Metabolism Myths

Thank you so much for joining me today. Glad you’re here, because I’m talking about one of the things that really really sticks in my craw. It is one of those ideas that just gets blown out of proportion. And people make it far more difficult than it is and far more difficult than it should be. And that is metabolism. Now the first thing I’m going to cover about metabolism is four different myths associated with metabolism. And I’m probably going to step on some toes here, because there are quite a few people, especially if you Google some of these things, that would say I’m wrong. But when you start actually reading the fine details of the research on this, and you listen to this podcast, you’ll see that actually everything talked about in those articles pretty much proves exactly what I’m saying. 

 

The first thing is that we have a fast or slow metabolism.  A lot of people assumed they’re born with one or the other, and it’s just the luck of the draw, or hereditary, and that’s all there is to it. I’ve heard, “my brother’s got a fast metabolism because he’s really thin, and  I have a slow one because I’m not thin.”  That’s not true. It’s not something you inherently have. It’s not like a fast-twitch muscle or a slow-twitch muscle. It’s something that, believe it or not, that you control.  

 

And then there’s the ridiculous idea that age affects your metabolism (you know it won’t take me long before I have to bring up the myth of age). The second myth is that it slows as we age. I may have stepped on your toes a little bit when I said that. And I don’t mean to offend you, I promise you.  The good news is that your metabolism doesn’t slow as time passes on the calendar. Because all the things that we associate with age, don’t actually change just because time passes on a calendar. We can actually affect them, we can actually change them. The bad news is I took away the excuse of “aging”.  But!  I can save your life by letting you know that you can change it, and you can control it. 

 

That brings us to the third myth, which is that we don’t control our metabolism.  We eat food and we exercise, and then our “metabolism” takes over and does what it wants to do. Not true, folks.  We can directly affect our metabolism.  And there is the billion-dollar market, of taking a supplement to speed up your metabolism.  This is also simply not true.  Typically, any of those types of products that supposedly speed up your metabolism, are uppers (ephedrine and cocaine are also uppers) that increase your heart rate.  This is not something I’d advise and doesn’t make your metabolism permanently work faster. 

 

Time for reality; I’m going to tell you why these things aren’t true and tell you a little bit about what metabolism actually is. I’ve got your scientific definition. So if you’re reading, and you’re critiquing me, the definition of metabolism is the organic and chemical processes inside of an organism that is necessary to maintain life, or how quickly you burn calories or fat. Basically, the chemical processes that let you stay alive are an example of what metabolism is. Isn’t that great?  Fantastic, the organic and chemical processes. Boy, if you hear something like that, you think, well, there’s nothing I can do about it. It’s these processes, these organic and chemical processes that just happen. Well, that’s not true, because the term metabolism is commonly used to refer, specifically, to the breakdown of food and its transformation to energy. That’s what it is. It’s the breakdown of food and its transformation into energy. That’s typically what we’re talking about when we’re talking about metabolism. 

 

So let’s get into the body a little bit real quick. And I don’t want to bore anybody to tears because we’re going to talk about how to help your metabolism and the things that affect your metabolism. But what happens in your body?  Well, we have a stomach, obviously.  Here is another one of my car analogies.  Imagine your body is like a car;  The stomach would be your gas tank.  That’s where the fuel goes in, it gets disseminated, broken down, and processed in the upper and lower colon, and then the engine of the body gets involved. Your liver would be the engine. Now if you’ve been to a physician or had a general checkup, and they take blood to run tests, they’re checking liver functions.  If you’ve ever been in the hospital, one of the first things the doctors will check on is your liver function.  Why?  Because while the liver does a heck of a lot, especially with metabolism, and pretty much every function of the body.  But the liver functions to process fat and it’s more or less like the brain;  I’m afraid I’m gonna get too far down the road with this. So I’m just gonna mention the main liver functions and go on down to the adrenals. Now your adrenals are small glands that lie on top of your kidneys. And they secrete hormones, regulate the body’s response to stress that you’ve heard of, fight or flight. That’s why this is kind of regulated. There are automatic responses that we have, these hormones, these adrenals determine how you access the fuel in your body and what you do with the fuel that is food that you consume. Do you store this as fat? Or do you burn it as energy?  What is your body doing with it? And some of the specific hormones now you’ve probably heard of.  Some of these hormones that the adrenals release include cortisol, adrenaline, epinephrine;  For example, if you get scared and you jump up and run away or whatever that’s an adrenaline boost that’s basically controlled by the adrenals.

 

 Welcome to our drinking game. If you’re reading our blog or listening to our podcast on a regular basis, you know that we like to make sure that everybody is staying hydrated. So here is your reminder to drink.  Water that is!

 

But back to the adrenals.  The secretion of stress hormones regulates the release of glucose, or sugar from the muscle and liver cells to either stimulate or slow down your body’s metabolic rate. Now, when you hear something like that, you think, okay, there’s nothing I can do to affect it, there’s nothing I can do to actually make the changes.  I either have good adrenals or bad adrenals. Again, folks don’t get wrapped up too much in this myth. That is not really true. Another organ involved is the pituitary gland. I like to think of the pituitary gland as the conductor of the orchestra. It secretes hormones that regulate or conduct the actions of many other hormones in your body. For example, the pituitary stimulates the thyroid to secrete its hormones with thyroid-stimulating hormone or what we call TSH. Now the reason I bring up the TSH hormone is that if the TSH level is high, that means that the thyroid is requiring a lot of motivation to get its job done.  This is called hypothyroidism. If TSH is normal, all the pituitary has to do is speak in a normal voice basically, it doesn’t have to scream and shout, and what have you to keep up the good work. And if the TSH is very low, then your thyroid gland may be overactive, which is called hyperthyroidism. The pituitary may only “whisper” in my conductor analogy. Now speaking of the thyroid, I always bring this up not only because it’s involved in metabolism, but a lot of people say, “Well if you actually can control your metabolism, what about someone who has a thyroid problem?”  You can just take that one off the table too. And I know it sounds crazy. It is something you can get checked and is something that can affect your weight gain. And still, metabolism is broken down into the easiest terms, which I’m going to get to in just a minute. But just to tell you the difference  There’s hypothyroidism; that’s the one that everybody’s concerned about. If you have hypothyroidism, you’ve got an underactive thyroid, and therefore you’ll tend to gain more weight. If you have hyperthyroidism, that’s when you have an overactive thyroid and a tendency to lose weight. And that just that stimulates whether or not you’re going to take in more food. And that’s really the key, it’s not so much the breakdown of food, it’s how much food you’re going to take in.  With hyperthyroidism, you’re typically not going to eat as much, and with hypothyroidism, you’re gonna have a tendency to eat more. And that’s what they don’t tell you about those two conditions, they act like it’s something that just happens and in your body.  And it either burns fat, or doesn’t burn fat, and it goes back to taking in calories. And there’s one last part of the organs here and I’ll get into that my definition of metabolism.  The last organs that are involved are not really an organ, they’re tissues: fat and muscle. Now with fat, you’ve got two types of fat.  And I don’t mean all those ridiculous ideas that there’s “belly” fat, and “hard” fat, and “easy” fat, cellulite fat, stubborn fat… that’s all a myth. We’ll talk about that later in another post about fat.  I’m talking about the fat that dictates a difference in functionality and not resistance to burning.  When you hear people talking about these other ideas of fat, they’re talking about resistance to being burned. This is functionality; you have brown fat, which is highly concentrated with mitochondria and this is typically stored in muscle; it’s your “ready” energy.  My analogy with this is if you’ve ever been on a Coast Guard Cutter, they have guns on those ships, and right next to this 50 caliber was a red ammo box, with “READY AMMO” spray-painted on there with the traditional military-style stencil letters.  Well, I looked at the box and noticed it wasn’t much ammo.  And the guys said, “Oh yeah, that’s just for if something pops up right in front of them, they can whip some ammo in there and start firing before they have to go downstairs and start bringing things up.” It’s their ready ammo.  Well, that’s what brown fat is.  It stays close to the muscle; it’s like your “ready ammo”.  White fat is the stuff that we don’t like. It doesn’t have as many mitochondria in it, and it’s stored around organs for insulation and stored energy.  That’s how your body actually stores energy. 

 

So there are two different types of fat involved in your body and how much you have of each does affect your metabolism.  After reading about these different organs and tissues involved, when I say it’s a much simpler process than what we believe, you probably think that’s ridiculous. But when we’re talking metabolism, the subject matter typically is weight gain. It’s very rare that somebody is talking about the idea of metabolism and not discussing weight loss or weight gain and the fact that we don’t understand exactly what’s going on is the way that we can get confused about food that we eat, supplements that we should buy, activities we should do.  We’re mainly guessing at how to speed things up? And trying to figure out if you have a fast metabolism or a slow one? I want to make it simple. And I hate to tell you, there are people out there that believe this, and I’ve seen fitness professionals talk about this. I’ve seen apps, I’ve heard podcasts on it. If you google this, you will find copious amounts of articles that say that what I’m about to say just isn’t true. But at the end of the day, it is calories in versus calories out. I hate to tell you that, but it’s really that simple. In the 1700s, there was a French physicist that proved that all matter has already been created. It’s all here. We’re not making new matters. Unless an asteroid hits this planet and stays we’re not creating matter on this planet. Now, why do I bring that up? Because some people think that that is what happens daily in our bodies. I’ve heard, “You know, I was doing great on my diet, but then I ate a muffin and I gained five pounds!”  Now wait for a second, where did you find a five-pound muffin?  That’s 15, almost 18,000 calories. That’s what five pounds are. People say that they ate a muffin, have a slow metabolism, and that’s why they gained weight. No, that’s ridiculous. That’s why I’m bringing it up. It is simply calories in calories out. A guy I worked with in high school is a good example of some of the ridiculous things that you might hear.  He went through a diet program of some sort, and he lost a lot of weight. But he would eat a Snickers bar and drink a Diet Coke. And I promise you, he believed that the Diet Coke got rid of the calories in the Snickers bar. It’s thinking like this. That’s just absurd. Here’s the root of the problem. If I asked you, what did you have for breakfast this morning? You could probably tell me. If you’re really tracking nutrition, you keep up and you really study good clean food and I asked you what you had for lunch yesterday, you can probably tell me. In fact, if you’re really a student of it all and maybe you do the grocery shopping in the house, I can ask you what you had for supper three nights ago, you could tell me exactly what you had. Some people can tell me not only exactly what they had, but they can tell me what store they bought it from.  And they can tell me about this new Greek yogurt you’ve been hearing about. This is a special Greek yogurt that only comes from sacred goats, not cows, and you can’t get it on the top shelf, you have to get it on the third bottom shelf around the corner. They only have it on a special Tuesday at this one store. And I know I’m being ridiculous, but it’s amazing the detail that people can tell me about buying some kind of special food.  But when I ask them how many calories they have had in the last six hours? They can tell me exactly what they had to eat in detail three nights ago, but when I asked them how many calories they have had… some people have food right in front of them. How many calories is that? Typically the best answer I get is, “Well. I think it’s somewhere around this number.” Or someone is really in their eating and nutrition and whatnot, and I ask, what does one pound look like? In other words, how many calories are in a pound? 3500 calories are in a pound. But it’s amazing how many people don’t know that, especially people that are studying their nutrition.  They fall into this idea that they can eat this healthy food and they either have a fast or slow metabolism and they’re just gonna roll the dice. And that’s not true, folks. It is simply calories in versus calories out. And the reason we get lost in all that is wanting to make excuses for where we are or basically not understanding. And I get that there’s not a whole lot of information out there. There are more of these myths. And there’s, there’s a lot of money in these myths where this started. Now I gotta be careful, I’ll go down a rabbit hole on this one.  It went askew at some point in time.  Believe it or not, at one point, we were more concerned about these things. Early on, we had a better idea of it until the 1950s. One particular physician kind of blew it all up for us and started the whole “good food, bad food” lie and I’m not going to go too far down that road… It’s for another post. But believe it or not, it is the biggest lie in nutrition. And we’ll get to that later. But basically, my point is, when you’re talking about metabolism or weight gain, focus on the amounts first. If you want your incredible, research-refined-made-from-Virgin-goats yogurt, great. I think that’s fantastic. First thing, folks, the amounts, because if you’re dealing with metabolism, it’s calories in versus calories out. We were talking about hypothyroidism earlier, and if you have this condition, yes, you have an underactive thyroid sending messages to your brain that hey, we need more food, but you’re not going to gain weight unless you actually take in more food. The reason I say that is because I’m not criticizing anybody that may have that condition. If you do, Lord, get it treated, there’s medication for it, it can be handled, but it’s not this funny gland turning a 200 calorie muffin into 5,000 calories.  It is making you want to go eat more. And so again, it is consuming more calories than you expend. People also say that weight gain is attributed to how much sleeping you’re getting and eating late into the night. Well, again, that’s all broken down to the fact that when you’re tired, you have less energy, therefore you have less resistance, therefore you’re going to eat more. But the bottom line on metabolism is basically calories in, calories out. If you’re wanting to track that and control your metabolism, or “speed it up”, it’s quite simple. The first thing I’ll tell you is that you can do it while you’re sitting right there, reading this wherever you are. 

 

It’s pretty easy; just hold your hand up, either one, and move your index finger up and down.  You know, like the disco finger.  So simple.  Now, to slow down your metabolism, simply stop moving the finger.  As ridiculous as this, all you did was move and you expended calories.  And when you stopped moving the finger, you stopped expending calories. When you expend calories, you speed your metabolism. When you stop moving. You stop expending calories and you slow your metabolism down. That’s how simple it is!

 

What about that organ function? Again, if you take in fewer calories than you expend, you’re going to lose weight. If you take in the same amount of calories as you expend, you’re going to maintain the same weight. If you take in more calories than you expend, you’re going to gain weight.  Period. Here’s how to fix that. Here’s how to go about controlling your metabolism and weight. First and foremost, don’t guess how many calories you’re consuming. Measure and track your calories. I mention something a lot in my talks. I talk about perception versus measuring.  Perception is when people look at their food and just guess at how many calories it is.  What do 200 calories of a certain food look like?   Don’t do that, measure it.  There are fantastic apps you can use, my favorite happens to be My Fitness Pal. It’s free, and it’s really easy to log your food in this app right on your phone. It has an incredible database, and you can get an idea of how many calories you’re actually taking in. In fact, you can actually start logging the food you’re planning to eat for the day and get an idea of what your day is going to be like.  I have clients that will log their lunch in because they know what they’re going to eat for lunch, and this helps them stay on track. And they may be eating clean, good food, which is fantastic. But they know the amounts, so they can walk into a restaurant, look at a menu, and they know the amount of what they’re going to have and also how many amounts they should have in a day. And that differs from person to person. But these apps, like My Fitness Pal, allow you to log all your information, and then you can easily break down what goals you want to set. And it will generate and help you track how many calories you should be taking in. It’s very easy to establish and very easy to set up. And again, it’s free. I had a client ask me one time (because I don’t use many notes when I’m training somebody), “how do you know my weights?” and I said, “Well, it’s easy. I work with you every single week, so I know your weight.”  I mean this is something I see day in and day out I can give you a weight rundown through the entire workout.  My Fitness Pal becomes that same way the more you actually start using it. And if you’re tracking your calories in, you definitely want to track your calories out (from moving, exercise, etc.).  And the reason being is that with calorie expenditure, caloric needs change day to day depending on how active you are, or how inactive you are.  So if you have a fitness tracker also, like a FitBit, or AppleWatch, you can link it to your My Fitness Pal app, and change your goal based on your calories out.  So for instance (and please don’t write this number down, this example happens to be Garrett Williamson’s numbers, not your numbers), according to My Fitness Pal, I should be taking in somewhere around 1500 calories a day.  Well, I haven’t eaten only 1500 calories since I was a fetus; I take in quite a bit more than that every single day.  Because I move a lot, and as I go through the day it adjusts those caloric needs and it adjusts my calorie intake and I become like one of my clients; I don’t have to worry about what kind of special yogurt I need to be buying or this new expensive food that somebody found that’s an alternative to something that I like.  Instead, I just have to be concerned with how many times I have to go up and down my stairs before I can have another glass of wine.  And I’d much, much rather have that problem. And basically to speed it up as I said earlier, expend.  Expend calories. Burn calories, get moving, get some rest, get some muscle, get some water, get metabolizing, just get moving. Very simple. 

 

So I touched on this earlier, but I want to make it very clear so there is no confusion.  There’s a lot of money in these myths and confusion about metabolism.  One of the biggest things I always want to cover, because this is important to me, and that is age. We think that age controls our metabolism. Well here’s the skinny on that. I’ll make it very simple for you. We have an epidemic in this nation. We have an epidemic where a certain age group is experiencing obesity for the first time. Can you guess what demographic that is? Childhood obesity.  Why is that?  I’ll tell you why.  It’s because kids aren’t as active anymore. They are playing more video games, watching Netflix, YouTube, and things of that sort, and not moving around.   Most people will say it’s fast food. But McDonald’s has been around for a lot of years, folks. It’s not that.  It’s the fact that they’re not as active and when they’re sitting still, they probably are taking in more calories. So kids are taking in more calories and moving less and that’s why they’re getting obese.  But people will think this happens to adults because of age.  Because you hit a certain number on a calendar.  We’re doing the exact same thing, folks. It’s no difference whatsoever, it really is that simple. Get up, get moving, track your calories, both in and out. That’s the easiest way to live. And remember, folks, stay hydrated!

 

Thanks for reading the Personal Edge Fitness Blog, by Garrett Williamson. Ask questions by calling 251-278-EDGE (3433) or message us on Facebook and Instagram @PersonalEdgeFitness or @TeamPE on Twitter and visit us at PersonalEdgeFitness.com