All the diet fads, all the lose weight quick workout routines, all the magic pills, are simple…but unhelpful to most people in losing weight.
The real truth is also simple: If you take in more calories than you expend, your body will store it as fat and you will gain weight. If you expend more calories than you take in, your body will burn fat, and you will lose weight. This is so simple and true that it is a fundamental law of physics: the First Law of Thermodynamics, also known as the Law of Conservation of Energy.
Energy can never be created or destroyed—it just changes forms. Incidentally, a “calorie” on a food label is nothing more than a metric unit of energy.
It’s the amount of energy it takes to raise one kilogram of water by one degree Celsius. Because it’s a measure of energy, therefore, calories don’t go away. They get converted to energy when you move, or get stored in fat to be used later. (This is why fat has 9 calories per gram, as opposed to proteins and carbohydrates which have 4 calories per gram.
Fats are much more efficient energy stores. That’s why the body creates fat to store its extra calories).
So why does it seem so complicated? Well, for a number of reasons. We all manage our caloric intake differently, and we all have different activity levels. So let’s look at some basics.
You might have heard that someone has a “fast” metabolism, or that your metabolism “slows down” as you age. Metabolism refers to the efficiency with which your body uses energy. Someone with a “fast” metabolism burns more energy (or uses up more calories) than someone with a slower metabolism.
Their body runs “fast” (think of it like an engine on a car that’s always idling). Those people continue to burn calories even in their resting state. Because they are burning more calories, they don’t gain weight as quickly, even with the same caloric intake as someone whose metabolism runs more slowly.
So, obviously, if you can burn calories—even when you aren’t “doing” anything—you’re going to drastically improve your weight management.
There are a few proven ways to do it. First, exercise increases your metabolic rate. Here’s something you probably didn’t realize though—exercise increases your metabolism for a period even AFTER you finish exercising. And more, weight training to the hard, burning limit you can tolerate (also known as the “lactate threshold,” a topic I’ve written on before), will extend that ramped up metabolism for DAYS after your session! Even long cardio work will only keep your metabolism ramped up for a few hours.
I have worked with diabetics who have to monitor their blood glucose levels for days after a session to avoid having their blood glucose levels drop too low—their metabolism is still working overtime long after our session has ended. (If you are a diabetic working with a trainer who doesn’t know the metabolic effects of weight training versus other types of exercise, you might be putting yourself at risk).
Weight training to build muscle also increases your metabolism in permanent ways because muscle is a heavy tissue (heavier than fat), and it takes your body more energy to sustain muscle than to sustain fat.
Just building muscle will increase your metabolism (although, it’s important to note, it may not cause you to lose weight because, as noted above, muscle weighs more than fat).
Beyond the right exercise, eating properly kick-starts your metabolism. It’s a topic for another article, but just know that starving yourself to lose weight is not a long term, or healthy, solution. The less you eat, the slower your metabolism acts. It goes into survival mode and burns fewer calories so as not to use up the nourishment that you are depriving your body of.
Steady small meals, not skipped meals, help boost your metabolism. Eating a smarter, balanced diet, without added calories and without starving yourself, is history’s most reliable diet “fad.”
Finally, working out creates a rush of hormones and chemicals (such as insulin and HGH) that cause fat to break down or that cause muscle to build up. These hormones are part of the complicated equilibrium that makes up your metabolism.
So remember, weight management has three components:
1) Calories (energy) in – this is the diet component
2) Calories (energy) used – this is the exercise component
3) How efficiently the calories in are used – this is the metabolism component
The good thing is, you can affect all three.
I bring awareness of all three components to my clients.
To learn more about making positive changes in your life with a personal trainer who will boost your metabolism, boost your activity levels, and work with you on proper nutrition, contact Hadley Allen: