It is difficult to discuss food, nutrition and health without the topic of calories coming into play. Whilst I do not advocate the counting of calories as a long-term health strategy, I do believe we need to factor in calories, as well as metabolism, when it comes to losing weight.
What exactly is Metabolism?
This word “metabolism” is thrown around a lot these days. You know that if yours is too slow you might gain weight. But what exactly does this all mean?
Well technically “metabolism” is the word to describe all of the biochemical reactions in your body. It’s how you take in nutrients and oxygen and use them to fuel everything you do.
Your body has an incredible ability to grow, heal, and generally stay alive. And without this amazing biochemistry you would not be possible.
Metabolism includes how the cells in your body:
- Allow activities you can control (e.g. physical activity etc.).
- Allow activities you can’t control (e.g. heart beat, wound healing, processing of nutrients & toxins, etc.).
- Allow storage of excess energy for later.
So when you put all of these processes together into your metabolism you can imagine that these processes can work too quickly, too slowly, or just right.
Which brings us to the “metabolic rate”.
This is how fast your metabolism works and is measured in calories (yup, this is where those calories I mentioned before come into it!).
The calories you eat can go to one of three places:
- Work (i.e. exercise and other activity).
- Heat (i.e. from all those biochemical reactions).
- Storage (i.e. extra leftover “unburned” calories stored as fat).
As you can imagine the more calories you burn as work or creating heat the easier it is to lose weight and keep it off because there will be fewer “leftover” calories to store for later.
There are a couple of different ways to measure metabolic rate. One is the “resting metabolic rate” (RMR) which is how much energy your body uses when you’re not being physically active.
The other is the “total daily energy expenditure” (TDEE) which measures both the resting metabolic rate as well as the energy used for “work” (e.g. exercise) throughout a 24-hour period.
What affects your metabolic rate?
In a nutshell: a lot!
The first thing you may think of is your thyroid. This gland at the front of your throat releases hormones to tell your body to “speed up” your metabolism. Of course, the more thyroid hormone there is the faster things will work and the more calories you’ll burn.
But that’s not the only thing that affects your metabolic rate.
How big you are counts too!
Larger people have higher metabolic rates; but your body composition is crucial!
As you can imagine muscles that actively move and do work need more energy than fat does. So the more lean muscle mass you have the more energy your body will burn and the higher your metabolic rate will be. Even when you’re not working out.
This is exactly why weight training is often recommended as a part of a weight loss program. Because you want muscles to be burning those calories for you.
The thing is, when people lose weight their metabolic rate often slows down which you don’t want to happen. So you definitely want to offset that with more muscle mass.
Aerobic exercise also temporarily increases your metabolic rate. Your muscles are burning fuel to move so they’re doing “work”.
The type of food you eat also affects your metabolic rate!
Your body actually burns calories to absorb, digest, and metabolize your food. This is called the “thermic effect of food” (TEF).
You can use it to your advantage when you understand how your body metabolizes foods differently.
Fats, for example increase your TEF by 0-3%; carbs increase it by 5-10%, and protein increases it by 15-30%. By trading some of your fat or carbs for lean protein you can slightly increase your metabolic rate.
Another bonus of protein is that your muscles need it to grow. By working them out and feeding them what they need they will help you to lose weight and keep it off.
And don’t forget the mind-body connection. There is plenty of research that shows the influence that things like stress and sleep have on the metabolic rate.
This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to calories, metabolism and losing weight and show you how so many different things can work to increase (or decrease) your metabolic rate.
Here’s a recipe that is high protein and super healthy which would be great as a lunch or dinner, especially on a workout day.
Quinoa and Black Beans Salad
Ingredients (Makes 1 serving):
2-4 cups chopped romaine lettuce or leafy green of choice
1/2 cup quinoa, cooked and chilled
½ cup black beans
½ cup tinned corn
½ cup cucumber, sliced
1 small tomato, chopped or 5-6 baby tomatoes, halved
2 Tbsp red onion, diced
Optional: avocado, pumpkin seeds, hemp seeds or sunflower seeds
For the dressing (use as much as you like and save the rest for later!):
1/4 of a container of soft silken tofu, drained
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
1 tsp minced garlic
½ tsp mustard
½ tsp cider vinegar
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro
Coarse salt and ground pepper
Put all of the salad ingredients in a bowl and gently combine. Blend the dressing ingredients in a food processor, then use it to top the salad. Serve and enjoy!
I share heaps of useful information as well as tasty and healthy recipes in my new membership program The Healthy Living Lounge. Find out all about it here and join this month to get an exclusive early bird, lifetime discount on your membership!