What is our metabolism anyway

Your metabolism plays an important role in weight management. But what is it and how can you make it work for you?

Many people blame their weight on their ‘slow’ metabolism. However, this term, can often be misused, particularly when it comes to maintaining a healthy weight.

What is our metabolism?

Put simply, metabolism is a general term used to describe the many chemical processes that keep our bodies functioning normally. These processes allow us to break down our food into nutrients and then grow, repair and build our muscles. All of these processes burn energy.
The amount of energy (kilojoules) our body burns at rest to perform all of these tasks is called Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR).
Of the total number of kilojoules burned each day, our BMR accounts for around 70 per cent of them. The energy used during physical activity and the energy used to eat, digest and breakdown our food makes up the rest of our body’s total energy expenditure, or metabolic rate. 

What affects our metabolism?

Accredited Practising Dietitian, Gemma Cosgriff says there are some factors that affect our metabolism that we can’t change, these include things like gender, age and genetics. 

However, there are many other factors that we can control; such as building and maintaining muscle mass, engaging in regular exercise, and eating regularly and enough. 

“Lean muscle mass burns energy at a faster rate than body fat, so the more muscle you have the higher your basal metabolic rate,” she says.

“Continuing to enjoy regular physical activity, and introducing resistance training, will not only help you lose weight, but it will increase your metabolism and improve the way your body functions.”
Woman doing push ups

Dieting and metabolism

One of the biggest mistakes you can make when trying to lose weight is to crash diet. Cosgriff says to keep your metabolism firing, it’s important to eat enough food and to eat regularly. 

“When we crash diet, we eat less in a bid to cut kilojoules. While we want a slight energy deficit to support weight loss, too much of a deficit will send the body into starvation mode. This causes our metabolism to slow down, making it harder for us to lose or maintain our weight,” says Cosgriff.

“It’s important to eat enough food and to avoid prolonged periods of fasting. Overnight should be our only fast, and we should be eating anywhere between three and six meals a day.

Cosgriff says as well as fuelling your body regularly, it’s important to ensure you are getting adequate nutrition, as some deficiencies can play havoc with your metabolism.

“An iodine deficiency, for example, can affect your thyroid function and slow down your metabolism.”

Long-term lifestyle change is the key

Cosgriff says there is no quick-fix when it comes to ensuring your metabolism is running properly. Instead, the key is to ensure a lifestyle that supports a healthy metabolism, which includes eating correctly and exercising regularly. 

However, she advises anyone who has trouble losing weight, or continues to gain weight despite their best efforts, should speak to their GP or an Accredited Practising Dietitian.

“Sometimes, something as small as tweaking one nutrient and ensuring that nutrition is adequate can make all the difference.”
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