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Metabolism Mystery

By Carl A. Weiss, III, MD PhD FACS

Think of your body as a high performance engine. This engine requires high octane fuel (good food) to rev it up for optimum performance. And if you routinely stay in motion you can maintain good performance.

There is a great deal of mystery around this concept. People often struggle to understand how their own metabolism contributes to weight gain or weight loss. There are certainly some components of metabolism that are inherited and beyond the sphere of influence for some people. However, for the vast majority of patients, metabolism is another name for how a person utilizes energy stores. Metabolism can be boiled down to several important concepts all based on energy utilization. To help understand how this works, let’s think about where energy comes from.

The body has developed several different areas from which to derive energy. It comes primarily from two places depending on your immediate needs.  From the perspective of evolution, it has generally been helpful for the purposes of survival to preserve any adaptations that assist in the “fight or flight” response. When we were being chased by a large predator, we needed readily available, quick energy to escape and survive. This “immediate” energy tends to arise from the liver storage of carbohydrates and starches. This energy supply is easily tapped and quickly mobilized for use BUT it is limited in supply. Knowing that the energy from the liver is in short supply leads us to wonder what is the next source of energy our body draws from. It turns out that after the liver based energy supply has been exhausted the body turns to fat or adipose tissue for additional energy needs. This energy resource is much greater than that found in the liver but is slightly more difficult to access and mobilize.

With this in mind, if someone is gaining weight, then their energy intake is greater than their energy utilization. Translation, if you want your body to run like a luxury sports car, then be sure you are adding enough fuel based on the recommended grade (quality) and run the engine frequently.