METABOLISM - Still The Answer To Permanent Weight Control - Part 2

by Jeanne Rhodes


You say that too much body fat must be viewed as a symptom of a slower than normal metabolism. Is this always true? I have an overweight friend who eats a lot of food!

Some thin people also eat a tremendous amount of food! People on weight gain programs many times find it is very hard to gain weight. Their metabolic rates seem to automatically increase when their food intake increases, as if “programmed” to maintain a certain body weight. This kind of metabolic function does not occur in the overweight person who usually gains weight very easily.

Some overweight people do eat an excessive amount of food - but these people are in the minority. Your friend will not be able to constantly overindulge and still lose weight. While it is possible to increase to normal, it is not possible to change a slow metabolism to a fast metabolism. It will probably never function exactly like the thin person’s, but with proper eating and activity it will increase to a rate that is within a normal range, allowing a normal weight to be reached and maintained comfortably.

Is it easier for an overweight person who has never dieted to lose weight than it is for the person who had dieted and regained weight several times?

Yes. Overweight people who have never dieted before are rare, but in working with these people, weight loss does occur a little easier and is more consistent on a week-to-week basis. The frequent dieter can increase metabolism, but must be a little more diligent and weekly weight loss is not as consistent, because the metabolism is usually much slower. Also, body fat percentage is usually higher since each dieting failure produces a decrease in lean tissue with an increase in fat tissue. All of these things tend to make metabolic increases a little slower, but certainly possible for the person who has been a frequent dieter and certainly worth the effort!

Why is it so important to lose weight slowly?

Losing weight slowly, and inches more dramatically, usually is a good indicator that metabolism is increasing and fat, not lean tissue, is being lost, which is your goal in making weight loss permanent. The average body can usually metabolize approximately 1-2 pounds of fat a week. A greater loss than that may suggest that lean tissue (which is heavier) is accountable for part of the lost weight. Loss of lean tissue will lower caloric requirement, which in turn may stop weight loss.

One pound of fat takes up five times the space of one pound of lean. They both weigh one pound but the fat occupies five times the space - much like comparing feathers and stones. It is for this reason that inches lost are very dramatic when losing only body fat rather than fat and lean combined.

Lean tissue includes blood, bones, muscles and vital organs. Losing lean tissue can be life threatening and may even prevent normal functioning of the heart. Dr. Mary Ellen Sweeney of Emory University Medical School found that some women dieters did lose heart muscle and the more severe the diet the more heart muscle was lost. Dr. Kelly Brownell’s 32 year research study found that dieting increases the risk of heart disease 70 percent.

Losing lean tissue is not only dangerously unhealthy, but also contributes to an excessively “flabby” look while lowering caloric requirement and preventing an increase in metabolism.

How long does it take to increase metabolism?

Slight increases begin immediately but usually there is a definite noticeable increase within four to six weeks if a healthy program has been followed. Some people who are highly motivated will follow the program very closely and will reap the benefits of increased energy as early as one to two days, which motivates them even more. This kind of person may increase the metabolism even faster.

Once the metabolism has been increased, do I go back to my old eating habits?

An effective and healthy program is designed to help you change your eating habits, and is not a diet that you go “on” and then “off” when you’ve lost weight. People who adhere to such a program for three to four weeks invariably adopt the new eating plan as part of their lifestyle because they like the new way they are eating, they are never hungry, they enjoy the increases in energy, their favorite foods are included, and they are losing weight permanently, not to mention the many health benefits.

If you return to old eating habits and become inactive, your metabolism will respond by slowing down again. Metabolism increases only to a normal rate. This should not be confused with a fast rate nor does it mean that you can constantly over-eat or eat high fat, high sugar “junk” foods every day. But, you will find that you can eat more food and even eat your “junk” foods in moderation once you reach your goal.

One of the primary goals of such a program is to help you learn new eating habits to include favorite foods that are not only enjoyable and healthy but will also increase metabolic functions and health for a lifetime.

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