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exposing metabolism




originating in the late 19th century: from Greek metabolē ‘change’ (from metaballein ‘to change’) + -ism.

a : the sum of the processes in the buildup and destruction of protoplasm; specifically, the chemical changes in living cells by which energy is provided for vital processes and activities and new material is assimilated

b : the sum of the processes by which a particular substance is handled in the living body

c : the chemical processes by which a plant or an animal uses food, water, etc., to grow and heal and to make energy

In other words, when referring to biology and physiology, metabolism is the sum of the physical and chemical processes in an organism by which its material substance is produced, maintained, and destroyed, and by which energy is made available.

The most comprehensive definitions of metabolism don't mention anything about weight, age, or "speed" of metabolism. It's simply the sum of all of the biological processes in our bodies.

So... why would someone care?

Because a high functioning metabolic process means that our bodies are working the way they're meant to work. And we want our bodies to work the way they're meant to work. When our bodies don't function at the highest level, there is almost always some kind of discomfort present, whether we're accustomed to it or not.

Here are some symptoms of what may be a slow or low-functioning metabolism (in no particular order):

1. High cholesterol

2. Cracked heels/skin

3. Thinning hair

4. Easier weight gain (often despite exercise and dieting)

5. Difficulty staying warm.

6. Excessive sweating

7. High blood pressure

8. High blood sugar

9. Intense sugar cravings

10. Poor circulation

And some conventional reasons why metabolism may be slow or low-functioning (in no particular order):

1. Lack of sleep

2. Hormonal changes

3. Inadequate water consumption

4. Stress

5. Very low calorie diets/too little caloric intake

6. Health conditions

7. Over-consumption of highly-processed food

8. Certain medications

9. Malnutrition (not undernutrition)

10. Length of time of metabolism malnourishment


Let's further explore reasons #3, #5, #7, #9, and #10.

#3 (Inadequate water consumption): According to the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, drinking water (about 17oz) increases metabolic rate by 30% in healthy men and women. This is what's called "water-induced thermogenesis", and there have been many studies on it. They all have slightly different outcomes, and use a wide range of variables. Regardless of the specifics, the conclusions consistently say that drinking water helps with one's metabolism. Or, conversely, low water intake is never beneficial to one's metabolism. A prime example of the effect of water on fat loss is the lifestyle of most serious body builders. They carry around gallons of plain water and drink it all day, every day. Literally a gallon or two. That leads me to conclude that water indeed does have a pretty significant impact on how the body regulates metabolism, and that it isn't just 8 cups a day. It's a lot more than that...

So, all thermogenesis studies and extreme lifestyles aside, and back to the heart of metabolism. The point is that we are made of water (everyone knows that) so when our bodies are dehydrated, the processes within our system simply don't work as well as they can. Based on the body building example above, it's probable that we misunderstand just how much water our bodies are asking for, and how much they need in order to perform optimally. Similarly, other types of health and nutrition obsessed folks believe that even on a diet full of tons of raw produce, low salt, low fat, that we need to be drinking at least 1/2 gallon of plain water per day. And they add that when a person exercises, consumes coffee, tea, high sodium foods, alcohol, highly processed items, high protein or high fat foods, much more water is needed. Many claim that for every cup of coffee, 2 cups of water are needed, and for every alcoholic drink, 4 glasses of water are needed, just to counteract the dehydration caused by these beverages.

What happens when we don't drink enough water?? Well, obviously, it leads to dehydration. "But I'm not thirsty.", you say. Of course not! Lack of thirst is the number one symptom of chronic dehydration. Please refer to my blog post about water for further information.

#5 (Very low calorie diets): When a person is trying to lose weight, it is generally accepted that one should consider simply eating less calories. And while this is often appropriate, it's important to note that very low calorie diets are not healthy or sustainable, which is why the body tends to "rebel" and the weight loss usually plateaus at a point in time in a person's weight loss journey. Why? Because the body is extremely adaptable. In fact, it's kind of obsessed with adaptability. It will always choose the path of least resistance, no matter what. This is why many people maintain approximately the same weight or fat percentage for years or decades, despite losing or gaining weight throughout the years. It's also why we like to eat food that is familiar or nostalgic instead of foreign and different. Our bodies are built to remain constant, against all odds. When a person begins a low-calorie diet plan, the body is shocked! At first, weight loss is rapid because the body hasn't had a chance to figure out what the heck is going on. But... once it does, AND realizes "hey, this is not enough food for me" or "I'm not used to this, something must be wrong here", it believes it needs to significantly slow the metabolic processes in order to keep the body alive. It's sort of like a panic mode, alerting the body to stop dropping the weight because of (or for fear of) undernourishment. It's how humans survived through times of famine - the body slowed its own metabolism until food was available again. Which is also why when one ends a low-calorie diet and reintroduces their previous diet, they rapidly gain fat. The body is MEANT to do this for survival: little to no food around, the metabolism slows, then the body stores fat like crazy upon the availability of calories.

This is a little discouraging at first glance but what must be understood for those trying to lose weight and indefinitely maintain a certain body fat percentage or specific state of health, is that it's not the amount of calories, it's what's in the food. Which leads us to our next topic:

#7 (Over-consumption of highly-processed food):

Please see this blog post for detailed information.

#9 (Malnutrition):

Malnutrition is a condition that results from eating a diet in which nutrients are either not enough or are too much such that the eating habits cause health problems. This may involve calories, protein, carbohydrates, vitamins or minerals. Overnutrition is an excess of nutrients, and undernutrition is a lack of nutrients. And, one can be overnourished and undernourished at the same time! Our bodies require certain vitamins, minerals, and macronutrients (fat, protein, carbohydrates). Just by consuming enough calories, it is nearly impossible to NOT get enough macronutrients. In countries where starvation (not enough calories of any kind) is an issue, they suffer from both lack of macronutrients and lack of vitamins and minerals. The problem in developed countries, though, lies in both getting too many macronutrients, yet not getting enough vitamins and minerals. For example, frozen meals, fast food, soda, pasteurized fruit juice, and other highly processed foods contain plenty of calories and macronutrients but very little vitamins and minerals. If there are any at all, they are added back in (fortified) but they are not naturally occurring. This lack of vitamins and minerals also messes with metabolism, because they are necessary for chemical reactions to take place. Along with vitamins and minerals, our metabolism runs best on Omega fats - especially Omega 3, fiber, and whole foods. It's unfortunately not enough to eat processed food and take supplements. That will help, but it's not how our bodies are structured to assimilate nutrients. The more nutrients our body chronically lacks, the more our metabolism struggles.

#10 (Length of time of metabolism malnourishment):

I often hear things like "My metabolism is slow now that I'm older and it is only getting worse."

While this may be true, it's not the whole story. Your metabolism needs to be nourished! If our bodies are malnourished, so is our metabolism. And it's not about how old or young we are, it's about how long we have been malnourishing our metabolism. Like our bodies, metabolism needs macronutrients, vitamins, minerals, fiber, leafy greens, and Omega 3 fatty acids. It also needs exercise. If a person isn't exercising, that person is not nourishing their metabolism. So, the length of time a person has been sedentary, and/or the length of time they have been nutritionally malnourished correlates directly to the severity of their metabolism malnourishment. Depending on what length of time this is for you, a reversal of your metabolic process might take a few weeks to 6 months or more.

It appears that metabolism is largely controllable. There are a few simple practices that will drastically improve the functionality of your body's chemical processes.

  • Instead of eating inadequate calories, give your body and metabolism some love with tons of raw, green vegetables, a wide range of produce, Omega 3's, and more exercise than you're used to. If you feel like you eat well now, then stuff your face with tons of spinach! Seriously, that's the secret.

  • If you're a regular exerciser, change things up - add in interval training, weight lifting, different types of cardio, etc.

  • Drink a LOT of water - at least 1/2 gallon a day if you are a female, or don't exercise, drink alcohol, or eat processed foods. Go for a gallon if you are a male, or eat a lot of calories, like to eat fast food, exercise quite a bit, or drink coffee or alcohol.

For more information on metabolism, metabolism-nourishing recipes, resources and references, please contact me at and I will be glad to talk with you!

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