This is what everyone wants to hear, right? “I want to burn more calories, without changing what I’m doing.” But can we be honest, and talk about what metabolism is, and what we are doing when we are “burning calories” ?
Metabolism is just the sum of all the chemical reactions that happen to make you alive and mobile. Your metabolism consists of your cells dividing, your heart pumping, your lungs breathing, tiny muscular contractions keeping you upright, secretions being produced, etc. Approximately 90-99% of all the calories you burn each day are spent just keeping you alive. All large skeletal movements are added to that, so the more you move, the more calories you use one top of the basic ones.
You are not above the law.
The math is pretty basic. The laws of thermodynamics do apply to living things. However, all measurements are approximate as we are all a bit different. For example, most measurements are based on men having more muscle mass than women. That may or may not be true. Most good calorie trackers currently tie into fitness trackers or allow you to put your activity range in, allowing them to dial in better. Until we get to the point where we can perfectly register every bite you put in your mouth and all your exertions, there will be some discrepancy. Having said all that, I will not believe you if you tell me you are eating 12oo calories a day and not losing weight. (Unless you are a child or child sized.)
Eeek! Starvation mode!
Which brings me to my next point. Actually, to my whole point in writing this. When we talk about “starvation mode”, or raising or lowering our metabolism, what we are actually talking about is increasing or decreasing movement. Remember the last time you were literally starving? Like after having the flu, or when you fasted? You feel like you can’t move. The effort to lift an arm feels like too much. That is all we mean when we talk about lowering your metabolism. If your body doesn’t have enough for the “keeping you alive” part, you certainly won’t have the energy for a 20 minute cardio workout. So you want to eat enough to feel capable of doing exercise. (Willingness is another issue.) Your metabolism isn’t some magic engine that is revving up while you are sitting in front of the computer. It is you deciding to walk to work, run on your lunch, hike after work, or get to the gym. Your metabolism revs up as it is required to, by moving. You can’t make your cells divide faster, or secrete more, the only part of your metabolism you have control over is skeletal movement. And, if I may speak from personal experience, moving makes you more energetic. No one gets more energized by sitting on the couch. People who say “I’m resting up” don’t ever seem to get rested enough to do anything.
Take home message:
Use a decent calorie tracker, know your limits and move, Move, MOVE! (And don’t fall for hype. If you take something to “boost your metabolism”, then use it to move!)
(But don’t take anything to boost your metabolism, they are generally useless.)