Metabolism, is the process of transforming food (e.g. nutrients) into fuel
If you had no metabolism – that is, if you had no metabolic process that was converting food
into energy – then you wouldn’t be able to move.
The basic building blocks of maintaining your life – circulating blood,
transforming oxygen into carbon dioxide, expelling potentially lethal wastes through the
kidneys and so on – all of these depend on metabolism.
It’s also interesting to note that, while we conveniently refer to the metabolic process as if it
were a single function, it’s really a catch-all term for countless functions that are taking place
inside the body.
Every second of every minute of every day of your life – even, of course,
when you sleep – numerous chemical conversions are taking place through metabolism, or
In a certain light, the metabolism has been referred to as a harmonizing process that
manages to achieve two critical bodily functions that, in a sense, seem to be at odds with
Anabolism and Catabolism
The first function is creating tissue and cells. Each moment, our bodies are creating more
cells to replace dead or dysfunctional cells.
For example, if you cut your finger, your body (if it’s functioning properly) will begin – without
even wasting a moment or asking your permission –the process of creating skin cells to clot
the blood and start the healing process. This creation process is indeed a metabolic
response, and is called anabolism.
On the other hand, there is the exact opposite activity taking place in other parts of the body.
Instead of building cells and tissue through metabolism, the body is breaking down energy so
that the body can do what it’s supposed to do.
For example, as you aerobically exercise, your body temperature rises as your heart beat
increases and remains with a certain range.
As this happens, your body requires more oxygen; and as such, your breathing increases as
you intake more H2O. All of this, as you can imagine, requires additional energy.
After all, if your body couldn’t adjust to this enhanced requirement for oxygen (both taking it in
and getting rid of it in the form of carbon dioxide), you would collapse!
Presuming, of course, that you aren’t overdoing it, your body will instead begin converting
food (e.g. calories) into energy. And this process, as you know, is a metabolic process, and is
So as you can see, the metabolism is a constant process that takes care of two seemingly
opposite function: anabolism that uses energy to create cells, and catabolism that breaks
down cells to create energy.
Indeed, it’s in this way that the metabolism earns its reputation as a harmonizer. It brings
together these apparently conflicting functions, and does so in an optimal way that enables
the body to create cells as needed, and break them down, again as needed.
Metabolism and Weight Loss
By now, you already have a sense of how metabolism relates to weight loss (catabolic
metabolism, or breaking cells down and transforming them into energy).
To understand this process even more clearly, we can introduce a very important player in the
weight loss game: the calorie.
Calories are simply units of measure. They aren’t actually things in and of themselves; they
are labels for other things, just like how an inch really isn’t anything, but it measures the
distance between two points.
So what do calories measure?
Easy: they measure energy.
And it’s important to highlight this, because the body itself, despite its vast intelligence (much
of which medical science cannot yet understand, only appreciate in awe) does not really do a
very intelligent job of distinguishing good energy from bad.
Actually, to be blunt, the body doesn’t care about where the energy comes from. Let’s
explore this a little more, because it’s very important to the overall understanding of how to
boost your metabolism, particularly when we look at food choices.
In our choice-laden grocery stores, with dozens of varieties of foods – hundreds, perhaps –
there seems to be a fairly clear awareness of what’s good food, and what’s bad or junk food.
For example, we don’t need a book to remind us that, all else being equal, a plum is a good
food, whereas a tub of thick and creamy double-fudge ice cream is a bad food.
Not bad tasting, of course; but, really, you won’t find many fit people eating a vat of ice cream
a day, for obvious reasons. So what does this have to do with calories and energy?
It’s this: while you and I can evaluate our food choices and say that something (like a plum) is
a healthy source of energy, and something else (like a tub of ice cream) is an unhealthy
source of energy, the body doesn’t evaluate.
It sounds strange and amazing, but the body really doesn’t care. To the body, energy is
energy. It takes whatever it gets, and doesn’t really know that some foods are healthier than
others. It’s kind of like a garbage disposal: it takes what you put down it, whether it should go
down or not.
So let’s apply this to the body, and to weight gain. When the body receives a calorie – which,
as we know, is merely a label for energy – it must do something with that energy.
In other words, putting all other nutrients and minerals aside, if a plum delivers 100 calories to
the body, it has to accept those 100 calories. The same goes for 500 calories from a (small)
tub of ice cream: those 500 calories have to be dealt with.
Now, the body does two things to that energy: it either metabolizes it via anabolism, or it
metabolizes it via catabolism. That is, it will either convert the energy (calories) into
cells/tissue, or it will use that energy (calories) to break down cells.
Now the link between calories/energy, metabolism, and weight loss becomes rather clear and
When there is an excess of energy, and the body can’t use this energy to deal with any needs
at the time, it will be forced to create cells with that extra energy. It has to.
It doesn’t necessarily want to, but after figuring out that the energy can’t be used to do
anything (such as help you exercise or digest some food), it has to turn it into cells through
And those extra cells? Yup, you guessed it: added weight!
In a nutshell (and nuts have lots of calories by the way, so watch out and eat them in small
portions…), the whole calorie/metabolism/weight gain thing is really just about excess
When there are too many calories in the body – that is, when there’s too much energy from
food – then the body transforms those calories into stuff.
And that stuff, most of the time, is fat. Sometimes, of course, those extra calories are
transformed into muscle; and this is usually a good thing for those watching their weight or
trying to maintain an optimal body fat ratio.
In fact, because muscles require calories to maintain, people with strong muscle tone burn
calories without actually doing anything; their metabolism burns it for them.
This is the primary reason why exercising and building lean muscle is part of an overall
program to boost your metabolism; because the more lean muscle you have, the more places
excess calories can go before they’re turned into fat.
A Final Word About Fat
There’s a nasty rumor floating around out there that fat cells are permanent. And the nastiest
thing about this rumor is that it’s true.
Yes, most experts conceded that fat cells – once created – are there for life. Yet this doesn’t
spell doom and gloom to those of us who could stand to drop a few pounds. Because even
though experts believe that fat cells are permanent, they also agree that fat cells can be
shrunk. So even if the absolute number of fat cells in your body remains the same, their size
– and hence their appearance and percentage of your overall weight – can be reduced.
The bottom line is simply that metabolism represents a process – countless processes, in fact
– that convert food into energy. When this process creates cells, it’s called anabolism. When
this process breaks cells down, it’s called catabolism.
For people trying to lose weight, it’s important to experience catabolism. That is, it’s important
convert food into energy that is used to break cells down.
Catabolism is also important because it prevents excess energy (calories) from being stored
by the body.
Remember: when the body has too many calories – regardless of what food source those
calories came from – it can only do two things. It can desperately try and see if you have any
energy needs (like maybe you’re running a marathon at the time).
Or, more often, it will have to store those calories. It has no choice. And unless you have
lean muscle that is gobbling up those excess calories, you’ll be adding fat.
In further posts we’ll introduce you to various techniques, tips, and strategies to boost your metabolism.