Boosting and Fueling Metabolism

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Q & A: Boosting and Fueling Metabolism

Q: What is metabolism?

A: In a nutshell, metabolism refers to the amount of fuel or energy that your body burns each day. Some people may complain about having a slow or sluggish metabolism or buy products that claim to “boost” metabolism. While images of treadmills may come to mind, you are using energy right now just sitting and reading.

The largest part of your metabolism, called basal metabolism, is the amount of fuel your body burns to support basic bodily functions. These vital functions include heartbeat, breathing, brain function, and numerous other important, but invisible, activities going on at all times. Even eating, digesting, and processing food contribute to your metabolism.

Every cell in your body is like an engine that burns fuel continuously in the process of doing its job. These tiny engines never shut off while you are alive. Even when you’re sleeping, your body’s cells are still actively working. It’s just like a car; when the engine is running, it is burning fuel—even if it is just idling in the driveway.

Q: What does food have to do with it?

To your body, food is the fuel that keeps this process running smoothly. Your cells must have an energy supply to perform their required tasks. Without an adequate amount of fuel, your cells cannot function properly, resulting in unfavorable consequences. Think about your car again. If it runs out of gasoline, it will putter and stop. However, in order to stay alive, your body’s cells cannot all just shut off. When your cells are low on fuel from food, your body will turn to its “reserve tanks” to utilize other energy sources. Initially, it will use up carbohydrate that has been stored as glycogen in your muscles and liver. When that is gone, it will begin to break down certain tissues to use for its energy supply, specifically, fat and muscle.

Q: What happens in an ongoing food shortage?

A: In a state of semi-starvation, your body must pick and choose which cells to continue supporting and which ones to drop. A priority list is developed, and the cells that provide vital activities take top priority. When your food supply remains low, your cells must also become more efficient. They attempt to perform their jobs without burning as many calories and adapt to the lower energy intake by expending less energy. If this fuel efficiency happened in your car, you’d be thrilled, but when it happens in your body, you will burn 20–36 percent fewer calories per day.

Your body still has primitive, complex survival mechanisms. Under strict dieting conditions, those same old survival techniques will kick in. Initially, you will lose water and some of the stored fuel, but eventually your metabolism decreases to conserve energy and some of your muscle mass may be lost. This is simply the way your body adapts to being underfueled. As the body senses the lack of sufficient fuel, it conserves energy by eliminating nonessential functions and slowing down the essential ones.

Q: How can I support my metabolism?

A: Choose to take three important steps: eat an appropriate amount of food to fuel your cells, live an active lifestyle, and engage in a reasonable exercise program to maintain and build muscle. With a greater appreciation for the processes that affect your metabolism, you can boost and fuel your metabolism as a way of respecting and honoring your body.

By Michelle May, MD
Reprinted with permission from Eating Disorders Recovery Today
Spring 2005 Volume 3, Number 2
©2005 Gürze Books

About the Author

Michelle May, MD, is the author of Am I Hungry? What To Do When Diets Don’t Work, in collaboration with Lisa Galper, PsyD and Janet Carr, MS, RD. Visit: www.AmIHungry.com

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