for life, not just to diet for your cousin’s wedding and then go back to old habits. Metabolism varies a lot between people for reasons that aren’t fully understood. Women’s metabolism tends to be a bit slower than men’s. And as we age, our metabolism gets slower.
This means that even if you have the same amount of fat and muscle tissue at age sixty as you did at age twenty, you’ll likely be burning fewer calories at rest in your sixth decade than you did in your second. Combined with the fact that dieting can slow down your metabolism (remember the people from The Biggest Loser?), this means an uphill battle for most of us.
Taking Another Route
So how do we break out of such a negative cycle? One way is to acknowledge the power of our slowing metabolism and not beat ourselves up when it gets the upper hand and our weight goes up.
Another way is to confront the very persuasive myths about weight loss and dieting that have burrowed their way into our culture. Losing weight is NOT simply a matter of:
- eating less
- cutting out fats
- eating in moderation
- following a quick-loss diet
These basic tenets are wrong. There IS no quick fix. Fats are not the enemy. No fad diet will help you make a lasting change in your weight.
Instead, you need to understand some basic concepts about metabolism.
Basic Concepts about Metabolism
First, it happens at the cellular level. Metabolism refers to a series of chemical processes in each cell that turn the calories you eat into fuel to keep you alive. “Basal” or resting metabolism measures how many calories you burn when you’re doing nothing, i.e., resting. The work of changing your metabolism and achieving weight loss mostly has to do with resting metabolism.
Second, poor metabolism can be the result of hypothyroidism or blood sugar dysregulation or both. When your thyroid is underperforming and/or you’ve developed insulin resistance, your metabolism is going to be severely affected.
Third, one of the variables that affects your resting metabolic rate is the amount of lean muscle in your body. No matter what your weight, the more muscle you have and the less fat, the higher your metabolic rate will be. That’s because muscle uses up way more energy than fat while you’re at rest.
Fourth, corrupt practices of the food industry and Big Pharma have gotten most of us hooked on food additives and synthetic drugs. Do you know how much sugar there is in your food? How many chemical preservatives are added? It’s a lot! And we start our children out early in life on many of these substances. No wonder kids crave desserts and snacks, and rates of childhood obesity have skyrocketed.
Where to Start to Understand Your Metabolic Level
Obviously, regulating one’s metabolism is a complicated chemical process that involves monitoring thyroid, hormonal, and blood sugar levels and identifying the possible toxic effects of our environment. Start by asking for a complete metabolic work-up. Find out your health biomarkers and, with guidance, start to work on changing them.