I have talked with patients who claim they have tried everything to lose weight. They tell me their metabolism is broken and now it seems impossible for them to lose weight no matter what they do and state they have come close to deciding to give up and just accept it. If you or someone you know has tried to lose weight, does this sound familiar?
I started to wonder if prolonged dieting could do permanent damage to the metabolism.
Thankfully, it’s not as bad as you may think. There is still hope as long as you are willing to commit to change. With that being said, gaining and losing weight over time can change the way your brain regulates your weight.
Let’s talk about how this happens…
Simply put, you need a certain amount of energy (i.e. calories) to stay alive. You can get this energy from the food you eat and from what is stored on your body (i.e. adipose tissue aka fat). Energy is neither created nor destroyed rather transferred throughout the body, so are you using that energy efficiently?
I’m sure you have all heard or tried the “eat less and exercise more” approach in hopes to lose weight or maintain weight based off the theory of calories in vs calories out. But somehow after “starving” yourself and exercising like a maniac or just by “controlling your calories” you still don’t reach your goals…now what?
This relationship is known as the Energy Balance Equation (EBE) and it is the most commonly accepted form of determining someones energy balance and how much weight they’ll lose or gain over time. BUT what it doesn’t factor in is someone’s genetics, body composition, hormones, macro and micro nutrients, exercise type/frequency, etc. So using the calories in vs calories out (or EBE) equation is really unfair to you and your metabolism. The frustration people experience from this is completely understandable because the equation is a lot more complicated!
Let’s go a little deeper.
The way companies (and even the government) come up with calorie and nutrient estimates is incredibly complex, rather imprecise, and centuries-old. As a result, food labels can be off by as much as 20-25 percent. Even if the food labels were correct, the amount of calories/nutrients in the foods vs how much we actually absorb, store and/or use would still be hard to know with certainty.
With that said, our food has to be digested and processed by our bodies in our own unique way (remember, every body is different). Furthermore, the way our foods are prepared/processed or cooked makes a difference too. Chopped, blended, and/or “chewed” (slow down and chew your food, people), all effect how it is absorbed and used in the body. The cutting helps make your nutrients more bio available because you are breaking the cell walls. Chewing or masticating your foods also helps to break it down, this is also known as “pre – digestion”. Each food/nutrient is broken down differently once inside the body.
Quick tid bit: A starchy tuber like sweet potatoes once cooked and allowed to cool will allow the nutrients to become more available for use. After cooling, it then becomes something known as a resistant starch. In short, a resistance starch isn’t fully absorbed in the small intestine and makes it’s way to the large intestine where it is then fermented to provide energy for your gut bacteria, which is a good thing. Also, the amount and type of bacteria in your gut effects your absorption. I will discuss this starch and healthy gut bacteria further in another post, so stay tuned!
So as you can see there are quite a few factors to consider that the calories in vs calories out logic doesn’t. This doesn’t completely invalidate the method it just suggests you shouldn’t rely solely on that principle to reach your goals. You need to understand your body, know what you can and cannot do, and also how you are responding to foods.
Now let’s talk about how you USE the energy you do have! There are 4 main points to consider:
- Each person has a Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR) or Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR). This is the amount of calories it takes your body to live, breathe, think. It all depends on your height, weight, body, gender, age, body composition, genetics, and even your gut bacteria.
- Thermic Effect of Eating (TEE). Did you know it requires energy to break down food? You may have felt this after eating a big meal and feel hot afterwards. TEE is the energy used by your body to eat, digest and process your meals.
- Physical Activity (PA). This is the amount of energy you use intentionally moving around throughout the day or in purposeful exercise like walking, running, biking, weight lifting, etc. Which could change day to day.
- Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT). This is the energy used in things like fidgeting, sitting up, etc. This too changes from person to person and day to day.
So while the Energy Balance Equation seems simple in thought, there is A LOT more to consider than just Calories in +/- Calories out = Changes in Body. The real equation looks a little more like this: (Calories in – calories absorbed) +/- (RMR + TEE + PA + NEAT) = Changes in body. BUT if you decrease/increase your calories, then that drastically changes what is absorbed which changes the second part of the equation. Also, if you’re not absorbing all your nutrition that plays a role as well.
With all that said, the metabolism is so much more complex and interdependent on other factors than most people realize. It is important to understand what works for your body. Also, what worked at one point may NOT work again. Keep your routine and meals varied. This is a never ending experiment on yourself. Be patient with yourself and understand your body is not going to drastically change over night. It’s a process.
If you’d like tips on how to optimize your meals refer to my post “The healthiest people aren’t dieting, why are you?”. It goes over how to restructure your meals to get the most nutrition/absorption in your day. And as always, if you’d like more help, just ask! You can comment below or contact.
My goal throughout my blogs are to make health, lifestyle, nutrition, and Metabolism easier to understand. As I write, I explore and challenge myself to learn and condense the information as much as possible in order for you to implement these tools into your life.
I wish you all the best! And of course, thank you for reading. Any questions/concerns please feel free to ask!