What is Metabolism?
When we eat, food is converted into energy. The term "metabolism" refers to the way -- not the speed -- that your body processes and uses the food you eat. Rather than "faster" or "slower" metabolism, it's most accurate to describe metabolism as efficient or functional versus inefficient or dysfunctional.
Metabolism is made up of several components:
- Basal metabolism -- From 60 to 65 percent of calories you eat daily are spent keeping you alive and providing basic energy for life support. If you were to lay in bed all day, you would still need these calories to support basic body functions.
- Physical activity -- 25 percent of your calories go to movement and physical activity.
- Thermic effect of food -- About 10 percent of calories are spent processing the food you eat. For example, if you eat 2000 calories a day, you should be burning 200 calories a day simply eating and digesting your food.
The winning formula to maintain your weight is that what you take in should equal the calories you expend...
CALORIES TAKEN IN FROM FOOD =
CALORIES EXPENDED FROM BASAL METABOLISM +
CALORIES EXPENDED BY ACTIVITY +
CALORIES EXPENDED DIGESTING FOOD (THERMIC EFFECT)
To lose weight, you have to reduce calories taken in, increase calories expended, or do both.
Surprisingly, many overweight people -- and thyroid patients in particular -- do not take in any more calories than people of average weight, and can sustain or even gain weight at lower calorie levels. If you fit into this category, your basal metabolism is lower, your physical activity may be reduced, and/or the thermic effect of food you eat is blunted. The end result: you don't burn as many calories as someone of a similar weight with a functional metabolism.
For you, losing weight requires that you change the output side of the metabolism equation -- you need to boost your metabolism and make it more efficient.
The Hypothyroidism / Metabolism Connection
If you have undiagnosed hypothyroidism, or your condition is not adequately treated by your doctor, almost anything you do to raise your metabolism on the output side may fail. So the first, essential step is to get a thyroid test. And if you have been tested and are being treated, you need to make sure your treatment is optimized -- including the proper drug and dosage, as well as supplements to support thyroid function.
Increase Your Basal Metabolism
Metabolism is somewhat a function of genetics, but you can increase basal metabolism by building muscle. Muscle cells are up to eight times more metabolically active than fat cells, and muscle burns more calories than fat. Adding weight-bearing or resistance exercise such as weightlifting or exercise bands -- is one of the only ways to increase basal metabolism.
An efficient metabolism also requires the smooth running of many complex body processes that rely on sufficient antioxidant vitamins such as vitamin C and the B vitamins. Supplements to correct any deficiencies are therefore important.
Finally, dehydration can contribute to an inefficient metabolism, by affecting body temperature. When you are dehydrated, your body temperature drops slightly, and causes your body to store fat as a way to help raise or maintain the temperature. Making sure you drink enough liquids, preferably at least 64 ounces of water per day, to avoid this metabolic pitfall.
Increase Physical Activity
Aerobic exercise that increases the heart rate can raise metabolism while you're exercising. Some experts believe that aerobic exercise also boosts resting metabolism for several hours, as muscles burn calories to recover and repair themselves.
Increase the Thermic Effect of Food
Resting metabolic rate typically increases as much as two to three times more after eating proteins versus carbohydrates and fats. Complex, high-fiber carbohydrates -- like high-fiber vegetables and cereals, however -- burn more calories than simple carbohydrates. You can increase the thermic effect on metabolism by focusing on quality protein, high-fiber fruits and vegetables, with an occasional high-fiber grain.
Need More Help?
Visit the Thyroid Diet Information Center, for articles, books and help with metabolism and weight loss for thyroid patients.
Mary Shomon, About.com's Thyroid Guide since 1997, is a nationally-known patient advocate and best-selling author of 10 books on health, including "The Thyroid Diet Revolution: Manage Your Metabolism for Lasting Weight Loss," and "Living Well With Hypothyroidism." Click here for more information on Mary Shomon.