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Sunday
Feb072016

6 Ways You Misunderstand Your Metabolism

Quick—what would you be willing to give up in exchange for a fast metabolism? 

To consume all the ice cream you want and not gain a pound? To have tacos help you fit into your skinny jeans? To get washboard abs from an easy, one-hour treatment? It seems that every time we turn around, another fad diet, infomercial, or weight loss gimmick promises us easy results and a swift metabolic boost. 

The truth is, “metabolism” is a word that encompasses the literally thousands of chemical reactions needed for us to be functioning human beings. It’s incredibly complex—so much so that not even scientists claim to understand every detail. 

Unfortunately, the deafening amount of weight loss quackery out there chronically over-simplifies this process and continually feeds us fantasy “fixes.”

Who’s ready for truth and clarity on the subject? Read on to help sift through the many metabolic myths and to learn what you really can do about your metabolic functioning. 

Myth #1: You should eat every two hours to speed up your metabolism. 

How many New Year’s resolutions started with you diligently, obediently dividing all your food for the day into 6-8 portion-controlling containers? How many times did Valentine’s Day roll around with you still riding that train? 

It’s unlikely most of us make it six weeks, let alone keep at it for the long haul. Aside from the impracticality in most cases (pulling out chicken breast and broccoli during the 10 A.M. board meeting might be frowned upon), do you really see your ancestors stopping what they were doing to eat every two hours? 

Ideal meal timing is different for everyone. Those with blood sugar imbalances tend to fare better with more frequent, protein-containing meals (read: every 3-5 hours in most cases), while others thrive on only three solid meals per day. Intermittent fasting might even prove to be of benefit for others. 

If you’re focused on eating real foods—intuitively and in sync with hunger cues, it’s doubtful your metabolism is depending on food for fuel every 120 minutes.

Myth #2: Whatever metabolism you’re born with, you’re stuck with. 

Most of us tend to think that our genetic makeup will always have the last say in determining our pant size. If Mom, Dad, Grandpa and Auntie are all overweight, why bother with the hassle of trying to stay lean and fit? 

The good news is that an entire, fascinating area of study called nutrigenomics exists to explore the powerful relationship between nutrition and genes. While it’s true we can be prone to certain tendencies as a result of genetics, we can also have a massive influence on the expression of our genes and the impact they have on our body composition. 

You can find great success in mastering your uniquely personal metabolism by assessing your physiology regularly and taking a targeted, individualized approach to your lifestyle factors, nutrition, and exercise. Different approaches work for different people, and the most effective programs start with testing. It’s truly empowering in a way no generic advice (let alone bogus product) can be.

It’s important to understand, of course, that it’s not always possible (or even healthy) to have the measurements of the typical media models these days. However, you absolutely have the ability to become the most optimal, fit, healthy version of you that you’re designed to be. 

When it comes to our DNA, Dr. Francis Collins stated it beautifully when he said that “Genetics loads the gun, and environment pulls the trigger.” Use your power wisely. 

Myth #3: If your metabolism is “slow,” you’re stuck with a lifetime of hunger and deprivation to be fit. 

This misconception deserves an especially bold answer: FALSE!

“Hungry and deprived” is no way to live. Neither is “tired, overweight, and out of breath.” You are not destined to be one of those two options. 

Rest assured that most, if not all, of my clients who have a slower than expected metabolic rate actually require more of the right foods to see results. Yes, really! 

If you’ve had your resting metabolic rate measured (forget the inaccurate online calculators) and confirmed to be lower than expected, that’s critical information for tailoring your program—especially if your respiratory quotient, or RQ, was also tested. Your RQ can give insight into whether the current balance of your macronutrients (a.k.a. macros—fat, carbohydrates, and proteins) is appropriate for you as well as hint at the role stress might be having on your physiology. 

You might find it tempting to cut calories, but as far as long term results go, that choice might be ineffective at best and harmful at worst. A lower than expected metabolic rate has a root cause that likely requires blood or saliva assessments to discern, but it doesn’t have to be permanent. 

I have seen clients significantly boost their metabolic rate in a matter of 8-12 weeks when armed with the right assessments to give them the personal certainty and targeted direction that their nutrition and exercise programming deserves.

Myth #4: There’s a secret tropical miracle berry you’ve never heard of that will fix your metabolism. 

Wouldn’t life be so much easier if this were true? I cringe when I hear self-proclaimed health “experts” trying to sell the latest sketchy “miracle” fruit extract to reveal six-pack abs. 

Here’s the thing: real, unprocessed, organic foods eaten in the right amount and balance are metabolism-boostingWhy? They provide the micronutrients and hormonal responses needed to help shed fat, gain energy, and build lean, sexy muscles.

With today’s nutrient challenged food supply and higher levels of lifestyle stress, certain foundational supplements may be necessary to maximize your metabolic functioning. 

While a specific berry or exotic food sounds like a fun and mysterious solution, most of us are actually just walking around with suboptimal levels of Vitamin D, magnesium, zinc and B-vitamins or a grossly imbalanced gut microbiome—all of which will contribute to your metabolic engine sputtering out until these issues are adequately addressed. 

Myth #5: Anything eaten after 7 P.M. turns to fat. 

Your metabolism ebbs and flows throughout the day and night, but there is no official closing time. Again, meal timing is different for everyone—but this commonly repeated blanket statement simply isn’t true. 

Now don’t get me wrong…. That bag of potato chips while watching "Sunday Night Football" or bowl of ice cream during "The Bachelor" isn’t helping your weight loss efforts. However, I’ve seen people get home from work late and be fearful of eating their otherwise healthy dinner and derailing their plan. 

Eat the (healthy) food. The “why” behind your eating is often so much more important than the timing. Are you eating because you’re stressed? Out of habit? Because a package of something is calling your name from the cupboard? Eat healthily when you’re hungry—even if it’s after 7 P.M. 

Myth #6: Always eat carbs first thing in the morning to burn them up, and avoid them at night. 

Cereal, toast, pancakes, and other common breakfast foods are full of carbohydrate fuel to get you through the day, right? Wrong. 

First, make sure the carbs you’re eating are unprocessed (e.g. sweet potato, squash, quinoa, beans, brown rice). Most of us are aware that carbohydrates raise blood sugar and, thereby, the fat-storage promoting hormone insulin. That doesn’t necessarily make them bad. However, you have to be cognizant of amount and timing. 

Another key player in this game is an important hormone called cortisol, commonly referred to as the “stress” hormone. One of its primary roles is to raise blood sugar in a process called gluconeogenesis (new formation of glucose—sugar).  

Cortisol follows something called a diurnal pattern, meaning that optimal levels fluctuate throughout the day. When cortisol is following a normal, healthy curve, it’s highest in the morning, when it actually helps us wake up, then tapers off throughout the day and reaches its lowest point at night. 

If your body is making glucose first thing in the morning, it probably isn’t necessary to consume dietary carbohydrate at breakfast. (This is the case for most people.) Toward the end of the day, if cortisol is following a normal pattern, carbohydrates might actually be better metabolized and even help with serotonin production and falling asleep more easily. Be sure to work with a nutrition coach to determine the best timing and amount for you. 

With all these myths put to rest, know there are a few sound themes for optimizing your metabolism.

  • Focus on a diet full of non-starchy vegetables, quality proteins, and healthy unprocessed fats.
  • Be smart about carbohydrate consumption (amount, type and timing).
  • Take high quality supplements that address your foundational and individual needs.
  • Train consistently—ideally with the individualized guidance a trainer can offer.
  • Get the right assessments of your personal physiology to obtain the necessary guidance and structure for an individualized, result-achieving, efficient plan of attack. (Surprisingly, this might even include the occasional bowl of ice cream or taco.) 

Most of all, remember that a shortcut, quick fix, or magic pill is unlikely to be a long-term solution, and there are rarely hard and fast “always or never” rules to metabolism. Every day, science uncovers more about the complex workings of metabolism. Arm yourself with knowledge—both general and personalized. The more you know, the more you can master. 

Thanks for reading. Would you like a window into your personal metabolic functioning? Talk with one of our metabolic specialists or registered dietitians today. 

In health, Samantha Bielawski, Registered Dietitian

This article is not intended for the treatment or prevention of disease, nor as a substitute for medical treatment, nor as an alternative to medical advice. Use of recommendations in this and other articles is at the choice and risk of the reader. 

 

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