“TRUTH” – A Closer Look at Metabolism

When it comes to metabolism, the health and fitness community has redefined this term from its original definition.  This can be both bad and good.  Good as long as we all have a good understanding of how the word is being used in regards to transforming our bodies, bad when we use half of a clinical definition and half of the “en vogue slang” definition.. as this leads to using excuses in regards to weight loss.

Clinically, metabolism  is defined as  the  processes in any organism for cell growth, reproduction, response to external stimuli(environment), survival strategy, sustenance, and cellular maintenance.  It includes building up of the cell or organism (anabolism), and the breakdown of substances primarily for energy expenditure (catabolism).

By far, the number one excuse I hear when training a client for weight loss is… (drum roll… wait on it… waaaiiiit) yep’ you guessed it… “I just have a slow metabolism)  

Let’s Dig In
What they are really saying is “Steve, I’m eating more calories than I burn”.  The words that actually come out of their mouths are,  “I barely eat anything at all, and I still can’t lose weight”… Of course  I reply in compassion and love and say “so, if I drop you off on a deserted island with no food, and come back in two weeks, you will be the same weight or even a little heavier?”  At this point, If they don’t walk out of my office shooting me a bird then I know I might be making headway.

Allow me to give you a real world look at metabolism.  If two people are walking on a treadmill at the same speed and incline, and they weigh exactly the same, the amount of energy required to move their masses is significantly similar regardless of a fast or slow metabolism.  The deviation of calories burned would be negligible.  You might ask, what about heart rate?  I’ve heard many clients say, “the girl next to me burned a thousand calories in spin class and I only burned 250.  Is it because I have a slower metabolism?”  Of course not.  So what is going on?

Heart Rate Monitor vs Calories Burned
Heart rate monitors are being used as calorie counters because heart rate is a decent measure of effort.  However, it is only accurate in regards to the law of averages.  Heart rate monitors use certain statistical data based on age, weight, sex, height, and heart rate, to give the user an average number of calories expended as compared to other people who are statistically similar.  This is not accurate for people with higher than average (tachycardic) or slower than average (bardycardic) heart rates.

For example, if I sit on the couch with my twin brother (hypothetical brother) and we are both the same weight, as we sit,  our average caloric expenditure is going to be relatively the same, regardless if I just drank coffee and my heart is beating faster than his.  A faster heart rate doesn’t magically make an individual burn more calories.  Yes, on a miniscule non-significant scale their will be slight deviations in our basal metabolic rate, but negligible when compared to actual movement, and calories burned.  Movement will require the expense of a certain amount of energy, regardless of the “metabolism” of that mass.  It takes energy to move, period.

Thyroid Myths
What if I do have a thyroid problem?  If that is the case, the amount of calories it takes to move a 200 pound mass still doesn’t change.  You may be prone to move your mass slower,  or require more rest,  but the mass times the distance,  still dictates (more or less) the amount of energy required to move.  Science doesn’t discriminate.  Calculating the metabolic differences in individuals with slower metabolisms is miniscule when looking at the bigger picture.

When a client tells me they have a slow metabolism, knowing it or not,  they are usually referring to their basal metabolism.  Basal metabolism can clinically be defined as  the amount of energy needed to maintain essential body functions, such as respiration, circulation, temperature, peristalsis, and muscle tone., usually while at rest.  The “en vogue definition” and the way I see this term abused,  has come to mean something entirely different.  What is meant by “metabolism” is simply this “metabolism is the measurement of how prone we are to do work”.  

Indeed, certain processes in humans exist at different rates.  One person’s hair and nails may grow faster than another. Thus, increasing that individual’s metabolism – but this would lead to insignificant variation in caloric expenditure throughout the day. Persons with lower metabolisms will burn just as many calories when there bodies are in motion as another. The problem being,  people with slower metabolisms are less prone to desire to move, workout, or take part in physical activities.  They are more prone to a sedentary lifestyle that leads to even more weight gain.

Even at rest,  if someone with a slower basal metabolic rate does not exceed their caloric expenditure,  weight gain will not occur. If they eat below their caloric expenditure they will lose weight.  It’s just science.  So, if you have not lost weight in the last week, (regardless of your math and how great you think you eat) your average consumption has equaled, or exceeded, your expenditure.

Stimulate Your Metabolism
We can alter your metabolism two primary ways.  Chemically, with food and drugs, or mechanically, with movement or exercise.  Both will produce the breakdown of substrates and cells for energy (catabolism). For instance, after sleeping all night, when you wake, your body is in a fasting state and your metabolism is at an all time low. We need to either break the fast (breakfast) or start moving (morning jog).  Either one of these choices are very effective in stimulating your metabolism (being prone to to want to move).  If our goal is weight loss, feeding ourselves to increase our metabolism may be counter-productive.

If you are one that is struggling with your metabolism, please just start moving.  The best way to stimulate your metabolism is to just get going.  Movement is addictive and coupled with eating less, movement is the most effective way to lose weight and change your life style forever. Let’s  get going!!!!

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About Steve Pfiester

Certified CrossFit, TRX, Kettlebell Athletics Trainer with a B.S. in Physical Therapy. Owner of Longevity Max Fitness and BCx Boot Camp.

Posted on February 1, 2012, in BLOG VOMIT, Diet, IN MY HEAD, Motivation, NUTRITION, PFACT OR PFICTION, PFIESTER VOCAB, PFIT TIPS, RATED M, Reality Check, Ugly Truth, Uncategorized, WEIGHT LOSS and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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