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In the previous four steps in this “Boosting Your Metabolism” series of posts, I talked about what metabolism really is - and what happened to it when we turned 40!

In the last post, I shared the startling information that you may be burning 20-36% fewer calories each day. Here’s what happens:  

A decrease in your metabolism when you go on a restrictive diet is the natural result of your body's primitive, complex survival mechanisms. They are designed to keep you alive during limited periods of starvation.  

In days long ago when food was not as plentiful or easy to obtain, people worked quite strenuously hunting and gathering their food. Perhaps they chased wild game or walked miles to find edible berries and roots. When they were able to eat freely, their bodies used the fuel as needed for activities then stored any extra fuel as fat for later use. When food supplies were scarce during cold winters or summer droughts, their bodies could draw on the stored fat for fuel.  

If a famine persisted, their bodies would sense the lack of sufficient fuel and conserve energy by eliminating non-essential functions and slowing down the essential ones. Fat stores and muscle tissue would be broken down for energy to meet their bodies' caloric demands. When the famine was over and they could eat whenever they were hungry, their bodies would rebuild lost fuel stores. Their muscle mass would also be rebuilt as their tasks of hunting and gathering of food were supported by adequate nourishment.  

Your body still has this primitive survival mechanism but most modern "famines" self-imposed. Under strict dieting conditions, the same old survival mechanisms still exist. Initially you’ll lose water and some of your stored fuel. Eventually survival mechanisms kick in and your metabolism decreases to conserve energy and some of your muscle mass may be lost. This is simply the way your body adapts to being under-fueled.  

The problem is that if (when?) you gain your weight back, you get your fat back but not your muscle. As a result, you have a higher body fat percentage and lower muscle mass. As you can see, we have come full circle back to the first article in this series: since muscle burns calories, your metabolism is LOWER than it was before the yo-yo diet.

On the other hand, to optimally support your metabolism you can choose to take three important steps:  

1. Live an active lifestyle
2. Engage in a reasonable exercise program to maintain and build muscle
3. Eat an appropriate amount of food to fuel your cells  

Duh! We hear this over and over so why do people keep looking for some magic pill or diet? With a greater appreciation for the processes that affect your metabolism, you can take these critical steps to boost and fuel your metabolism to work for you.

Michelle

Michelle May, MD
Recovered Yo-yo Dieter
[Link Removed]


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