Sometimes we make things much more complicated than they need to be. Other times, we squash complex ideas into tiny bits of circular logic. This conversation falls into the second category:
Alison: “I can’t lose weight because my metabolism slowed down after I had kids.”
Lori: “I think it might be a little more complicated than that. You played tennis before you had kids, right? Did you ever pick it up again?”
Alison: “Well, no…”
Lori: “And you didn’t cook before you were married. Your eating habits probably changed.”
Alison: “I’ll say they did!”
Lori: “How about your stress level? Your sleep patterns?”
Alison: “Oh, definitely.”
Lori: “So there were a lot of lifestyle changes. Maybe that would explain the weight gain? What if you focused on those things?”
Alison: “That wouldn’t help. My metabolism changed when I had kids.”
Motherhood brings many changes, but the act of giving birth does not throw a switch that shuts down your metabolism. Thinking in these terms is simplistic and self-defeating. It puts walls around what’s possible. And let’s face it—it’s an excuse.
Metabolism is a complex process. The rate at which you burn food for energy stays fairly constant throughout life, but there are many variables that determine your overall metabolism.
Even when you’re not physically active, your body uses energy for processes like breathing, digestion, and healing. This is called your basal metabolic rate (BMR), which is determined by several controllable factors:
- Body composition. Muscle burns more calories than fat. As you get older, your muscle mass decreases, which in turn decreases the amount of calories your body burns. If you don’t reduce your calorie intake and increase your physical activity, you’ll enter a cycle of increasing weight and decreasing BMR.
- Activity level. Physically active people, regardless of age, have a higher muscle-to-fat ratio and a higher BMR than sedentary people. Exercise also temporarily raises your metabolism by increasing the immediate need for energy.
- Caloric intake. The more calories you consume, the higher your metabolic rate. This is one of the reasons why “diets” are so ineffective. Crash diets, characterized by drastic reduction of calories, will cause your metabolism to slow. As a result, once the diet is over, the weight will come back that much faster.
- Stress or illness. Your body interprets stress as a signal to lower your BMR. This is a survival mechanism designed to conserve energy needed for healing or in times of food scarcity. Unfortunately, your body doesn’t know the difference between siege warfare and video-game-induced sleep deficit. Cultivating habits of regular sleep and stress management can raise your BMR.
You can’t help getting older, but you can build good habits that will help you reach and maintain a healthy weight.