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Weight gain or loss?The metabolic nightmare

Updated on November 15, 2010

Take it from me a carrot in time . Hmmm or was it an apple?

At last it is real fat that is going

Food isn’t just a comfort thing, something to look forward to and enjoy.  Taste of course is important for our well being and the presentation important for special occasions, but our food plays a much more important role in our quest to survive on a daily basis and can be one persons pleasure while being their neighbours nightmare.

I have written this blog for the many people like myself who love food. Love to play with it, decorate our tables with it, impress our friends with it and savour the many different tastes of todays cuisine, but most of all for you who like me has tasted one too many of those great savoury snacks and have suffered the consequences more often than once.

The yo-yo dieter, the binger and the starver, we are all in the same boat chasing our own tails wondering why we are so good at losing weight but even worse why we find ourselves constantly back at square 1 but each time we are able to consume less before the starting point is staring back at us from the mirror.

Oh Sh****ugar here we go again!

Well i have done my best to find out why and i want to share this. I also hope this will encourage others to join me in my quest to once again shed the pounds but this time for good and more than that in a sensible way.

This is the background information that well help me understand the real dieter and this is why i believe i will be much slimmer, much fitter and much healthier by June 2011.

This is the beginning. Here we go.

First of all understanding the digestive system. What happens to my beautiful food.

Our food is turned into the energy we need so dearly to grow and to function in our every day daily lives.

Through a complex process which takes place in the gastrointestinal tract has many important functions. These functions start in the mouth and continue through the esophagus, stomach, small and large intestines. Other organs involved in this process are the pancreas, liver and gall bladder.

And all i did was swallow a big delicious marshmallow or two followed by a scrumptious chocolate bar.

Lets take a basic look at what happens.

Whether it be a carrot or a marshmallow food comes in very complex forms and needs to be broken down before it can pass into the bloodstream to help your body work efficiently. No matter what you eat , our teeth will begin the process by chewing up the food into smaller digestible pieces. If you don’t have teeth then soup is a good alternative. The chewing, the smell and the taste  help to produce chemical enzymes which break down sugars in the food ( Glucose, fructose and galactose )Just think, if you sit with a drop in your mouth no matter how hard this is it soon dissolves. These are your enzymes at work. The longer that pastel or drop stays there the more enzyme it will produce to melt it down. This is a mechanical thing, the only reason you produce this is to prepare the food or sweet to start it's journey through your very own digestive factory.

 When the food is chopped or dissolved enough we swallow the food down through the esophagus to enter the stomach.  Although nothing is produced by the esophagus in itself it plays the important role of stopping the food returning to the mouth. If you are very unlucky you will have experienced indigestion at some time in your life. Not very pleasant, is it? and often comes around when we have eaten too much or drank excessively.

The stomach is the factory where extreme changes take place. The stomach is a bag which contains strong acids which can kill bacteria and anything else undesirable in the food. 

It is this acid which enters the esophagus in cases of indigestion. So corrosive and i wouldn't wish it upon my worst enemy.

Proteins also have to be broken down further and it is the stomach that this job is done . The all important B12 vitamin is released from food here and an enzyme is produced which allows it to be absorbed safely into our system.

Once the food has been sufficiently broken down and sorted in the stomach it is then pushed down into the duodenum or small intestine where most of the digestion and absorption takes place. The length of the small intestine can be up to approximately 650 cm in an adult. This lengthy passage is needed for the proper breakdown and absorption of vital molecules.

In the small intestines food is processed by different chemicals. Proteins sugars,  which are carbohydrates,  and fats are broken down by  enzymes released from  the pancreas.

From the liver and gallbladder comes bile , bile is produced by the liver and stored in the gallbladder. Through a little tube the bile is emptied into the duodenum to complete fat digestion. In addition it is needed for the digestion of all fat soluble vitamins which are vitamins, A, D, E and K.  Once this is done then the small intestine produces more of it’s own enzymes to complete digestion during the passage.

Although most of the digestion takes place in the first part of the small intestine the absorption of water, vitamins and minerals takes place in the rest of it. So up to 80% of the water we take in is already absorbed in the small intestine.

Only once the nutrients are broken down can the essential elements pas into the bloodstream to be carried to the liver.  Once they reach the liver are they further processed.  The liver turns proteins, sugars and fat into energy.  This however, is not enough for our muscles to use the energy sufficiently.  First of all the pancreas has to release insulin which is a hormone essential for the entrance  or transport of energy giving substances into the cells.

Before we travel further we have to look at what else the liver is important for, the liver gets rid of waste materials such as the byproducts of drugs.  Whatever we don’t need and can be potentially harmful to us is transported into the bile.  This actually includes, for example,  cholesterol and metals sometimes found in food.

Although most of the absorption takes place in the small intestine we still have a very large part of the gastrointestinal tract left, better known as the large intestine or colon.  The colon is not primarily responsible for digestion but it does complete the uptake of water and minerals still found in the undigestible parts of any food eaten. Electrolytes essential for good health such as potassium, calcium, sodium and magnesium  enter the system through the large intestine.

Anything that is not absorbed is expelled through the colon together with the bile carrying the other unwanted rest from the liver. It is infact bile which gives the dark colour to our waste products.

Through the process of digestion both hormones and nerves communicate allowing this procedure to go smoothly in most cases. This is a very complex system and precise coordination is needed.

Many of these processes happen without us even having to think about them. The nervous system allowing contraction and relaxation for example happens automatically no matter what we are doing. Life in other words goes on.

The use of Energy

Every cell in your body needs energy to survive, just think how many cells you have and you will realize just what is needed to get through a normal day.

You would think that more energy is better than none but the trouble is we can only process so much at any one given time and excess has to be stored for use.

Energy can only reach each cell via the bloodstream. Once sugars have been broken down into small enough particles and entered the bloodstream it is regulated by  special cells in the pancreas called Islets of Langerhans cells. Too high levels of blood sugar can be dangerous for our health overtime and can lead to diseases such as diabetes type 2 and Insulin resistance. Insulin resistance can sometimes be an indicator that the person is developing the more serious problem of type 2 diabetes.

Carbohydrates are important to understand as these can give quick release of sugar into the bloodstream or they can also be broken down at a slower rate releasing only small amounts periodically.

Carbohydrates are found in all forms of sugars and are an essential part of very many foods.

Simple sugars do not need to be broken down and enter the bloodstream at a very fast rate, one example of this is pure glucose. Complex carbohydrates on the other hand are found in fruit sugars and need breaking down before they can be absorbed. Breaking down these sugars actually requires energy and your body needs to work that little bit harder to do this..

For people with diabetes type 1 carbohydrates need to be helped into the cell by an injection of insulin.  This treatment is individual and each patient needs to monitor their blood sugars regularly and then adjust their insulin dose accordingly.

Proteins and fats are also important for healthy living and a good balanced diet is important for the building of new cells and proper functioning of the nervous system.

Calories!  What are they and why do we need them?

A calorie is a measure of a unit of energy.  Without going into this in depth as this can be explained in deep detail on many pages of the internet if you want a better understanding, I want to look closer at why calories are needed for survival and what happens when we consume too many.

Human beings need energy to survive that would be to breath, for the heart to pump and to move around. We get this type of energy from the food that we eat.

The number of calories quoted on the packets of food that we buy indicates the amount of potential energy that particular type of food possesses. A gram of carbohydrate  and a gram of protein for example has 4 calories and a gram of fat is known to have 9 calories.

Calories in food will not just come from carbohydrates. If you look closer you will see that the calories can be divided into for example 4 grams of fat ( 4 x 9 = 36 )   2 grams of protein ( 2x 4 = 8 ) and 60 grams of carbohydrate ( 4 x 60= 240 )   giving us a total of 288 calories.

Our bodies burn these calories through metabolic processes. The carbohydrates are broken into glucose and other sugars ,the proteins into amino acids and the fats into glycerol and fatty acids by enzymes. Once these molecules have been successfully broken down and transported into the bloodstream they can either be used by the relevant cell for immediate use or sent on to the final stage of metabolism where they react with oxygen to release their stored energy.

The amount of calories that an individuals cells need to function properly is individual. The average for any one person is estimated at around 2000 calories but some people will need more than this and some people less.

Height, weight, gender and age and activity levels all play a significant role. You need to take into consideration three main factors when calculating your caloric need. Your basic metabolic rate, your daily physical activity and your thermic effects of the food you  eat.

Your basic metabolic rate is what your body will requires just to function at rest. Things you don’t go around and think about constantly like your heart beating, your lungs pulling in air and your kidneys helping to excrete waste from your system are working non stop. Your cells are renewing, your hair is growing , you sleep, you think…need  go on?  The point is this all requires energy, the energy you take in from your daily meals.

A really good instrument used for calculating the metabolic rate is the Harris .Benedict formula which is different for men and women.

Women:  Adults only  …….655+ (4.3x weight in lbs)+( 4.7x height in inches)-(4.7x age in years)

Men: Adults only….66+(6.3x body weight in lbs) +(4.7x height in inches )-(6.8x age in years)

Physical activity includes all forms of movement,  Some more energy requiring than others. 

You can find many activity websites quoting the amount of calories or approximations for how many calories are burned during an hour of different activities.

The thermic effect of food is the amount of energy needed to digest that particular type of food.

To calculate this take the amount of calories provided by the food and multiply by 0.10.

If you make calculations from all three of the above facts you can work out how many calories you need to function properly each day.

It is important to note though that your exixting weight and muscle mass can affect how many calories you will burn in activity. The more muscle mass your body has means that you have more energy cells to maintain thus burning more calories.  If your proportions consist of more fat cells then the energy you use during exercise will first have to break down the fat cells before utilizing themfor energy. This process can take a little bit longer . Be patient though the more exercise you do the more muscle you will gain and the more fat cells you will burn. Leading to a healthier , leaner physic over time.

Too many calories , What happens?

Taking in more or fewer calories than your body needs will have consequences in the fact that you will either gain or lose weight.  For your body to store one extras pound of fat it needs to gather 3500 calories from your food.  To burn off 1lb of fat it needs to use up 3500 calories from it’s stores or from the food you have eaten.

When we want to actively lose weight we quite often start an activity plan or join a fitness centre together with using a calorie controlled diet.  When we run on a treadmill for example at a slower pace ( also walking/running technique ) we can burn as many as 350 to 400 calories in one hour. For the very fit who run fast and push their heart rates up this amount of calorie burn can be quite a bit higher. When you stop exercising this increase in metabolic rate takes a little while to return to it’s previous level which means you burn calories at a higher rate for a couple of hours after the activity stops.

It is also important to understand that a calorie is a calorie no matter if it comes from protein, fat or carbohydrate. A lb of fat is worth 3500 calories and that is what you need to aim at to go down or up in weight.  If your output of energy is the same as your intake of energy then your weight will be maintained.  This is why top athletes need to eat so much more than an office worker who sits at a desk all day and maybe pops into the fast food store on the way home to eat in front of the television.  If you want to lose you need to use. Simple as that.

Importance of nutrition

When people want to lose weight they often cut out fats immediately.  This is of course important if the fat consumption is higher than their recommended daily dose.  However, it is also important to realize that some fats are healthy to consume. Fats help for example , the body to transport vital vitamins. It is recommended that our daily intake of fat should be 30% of our daily calorie intake required for healthy functioning.

It has been said that anyone on a calorie controlled diet should never eat less than 1100 calories per day. By going lower than this you are putting your body into a crisis situation which can eventually have negative consequences on your health.  It is so much better to get help and control your calorie intake at a healthy daily level. This may take longer for you to rach your desired goal weight but you will be much healthier and happier with the results.  Just thnk if you lose 10 lbs in weight over time this is the equivalent of 10 x 3500 calories in fat you have lost.  Some people have the tendency to start fad diets. These will help you lose weight quickly.  Now this is not logical when you think that the weight loss should be actual loss of fat.

Sorry to say that much of this weight will come from many of your cells ability to hold water.

Too little energy in will also soon deplete you of other types of energy resulting in sluggishness, tiredness, sore muscles, irritability and good health.

These diets might be good for some people to kick start their slimming process but they should never be continued for more than two weeks maximum. Just remember what a resting metabolic rate entails. Heart beating, cell renewal, bone renewal, cell hydration many vital functions that need energy.

It is also a known fact that when you starve your body, your metabolic rate is reduced to a minimum to compensate. This is very unlucky as you will soon see a weight increase when you come off of the fad diet and resume your earlier habits. As you have reset your metabolic rate this fat is the much harder to lose the next time around.

Finally I would just like to say if you have been like me and ignored this advice above hope is not out!

It is possible to increase your metabolic resting rate once again it just takes time and patience.

I have started my journey to a healthier fitter future I hope there are some others out there joining me and proving the experts of todays nutrition and health right in their research.


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    • Aisla profile imageAUTHOR

      Carolyn Mikkelsen 

      8 years ago from Norway

      Haha it was wasn't it. But thankyou for taking the time to comment.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Wow, that is one long hub. Well done.


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