Understanding Metabolism

Your metabolism is the process of converting food into energy that is used by your body. Even when you are at rest and not exercising, your body is hard at work converting food and beverages into usable energy to keep your heart beating, keep you breathing, repairing damaged cells and tissue and making new cells.  The metabolic rate is how fast your body converts food and drink into energy by burning calories. Generally, the more muscle you have, the faster your metabolism. 
Photo Credit: Abhijit Tembhekar CC-BY-2.0, 2009
The foods you eat can have a direct impact on your metabolism and metabolic rate. High protein foods increase your metabolism, because it takes more energy to digest a high protein diet than a diet high in fats and carbohydrates. Other factors, such as age, gender and lifestyle also impact your metabolism. Women tend to have a slightly slower metabolism than men. Everyone’s metabolism slows down as we age. Those who do not engage in regular physical activity, like exercise, may have a slower metabolism. 
The thyroid gland, located in the front of the throat, controls almost ever aspect of metabolism. The thyroid produces hormones that speed up or slow down your metabolic rate and control whether your body stores fat. Hypothyroidism is a condition in which the thyroid does not produce enough of the metabolism-regulating hormones. This can lead to weight gain and other problems, some serious. Conditions of the thyroid gland should be treated by a doctor. If your thyroid gland is functioning normally, but you still can’t seem to lose weight, stimulating your metabolism by eating a healthy diet and regular exercise may help increase your metabolic rate so that your body burns fat for energy and builds muscle.
Starvation diets, fad diets and diet pills are not the answer to boosting your metabolic rate and reducing body fat. Depriving yourself of food can actually cause your metabolic rate to slow as your body responds to fewer nutrients. Starvation and fad diets can be very harmful to your health. Diet pills suppress your appetite and can cause you to eat less and less often, which is also harmful because your body is not going to get proper nutrition. Your metabolism may also slow down if you wait hours between meals. You can stimulate your metabolism by eating several smaller meals, including nutritious snacks throughout the day. Start with a healthy breakfast, some exercise like walking, a mid-morning snack and then a light lunch. Eat some fruit, granola, yogurt or other healthy snack in the afternoon. Eat a light snack, such as an apple or a salad, after dinner and drink plenty of water. Small meals throughout the day will stimulate your metabolism as your body must burn calories to digest food. 
In addition to eating healthy meals and snacks every few hours throughout the day, regular aerobic exercise can boost your metabolism. A brisk 30-minute walk in the morning and late afternoon or 30 minutes of aerobic exercise at the gym helps your body burn calories and fat stores. Strength training helps to build muscle and burn fat. Changes in your daily routine, like taking the stairs instead of the elevator or walking to work, can help you burn more calories and stimulate your metabolism. 

For more information, see:

Mayo Clinic, Metabolism and Weight Loss: How You Burn Calories, 2011

Mayo Clinic, Hypothyroidism, 2010

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