A Basic Primer on How the Body’s Metabolism Works

Stop Starving Yourself:  A Basic Primer on How the Body’s Metabolism Works

Reducing calorie intake and increasing your metabolism (the rate at which the body burns calories) is the key to achieving your weight loss goals.  Hearing the words “reducing calorie intake” can make people think that starving yourself is the way to achieve maximum weight loss. Not only is this unsafe, it’s completely untrue! When you cut down your calorie intake too drastically it may make it harder for you to shed weight and maintain any weight loss you did achieve once you begin eating again.

Calorie cutting affects every part of your body. Your brain is fueled by glucose—the sugar molecule that is regulated by eating—and your body will do anything it can to keep your brain up and running. If you continue a low-calorie intake for more than a day, your body will start to break down muscle tissue to get at the amino acids stored, which it can then convert to glucose to power your brain.  The body breaks down muscle in the absence of fuel because, as the muscles become smaller, they work less and utilize less energy, allowing you to last longer on the stored supplies of fat.

Starvation leaves no fuel for these basic bodily functions, let alone energy for daily tasks. Following a fast or starvation diet for several days can also cause nutritional deficiencies, dizziness, weakness, digestive distress, nausea, irritability, depression and fatigue.

The focus of a healthy weight loss should be your metabolism– the mechanism our body uses to burn calories. Think of it as your body’s “motor.” The faster your metabolism operates the more calories you’ll burn and lose in the process.  As we age, our metabolism naturally slows down. The truth is you don’t have to starve yourself to lose weight. In fact, the best way to rev up your metabolism is to eat and stay hydrated.  Here are some other tips to increase your metabolism:

  • Don’t skip meals. It’s better to eat four to six small meals per day than to skip a major daily meal, especially breakfast.
  • Eat smaller meals, more frequently.  Try eating smaller portions, but more frequently so you don’t feel like you’re starving. Constantly snacking on small, healthy foods will help keep your metabolism going, increasing its overall effectiveness. This method of eating will also keep you full, allowing you to control your calories and prevent overeating.
  • Eat vegetables with every meal. You don’t have to eat only vegetables. In fact, you should incorporate foods from all the food groups into your daily meals. However, eat a lot of veggies with every meal to help you fill up on foods that are nutritious and low in calories.
  • Gain more muscle.  While you don’t necessarily have to bulk-up like a body builder, putting on a little more muscle mass is a great way to give your metabolism a jolt once it’s become sluggish. Having more muscle requires your body to burn calories just to sustain that muscle, even when you’re not doing anything. Numerous studies have shown that those who have more muscle mass have a higher metabolic rate than those with less muscle.
  • Increase your water intake.  If you are gaining insufficient amounts of water, you need to start hydrating yourself properly. Dehydration is one of the factors that can slow down a person’s metabolism, since water is very important for the body to burn calories. While it’s important to drink plenty of water to kick-start a slowing metabolism, it is also important not to overhydrate to avoid water-intoxication.
  • Avoid empty calories, such as fruit juices and soda. They do not substitute water and provide no nutritional value.
  • Be fidgety.  Standing or sitting completely still for extended periods of time while at your desk or on the couch will slow down your metabolism. Try making a habit of keeping your body constantly moving by either tapping your feet, constantly stretching or constantly moving your legs and being fidgety. Constant movement will keep your metabolism cranked, plus you’re burning calories, even if it’s only a small amount.

While weight loss is important, it is more important to do it in a healthy way that can also be maintained to keep the weight off.