We hear so much about "metabolism" lately — especially if our
concern is health and wellness. But rarely is metabolism itself
truly placed as the center focus. Many people realize they have a
metabolism (and are not happy one bit with its current behavior), but aren't
sure what it actually is and how or why certain actions can prompt it to mend
Copyright © August 2005 Cerise Cauthron and Low Carb Luxury
Metabolism is the sum of the chemical reactions of the body.
There... I can go home now.
Ok, I'll add a bit more paint to the picture. Your fine form operates through a
quadrillion chemical reactions that continue every nanosecond. Every single thing
you do, think, feel, etc. is promoted via a chemical reaction. From chemistry class,
you remember (they told you there would be a test on this someday) that chemical
reactions require one major thing to move forward — energy. Energy is required for
every chemical reaction in the universe, even those that release energy as a result.
Well, since none of us born with an electrical outlet attached to our behinds, we
ourselves, must provide our chemical reactions the necessary energy. The Law of
Conservation of Energy states that energy can neither be created nor destroyed;
it can only be converted from one form to another. So, the energy required by our
chemical reactions has to come from somewhere and that somewhere is food.
Ultimately, that is why we eat — to provide our bodies with a form of energy that
it can use to keep our chemical reactions going. However, at any given time, your
body only needs so much energy to keep its metabolism humming. At bare minimum, if
you are doing squat-diddly for activity (and I mean not even lifting a remote
control), you body still has to keep the heart beating, brain functioning, making
your pineal gland do whatever the pineal gland does, etc. The amount of energy
required to sustain this amount of activity reflects your Resting Metabolic Rate
or RMR. This is the sparest amount of energy you need to maintain your functional
human status and this varies based on genetics, age and physical condition. But,
few of us actually are this lethargic in a day. Most of us engage in various
activities and each second of activity calls for more chemical reactions, more work
to be done, more energy required. Your metabolism has to provide the energy for
these additional daily burdens. The more activity, the more energy required.
Therefore, your daily energy needs are your RMR + the energy for your daily activities.
If you eat as many calories as your metabolism expends to keep you going — you stay
status quo for weight. If you continue to eat the same amount of calories ("calories"
is actually a measure of energy!), but increase activity, your body has to get the
energy from your reserve bank. Lowcarbers train their bodies to dip into the fat
reserves for this additional energy need. More activity, more dippin', more fat use,
less weight. However, don't start grinnin' too much yet — the reverse is also true.
When we consume more energy than the body needs, it puts it away for later (an
evolutionary response to the times when it might be awhile before we found another
saber tooth to barbeque). That means more fat and more weight.
In the age where button-pushing was not a major job skill, people were naturally
active. Nowadays, we must purposefully increase our level of activity. Yes, I must
use the "E" word — exercise. The more intense the exercise — the more energy required;
the greater the duration, the more energy required. Think of the body as your house's
heating system. You and your sweetie don't mind keeping the thermostat at 55 degrees
all year long. Your heating system uses the necessary amount of fuel to sustain this
temperature and you are billed accordingly. Now, imagine that aged Aunt Gladys comes
to visit. She mandates that the thermostat be reset to 75 degrees as she is always
cold — you know how those old people just whine and whine to keep that old biddy
satisfied, the heater has to work much harder to keep that temperature up and this
extra work demands more fuel. When she finally leaves and you turn down the
control, the system does less work and your monthly bill's energy graph shows
the spike from her invasion and the decline in energy use after her departure.
When you exercise, the body's need for energy increases and your fuel use goes
up. If you don't increase your calorie consumption, you body gets the energy
from reserves — blessed fat. The more you exercise, the more the fuel demand.
Don't go nutty, though. Too much exercise causes the body to say that something
is wrong with you and it goes into protective mode. It actually slows the
metabolism to help preserve your reserves to weather you through your perceived
infirmity. Stress and over exercise are not metabolism's friends.
WooHoo! Exercise gives you a way to use your metabolism to weight loss advantage.
You begin scheming — how can I increase the time that my furnace stays hot? Exercise
again smiles upon you. One advantage of regular, vigorous exercise is that it can raise
your body's normal metabolism. After exercise, your metabolism stays high for awhile;
your home furnace doesn't automatically go cold when you turn it to "off." It takes
awhile to cool down; your body does the same thing. This after burn is another exercise
benefit. Many experts recommend exercising in several bouts — raise the metabolism
several times during the day and then enjoy several after burns, as a bonus. Eating
small, frequent meals is another metabolism-boosting tactic. It actually takes energy
to eat and digest food; each time you eat, the metabolism cranks up to handle the digestion
process. More noshing... more metabolic kick-starts. Keep your daily calorie needs in
mind, though, and spread them out accordingly. Overdoing the chocolate-covered calories
rather defeats the purpose of purposeful picking.
But, let's go for the whole enchilada. Can you up that metabolism ALL DAY? EVERY DAY?
Is it possible? YES!!! Exercise is again the key, but we must be more specific.
Cardiovascular exercise is a fantastic calorie burner, energy user. And it does give
you after burn effects. However, once the after burn is over, you are back at sea level.
What you need to do is actually engage in strength training (pumping iron) to enable the
body to keep its metabolism running hot. Here's why:
Remember that all activity requires chemical reactions, which need energy. Well, this
applies down to the level of the single cell. Some cells are lay-abouts and don't do
much. Rather like your teenager, they spend most of their day thumbing through magazines
and watching MTV. Fat cells, most connective tissue cells and the like don't require
much energy. If your body is mostly composed of these cells, you lead a pretty inactive
life, cellularly speaking, and don't have a huge energy demand. However, muscle cells
are a different story. Muscle cells are more like your 5-year old and his friends.
You need ropes and chains to keep them still. Muscle cells are what are doing your
body's activity work from pumping your blood, moving your food, raising your fork to
your face, keeping the toes tapping when the radio plays. In order to do this, they
need lots of energy and so, naturally use a lot of fuel. It doesn't take a brain
surgeon to figure out that if you have more of these guys and less of the slackers,
your body WITHOUT DOING ANYTHING EXTRA is going to continuously demand more energy.
The metabolism gets raised and stays that way as long as you keep the dynamos. The
way to add more muscle and reduce the sluggards is to strength train. Weight training
builds muscle. You get the calorie burn from the actual workout and, as muscle builds,
your metabolism rises. You burn more calories, even at rest, when you have more muscle
and less of the other tissue types. This is like Aunt Gladys selling her house and
moving into your spare room. That thermostat is going to stay cranked until the day
Your metabolism is not your enemy. It keeps you alive. Love it, for that reason alone.
But, it is not the one in control — you are. By taking the appropriate actions, you
can use your metabolism to your advantage to achieve your weight loss goals. Increase
activity through the day — take stairs, walk in the evenings, play with your kids, go
dancing: anything! Go further by adding purposeful exercise for greater energy demand.
Strength train to build muscle for the big bonanza. Don't be afraid of your
metabolism — it is your tool, your weapon, your own personal weight-loss product.
And, unlike most things in life, it's free!