Regrettably, many people simply don't understand the concept of metabolism and metabolic change. This, equally as regrettably, is hardly their fault.
There is so much information floating around out there, much of it over the 'net or through a "friend of a friend who has a personal trainer", that there's bound to be some confusion and conflicting messages.
Furthermore, many people (quite understandably) mistake their own weight gain and loss episodes as a matter of metabolic change. Sometimes this is true, and sometimes it isn't.
For example, as we will discuss in this book, there are scientific ways to increase the rate of metabolic change, and thus enable the body to burn more calories.
Eating certain foods more frequently is one way to do this (again, we look closer at these in this book). Yet another way to visibly lose weight - at least on a perceived, temporary level - is to sit in a steam room for a few hours.
Whereas the former method (eating the right foods) is a real, proven weight loss method through increased metabolic change, the latter method (the steam room) is just temporary because the lost weight is merely water, and will return as swiftly as it "melted away".
The point to remember here is that some people mistake their own weight loss attempts as being related to metabolic change; and, as you can see with the steam room example, that isn't always the case.
Some people think that the metabolism is a kind of organ, or a body part, that influences digestion.
Actually, the metabolism isn’t any particular body part. It’s the process by which the body converts food into energy.
Hence, you’ve likely heard of the phrase metabolic process used synonymously with the term metabolism, because they both mean the same thing.
The Medical Mumbo Jumbo
This isn’t a complicated medical text (which should be great news to most of you!), and so we don’t need to spend an unnecessary amount of time and space focusing on the layered complexity of the human body and its extraordinary intelligence.
Yet without drilling deeply into medical details -- which are not relevant for our general understanding purposes -- it’s helpful to briefly look at the biological mechanisms behind metabolism.
Metabolism, as mentioned above, is the process of transforming food (e.g. nutrients) into fuel (e.g. energy). The body uses this energy to conduct a vast array of essential functions.
In fact, your ability to read this page – literally – is driven by your metabolism.
If you had no metabolism – that is, if you had no metabolic process that was converting food into energy – then you wouldn’t be able to move.
In fact, long before you realized that you couldn’t move a finger or lift your foot, your internal processes would have stopped; because the basic building blocks of life – circulating blood, transforming oxygen into carbon dioxide, expelling potentially lethal wastes through the kidneys and so on – all of these depend on metabolism.
Keep this in mind the next time you hear someone say that they have a slow metabolism.
While they may struggle with unwanted weight gain due to metabolic factors, they certainly have a functioning metabolism.
If they didn’t, they wouldn’t even be able to speak (because that, too, requires energy that comes from, you guessed it: metabolism!).
It’s also interesting to note that, while we conveniently refer to the metabolic process as if it were a single function, it’s really a catch-all term for countless functions that are taking place inside the body. Every second of every minute of every day of your life – even, of course, when you sleep – numerous chemical conversions are taking place through metabolism, or metabolic functioning.
In a certain light, the metabolism has been referred to as a harmonizing process that manages to achieve two critical bodily functions that, in a sense, seem to be at odds with each other.
Anabolism and Catabolism
The first function is creating tissue and cells. Each moment, our bodies are creating more cells to replace dead or dysfunctional cells.
For example, if you cut your finger, your body (if it’s functioning properly) will begin – without even wasting a moment or asking your permission –the process of creating skin cells to clot the blood and start the healing process. This creation process is indeed a metabolic response, and is called anabolism.
On the other hand, there is the exact opposite activity taking place in other parts of the body. Instead of building cells and tissue through metabolism, the body is breaking down energy so that the body can do what it’s supposed to do.
For example, as you aerobically exercise, your body temperature rises as your heart beat increases and remains with a certain range.
As this happens, your body requires more oxygen; and as such, your breathing increases as you intake more H2O. All of this, as you can imagine, requires additional energy.
After all, if your body couldn’t adjust to this enhanced requirement for oxygen (both taking it in and getting rid of it in the form of carbon dioxide), you would collapse!
Presuming, of course, that you aren’t overdoing it, your body will instead begin converting food (e.g. calories) into energy.
And this process, as you know, is a metabolic process, and is called catabolism.
So as you can see, the metabolism is a constant process that takes care of two seemingly opposite function: anabolism that uses energy to create cells, and catabolism that breaks down cells to create energy.
Indeed, it’s in this way that the metabolism earns its reputation as a harmonizer. It brings together these apparently conflicting functions, and does so in an optimal way that enables the body to create cells as needed, and break them down, again as needed.
Metabolism and Weight Loss
By now, you already have a sense of how metabolism relates to weight loss (catabolic metabolism, or breaking cells down and transforming them into energy).
To understand this process even more clearly, we can introduce a very important player in the weight loss game: the calorie.