If you’ve ever been on a diet – or read popular health magazines – you’ve no doubt heard the term “metabolism.” It’s being boosted, sped up, or super-charged, depending on what supplement or diet plan you are considering. But what is it exactly? And why are we so interested in changing its speed?
Metabolism not just one thing that we can define. It’s actually used as a general reference to all the chemical processes in the body. What are these processes? They are what make our bodies run – and, hopefully, run smoothly! The chemical processes break down into catabolic and anabolic processes. Catabolism is when our body takes what we’ve eaten, breaks it down into usable parts, and then extracts energy as a result. That means we can walk, talk, eat, and sleep! Anabolism is the collection of the nutrients the cells need to do their work and keep us healthy. Therefore, when we talk about “speeding up” metabolism, that may or may not be to our benefit, depending on what needs our body has at the time.
Then what is a calorie? Put simply: it’s energy. The technical definition can be found here, but the important part is that you need calories to survive. Without them, our body can’t keep going. With too little energy (too few calories), the body will slow all its processes down to reserve energy. With too many calories, our bodies will increase the speed to use up a small surplus, but with too much energy, it will store those extra calories as…you guessed it: fat. This isn’t a bad thing! Some extra padding can be used up in time of need, like when there is little food. But if you live in food abundance – and many of us do – it can cause problems, such as obesity. If you aren’t sure how many calories you need, here’s a great calorie calculator to help you figure it out!
What about BMR, or basil metabolic rate? And no, it’s not an Italian seasoning! Your BMR the amount of energy your body needs to keep you alive, and nothing more: no walking, working out, talking, or dancing. Think of it this way: just like your vehicle needs a certain amount of fuel for normal driving, your body needs a certain level of fuel for all the activity it is doing while you are laying in bed. That is your BMR – the baseline of fuel needed to stay alive. However, if you drive fast or use all of the features on the car, they require more energy – which means you use more fuel. Our bodies work the same way – the more you do, the more fuel it requires. So you want to squeeze in an extra workout? Remember that you need more food to fuel it!
Before you scratch your head and say, “But aren’t I overweight because I eat too much?” Maybe…and maybe not. Sometimes we carry extra weight on our bodies due to hormone imbalances, nutrition imbalances, or inflammation. Some of us may eat too much, but others may have a body process that is out of balance and is causing our body to hold onto extra weight.
So when you are hearing terms like metabolism, calories, or BMR used for the latest fad food plan or supplement, ask yourself if the retailer’s claims make sense. You might find that sometimes, it doesn’t!
What lifestyle changes are you considering that may help you maintain a healthy metabolism? What do you think about calories and metabolism now that you have a better understanding of how they interact?