How Your Metabolism Really Works

According to Webster, metabolism is “the chemical and physical processes continuously going on in living organisms.” Unfortunately, not all of us living organisms have metabolisms that “process continuously” in the same. Some have fast ones, others slow.

Many of our site visitors have written to us with questions about speeding up or slowing down their metabolisms. Both “Alis” and “Athan” have questions about speeding up their metabolisms. “Alis” asks what vitamins, when taken properly, can help speed up metabolism. While, “Athan” wants to know “if there are foods that will help speed up your metabolism. I know there are drugs that supposedly help speed up met an, and exercise also helps. I run 4-6 miles a day and eat about 7 servings of fruits and vegetables. I have lost 48 lbs., but am having problems getting the last 12 lbs. off.”

The metabolic rate varies from one person to another and is affected by sex, age, and amount of lean body mass (muscle). Many vitamins and minerals are involved in the metabolic processes in the body, however, once the required amount is obtained, the excess is either eliminated or stored in body tissues. Toxic amounts of vitamins and minerals may lead to serious health consequences. Iodine, for example, forms part of the thyroid hormones that regulate metabolism. An iodine deficiency results in sluggishness and weight gain. Excessive intake can enlarge the thyroid gland (as does a deficiency), a condition known as goiter. Herbs associated with weight loss, such as Ephedra (Ma Huang), are stimulants of the nervous system and can lead to side effects such as nervousness, tremors, sleeplessness, and loss of appetite. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not regulate herbs and supplements, so you can’t always be assured of the quality of what you are purchasing. It is uncommon for a particular food to have the required medicinal properties to treat a medical condition.

There are certain foods that contain nutrients that can resolve a state of deficiency if that is an issue of concern. However, this needs to be evaluated before making a recommendation. What is important in every case is the recommendation to eat a variety of foods in adequate amounts to meet individual needs while maintaining a desirable body weight. Eating a healthy, balanced diet will usually provide the necessary nutrients for normal body processes. Exercise, probably due to an increase in muscle mass, does increase the body’s metabolic rate. The amount depends on type and duration as well as percent of existing muscle mass. It is the only completely safe (unless contraindicated by a medical condition) and natural method to increase the metabolic rate. If you have difficulty maintaining a desired weight, you may need the help of a registered dietitian who can provide an individualized and safe plan that addresses your specific needs. Also, check with a doctor. A physical exam can rule out any medical conditions that affect body weight.

There are many weight loss products available that claim to curb your appetite, melt away fat or increase your metabolism. Be aware that using some of these without medical clearance and guidance may be harmful.

“Susan” is curious to find “if there is any advantage to taking amino acid supplements. I suffer from depression and am currently taking Effex or XR. While it helps me feel normal, some of the side effects are feeling tired and weight gain.”

Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins, which include neurotransmitters such as serotonin. Neurotransmitters transmit nerve impulses through nerve cells (neurons). Some people diagnosed with depression have a deficiency of brain serotonin. Serotonin-deficient individuals should consume foods that are high in the amino acid tryptophan, such as milk, eggs, turkey, and lentils. Adequate protein intake minimizes the need for tryptophan or 5-hydrozy-tryptophan supplementation. The medication “Susan” is taking inhibits serotonin uptake, resulting in higher availability of the neurotransmitter. Like many drugs, there are side effects associated with its use. If these are a problem for you, you should certainly discuss it with your physician, and perhaps explore the possibility of alternative therapies or methods of alleviating your symptoms. Do not discontinue or make any modifications in your current treatment without consulting your doctor. Amino acid supplementation may be beneficial for some people with depression, but it is not a replacement for medical treatment. Consult with your doctor to see what is helpful in your situation. Here are some suggestions that may also help:

1. Eat a low-calorie, well-balanced diet (a registered dietitian can provide a meal plan that fits your needs and lifestyle).
2. Include sufficient protein and calcium (low-fat milk, low-fat cottage cheese, and nonfat yogurt).
3. Increase intake of omega-3 fatty acids (fatty fish, flaxseeds).
4. Exercise regularly.
5. Take time for leisure and pleasurable activities.

To learn more about how to master your metabolism have a look at the new book. Included in the book is a 20 page guide to weight loss we call the Personalized Nutrition Profile containing full instructions for meal planning, snacks and useful supplements.

On the flip side, there are also many readers who feel they need to slow down their metabolic rate. “Mark” wants to know how you slow down a high metabolism. He asks if there are “any special foods or exercises” he can use. He is 27, 6’2″ and weights 140 lbs. he says he “eats like a pig, but can’t seem to put the weight on.” “Raj” says, ” I am 26 and 5’9″, but I weight only 130. I need to increase my weight. It looks like I am a high metabolic person. I eat a lot, but still I am not gaining weight. What can I do to reduce my metabolism and gain weight?”

First, of all, there are probably hundreds of people who wish they had this problem, but for those who feel like the skinny guy on the beach who will never fill out; it is a serious question. Body size has a lot to do with genetics. Both “Mark” and “Raj” should ask their fathers or uncles what they weighed at their ages. Chances are they were thin too, and could eat any amount of food without gaining weight. But, look at them now. Are they still slim or did middle age bring changes? Some people are thin due to heredity and may find difficulty in gaining weight. Unless there is a medical condition that is resulting in weight loss, the weight loss is recent and unexplained, or there is a risk of malnutrition – as is often the case with eating disorders, being underweight is far less of a health problem then being overweight. Weight gain is achieved when the calories consumed outnumber the calories spent. Gaining weight for appearance’s sake, or gaining both muscle and fat weight, should consist of a high-calorie diet in combination with regular exercise. Your nutrient needs depend on your own particular rate of metabolism, which may be very high at your age. You not only need calories but also protein, vitamins and minerals. The best way to get these nutrients is to choose a balanced, varied diet from among the different food groups. “Mark,” says he is “eating like a pig,” but is it mostly pizza, burgers, fries and soda? Other nutrients are necessary for you body to metabolize and build new cells. You need 6-11 servings of cereals and grains, 2-3 servings of protein foods, 2-3 servings from the dairy group, 2-4 fruits, and 3-5 servings of vegetables. A varied selection from these groups should be the basis of your diet to which you then add fats, oils and sugars to add calories. Some other suggestions for gaining weight are to be sure to eat a good breakfast, lunch, and dinner, with nutritious snacks between meals. Try to eat in a relaxed atmosphere instead of on the run, as this improves the way your body uses nutrients. Avoid drinking too much liquid with your meal so you don’t fill up too quickly. Make exercise a regular part of your healthy routine, but not to the extent that you skip meals and burn a high amount of calories. The body’s metabolic rate is not normally modified unless there is an existing disorder that requires medical treatment. It is something that varies from one person to another and affected by many factors, such as age, sex, and amount of lean body mass (muscle).

To learn 7 strategies to add healthy weight please have a look at the new book. Also included in the book is a 20 page personalized guide to weight gain we call the Ultimate Weight Gain Program. The program contains complete instructions for meal planning, snacks, exercise routines and useful supplements

Although the above suggestions will usually lead to weight gain, it is always wise to check with a physician in order to discard any metabolic or other medical disorder that may be attributed to weight loss. Consulting a registered dietitian can provide better insight on the nature of the problem, and result in more accurate recommendations that are better suited for individual lifestyles and food preferences.

Everyone’s focus should be on a healthy weight, one where you feel vital and energetic, not an ideal seen in magazines. With wholesome eating habits and other measures such as not smoking, drinking or using drugs, avoiding risky behaviors, getting enough sleep, stress management, moderate exercise and stretching, and working towards mental and emotional maturity, you will start on a lifetime of wellness, whether you are trying to loss or gain weight.

Good luck!

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