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Your body has a way of telling you whether it is feeling cared for, nourished, neglected or abused – and it comes down to a word we throw around recklessly: metabolism. We believe we are either born with a “fast” one, which means we can be in the habit of hovering a few boerie rolls at a braai and still maintain our athletic speed and shape, or we inherited a sluggish one from our dad’s “bigger” side of the family.
Your metabolism, explains Christoph Lenz of ThinkFood, a pharmacist practising in Functional Nutrition, can be thought of in simple terms like this. “Your body is a factory where you have food entering your mouth, travelling on a number of conveyor belts through your system, before exiting your body. The conveyor belts deliver nutrients to your organs, tissues and cells. Some people have conveyor belts that are broken in places or don’t work at all,” he says. This is what would be considered a “slow” or “damaged” metabolism. “Material piles up where it shouldn’t, doesn’t go where it’s needed, or mixes where it shouldn’t,” he says. This blocks the effective use of energy, and calories get stored as energy in your body in the form of fat to avoid toxic levels.
The faster or more effectively your metabolism runs, the faster you burn calories and you also, therefore, have more energy available to you. When it’s “slow”, it is because your cells are not getting, or can’t utilise, the energy they need to function properly, so your metabolism adjusts for it to do so. “While your basal metabolic rate (the number of calories your body burns while resting), will differ from person to person, it is only to a very small extent dependent on your genetic blueprint. Much more important are environmental factors (i.e. food and lifestyle). These so-called “epigenetic factors” are the foremost influences that affect the rate at which you gain weight,” says Christoph.
There are therefore many lifestyle and dietary checks you can put in place to “speed up" your metabolism – not because you had a slow one to start with, but because it has become sluggish. You can do the following to get that “factory” working like a well-oiled machine again by taking note of these says, Christoph:
Consider what, and how much of it, you eat. Eating food high in nutrients and vitamins to nourish your cells is essential (lots and lots of nourishing vegetables, “some” fruit and proper protein). “Empty” calories (sugar and simple starches) may give you short-term energy, but not the sustained energy your cells need to keep your body, and metabolism, balanced.
A diet that causes inflammation or food that cause adverse reactions (such as grains if you are gluten intolerant) can do this by affecting how efficiently your gut processes food.
Stress and lack of sleep lead to a rise in stress hormones, which cause you to overeat, and poor digestion, which makes it harder for your body to metabolise carbs.
Your body will slow down its calorie-burning because it thinks you’re starving.