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Understanding Metabolism


"My diet plan: Make all of my friends cupcakes; the fatter they get, the thinner I look..." - Anonymous


Everyone has that one friend that could eat at McDonalds 3 times a day, have desserts with every meal, and maybe throw in a midnight snack of double stuff Oreos, yet still looks like a complete stick. We have asked ourselves again and again how that is possible, and most likely come to the conclusion that are lucky enough to have a really high metabolism. The rate at which we break down food is partly genetic, but there are also lifestyle changes we can make to alter our metabolisms. Today’s blog post is dedicated to discussing metabolism – what it is, how we can affect breakdown of food (both positively and negatively), and various myths about metabolism.


Our metabolism is our body’s rate of burning energy. If we have a high metabolism, then the food we eat gets broken down quicker. Conversely, people with a low metabolism may feel full longer because their body does not break down their food as fast as others. Over the course of our lifetimes, our body’s metabolism will change naturally – as we age, it decreases. If you have ever sat down and watched a high school or college-aged boy eat 4 hamburgers in one sitting and then reach for a snack 30 minutes later, you have witnessed how metabolism also spikes during puberty and can affect boys and girls differently. If our goal was to be a skinny supermodel while still being able to eat whatever we wanted, then we would want a high metabolism. It is a commonly sought-after phenomenon, especially for women.


There are changes in our lifestyle that we can make to change our metabolism. To begin, muscle mass has the highest breakdown of food, so if we increase our strength training activities, this may lead to a faster breakdown of nutrients. Exercise in general is incredibly important for many reasons, one of which is to keep our metabolisms up. High-Intensity interval training is particularly recommended by trainers, but really any sort of movement is beneficial.


Another valuable contributor to our metabolism is the regularity with which we eat our meals. If we have consistent meal times that are properly spaced out, this helps our body get in a routine, and can lead to increased metabolism rates. To explain this, let me point out the obvious, yet overlooked phenomenon: our stomach does not have eyes. Therefore, it cannot know the abundance of food that may be available, and it certainly cannot know when that food will come. If we go too long between meals or do not have regular meal times, our bodies essentially lose our trust and feel that they need to “hold on” to the food we give it. To understand this, picture someone who does not have a regular income. When they receive money and don’t know when the next pay check will come, they most likely will hold onto to that money and not spend it. On the other hand, someone who knows that they will get a weekly check is more willing to spend instead of hoard. The same thing goes for mealtimes and metabolisms – our meals are just like paychecks. Therefore, if we eat at regular times, this can increase our metabolism: our bodies readily adapt to our routines and know that they can break down the food we eat, instead of turning it into fat out of doubt that the next meal may not be coming.


It is also important to drink enough liquids and get adequate sleep. Particularly when it comes to water, try to get about half of your body weight in ounces per day. So if you weigh 200 pounds, then you should be drinking around 100 ounces daily. Other drinks with caffeine such as coffee or certain types of tea, may also increase our metabolism slightly. When it comes to sleep, many people who do not get enough shuteye will have a harder time resisting overeating, and it may contribute to weight gain.


One important myth that I will talk about is the idea that increased exercise + decreased eating = weight loss. While this may work in the short term due to eating less calories that we are burning, it may not contribute to weight loss overall. This may be obvious to some, but as we exercise more, our body requires that we increase our caloric intake. If you try to exercise frequently and yet don’t fuel your body properly, you are again tricking your body into thinking that there is not enough food available. Therefore, when putting stress through exercise and stress through not enough calories on yourself, you end up lowering your metabolism. While this may look like weight loss in the short term, you may end up getting the opposite effect when the inevitable larger meals or desserts come along. Your body will not be used to this level of caloric intake and because you lowered your metabolism through improper fuel replacements, it may turn into later weight gain.


Of course, everyone’s bodies work differently and are far more complex than we will ever know, but these are a few tips and tricks toward handling our metabolisms. The most important message we can all know (and share with peers) is that if we do not eat adequate amounts, we are only doing our bodies harm. This brings us back to the whole message of this blog – Smart Girls Gotta Eat! It may be difficult during quarantine, but make sure to establish regular mealtimes, drink enough water, and get some exercise. See you next week.


Betsy Blitch, 3/30/20

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