Metabolism - Still the Answer to Permanent Weight Control

by Jeanne Rhodes


Learning to adopt a healthy lifestyle will correct a sluggish metabolism - the root of 99 percent of all weight problems. The good news - when you correct the underlying cause, the weight loss will be permanent and so will the health gains!

Increasing metabolism to burn calories for energy rather than store them as fat will allow you to enjoy pleasurable eating without dieting while losing weight and keeping it off forever. In addition you will lose only fat which results in weight loss plus an even more dramatic loss of inches. Your lean tissue will increase slightly to give you a firm body which will not only look better but will burn more calories, and at a faster rate. This means you may require more calories to maintain your desired weight than you did as an overweight person.

Let’s take a look at some frequently asked questions that may help clarify the rationale of increasing metabolism:

My sister is very thin and I am 30 pounds overweight, yet she eats almost twice as much as I do! How can this be?

Your metabolism or rate, at which you burn calories, is much slower than hers. This means you will use fewer calories than she does for all your body processes, so that you will store more as fat. For example, imagine two campfires. One is just barely smoldering with one or two partial pieces of charred logs still glowing. The second is brightly burning and crackling sounds can be heard as the flames reach high around three large, dry logs. Now, imagine you put a handful of twigs on the smoldering one and an equal handful of twigs on the second brightly burning one. Which would “burn up” the twigs faster? Naturally the first campfire which is burning very slowly (slow metabolism) will burn the twigs (calories) much slower, while the brightly burning one (fast metabolism) will burn the handful of twigs very quickly plus much more.

The solution to a weight problem must include some healthy means to correct a sluggish metabolism. Weight loss by any other method will not only be temporary, but will aggravate and intensify the problem itself.

What causes a slow metabolism?

In many cases, a slow metabolism is part of a normal person’s genetic inheritance. Just as some people are born with blue eyes, and some with brown, so it is that some people are born with a fast metabolism and some with a slow metabolism. This does not mean that a slow metabolism is “unhealthy,” but just slower by nature than some others. When coping with the many famines and food shortages in years past, the slower metabolism was very fuel efficient - a definite asset for survival. However, in most of today’s world, overweight is more of a health hazard than food shortage and slow metabolism is no longer an asset.

Another cause of a slow metabolism is a naturally occurring slow-down of 1/2 percent, per year from approximately age 22. As a result, people in their late 20s, without prior weight problems, may begin very slowly to increase body fat. For the first few years the 1/2 percent metabolic slow-down each year, produces an increase in body fat that is so small it may not be noticed. But, by the mid-or late thirties this small yearly slow-down begins to add up, with weight increases and accumulations of body fat becoming obvious in all the wrong places. An attempt to correct the problem through dieting slows the metabolism even more and in many cases creates a weight problem where none existed before.

Regardless of origin, any weight problem will be intensified by dieting and can be corrected - but only by working with the body to increase the metabolism.

If my metabolism is already slow, what effect will dieting have?

If you have a slow metabolism to begin with, each time you go on a diet, you will slow it down even more. Eventually, you may reach the point where you will never be able to eat like a normal person again.

For example, Betty, a 47-year-old, went to a weight control clinic at a leading university and did not lose weight even though she was permitted only several servings of rice a day. She was finally given an even more rigid starvation diet of 1/2 grapefruit 3 times daily before she began losing weight. The weight she lost was quickly regained plus more, as soon as she returned home. She had spent thousands of dollars to end up with her metabolism even slower, and an increase in weight! She is now in a wellness lifestyle program, and has lost over 56 pounds, is still averaging a loss of 1-2 pounds weekly plus she has had her insulin medication reduced by half, and her blood pressure medication totally eliminated. She is eating more than she did before, losing weight and none of her favorite foods have been eliminated.

Why did my doctor put me on a low calorie diet to lose weight?

Doctors receive very little, if any, nutrition education. As a nurse it was very embarrassing for me to be asked a question about nutrition. I had received very little education in that field, and yet most people expected me, as a nurse, to know about nutrition.

With all the new research on drugs, diseases, medical procedures, treatments, etc., it is almost impossible for medical doctors to keep abreast of all the new material and research just in medicine alone. For this reason, it seems unreasonable to expect them to be just as expert in nutrition.

I seem to gain a little more with each diet I try. Why do I regain more weight after I go off a diet and end up heavier than I was before I started?

Dieting slows down your metabolism more with each subsequent diet. In a recent research study, even normal-weight people who dieted for only a few weeks had a 15-30 percent reduction in metabolism. This means you are burning calories at an even slower rate than you did before the diet. When you begin eating the same calories as before, you will be burning them slower, and more will be used for fat storage with less for energy, which will cause an increase in body fat and weight.

In addition, fat producing enzymes, AT-LPL for example, will be four or more times active in fat storing activities after dieting than before, which will also add to weight increases.

To top it all off, lean tissue is part of the weight you lose through dieting. Not only is health compromised but so is your weight. Consider that lean tissue will burn up to 70 calories per pound per day - fat burns about 2 calories per pound per day.

Studies show that there is an average increase of 5 percent in total fat weight after a diet attempt, so you are very typical in gaining back more than you lost after dieting. This is part of the futility and frustration of dieting.

There will be more questions and answers next week - stay tuned!

Rhodes, B.A., M.A., is a Nutritionist Wellness Lifestyle Strategist, Author and Director of Rhodes Preventive Health Institute in Hagerstown.