The Metabolism Mystery

The word “metabolism” seems to confuse many people, very often I see a client’s eyes glaze over and their eyebrows knit together in response to the mention of it. For most people metabolism is the mystery part of being human that eludes our personal goals to lose weight period; and not much more is known beyond that. Health and fitness advertisers seem to take advantage of that fact (remember the fitness industry’s revenue was a wopping a 83.1 billion dollars last year according to the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association).

Many supplement or food advertisements will claim “Boost Your Metabolism” or “In theory, you should get a huge metabolic burn after this workout”. I love the ads for supplements that state “Miracle Metabolic Charge!” The fact of the matter is, there is no one supplement, workout or diet that can super charge your entire metabolism. Your metabolism is a complex combination of several systems within the body.

The word “metabolism” describes the sum of all that your body does in order to turn food into energy. There are many things that can affect that process. Most people think if they decrease calories and increase activity that should help them lose weight. Right? That is the case for some people, other people may have intestinal bacterial problems, hidden food addictions, hormonal or brain chemical imbalances. Making sure all of those systems are balanced and in good working order is crucial to a healthy running metabolism. Some of these systems are within our control and some are more elusive as they can’t be found without proper testing. Here is your check list of things to consider when evaluating your metabolism for a weight loss goal.

Cardio Vascular Training:

First check to make sure you are physically active 5-6 days out of the week. This may seem like a no-brainer but the reality is many of us have difficulty finding the time to walk or workout. Once you do find the time to workout make sure you are working within a heart rate training range that is appropriate to your goals.

I’ve had many clients come to me complaining that they workout all the time but haven’t lost an ounce. They often described being devoted to a spin class or some other high intensity class. Sometimes high intensity workouts miss the mark. I used to run active and resting metabolic assessments at Lifetime Athletic in Westchester. Over and over again we saw how a client’s heart rate would spike, hitting their personal anaerobic threshold (a heart rate where the body began utilizing carbohydrates and sugars for energy and not fat) yet this particular heart rate was a comfortable place for the client to workout. This told us that the client was regularly working out at a heart rate that was simply too high to produce the weight loss affects they wanted. Astonishingly, those clients felt uncomfortable working out a lower heart rate training zone but ultimately found it more effective for their weight loss goal. Be mindful about what your goals are, high intensity workouts are great to balance the lower heart rate workouts but shouldn’t be the only thing you do.


Eating is another metabolic sub-system that needs attention. Believe it or not your metabolism LOVES food! I’ve seen many diet campaigns or nutritionists that recommend very restrictive diets (1400 calories a day or less) to lose weight. It is unrealistic for anyone to survive on less than 1400 calories a day for an extended period of time. This is why so many people gain all the weight they lost back as soon as the diet ends. In fact, many will gain even more weight back! The body needs nutrients to create energy to be able to accomplish our daily tasks and to workout. When we restrict caloric intake we are actually sending the brain messages that we are starving and that sends further messages via chemicals like cortisol or insulin to store more body fat so we can survive.

Rather than restrict calories and slow the metabolism down, try eating more frequently throughout the day. Eating several small meals full of protein, vegetables and fruits throughout the day encourages our bodies to utilize those nutrients. The new habit you are creating sends the brain messages that more nutrients are coming and there is no need to conserve body fat anymore.

If in fact, you have tried these multiple meals that are low in carbohydrates and are still having difficulties you may have a gut imbalance. Gut imbalances can affect your mood and your ability to digest nutrients thus affecting your energy levels and other vital functions in the body. These imbalances can then have a domino effect on chemicals and hormones within the body. Which brings me to...

Chemical and Hormonal Balance:

When someone is doing everything right by eating properly, working out within the right heart rate range for their weight loss goals and they drink plenty of water and still can’t lose weight, their metabolism may be affected by an imbalance in their hormones or brain chemicals.

If you have an imbalance in cortisol, homosystein, estrogen, testosteron, seratonin, endorphin or any of the other one hundred plus chemicals and hormones that can affect your metabolism, you will never lose weight. This is what is dysfunctional about our current understanding of what is considered healthy weight loss in the fitness industry. The assumption that diet and exercise alone will get you to lose weight is flawed, especially if you have brain and hormonal chemical imbalances.

If you find you have difficulty losing weight with traditional methods you may want to consider getting blood panels done by a metabolic physician. Many metabolic doctors will not only prescribe appropriate medications for chemical or hormonal imbalances but can recommend supplements and specific changes in diet that can get your metabolism to work properly.

Mental and Emotional Balance:

Thoughts create our reality and our behavior. Often thoughts are the very things we should be changing most if we really don’t have any other imbalances. Emotional or mental stress has a direct impact on cortisol levels within the brain and that affects metabolism. Other emotions like depression, anxiety, fear or anger can all wreak havoc on our brain chemicals. Make sure you are well equipped with coping strategies during your weight loss journey. Try meditation, find inspirational quotes, write down ideas or revelations from other people that helped them lose weight. Create a mantra journal of great things and ways to think about your weight loss goal and pull it out when times get tough.

Paying attention to all of these metabolic subsystems rules out any ambiguity of how or what you should be doing and will give you the added advantage when trying to lose weight. Knowing these things will help your overall thought process as well. Having left no stone unturned you will gain a sense of accomplishment the guess work will be gone and you will be free to produce the results you really want.

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