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Metabolism: Hero or villain?

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Metabolism: Hero or villain?

Body's 'engine' gets too much weight-management blame, credit


Connie Midey

The Arizona Republic

Mar. 6, 2007 12:00 AM


Metabolism is not often - or at least not to any great extent - the weight-gain villain dieters accuse it of being.


Nor is it always the hero responsible for some people's ability to maintain a trim figure despite prodigious eating habits.


"People's metabolic rates can be different," says Valley physician Marshall Block of Endocrinology Associates, "but not so different that it accounts for the vast amount of obesity present in our society. Everyone pretty much agrees that the majority of obesity is due to excess caloric intake, not to a decrease in metabolic rates." advertisement


For a subject so much a part of everyday conversations about weight management, metabolism and claims about amping up its power continue to confound us.


Block defines it as "the sum of all the chemical reactions that occur inside the body to either create energy or use energy and make the products that the body needs to function."


Think of metabolism as your body's engine - one that never shuts down - and food as the fuel.


Calories from the food you consume provide energy for everything your body does, and they burn at a pace determined in part by your activity level, muscle-to-fat ratio and basal metabolic rate.


Basal metabolism is expressed in the number of calories needed for basic functions performed even while you're at rest: breathing, circulating blood, growing and repairing cells, maintaining organ function and so on.


These basic needs account for about 60 to 75 percent of the calories you burn each day, a number that remains fairly consistent. It's the number of calories you'd use if you stayed in bed all day.


Eating and processing food burns about 10 percent of calories expended daily, with physical activities responsible for the rest. Take in more calories than you burn, and the excess is stored as fat.


Yes, out-of-whack metabolism could be behind the five or 10 pounds that caught up with you and now won't let go, says Tosca Reno, author of The Eat-Clean Diet (Robert Kennedy Publishing, 2006, $16.95, paperback).


"But it's probably out of whack because we did it to ourselves," she says from her home near Toronto. "We're sort of globally responsible for trashing our metabolism."


Reno cites poorly spaced meals, out-of-control portion sizes and neglect of strength-building exercises as a few of the culprits. Serious metabolic and endocrine diseases that contribute to significant weight gain are uncommon, she says.


At his Valley offices, physician Block sees just one or two people a year with Cushing's syndrome, for example.


The syndrome, characterized by increased fat in the face, neck and upper body and thinning in the rest of the body, can account for 10 to 20 pounds in excess weight, he says. The condition requires medical treatment that may include surgery, radiation, chemotherapy or cortisol-inhibiting drugs.


The more commonly seen hypothyroidism, or underactive thyroid, slows metabolism and can cause weight gain, Block says. About 10 to 15 pounds is typical.


"For patients diagnosed with hypothyroidism, a lot of the weight gain is due to water retention, and as soon as you give them thyroid pills, that weight is lost," he says. "People who are 100 pounds overweight and blame their thyroid? They're in left field."


The solution is simple, but not as effortless or fast as suggested by people promoting what they call metabolism-revving pills, foods and programs, Block says.


"In order to lose one pound of fat, you need to burn approximately 3,500 calories," he says. "You can do that in one week by cutting 500 calories a day from your diet or exercising enough to burn 500 calories a day, or by (a balance of) both."



Reach the reporter at connie.midey@arizonarepublic.com or (602) 444-8120.


Frankly, I think we need to educate the audience of this article, including the folks who wrote this. As for this doctor....GRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR..... (Well, except those of you who hear "you haven't gained enough weight" can cite him as a source. That's one silver lining in this article. ) The last thing we need is for a "doctor" to talk about Cushing's with faulty information!

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I sent the author an email. I hope many of us will. This is terribly misleading and could hurt people! And that doctor needs to find out the truth, too. I'm surprised he sees 2 patients a year if he thinks 10 to 20 pounds is the average weight gain!

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Bottom line: It's all your fault. Don't come crying to us 'cause you don't have the will power we have to make good

healthy choices, etc., etc...



I just called the reporter---she was very nice---and said Cushings might be a good topic for a story.

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