How metabolism works

Woman struggles to button tight jeans

How well you fit into your jeans, depends on how your food talks to your genes.

The following information was the key to gaining my freedom from Bulimia. I hope it benefits you as well.

The following information may be a trigger for those with eating disorders, particularly bulimia, but I encourage you to read, or have someone read it. They can help you put to use the information they glean from this article, as it may be invaluable to you, however, discretion is advised.

Eat less & Exercise more - and you will lose weight

It seems perfectly logical, "if you eat less - you will weight less", however, that idea is actually counter productive, and here's why.

There is an interaction that takes place between our genes, what we eat, and our environment that most people, even doctors, are not aware of. Most practicing physicians and your average person or patient has no time or inclination to delve into the thousands of research papers that contain the secrets about metabolism. The cycle that so many people with eating disorders experience has a very simple explanation and understanding the connection between starving, bingeing and the Resting Metabolic Rate is the first step toward recovery. However, everyone will benefit from the information in this article and many other illnesses can be avoided.

Metabolism is all the molecules, hormones, brain, gut, and fat cell messenger chemicals that regulate our weight and the rate at which we burn calories, in addition to many other things. Our eating behaviors, the quality of our food, changes in our environment, stress levels, and physical activity all influence the way in which our metabolism processes food, burns calories and regulates our weight. These concepts must be clearly understood to achieve optimum health and maintain an ideal weight. The goal that all of us want to achieve is a body that stays physically fit and feels fantastic, with trouble free digestion and elimination, good-quality sleep, emotional balance and an energy level that is sustained naturally - without the need for stimulants. The flight-or-fight response is a primitive survival behavior that has served the human race for thousands of years. It is a set of biochemical and psychological responses that give us the ability to react to dangerous or life-threatening situations, so we can escape from harm. While under attack, a person has no control over the biochemical reactions that govern the flight-or-fight response, because the body is programmed to save itself. The same thing is true with regard to food. The same biochemical processes that control the flight-or-fight response, also control our eating behavior. The Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR) is the amount of calories the body burns at rest. Calories are units of energy that we get from the food we eat. They combine with the chemical processes that make up our metabolism. We need a certain amount of calories each day to keep the basic functions of our body operating (RMR). We also need additional calories to sustain normal activities during the day. More activity requires more calories. The level of activity may differ from day to day or season to season, depending on work load and the environment. It is just like putting fuel in your car. The more miles you drive, the more fuel you need. Food is fuel. The RMR calorie intake for the average person should be 10 calories x the persons ideal body weight; based on their sex and height. For example: A 180 pound male should eat an absolute minimum of 1800 calories and a 120 pound female should eat no less than 1200 calories. When calories are restricted below the RMR, the body thinks it's being deprived of food and the complex forces that govern survival kick in. You will not be able to maintain this restricted calorie diet for long, because the chemical processes inside the body will force you to eat more, in order to save itself from starvation. Continually eating a restricted diet, below the minimum number of calories needed (RMR) to maintain normal function of multiple bodily systems, results in a state of chronic low-grade starvation. This sets off a molecular surge inside the body, sending hunger signals to the brain that are too strong to ignore. For the person struggling with Anorexia and Bulimia, this is how the vicious cycle of bingeing, purging, laxative use, overexercise, and dieting perpetuates itself even more rigorously. However, everyone who restricts calories below the RMR will binge, because that is how, as biological creatures, the primitive survival mechanism in the human body is genetically programmed to keep us from starving ourselves. We eat food when it is available, because the body has learned that there will be times of famine. It has been that way since the beginning of time, for every creature. It is how all of us are made. Eating less and skipping meals, or just working through lunch, will cause your body to perceive danger and ignite the chemical reactions to protect it from starvation. The result is a slower metabolism that will store whatever you consume, because you have entered starvation mode. It is true of anyone who skips meals during the day, that they will have an overwhelming desire to eat everything in sight that evening, because it is "normal" for the body to respond this way when deprived of food for any length of time. I realized that this is how the body is wired, so I may as well not fight with it.

We know we shouldn't overeat, have all done it and wished we hadn't. We have vowed never to do it again, but we do. We are not weak-willed or self-destructive. It is not all in our head, but in our genes, which I will explain in a minute. We don't necessarily need therapy. This is just how the body is programmed. In every case, but especially with Bulimia and Anorexia, the question should be - are you eating enough calories, not are you eating too many. To recover from an eating disorder (Bulimia), I had to stop the chemical process that initiates bingeing, by eating the right foods, in the right quantities, at regular intervals throughout the day, so that my body stops thinking it's starving. The key to loosing or maintaining weight is never to starve yourself. What is needed is a baseline for how many calories are necessary to keep your body from going into starvation mode. Starvation mode leads to both fat and muscle loss as the body consumes itself to survive. Eating the right foods, in quantities that exceed the Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR), but that are appropriate for the level of activity you will be doing until the next meal, will cause the body to burn fat and build muscle.

Muscle burns 70% more calories than fat, so when you loose muscle, you are loosing the engine that metabolizes your calories most efficiently. When you rebound, the weight that returns is all fat, which leads to a slower metabolism, because fat burns 70% fewer calories than muscle. This becomes your new set-point. This means that a lot fewer calories are needed to sustain the increased body weight from fat, which makes things worse, and begins a vicious cycle called starvation syndrome. In reality, going on a restricted calorie diet generally makes a person gain more fat and loose muscle.

When you minimize muscle loss and keep your metabolic system moving quickly, you will lose the internal flight-or-fight response that causes a battle between the natural chemical reactions in your body and your will. You may think you have control over your mind, but in reality, you are not in control over the subconscious choices you make when your primitive survival mechanism is in control. Your body is starving for real nutrition, not more empty calories. When it doesn't get the nutrition, it will continue to crave more and more food, in hopes of receiving the nutrition it lacks. People usually binge on foods that are devoid of nutrition. Learning what triggers the chemical responses in our bodies to activate our primitive survival behaviors is the first step. Understanding how to stop them is the key to making conscious decisions that cause us not to act in a way that sets off those triggers. Low-calorie and low-fat diets that focus on the symptoms of eating disorders to have poor long term effects, because these diets do not address the physiological drives to overeat. Genes do more than determine your hair and eye color, how tall you will get, and so forth. Genes control the flow of instructions that regulate every aspect of your biochemistry and physiology. They control hormone production and chemical messengers in the brain that affect mood, but also control your metabolism and weight. Food talks to your genes. The calories you consume are more than a source of energy; fuel. They also contain the information that tells your genes what to do with those calories, fats, proteins and carbs, and control your metabolism. These specific instructions tell your metabolism to speed up or slow down, and to lose or gain weight. They also produce molecules that increase or decrease your appetite, and help the genes make decisions that tell your body what to do with these and other bodily functions. We need to eat in harmony with our genes. Mankind has developed for thousands of generations consuming whole foods in their most natural state. As our ancestors traveled to all parts of the earth, their bodies have adapted to the natural whole foods they found, so that the components in the foods communicate with human DNA, because they speak the same language. As a result, the chemistry between us and whole foods is in harmony with each other. Eating in harmony with your genes will mean different things to different people, depending on blood type and ethnicity. There is no single diet that is suitable for everyone. Your body instinctively knows what to eat, as long as it isn't confused by mixed signals from eating the wrong foods from the start. Some blood types need more protein, carbohydrates or fat than others, and from different sources. Your DNA knows exactly what to tell your metabolism to do to use these whole foods in the most efficient and health giving way possible. On the other hand, your body was not designed to function on nutrient deficient processed foods, drugs and chemicals. One principle is the same for everyone. Eating nutritionally deficient processed foods, which contain empty calories from refined carbohydrates (that release sugars into the blood stream all at once), artificial sweeteners (that trick the brain), refined fats (hydrogenated oil / trans fats / partially hydrogenated fats) and inferior proteins - block your metabolism, slows down the bodies ability to burn fat and sends messages to your genes to gain weight. It also changes hormones, causes mental disturbances, and increases hunger and inflammation. When we look at hormones and how they function, all calories are not created equal. It isn't the amount of calories you eat, as much as the type of calories you consume, that makes the biggest difference in terms of weight and health. Also, the calories you eat are absorbed at different rates, depending on the amounts of fiber, fat, protein, carbohydrates and nutrients they contain.

When sugars are alone, as in fruit juice, bread or pasta, they enter the blood stream quickly. This starts a dangerous surge of molecules that promote hunger and weight gain. The calories from the natural sugar in whole fruit and complex carbohydrates in whole grains, like brown rice, oats, millet, quinoa or amaranth (not a processed cereal) and fresh vegetables, beans, nuts and seeds enter the blood very slowly, because of the combination of fiber, protein, complex carbohydrates and valuable nutrition contained in the whole food enters the blood stream slowly and has a stabilizing effect on metabolism. This gives the body time to use the calories, so more are burned - than stored. Also, the high fiber content of the whole food will not permit all of the calories to be absorbed. All these components communicate different complex metabolic signals to your genes. Carbohydrates in their most natural form, are the most important food in the diet for long term health, because they contain the essential nutrients and phyto-chemicals that turn on the genes that control weight and turn up your metabolism. For example: This is a simple choice that I make every day, and it has made the biggest difference to my daughter Lisa in particular, who has an eating disorder and obsession with food. Instead of giving my children store bought bread and jelly for a snack, I cook whole grain sweet rice or millet and put it in my Vitamix (blender) with fresh or frozen whole mixed berries. I sweeten it with SweetLeaf Stevia and make a nutritious, antioxidant and phytonutrient rich pudding for their mid-morning snack. Their afternoon snack is 4 oz. of pureed sprouted almonds with Celtic sea salt. Both snacks have fiber, vitamins, minerals, complex carbohydrates and protein. Bread and jelly is a high-glycemic load snack that causes the metabolism to slow down and would cause them to gain weight. The pudding and almonds are a low-glycemic load snack that speeds-up their metabolism. Notice that I keep the carbohydrate snack (grains & fruit) separate from the protein snack (nuts).

Learn more about food combining. My children do not have cravings, get colds, gain weight or have behavior problems as a result of a sugar high, aflatoxins from mold that grows on un-sprouted nuts, bread and jelly, or from other harmful chemicals often found in processed foods. I know from personal experience that once we get into a cycle of eating foods and meals with fast releasing sugars or a high-glycemic index, our appetite spins out of control and takes us on a journey toward eating disorders, obesity, chronic disease and mental disturbances.
Artificial sweeteners are bad news for many reasons, but for the purpose of this article, let me explain how the brain responds. The taste buds tell the brain that something sweet is coming. When the artificial sweetener fails to deliver what the brain expects (glucose), it gets a confusing message. In time the brain learns not to trust and ignores the messages it receives. It goes on "auto-pilot" and sends hunger signals continually. This makes the artificial sweetener user crave carbohydrates even more. As a society, we have been convinced that, because there are more calories in fat than are in carbs, so "if we eat fat, we will get fat". Calories and fat grams are only part of the story. In an attempt to eat a low-fat diet, many Americans typically fill the void with easily accessible, processed, starchy or sugary carbohydrate foods. This results in a temporary feeling of fullness, but the sugar (esp. high fructose corn syrup) and refined ingredients actually make you hungrier, induce cravings and encourage you to continue to eat for taste, crunch and something to do.

All fats are not created equal. It is not the amount of fat you eat, but the type of fat that is most important. Good fats from whole foods, like omega-6 polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats from nuts, seeds, olives, avocados and omega-3 from fish, have sustained humans for thousands of generations. Our ancestors also participated in moderate physical activity. For example: My daughters mid-afternoon snack is pureed sprouted almonds, aka almond-butter.

To burn fat, you must eat good fats. Good fats bind to the special receptors on the nucleus of your cells to turn on the genes that increase your metabolism, promote health and weight loss, improve insulin sensitivity, reduce fatty acid oxidation and inflammation.

Bad fats include refined oils - corn, soy, safflower, canola and vegetable oils. Hydrogenated oil / trans fats / partially hydrogenated fats are the most dangerous of all the man-made fats, for many reasons. Not the least of which is that, they communicate messages that block your metabolism and slow down the bodies ability to burn fat. Fake fats are easily consumed in large quantities without being aware of it, because they are found in almost all processed foods and most fast foods. Commercially packaged foods have expiration dates of a few years from the date of manufacture, because fake fats never spoil.

Some saturated fats (about 5% of your diet) are good, like human breast milk, which is necessary for the growth and development of a young child. These fats are the preferred source of energy for the heart to function properly. The brain is made up of 60% fat, so we don't want to lose any fat there, right. Avoid feed-lot or commercially raised meats and instead, purchase meats that were raised on grasses, range fed, and organically fed, which have much less saturated fat in their tissues. Eggs are a good source of protein. Eating cholesterol does not raise your cholesterol. The cholesterol in your blood is manufactured from processed, heated saturated fats, refined carbohydrates and sugars. Choosing whole foods and cleaner forms of animal protein, that has not been exposed to pesticides or injected with antibiotics, hormones and inferior feed, and doing your best to find better quality food whenever possible, will pay off in the short and long term.

The atmosphere in which we eat is very important. A stress free atmosphere, relaxed state of mind, eating consciously, chewing thoroughly and taking your time (not gulp it down) all work together to improve your metabolism. Eating in this way enables the brain and digestive system communicate with each other and work together. Eating while we are stressed or angry, in a hurry, and eating too quickly promotes fat storage, because stress hormones slow down metabolism.

When you eat has tremendous importance. Ordinary people gain weight, without realizing it, simply because they never eat breakfast. They wake up and the first thing they do is walk the dog, jog, or just run-out-the-door. This activity initiates the flight-or-fight response. The combination of skipping breakfast, exercising, or rushing out-the-door, means that by the time they get to eat, they are starving, and as a consequence, they over-eat in the evening, and then go to bed or sit in front of the computer or television. The body has no time to digest the food, and when they go to sleep, the metabolism slows down and any undigested food that remains in the system is stored as fat.

The purpose of breakfast is to "break a fast", because while you were asleep, you were fasting. Breakfast is an important meal, because it tells your body that sleep time is over and it is time to get your metabolism moving again. To be a healthy weight, I eat breakfast and spread my food intake evenly throughout the day. I eat my largest meal in the morning, have a moderate lunch and a light, easily digestible dinner. I finish eating at least 2 hours before going to bed, so that my stomach is empty when I retire. After meals, I take a 20-30 minute brisk walk (with my dog), if time permits. Whole foods come in a multitude of varieties and they are all good, as long as they are whole, real, unprocessed, foods, that are as close to their natural state as possible. When I started planning my meals according to my blood type, began chewing properly, stopped eating processed foods and switched to fresh organic whole, real fruits, vegetables, meats, eggs, grains, nuts and seeds, and ate enough calories to meet my RMR + activity level, I lost and then maintained my weight with almost no effort at all.

It will require a little planning and shopping in different stores to wean yourself off unnatural foods and get into the habit of making healthy choices. I pack my meals in a small cooler before I leave home to eliminate the temptation to compromise in favor of the quick fix (poor-quality calories) when I am out. Like me, your hunger and cravings will stop, and you will feel liberated and in control. This will raise your self-esteem and confidence. This information was the key to gaining my freedom me from Bulimia, and my daughters obsession with food. I hope it benefits you as well. If you have any questions, please contact me - Johnna Wheeler.

You are more than a number.

The focus of weight control should not be on what the scale, tape measure or tag in your clothes says.