Metabolism 101 - How it Works

Metabolism 101 - 
How it Works

When we know better we can do better 

We all talk about metabolism, usually in the context of how ours sucks and how it's the reason we can't lose weight.  But do you REALLY know how your metabolism works? What influences it? How you can change it?

This episode is the 20,000 foot view of your metabolism and how it works.  The truth is, it's a VERY intricate and sensitive system and is EXTREMELY personal and I couldn't possibly cover it all in a 30 minute episode.  The basic operating system is the same for all of us, but exactly how yours is working is completely individual to YOU. That's a big reason why "one size fits all" diets usually end in failure.   

Unfortunately, we've received terrible advice over the years about diet and exercise and most of us have a metabolism that's "broken" or at least not functioning optimally because of it.  Add to that the complication that your metabolism is constantly changing as new stressors are placed on it, AND as you age and your hormones change which directly affects your metabolism, and we have a recipe for total frustration.  

I'm going to clear up some of the confusion and give you some super simple things you can do right now to increase your awareness of things that may be negatively affecting your metabolism and some tips for how to repair it.  Just know that like any lasting change, fixing a broken metabolism takes time, patience, diligence and a willingness to learn and adjust.  

We go much more in depth into the metabolism in the Healthy Mind/Healthy Body Program.  If you think you're ready for REAL change, click the link to check it out. Doors are opening soon so get on the list!


PS. If anything in this episode resonated with you, then share the LOVE! Post a screenshot of this episode in your stories and tag me @tarafaulmann! And join the conversation in our FREE No Nonsense Wellness Community!

Full transcription available at the bottom of this post

Show Notes: 

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Full Transcript: 
Welcome back to the no nonsense wellness podcast. So I have heard it a lot and shoot, I've said it a lot. If my metabolism wasn't so slow, it'd be a lot easier to lose weight. Have you said that before? But is that really the truth? What does it even mean to have a slow or fast metabolism? What actually is your metabolism doing? And how do you change it? Today, I'm going to answer those questions and more, it's all about your metabolism. So grab a friend, grab a pen, you're going to need to take some notes, let's go.

Welcome back to the no nonsense wellness podcast, the place for women who are trying to do all the things and stay healthy, sane and actually enjoy life in the process. Hey, I'm Tara, a trained therapist, a life coach, a nutrition coach and a fitness instructor. And I'm on a mission to help you take back control of your mind health and life. Each week, I'll be cutting through the nonsense and getting real with you. I'll bring you the insight and information you need to take control of your weight and health, find food freedom, and finally break free from the thoughts that are sabotaging you and holding you back. You, my friend are powerful, and the world needs you to start showing up in a bigger way. It's time to get unstuck and start moving forward. So let's pop in those earbuds, tie up those shoes, let's walk and talk.

I feel like metabolism is this sort of like out there idea that everyone knows what it is. But no one really knows what it is, you know what I mean? And we all talk about it. And we've said like I have a slow metabolism and Oh, It's no fair, they have a fast metabolism. But do we even really know what that means when we say that? Well, that's what we're going to talk about today. And I want to tell you that when I was writing this episode, it got very long, there is a lot to say about metabolism. So much so that I think I'm actually just going to create a metabolism course. And just put it all in there in one place. In the Healthy Mind Healthy Body program, we do go quite deep into metabolism. But honestly, it is so complex. And there's so many moving parts that you can pay attention to in order to improve it, that I think it deserves its own core. So if that sounds interesting to you, if that's something that you'd want to be a part of, then you just let me know. And I'll keep you posted, if I'm making that or not. 

So today in this episode, just think of this as like the 20,000 foot view of your metabolism like this is sort of the overview of how it works or doesn't work. And it gets way more intricate and detailed than what I'm going to tell you today. And I think I will come back to this a lot in future episodes. But I just want you to have the expectation today that I'm just giving you like the overview of metabolism, Why might it be slow? How do you speed it up, so to speak? And really, how does it work? And that's where we're going to start? What is your metabolism and how does it even work. So put most simply, your metabolism is all of the jobs that your cells do growing respiration, which is I mean cell respiration, gas exchange between the cell wall absorption, digestion of nutrients, circulation of blood and fluids, getting rid of waste, reproduction, etc, etc, etc. It's the sum of all of the actions that take place to build up or break down your body. In other words, it is the energy required for all of your physiological reactions. We usually talk about metabolism in terms of weight loss and calorie usage. But really, it's every cellular reaction in your body that's keeping you alive. All of that is considered your metabolism. All of those reactions, all of those cellular processes require energy. And that energy either comes from stored energy in your body, like glycogen in your muscles are fat stored in your fat cells, or the energy comes from the food and beverages that you consume. The words slow metabolism and fast metabolism are really misnomers. It's really not slow or fast. What we're really talking about is increased energy usage or decreased energy usage. So here's an example that you probably can relate to if you're a woman in your 30s or 40s, or 50s, like me, so my husband is someone that we would say has a quote unquote fat metabolism, he really doesn't gain weight, he stays very trim, doesn't really matter what he eats, necessarily. He eats pretty healthy but not always. And he stays pretty trim I on the other hand, I definitely I feel like I'm one of those people, you I look at a cookie and I put on weight.

So like he would be considered a fast metabolism, I would be considered a slow metabolism, what really we're talking about is that his energy uses usage in his body is very different than my energy usage. In my body, we we operate very differently. We both have metabolism. But there's a lot of things that are affecting us differently. Does that make sense? So when we talk about metabolism, it's very individualized, and we'll talk about that more as we go. So when we're talking about specifically weight loss or weight maintenance, remember, when we talk about weight loss, we're not talking about weight loss, we're talking about fat loss, you don't want to lose weight, from water weight, you don't want to lose bone or muscle or brain tissue weight, right? You want to lose fat, that's what we're talking about. So when we talk about fat loss or fat maintenance, it's all about finding the balance the balance between energy consumed and energy needed in order for your body to function. So the way that most of us frame that is calories in calories out. Now I we've talked about calories on this podcast before. But I really want to reiterate again, here that calories in calories out is a very oversimplified way to look at this, I'm not going to use calories in calories out, I'm going to talk about energy and energy out. And the way your body uses the energy that comes in, or the energy that's already in stored in your fat or muscles, is very individualized to you and has everything to do with your lifestyle, and particularly how your lifestyle affects your hormones. So it's just really not that simple as calories in calories out your metabolism is not a calculator. It's more like a thermostat. So your metabolism is constantly adjusting up or down depending on the stimulus that it's receiving, thinking of it as calories in calories out would be treating it like a calculator. And that's totally not how it works. Thinking of it as a thermostat as constantly burning, more burning less burning more burning less, requiring more energy requiring less energy, it's constantly in flux. Because what your body is always always trying to do is find homeostasis, just to achieve that balance, right, your metabolism is highly sensitive, always seeking that balance. So here's an example of how this works. 

When you go on a diet, typically every diet you go on, you're eating less, and you're exercising more like that's the general rule, right, you want to lose weight, eat less, exercise more, that's what everyone says. Unfortunately, when you do that your body compensates your metabolism compensates. And it will make you feel more hungry, it will slower your metabolism and give you lower energy, it will give you increased cravings. And it will slow down the rate at which you tap into stored energy. This is going to cause you to eat more, exercise less and regain the weight right back. Remember, because your metabolism is trying to achieve homeostasis. So if all of a sudden, you stressed that system with not enough food and a lot of exercise, it's going to be like, whoa, whoa, whoa, what's going on here, and it's gonna shut everything down. Okay, so now imagine this, you have you have cut your calories, you're working out more your metabolism is like, Yo, I don't know what's going on. But she's not giving me enough food. And so I need to slow this all down. So you now your metabolism slows down, then you stop that diet, and then you start eating what was normal for you, which is probably what normal people would eat normal food normal amounts, right. But now your metabolism is slower than it was when you started. Now imagine you go through that process every year for the last 15 years, your metabolism is broken, right. And it's because we broke it. We broke it, diets, broken diet, culture, broken, the things we've been doing to our body, baroque it. And so that's really what we're talking about here. So let's talk about then when I say metabolism, what exactly am I talking about in your body? 

We think of metabolism in four basic ways. So the first way we think of it is your basal metabolic rate. That's your BMR you may have heard of that before, or also sometimes called your resting metabolic rate. So this is just the baseline amount of energy your body needs to keep you alive. Like if you just laid in bed all day and didn't do anything. Your BMR or your resting metabolic rate is just the basic amount of energy your body needs to stay alive. So I'm talking just like breathing and keeping your heart beating like the very basic things that takes up about 70% of the oxygen and energy that you can see Every day. So what that means is 70% of the consumption of energy in your body is literally just the processes that are keeping you alive. Now, you do have control over your basal metabolic rate, the thing that influences that rate the most is fat mass versus muscle mass, the higher your muscle mass, the higher your basal metabolic rate. What that means then is that the higher your muscle mass, the more energy your body is burning every day just to stay alive. 

Okay, so the second kind of piece that makes up your metabolism is called TEF, it stands for thermic effect of food. So when you consume food, you have to break that food down and digest it that requires energy to do those processes, protein in your body has the highest thermic effect. So that means you burn more energy, aka calories to digest protein, then you are burning to digest carbs or fats, your thermic effect of food your test generally accounts for about 10% of daily energy expenditure that also can be affected by many factors. So for example, if you're insulin resistant, you generally have a lower TEF. If your diet consists of foods that are highly processed, or high end simple sugars, that's going to reduce your test. So here's another way to burn energy, eat food that requires more energy to burn. So that's going to be your proteins for sure. But it's also going to be your whole foods, your high fibers, your vegetables, stuff like that. So when you're thinking about how your body works as a whole, if you are trying to burn more energy, like burn in excess, then this is another thing you have control over eat food that requires more energy to digest. Make sense? 

Okay, so the third thing that we look at when we think about metabolism as a whole is exercise, we talked about the difference here on this podcast and in the Healthy Mind Healthy Body program about the difference between movement and exercise. So exercise is purposeful activity, like you're going for a run, you're going to the gym energy used for exercise. And this is not just during the activity, but this is also after you exercise while you recover. This can make up a large chunk of the energy required during the day. So the energy used during the day, the energy burned during the day. So if you're sedentary, this might make up about 10 to 15% of your daily energy expenditure. If you're active and you actually are working out, this can be 30% or more of your daily energy expenditure. So you have a lot of control here. So if we are remembering that it's always about balance, energy in versus energy needed, right to be burned, if I increase the energy needed by exercise, I can increase that by 30% or more by exercising that was going to make a huge difference. However, there is a caveat to this. And so I we're gonna talk about this in a second, but you can do too much you can over exercise, and we're gonna talk about that in a sec. 

So the fourth piece of your metabolism that we look at is called NEAT. And that stands for non exercise Activity Thermogenesis. So there's that word again, thermo right we're making heat. That's what we do when we when we are burning, we're making heat. You're NEET is just all of the daily life movement that you do throughout the day. That is not purposeful exercise. So just daily tasks, fidgeting at your desk, bouncing your leg, yard work, playing with the kids folding the laundry, doing the dishes, like whatever it is that you're doing during the day, just your daily movement. That is your neat now, of course, again, this is highly variable between people, right, some people spend 10 hours a day sitting at a desk and some people are working on a factory line and they're moving way more right. But the neat, your neat is the spot where your body is really working to maintain homeostasis, and it's really adjusting your energy expenditure day to day. So your BMR Remember, your basal metabolic rate is what is keeping you alive so your body really can't reduce that right, it can't really slow that down in order to preserve calories, it can slow down your knees so it can force you to be a little bit more sedentary. If it's trying to hold on to fat. Well then what do you do, then you are sedentary and your body does hold on to fat like you see how this is all related. 

Okay, so these four things together your BMR your TEF, your exercise and your NEAT. All four of those things together are your TDEE, which stands for total daily energy expenditure. So all those processes altogether are your total daily energy expenditure. Now, if I made this into the very most basic way that I could which your body isn't anything but basic, but at its most basic level, that's what we're talking about your total daily energy expenditure must exceed your total daily energy consumption. That's how you lose weight like that is at the most basic level. But here's the problem, there's a whole slew of things that are affecting your total daily energy expenditure. And that is where the problems come in. That's where we have, you know, the so called slow or fast metabolism. Let's talk about what that means, like, what is a fast versus slow metabolism? What is physiologically going on? And what is really affecting this? And what can we do about it? So if we're thinking about a slow metabolism, what we're really thinking about is just a low total daily energy expenditure. 

Okay, so then your goal is to figure out how can I increase my daily energy expenditure? For the most part, your total daily energy expenditure is controlled by your lifestyle choices, you have a lot of control, like 99% of the things we're going to talk about here are under your own control. So here's what again, our common responses, right? Okay, well, my metabolism slow, how am I going to speed it up diet and exercise? Right, I gotta exercise more and eat less. I know, you already heard why that does not work. Because more is often not the answer. More dieting, more working out actually ends up slowing down your metabolism, instead of speeding it up. Remember, this is the damage that we keep on causing this all starts to go wrong in three main areas, your lifestyle choices, your diet choices, and what's happening with your hormones, which is affected by your lifestyle choices and your diet choices. So let's talk about lifestyles. People with a quote unquote slow metabolism, or a low energy expenditure don't generally have physically demanding jobs, right, you're sitting a lot sitting is the new smoking as they say, you're often in a climate controlled environment all day, body cooling down or heating up, depending on the environment that it's in, that requires energy sitting too much, mostly indoors instead of outdoors, just generally not active. Okay, so how do you fix this, just figure out how to move your body more like in the smallest of ways even so this is not again, this is not your workout. This is not exercising, this is not going to the gym or taking a job. This is small things like maybe, you know, marching place while you fold the laundry, or, you know, do a couple little extra twists while you're doing the dishes, anything that you can do to just increase movement throughout the day, get up, go outside, take a walk, anything that you can do bounce your leg while you're sitting at the desk, get one of those little leg bikes get a stand up desk, there's so many different ways that you can incorporate even just a little more movement. And all of that will add up every single day, the small things add up pretty fast. And then of course, add in purposeful exercise, like an actual workout of some sort. Whatever that looks like for you, that purposeful exercise should have the intention of building muscle, because remember, more muscle equals more energy needed literally just to stay alive. 

So the second spot, this all goes wrong pretty quickly is our diet. And I don't mean like being on a diet, I just mean diet, like the food that you're choosing to eat or not eat. So again, what happens a lot of times for most of us is that we are consuming food that does not require very much energy to break down and digest. We're eating a lot of prepackaged foods, a lot of fast food, a lot of processed foods, all of those foods digest very fast. They don't require very much energy. So I mean, if you're going to eat anyway, doesn't it make sense to eat some food that requires more energy to process and just burn some of it as you're processing it? Like that sounds like a great idea to me. So what are those foods again, protein number one, and then anything like high fiber like some hype good high fiber vegetables. The other thing that goes wrong is honestly so many of us out there just over eat. Like it's not even about what you're eating. It's just about how much you can over eat anything. You can over eat cookies, and you can overeat broccoli, I don't know why or how you would do that. But you could too much food is too much food. And you know, it doesn't matter if you're eating four salads a day or if you're eating four cakes a day. Too much food is too much food. So over eating, eating for reasons other than hunger like stress eating and emotional eating listen to that last episode about stress eating, not stopping eating when we're full but keeping going too much energy coming in equals I must store that energy aka I store it usually as fat and also not eating enough food. Now this is a problem that a lot of women do not realize that they have because there's a whole generation of us right that have been dieting, dieting, dieting, and we're so careful about not eating too much not eating too much that what we really end up doing is not eating enough and then we overeat to compensate Not even because we want to because literally our body and brain are like girl you need to eat. I'm starving, right? So ultimately, your metabolism has slowed down, right? Because you're not eating, and then you overeat. And you have still have that slow metabolism. And now all of that's getting stored, right? It's like this vicious cycle that we keep getting stuck in. 

So how are you going to fix this? Well, again, you're going to eat more whole foods, and you're going to optimize that protein, you're going to work on finding balance between not eating too much. And not too little. This is a skill that can be learned. But you have to know how to learn it, you have to know how to do it. We have a really simple process for this and healthy mind Healthy Body program. It's a skill that most of us don't have, like, the skill of truly being able to decipher when am I actually hungry? Do I really need food? Am I eating for reasons other than food? Am I full? Am I done? How do I know? Right? That that just requires practice. And then the other thing that we are trying to do always is to eat to balance blood sugar and insulin. And so we're going to talk about this in the next section here. But this is absolutely key. In fact, let's just go straight into hormones, okay, because that's really what we're talking about. 

Insulin is a hormone. And so you need to think about eating in such a way that balances your blood sugar, which then balances your insulin hormone. So the two biggest controllers of whether or not you are storing fat or burning fat, with your metabolism for metabolism is burning stored energy using that stored energy. The two biggest things that are determining that are your cortisol levels and your insulin levels. When we think about diet and lifestyle, we have to, we must think about them in these terms, how it is affecting my cortisol and how is it affecting my insulin? Okay, so let's start with cortisol. I do want to mention there are other major players and those would be like your thyroid hormone, your estrogen or progesterone, those are also affecting your cortisol and insulin. Cortisol and insulin are the big guys. And then there's a whole slew of other hormones that are like driving the train with them. And so I don't want to leave those out. I'm not going to talk about them specifically right now, but they absolutely are players and they need to be addressed. Okay, so let's talk about cortisol. Cortisol is your stress hormone. So when you are under chronic stress, which almost all of us are, and remember, stress is not just like emotional stress, stress can be physical stress. Remember from working out too much, like going from zero to a lot stress. Stress can be imagined stress can be not even something that's actually going on, but something that you're worried about that could go on or has never gone on, but maybe it could doesn't matter if it's real or not. It matters only to your brain, how your brain sees it. Chronic stress equals this chronic cortisol hormone being released. Now, when this is happening, your body starts to not respond to it properly anymore. It's just like, oh my gosh, like more like I can't I'm Bert, right? You've heard about like adrenal fatigue and HPA access your hypothalamus, pituitary adrenal axis, being fatigued. That's what we're talking about here. That results in slower metabolism, increased fat storage, and less ability to access fat in the cells to use as fuel, I need you to really make that connection for yourself. Chronic stress equals chronic cortisol equals slower metabolism, okay? It slows down because it's stressed out, and it doesn't want to use any extra energy just in case it needs it later. Like, something bad's gonna happen. Another big contributor to our chronic stress is our disrupted sleep cycles. So maybe that's because of shift work, maybe it's because of stress, maybe it's over exposure to artificial light. All of these things are disrupting our sleep, we're not getting enough sleep, and we're not getting enough quality sleep that is really contributing to our overall stress load. Also, of course, of course, emotional distress, lack of positive relationships, and toxins in our body toxin overload is contributing to the overall stress on our body. 

So again, fixing chronic stress is a very involved process. It's something that we go really deep into in healthy mind, Healthy Body program. But in general, what you're really focusing on is getting better sleep seven to nine hours a night is the sweet spot. So work yourself into that, figure out what your stress reducing techniques are. Maybe it's breathing, meditation, prayer, whatever, figure out how you relieve stress, everybody's a little different for what works, improve your relationships, the stressful relationships. I just did an episode about this. So go back and listen to that. And you might also want to think about reducing stimulants like coffee. For some people. This has a large effect on your release of cortisol and so we don't want that we don't want excess cortisol right? Okay, so the second hormone that we're going to talk about a little more in detail is insulin. And so your insulin levels are supposed to be just sort of like a real gentle wave up and down, and I eat and it goes up a little bit, and then I digest and it goes back down a little bit, right. But instead, what most of us have are these spikes in insulin, it's spikes up, and then it tanks down right, the hangry moment, and then it spikes up again. And so when we have this chronic level of insulin, just like the cortisol, your body stops responding to it, and it becomes resistant to insulin, this is bad, because this means you now have a very hard time burning fat. 

So if you are trying to lose fat, you're trying to tap into those fat cells get the fat out so that you can use it as fuel. If you have this chronically high insulin level, think pre diabetic type two diabetes, or even before you're considered pre diabetic, it's still a problem. And then if that's you a situation that you're in, you are going to have a heck of a time trying to get fat out of those fat cells and burn it, it's not going to budge, your body will not let it so you have to think about your lifestyle choices and your food choices in such a way that will balance your blood sugar balance your insulin levels. Does that make sense? Now, there is a lot of ways to do this a lot of very specific ways that we are not going to get into right now I just want you to be able to look at the big picture, I want you to be able to look at your life, look at the choices that you're making the way you're living. And think like, okay, if I'm having a hard time losing weight, am I being really honest with myself? Am I being honest about my lifestyle choices about my sleep about how much I move about how much I exercise about what I'm eating? Like, we got to get real honest with ourselves here and stop just being like, Oh, I have a slow metabolism, I'll never gain the weight. Wow, whatever, right? No, that's not the truth, you actually have a huge amount of control over your metabolism and how it's working. 

The trick is you have to first address the things that you're doing. That's wrecking it. And you got to give yourself a little grace, because like I said, most of us for the last 20 years of our lives have been wrecking our metabolism thinking that we're doing the right thing, thinking that we're making the right choices, doing the things that the professional people told us to do this, that's what they told us to do. They told us to eat less and exercise more and all the while it was killing our metabolism. So it's not your fault that you're here. But you're here now. And now you know better. And once you know better, you can do better, you can make different choices. So here's the bottom line for all of this. Here's what you're focusing on to start fixing this problem, you're going to increase movement throughout the day, you're going to exercise enough, but not too much. Okay? Enough, but not too much. You're going to eat less less processed foods, less simple sugars, you're going to focus on more whole foods, higher nutrient, higher fiber, optimize the protein, you're going to eat enough, but not too much, you're going to reduce your overall stress. So anyway, that you can do that. Figure out your stressors, and start figuring out how to lessen them. And you're going to really think about eating to balance your blood sugar and balance your insulin. 

If you can do those two things, especially your blood sugar and your insulin, you will make a huge impact on your metabolism. Now, the ways that this all happens, again, is something that we talk about in the Healthy Mind Healthy Body program. So if you're curious about what that looks like, and what we teach in there, you can just hop on the website, Tara, forward slash join. And that just kind of gives you a rundown. It tells you like what's in all the modules what you're going to learn about, we are opening the doors for people to hop into that program here pretty quick. So there's a little button you can click to get on a free coaching call with me and kind of talk it through and see if it's what you want and see if it's the right thing for you before you commit to it. You can ask all the questions. But I really encourage you to do that. Because the things that we talked about today in this episode, we go a lot deeper. And we go a lot more specific in terms of what you're going to work on and how you're going to fix these things. So if that sounds good to you go check it out. Otherwise, I would love to see you in our community group. So just click that link in the show notes. Hop in the group. It's on Facebook just called no nonsense women. I'd love to see you over there and chat some more. Okay, my friends, I

hope this was helpful. I hope you learned something about your metabolism Go tell your friends, all the new things that you've learned. And all the things we've all been doing wrong for the last 20 years. And we can fix them. Until we talk again, my friends be well. Hey, friends, thanks so much for being here. If you found value in today's episode, will you do me a favor and head over to iTunes? Find the no nonsense wellness podcast and subscribe and leave me a review. It would mean the world to me and it helps other people find the show. And I'd love to connect with you more. So find me on Instagram I'm @Tara Faulmann. Take a screenshot of this episode and share it in your stories and tag me. I'll see you over there

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