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The word “metabolism” gets thrown around quite a bit, especially in terms of weight loss, but what does it actually mean?! Metabolism is defined as a combination of complex physical and chemical processes that occur in a living organism that are vital for energy synthesis in order for a body to be able to function and thrive. There are two parts to metabolism:
- Catabolism: Organic compounds are broken down to provide heat and energy that allows the body to move, which involves breaking down of food into simpler substances as well as elimination of waste through the skin, kidneys, lungs, and intestines.
- Anabolism- building & storing: Substances are combined to build more complex compounds for growth and repair of body tissues, and storage of energy for future use.
Enzymes play a major role here. They are molecules in the digestive system that break down larger compounds into smaller digestible units, i.e. proteins into amino acids, carbohydrates into sugars, and fats into fatty acids. In addition, some enzymes speed up and regulate chemical reactions necessary to break down of fuel and energy production.
So in the grand scheme of things, what does it mean to you?! Your metabolism constantly coordinates a number of these functions to keep you healthy and vibrant. So let’s learn some useful suggestions on how to incorporate nutrition and movement to increase your metabolism for a consistent supply of fuel and energy.
Chew the food: Slow down to chew your food fully without outside distractions of TV, computer, and reading. Be aware of each bite, taking the time to allow the body to process what it is doing. Digestion starts immediately with the first bite, yet it takes your brain 20 minutes to realize that it is full. So take your time, chew each bite 30-50 times per mouthful.
Prepare your food: Controlling the ingredients and the portion sizes is essential when determining what foods you choose, and can be best established by preparing your meals on your own. Preparing food ahead of time is another great way to choose a healthier meal option. Utilizing a crock pot for larger quantities that would allow for multiple meals and left-overs that can be frozen. Meals that can be reheated, even without a use of a microwave, make for great lunch and dinner option. Preparing a menu ahead of time allows you to know when and what you’re going to eat to reduce the need for last-minute impulsive food decision. Pack a brown-bag lunch for work or school to maintain a healthy lifestyle outside of the home. Choosing the right food can be a force of habit, so limit your exposure to sugar, trans fats, additives, harmful fillers, and other unhealthy choices.
Keep fueled during the day: Eating more often in smaller portions throughout the day keeps the metabolism working, prevents drops in blood sugar and uncontrollable hunger, and minimizes the need to overeat or eat junk and/or sugary foods. Consider 3 healthy meals and 2-3 smaller snacks, which would mean that you’re eating every 2-3 hours. Choosing healthy, nutrient-dense snacks is a great way to keep fueling the body throughout the day with lots of fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds.
Choose real food: Choose unprocessed, fresh food that will leave you satisfied and nourished. Half of each meal should be fruits and vegetables, even for snacks. With each meal, you should eat some protein, complex carbohydrates, and fiber. Protein does not mean animal meat; here are some suggestions on plant-based protein choices. Fresh produce contributes to complex carbohydrate and the overall fiber intake (25 grams per day), especially dark greens (kale, spinach, collards, broccoli, etc.) that are packed with a multitude of nutrients and vitamins. If choosing a salad, season it with olive oil, lemon and balsamic/apple cider vinegar to avoid sugar and other additives.
Drink water: Opt for purified water to keep you hydrated and cool. Avoid sweetened drinks. Even many juices, besides the obvious sodas, contain a lot of sugar or high fructose corn syrup. Sometimes dehydration may be mistaken for hunger, so drink a glass of water before eating. A cup of green or herbal tea can also be refreshing and provide some antioxidants.
Be mindful: Determine whether or not you’re actually hungry. Sometimes people will reach for snacks if they are bored, sleepy, or ‘blue.’ So take a deep breath, let your shoulders drop away from your ears, and distinguish your need for “food.” Choosing the right size dish can be helpful to appropriately assign enough space for your mind and your stomach.
Treat yourself with caution: Candy and other sugary treats can establish a negative reward for you and can be especially damaging with children because the goal is not to equate being “good” with sweets or other junk food. So choose healthier treats or smaller portions.
Move your body: Depending on your ability and your comfort level, spend at least 30 minutes each day doing some sort of physical activity, whether that’s walking, running/jogging, biking, swimming, weight lifting, strength training, yoga, pilates, martial arts, etc. The goal is to get your heart rate up, to get the blood pumping, to generate some heat, and as a result get some energy by rocking your metabolism. Make it a family affair, go outside, and spend time together!
Allow your body to do what it is designed to do by providing it with the right tools on how to maintain a healthy and working metabolism. Incorporating these tips with the optimal body function will result in more energy each day and a great life!
Be healthy & happy, Dr. Tijana
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