Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Metabolism and Weight

In my wellness work, I’ve helped hundreds of people lose weight. It’s a complicated process, one that 60% of our population could benefit from. Women in particular say they have a hard time losing weight, and they find it gets harder to shed pounds as they age. Some of these difficulties may relate to their metabolism.

Metabolism is defined as “all the energy and material transformations that occur within living cells” (1) or more simply as the rate at which the body burns calories. Because losing weight requires that we burn more calories than we consume, metabolism often blamed for excessive weight gain or difficulty shedding pounds. While it’s true that hypothyroidism or underactive thyroid can slow metabolism and cause weight gain, the result is an increase of only about 10-15 pounds.

Many things influence metabolism, including genetics, age, eating habits, muscle-to-fat ratio, and activity level. These last three items are what I focus my clients’ attention on, as they have some control over these factors. If you’d like to increase your body’s ability to burn calories, take these measures:

• Engage in strength training at least twice/week to increase muscle mass. Muscle burns more calories than fat does, which explains why men tend to lose weight more easily than women do. Men have more muscle as a percentage than women have.

• Eat breakfast within two hours of rising to start up the energy-burning furnace. And eat small, healthy snacks between meals to keep your metabolism up. Think of your metabolism like a fire: keeping wood you on the fire enables it to keep burning. When you go too long without eating, the metabolism slows down to conserve energy. That means fewer calories are being burned.

• Be sure to eat enough protein. Resting metabolism increases after consuming protein because it takes more energy to digest protein. Healthy protein choices include lean meats; fish; low fat cheese; eggs, nuts and peanut butter in moderation; beans (legumes, not green beans); tofu and fat free or 1% milk. For recipes high in protein, check this page on my website.

Keep in mind the effects of diet on fat loss and don’t cut back on your calories too much. When calories are severely restricted without adding exercise, only 50% of the weight lost is fat. The remainder is lean tissue such as muscle. With moderate calorie restriction (500 – 1000 calories decreased per day), 75% of the weight lost is fat. The way to maximize fat loss, up to 97%, is to add exercise to a moderate reduction of calories.(2)

1. W. Hoeger and S. Hoeger, Principles and Labs for Fitness and Wellness, Wadsworth Group 2002, p.121
2. Ibid, pg. 203

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