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Fire Up Your Metabolism


How many of us have declared that we are going to "lose weight and get in shape"? To make healthy changes in our lives, we take out a new membership at the local gym, only to fall back on old habits once the novelty wears off.

Fire Up Your Metabolism

How many of us have declared that we are going to "lose weight and get in shape"? To make healthy changes in our lives, we take out a new membership at the local gym, only to fall back on old habits once the novelty wears off.

Starving yourself or going on a low calorie diet is not the answer either for lasting weight loss. Plus, if you do not provide your body with adequate fuel, you won't have the energy to take advantage of that gym membership and will also be making yourself vulnerable to disease.

Burn, Baby, Burn

Metabolism is simply the process of utilizing the food we ingest for energy, tissue repair and development. Think of your metabolism as you would a fire. When you go to start a fire, you do not simply throw a big log down and hold a match to it. It would take forever to burn. Instead, you start by using some paper and small pieces of kindling. Together with the paper, the kindling starts a small flame and more heat is generated. When the flame gets larger, you add larger pieces of wood until the fire is blazing hot.

Now, compare your metabolism to the fire. When you have not eaten for a long period, your metabolism will be burning at a low heat. What you want to do is start with a smaller portion, to generate heat, and gradually add to that heat. This is why nutritionists are suggesting that we eat more frequently throughout the day, but consume smaller portions. People often tell me they do not understand why they cannot lose weight. They say they do not actually eat that much, but continue to gain. Upon further review, we often discover the person eats very little throughout the day, but has a large meal at dinner. This is like trying to start a fire with a large log and a match. There may be a slow burn, but that log will take a long time to burn, if it ever burns at all!

If you continued to try and light fires like this, your fire pit would be full of large unburned logs. Remember, when your body does not burn off the food you ingest, the excess energy is stored as fat. Ideally, if you can eat every two to four hours, and only eat until you feel content, you can generate a greater metabolic response. In addition, you will increase your energy levels because you are providing regular and consistent fuel for your system.

Fuelling Your Metabolism

Just as important as when and how you eat is, of course, what you eat. If you are not eating enough of the right foods, then you are not providing your body with the proper energy sources. The typical North American diet often consists of a high amount of refined carbohydrates. These are foods like refined pasta, white rice and white bread. Although these foods do not contain a high percentage of fat, they are broken down by the body as a form of sugar and will be stored as fat if not utilized. This can be said about all foods that are broken down into sugars. Do not be misled by food labels, which promote low-fat ingredients. They are often loaded with sugar, which will not only be stored as fat, but will not aid in tissue development and repair.

Protein, the building block for tissue development and repair, needs to be consumed to increase lean body weight. Yes, we need to eat carbohydrates for energy, but a whole foods diet is the best way to get the fuel you need to function, and lose and maintain a healthy weight. It's best to include complex carbohydrates and high quality protein from plants in fact, on an equal-calorie basis, whole grains and potatoes supply more essential amino acids (the building blocks of protein) than pork.

Drinking water is also very important for weight loss. Since your body is made up of approximately 70 percent water, it makes sense to take in lots of water to ensure your body performs at an optimal level. Instead of the standard eight glasses a day, Philip L. Goglia in his book, Turn Up The Heat (Viking Penguin, 2002), suggests we drink an ounce of water for every pound we weigh, every day!

Keep the Fires Burning

It's generally accepted that the older we get, the slower our metabolism becomes. But the truth is, the older we get, the less we move our bodies. This results in an increase in body fat and a decrease in lean muscle mass, which slows us down. Keep moving! A healthy metabolism not only burns excess fat, but promotes muscle development and increased energy levels, too. For health and weight loss, you ideally want to increase your weight in terms of lean muscle mass and decrease your percentage of body fat. Movement promotes lean muscle mass because an exercised muscle is a stronger, larger muscle. Movement also requires energy, which may be attained from excess body fat. All you need to do is walk three hours a week to get that metabolism fired up.

No, you don't need to starve yourself to lose weight. As for the gym membership, your motivation will increase as you see results from changing the way you eat and by increasing your metabolism. If the gym isn't the place for you, get moving other ways. Simply consider how to stoke your fire most effectively and efficiently.

Healthy Metabolism = Weight Loss

  • Eat small, frequent meals each day to fire up your metabolism.
  • Eat a whole foods diet and plenty of water to fuel your metabolism.
  • Exercise regularly to maintain a healthy metabolism.

Why Doesn't Eating Less Work?

When it feels like it is being starved, the body will go into "ration mode" and conserve its excess fat for as long as possible. This is helpful if you are, in fact, starving, but not if you are trying to lose weight. The body's metabolic rate is decreasing to conserve energy. If you really hope to burn off excess fat, you want your metabolism running in high gear!



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Matthew Kadey, MSc, RDMatthew Kadey, MSc, RD