7 Things Testing Tells Us about Metabolism
Thursday, December 11, 2014
LifeTime WeightLoss in Lab Testing, Lab Testing, Metabolism, Paul Kriegler, metabolic testing, metabolism

Not many people I know are in the business of wasting time. Everyone wants results, and they want them yesterday - particularly when it comes to weight loss.

Despite their drive to achieve a timely outcome, however, many people begin their efforts with nothing more than a determined glance in the mirror or quick measurement on a scale.

The oversimplified nature of these “assessment” methods yields pretty skimpy data, and skimpy data usually results in misguided decisions that lack clear foundation.

Better data, on the other hand, leads to better decisions, better planning, and often better (i.e. faster and longer-lasting) results.

We know we’re overweight, for example, but do we know the full picture of what’s going on inside our bodies that makes us/keeps us that way? While behavior is usually the primary part of the picture, the nuanced condition of our health is an important overlay to understand when we’re trying to lose weight. At times, it can be the linchpin to our success.  

Good, healthy choices will set us on the path to efficient weight loss. They will drive our progress every step of the way. That said, we may not know what the best choices within that range are at any given point of our journey.

Slow weight loss, frustrating plateaus, unusual exhaustion or increased stress can be signs we need some kind of redirect. In these cases, it comes down to the details - details that a scale or body fat check won’t reveal. When we hit up against these points (or ideally before we ever encounter them!), there’s something we can do. For the sake of saving time, effort, money and frustration, let’s explore seven things testing can tell us about your metabolism.

Assessments give us the big (and detailed) picture. 

Metabolism is much more than a simple measurement of how many calories you burn at rest or during activity (Resting or Active Metabolic Assessments). When you map out several markers of metabolism rather than examine an overview like resting calorie usage, you gain a new perspective on how your whole system is functioning - whether it’s your Respiratory Quotient (RQ) from one of the tests mentioned above or various blood analytes like inflammation markers, thyroid hormone relationships, cortisol patterns, sex hormone balance, glucose and insulin balance, or vitamin D status.

You become empowered to influence your physiology waaaaay beyond simply understanding if you have a “fast” or “slow” metabolism. This leads us into the next lesson.... 

Assessments provide an early warning system. 

Simply completing a questionnaire like Life Time’s D.TOX questionnaire Life Time members have access to focuses your process much more than the mirror or scale ever could.

For example, if someone complains of sporadic and roller-coaster-like energy throughout the day, it tells me his/her blood sugars might be peaking and crashing in a completely debilitating way. Further testing with a blood test or drug-store glucometer may confirm that person isn't functioning well in the glucose balance department and would benefit from some dietary re-balancing.

Likewise, when someone has low energy or mood all day, thyroid, adrenals, or sex hormones may need re-tuning. 

Annoyingly, if one system in our bodies is not functioning on all cylinders other systems can be tugged out of alignment as well. The longer we drift off course, the more likely we are to be headed for full system meltdown. Metabolic syndrome, full blown thyroid dysfunction or nutrient deficiencies don’t operate on an “on/off” switch. These challenges have classic, albeit complicated, warning signs that aren’t always simple to decipher without a deeper, more detailed assessment than a scale, mirror, or body fat analysis could ever hope to offer.

Assessments tell us our unique needs at this particular time. 

The efforts and strategies that work for your neighbor, spouse, trainer or fitness instructor may not have the same effect on your physiology. Why not? If I gave you my personal fat-burning workout (a 7.3 mph treadmill running pace), it wouldn’t likely melt away your waistline as you’d expect. In fact, it may sound pretty stressful.

In the same way, someone else’s 3.3 mph uphill walk on the treadmill may be too light for me to really torch my flub. Even further, if I continue my workout (or you continue yours) for months and years on end, we’ll eventually grow used to our particular physical challenge and stop adapting altogether. Each stimulus, like a workout or dietary choice, engages with our unique biochemical patterns – something I call “hormonal blend.”

My lower-carb dietary patterns work great for my energy, fitness demands, and health but may be completely at odds with your needs and thus be stressful on your body. You can totally guess and try to practice baseline strategies (like eating a pile of veggies the size of your head each day), but why not measure the actual results of such strategies over time for your body with detailed assessments? What will work well later might not work optimally now.

Assessments tell us we’re working harder than necessary. 

This may surprise you, but many gym-goers probably overextend their effort in their workout and under-deliver in their recovery and nourishment strategy. Training, as opposed to randomly exercising, is actually an experiment in fitness minimalism.

In other words, a proper, progressive health and fitness program teeters on the border of doing just enough stressful physical activity, then rebounding from the challenge with ample recovery. Assessments serve as guide points for training processes, helping the user stay on course, evaluate mid-point performance markers, and recognize when more recovery is in order. The right family of assessments eliminates guesswork and boosts confidence along the way. 

Now, I would be remiss if I didn’t say that some of us don’t challenge our fitness levels with enough vigor to stimulate change. Whether lifting weights that are too light to trigger muscle growth or strength changes, walking/jogging at a pace too slow to maximize fat burn, or taking too many easy days of training between harder efforts are all things I’ve witnessed in clients’ (and my own) habits at times. Here, again, assessments can give you an advantage!

Simple test: Gauge your rate of perceived exertion (RPE) at the end of your next workout on a scale of zero to ten (zero being equivalent to couch time and ten being “get me out of here and end this pain now.” Where would you rank it?

Better gauge: monitor your heart rate with a heart rate monitor armed with data from your very own Active Metabolic Assessment. Track subjective recovery in your training journal and alter your training program based on objective markers like Heart Rate Variability. Confused? Read on because the next point will help.

Assessments offer us a “fast forward” button.

As mentioned, everyone naturally wants to find the shortest path to good outcomes. When you focus on the right things and track progress, you’re more likely to make the best behavior changes to produce the results you want. Confident fitness professionals use the relevant assessments at their disposal to bring focus to the program. Committed results-seekers welcome the chance to zero in on the most impactful (and track-able) factors that are within their control. 

For example, when a client sees his/her fasting glucose drifting outside of optimal (over 90mg/dL) and the coach suggests replacing half of his/her starchy food at meals with two fists' worth of colorful veggies, the focus becomes very specific for both the coach and client - all driven by the assessment. While the nutritional suggestion itself might be generally good, the concrete personal data (fasting glucose result) helps that client internalize the importance of this behavior change and increases that person’s compliance with the behavior.  

Assessments like regular blood tests, body fat analysis, and performance measures eliminate ambiguity in a client’s program and increase clarity. Anytime the daily habits and strategies become clearer, our minds have an easier time executing the program. When execution becomes simpler, results come faster. You waste less time, energy and money on choices that aren’t optimal for you at this point in your journey.

Assessments tell us the hard truth.

We have the ability to influence our metabolism even if we can’t change our personal genetics. Our physiological patterns are heavily influenced by our day-to-day behaviors and choices. When we take a sample of our “hormonal blend,” it’s an honest snapshot of whether or not our current lifestyle is jibing with our biochemical environment.

Are we slanted too much towards stress from under-sleeping and over-working, risking a downward disease spiral? How’s our avoidance of the salad bar (or any other vegetable) really working for us? What’s that sedentary lifestyle doing to our health? On the other side of the coin, what’s the real result of our excessive exercise or calorie restriction? Assessment numbers offer an objective measure that cuts through all the confusion, dogma and denial. There’s real power in that point alone.  

Assessments tell us truly how far we’ve come. 

So much happens in the body as we lose weight - positive changes that we can’t always appreciate. When we’re simply comparing our present appearance or speed on the Stairmaster to others’, we’ll undoubtedly have a skewed view of our progress. Likewise, if we’re only looking at pounds lost, we may not fully appreciate all the good we’ve gained. 

The best scenario for assessment is ongoing comparison - tests at regular intervals (e.g. annual, bi-annual) that compare our previous indicators to our current condition. When we do an assessment once, our results are scored against reference ranges, which serve their purpose but don’t tell the whole story.

When we assess more than once, we have the advantage of capturing our individual baseline measures, implementing a plan, taking mid-point accessory evaluations and then re-assessing to compare current results to previous data. This comparison is the most valuable and illuminating part of testing. 

From my own perspective, I already have five years of Longevity & Vitality data on myself, which can serve as priceless information for my future doctors, who can then examine the trends of my health as I get older and adapt to new lifestyle changes.

Within that time frame, I’ve realized training for Ironman triathlons or monthly marathons may not be in my best interest of overall health. I’ve “listened” to my data and used it to make better decisions for my long-term health. There are still plenty of things I can enjoy when it comes to leading an active lifestyle! I know, I assess!

Even if we exhaust all of our testing options, there’s admittedly still a lot we don’t know, and it may be decades before science produces the human re-boot button. In the meantime, testing can tell us a lot about setting an optimum course for our weight loss and health endeavors. Assessment offers us a bio-hacking advantage in our journeys and enhanced opportunity for overall success. 

Do you ever wish you had a window into your inner workings - particularly related to your weight loss process? See one of our dietitians for more information about testing options. 

In health, Paul Kriegler - Corporate Registered Dietitian

Article originally appeared on LifeTime WeightLoss (http://www.lifetime-weightloss.com/).
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