By Michelle Murdolo, MS, RD, CDN
What comes to mind when you hear the word “metabolism?” Recently, we’ve been led to believe our metabolism’s only purpose is to be a fat burning machine. We’ve been taught that we need to learn how to speed up our metabolism so we can burn more fat and lose more weight. Diet culture has taught us that if we live in a larger body something is wrong with our metabolism, or even worse, something is wrong with us.
Well, guess what? None of that is true! There is so much more to metabolism than managing weight. Your metabolism is not “broken.” It works just fine, and it is always running! Metabolism is all the chemical reactions going on inside of your body. These are the processes needed to maintain life. Some reactions create energy while some use energy – therefore we need to eat to replace the energy our body uses.
Yes, metabolism does have some influence on how much energy we burn – but that’s just one small piece. And when it comes to weight loss and metabolism, we’ve learned that there’s so much more to it than the outdated notion of “calories in vs. calories out.” Our bodies are smart, our metabolism is smart, and it knows exactly what it is doing. Your body can detect changes and react, and when “calories in” decreases, often “calories out” decreases in response. The same thing happens with weight: as your weight goes down, your energy output (calories burned) goes down too. Our bodies have an internal weight regulation system meant to protect us in case of famine, and evolution has taught our bodies that weight = safety and protection. Dieting or a decrease in intake slows the rate we burn calories, causing us to hold on to more calories as opposed to using them for energy. It also increases appetite, decreases energy levels, increases food cravings and much more. Our metabolism is a very smart sytem, but just because we’re not losing weight does not mean that it’s broken. It’s working just the way it was designed to.
So the next time you see an advertisement for weight loss superfoods, green tea pills, or that magic cure-all that seems too good to be true (and probably is), remember – the reason these things don’t work is not because there’s something wrong with you, it’s because there’s something wrong with them. Dieting is making it more difficult for you to lose and maintain your weight – your body is not broken. Your body was made to work this way!
Now you know your metabolism isn’t broken and your body isn’t broken and weight loss products aren’t the answer. Then what is? Let go of the control. Have some self-compassion. Focus on behavior change and not weight. Move your body in a way you enjoy, ramp up your fluids and increase your fruit and vegetable intake. Don’t deprive yourself of the things you love and focus on nourishing your body in a healthful way. Life is all about balance – don’t forget to enjoy it!
- Health at Every Size: The Surprising Truth About Your Weight by Linda Bacon, PhD.
Michelle Murdolo, MS, RD, CDN is a registered dietitian nutritionist who guides patients through their bariatric surgery and weight management journey. She comes from a background of eating disorders and disordered eating and emphasizes body positivity and health at every size principles.