Body – Diet – Metabolic Rate

Friday, May 23rd, 2008 at 9:00 am.
by pre.

Some people can eat like dogs with two mouths and still remain thin, while others eat barely at all and yet constantly pile on the pounds. Why is this?

Firstly, quite probably you don’t really know how much people eat. Unless you’re with them all the time you have not one clue what they eat when alone, or with other people. This may just be selection bias.

The effect shines through even with careful measurement though. Partly, this is because we have different genes. You may just be getting more energy out of your food. Your digestion system may be more or less efficient than mine. You may naturally make more of some biologically expensive molecule in each of your cells than the next person.

Along side this effect is the natural variation in the things that people do. Some of us are more active than others. They run more. Jump more. Play more soccer.

These two effects however pale in comparison to one major difference between us: Our metabolic rate. Your metabolic rate is determined by how much energy, how many joules or calories, how much food it takes just to sit about doing nothing. Just to keep your cells alive and carry on the unconscious processes going on in each cell and across your body all the time.

Every cell in your body requires a certain amount of energy to live and there’s trillions of them. Which makes it relevent.

The vast majority of the food you eat goes just to keeping those cellular processes running. You may burn some calories by walking to the post office, but that’s nothing compared to the calories you’ll burn in the total of all your trillions of cells just transporting proteins from one side of a cell wall to the other; or building a chain of amino acids, bending them into shape; or unzipping a trillion DNA strands to replicate sections of them so that their message can be passed to the cellular machinery constructing proteins.

Sure, it takes lots more energy to lift a leg than it takes to do any one of those cellular processes, but each of those processes is happening many, many times each second in each of the literally trillions of cells that make up your body. Just digesting the food you eat takes a huge chunk out of the energy you get from it.

The best way to lose weight isn’t to “work it off”, that barely makes sense at all. You’d have to run for an hour for each bite of a cream cake. The best way to lose weight is to make your body metabolically more expensive.

Now it turns out that muscle cells take more energy to maintain than fat cells. Cells in things like your liver take even more energy still, certainly, and a working muscle takes much more than a resting one, but even a resting muscle cell takes more energy to maintain than a resting fat cell. Especially since resting is about all a fat cell ever does. This is what exercise is designed to achieve. You aren’t exercising in order to use up some of the energy you’re eating, you’re exercising in order to build muscle tissue which will increase your metabolic rate and thus increase the amount of food-energy you’re using even when you’re lounging about eating crisps in front of the TV later.

Which has implications for the kinds of excercise which will be useful to you and we’ll address those in our next lap around the spiral, but this is the “diet” section, not the “exercise” section. So what does this have to do with diet?

Each cell in your body is bathed in a cocktail of messenger molecules, chemical signals which let it know things like what type of cells are around it and what the general state-of-alert is around the body, if you’re well-fed or lethargic or happy or sad. Each of your cells uses this information to decide whether to grow or shrink, divide or die, strengthen or weaken.

When you’re hungry for a long time, when your blood-sugar levels are constantly low, the muscle cells in your body have evolved to notice. Then to kill themselves in the cause of your body’s future reproductive success. Muscle cells are expensive to maintain. That’s precisely why we want them when trying to lose weight. Those of your ancestors who lowered metabolic rate in times of scarcity lived through it to spawn you, while those who kept their muscle were more likely to die before they found the food they need and thus not be the ancestor of anybody.

If you eat too little, your muscles will waste. You’ll keep the fat, your food-stores, and reduce the energy you need to live. Some call this the famine response but that name implies a switch that’s suddenly activated if you’re not eating enough but really it’s just a continuum of chemical concentrations between a variety of different biochemical messengers in your body’s cells. The ‘starvation response’ is going on all the time in your body, delicately balanced by the ‘build muscle’ response. A tiny push each way will change the balance of which cells are growing, and which are shrinking.

So yes: If you’re fat you should be eating less. But not too much less, and for every bit less that you eat you must exercise enough to ensure that balance moves in the right direction. To lose weight it’s better to increase your metabolic rate and eat more than decrease it and eat less.

Guided Meditation File 4 – Body – Diet
Backing Music “Beautiful You” By Mark Nine
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