Take Advantage of Your Metabolism
By Greg Justice, MA
Obesity. It’s a word that strikes fear in millions, anger in millions more, and depression in more than ten percent of the U.S. population. At this moment, more than one-third of U.S. adults are clinically obese. There are a number of different ways to measure whether or not someone is obese, but it is classified as when an excess of body fat starts to have a chance of causing adverse medical conditions. Obesity has been linked to type II diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, metabolic syndrome, and a variety of other medical issues that all contribute to a lower overall life expectancy.
Closely monitored by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, aka the CDC, obesity has become an epidemic in all but the most official facets of the word. It poses a bigger threat to our survival than terrorists, drugs, or potential nuclear holocaust. In 1985, only a handful of states were between the obesity rate 10% – 14%, which was the highest rate at the time. Now, according to the CDC, the state with the lowest obesity rate is Colorado, at 21%. The adult population of every state in the U.S. is over 21%, twelve states have more than 30% obesity rates. In twenty-five years we went from fit to fat.
Of course, simply being extremely overweight won’t kill you. All it means on the surface is that you have more than enough backup energy to burn. However, because you have so much backup energy to burn, your metabolism, which we will get into a bit later, slows down and you become much more susceptible to metabolic disorders such as type II diabetes and metabolic syndrome.
Type II diabetes is the most common form of diabetes there is; more than 90% of people with diabetes have type II. Unlike type I diabetes, type II means that your body is still creating insulin, a hormone that regulates fat and carb metabolism in the body. A type II diagnosis means that your body is either not creating enough insulin or that it is not using the insulin it creates efficiently. Without insulin, glucose, aka sugar, is unable to get into blood cells and starts to build up in the blood instead since it has nowhere else to go. People with type II diabetes are easily dehydrated, suffer significant damage to their body over time that can cause heart attacks and strokes, and can potentially undergo severe life threatening complications if they don’t closely monitor their blood sugar levels.
Metabolic Syndrome, known by a myriad of other names and titles, is a group of factors that increase one’s risk for cardiovascular diseases and diabetes. It is becoming increasingly common in the United States. While age, genetics, and lack of exercise are all considered risk factors by various organizations, the major two factors involved in metabolic syndrome are central obesity, characterized by excess weight in the middle and upper areas of the body, and insulin resistance.
Metabolic Syndrome essentially means someone is on the precipice of obtaining type II diabetes and other metabolic issues. About twenty-five percent of the U.S. population is estimated to fall into the category of metabolic syndrome. When coupled with more than 25% of the population who already has type II diabetes, the prognosis for the country’s state of health is not good.
These problems aren’t just affecting adults either. More than 20% of children and adolescents over the age of five are estimated to be obese, triple what it used to be not thirty years ago. More obese adults mean a higher chance for obese children, who are likely to end up obese adults and start the cycle all over again. Obesity has indeed become an epidemic that needs to be treated immediately.
I’m not here to place blame and tell you that you need to go back to the technological Stone Age and eat nothing but tofu for the rest of your life. We don’t have time to wag our finger at television or whatever else you want to use as an excuse for our current state of affairs. The time to play the blame game is at an end, the time for action is upon us.
There is one way to treat obesity – through regular exercise and proper nutrition. Unfortunately, we are surrounded by falsehoods and half-truths when it comes to health and fitness. Calories have become the demons that plague our bodies, making fasting and starvation popular fad diets. According to most infomercials, all you need to get in shape is ten minutes a day, while money hungry personal trainers will tell you that you still aren’t getting the results you want because two hours isn’t enough. They all spit scientific facts as if they were doctors and end up telling you only a third of what you really need to know.
Want to know what most fad diets don’t? The real secret to losing weight in a healthy manner isn’t by eating less. It’s by monitoring and increasing your body’s metabolism. Metabolism is the natural means by which your body burns fat. All you have to do is take advantage of it.
What is Metabolism?
Scientifically speaking, your metabolism is the overall sum of all the chemical reactions that take place in your body at any given time. How does this translate to burning fat?
In order for a chemical reaction to occur, it needs energy. Fat cells are essentially stored energy that your body saves when it receives more energy than it needs in order to carry out all the chemical reactions that take place in your body. The two major types of chemical reactions involved in this process are catabolic and anabolic.
Catabolic reactions break down molecules in order to receive energy, also known as ATP. That energy is then used in anabolic reactions to carry out the various functions that are required to sustain life, such as the replication of DNA, the creation of proteins, the storing of energy, and just about every other major process that keeps your heart pumping and allows you to do anything and everything. These two chemical reactions occur in all forms of life.
To put it simply, if anabolic reactions do not occur, you die. Anabolic reactions need energy to activate, but, according to the Law of Conservation of Energy, energy cannot be created or destroyed. The energy needed for anabolic reactions comes from catabolic reactions, but catabolic reactions have to get the energy from somewhere. Where does this energy come from? Food. Catabolic reactions break down the molecules you take in when you digest food and pull the energy from the molecules in the form of adenosine triphosphate, aka ATP.
“But I’ve gone 24 hours without eating and I’m still here!”
When you take in an overabundance of energy, your body stores it in fat cells. Your body uses that energy when it needs more energy to carry out the necessary anabolic reactions that occur in a 24 hour time period than you take in. When someone dies of starvation, they die from a severe lack of energy. Without enough fuel in the tank, your car won’t run. Without enough fuel in your body, your heart stops beating. Like your car, your body can run on E for a little while but not for long.
“So fat people can survive longer without food than skinny people?”
Yes and no. The more fat you have, the more backup energy you have stored. However, your body also requires the nutrients and vitamins to continue running; neither of which are stored if you take in an excess of either. So while someone with more fat stored may have the energy to keep their metabolic processes going, they won’t have the other necessary components to carry out said life sustaining chemical reactions. People with excess body fat may live a bit longer in extreme starvation situations, but not enough to really make a worthwhile difference.
It takes less energy to store something than it does to use it.
Storing energy takes energy, but not very much. Maintaining and using muscle on the other hand, takes a lot of energy. The creation and maintenance of muscle means more anabolic reactions, equating to a higher metabolism since more chemical reactions are occurring in the body. This is why exercise is so important. It makes your body work more, and therefore burn more energy.
Enough technical speak, let’s look at a real life example. A while back, the New York Post gave an account of Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps’ daily caloric intake. In the article, it stated that Michael Phelps eats more than 12,000 calories a day. Many people questioned whether or not this could be true or even possible. The simple answer is it has to be true. In order to maintain his active lifestyle of five hours of rigorous training six days a week, his body requires a ton of energy. That energy is being used in catabolic and anabolic chemical reactions to maintain and build the muscles he works out each and every day.
A lot of overweight and obese people cite their love of food as the reason for their condition. A love for food is perfectly natural. What most people don’t realize is that exercising will actually allow them to eat more of the food they love. If you exercise more, you not only can eat more but you’ll have to eat more.
Greg Justice, M.A.
Education: Bachelor’s Degree (Physical Education, Health) 1983
Master’s Degree (HPER – Exercise Science) 1986
National Certification: AFAA (Personal Fitness Training)
Areas of Specialty: General conditioning, Sport specific conditioning
Years in Fitness: Greg began AYC in 1986, and has been training since 1983.
Fitness Philosophy: I believe in helping my clients find a workout or activity they enjoy enough to continue throughout their lifetime. Consistency is what matters.