About three years ago, I declared war on my metabolism. What led to this extreme action?
As I moved into my mid-thirties, I continued my usual habits, like filling my plate without concern for portion size, remaining loosely mindful of nutritional content, enjoying a modest dessert at will, and nominally considering intentional exercise. Oddly enough, my weight jumped up one year, and then the next, and then the next, until…my doctor said something about it.
Excuse me? My doctor is questioning me about my weight? Hold up – what’s happening here? Sure, my clothes have been snug, and I had to shove a few dresses to the back of my closet, but really? Has it come to this?
Then and there I declared metabolism the enemy. After all, everyone knows that metabolism slows as we age. Obviously my sadistic metabolism had begun its assault on my body, padding my figure with extra pounds in all the wrong places!
So I began a series of counter attacks that included inconsistent exercise routines, a semi-honest log of my calorie intake, and experimentation with a variety of metabolism-boosting supplements. The results?
The war raged on, as my stubborn enemy refused to submit!
Finally, I decided to educate myself further on this topic – and was I surprised! I had been battling the wrong enemy. My metabolism had very little to do with my weight gain.
The truth is, as we age, our metabolism doesn’t slow enough to cause significant or rapid weight gain. According to the Mayo Clinic, lean muscle mass decreases as we age, which slows our calorie-burning rate. Despite this change in muscle mass, our basal metabolism, (or the energy needed for basic body function), remains relatively constant. So as metabolism slows gradually with age, it’s not enough to greatly impact weight gain.
But don’t hormones affect metabolism and cause weight gain? Not necessarily. Current studies indicate that weight gain corresponds more to age-related changes than to hormonal changes. However, women approaching menopause do experience a change in where their body stores fat. You guessed it – we are more likely to store fat in our abdomen as we near menopause and estrogen levels decrease.
Other than the gradual loss of some lean muscle mass, why is age the enemy when it comes to weight gain? As we age, we experience changes in our diet, sleep, physical activity, and stress that become relevant contributors to weight gain, but oftentimes these factors are within our control. Considering my own circumstances, this idea made sense to me. In my twenties I was far more active, didn’t sit nearly as much, had lower stress levels, and slept more. If I gained weight, it seemed to disperse more evenly, making it less obvious.
The truth became clear: metabolism had little to do with my weight gain. As the years ticked by, my activity level plummeted, general stress increased, and I made sleep a lesser priority. Yes, I lost a little muscle mass, and I’m sure hormones have begun to change, but I never adjusted my calorie intake to match the changes in my lifestyle. I still have a healthy appetite, but I’m not an active 25 year old anymore.
So what’s my action plan? First, I accept that I will likely never match my weight from 11 years ago. Do I really want to sacrifice to that degree for mere numbers? Second, what’s important to me now is my health. How I feel concerns me more than how I look. I have come to value my heart health and increased energy levels, which motivate me to continue my workout routine. Third, I now fill my plate with satisfying foods that contain more nutrition and fewer calories. And yes, I confess, I log my calories in a fitness app – and I’m brutally honest about it! (I’ve even discovered a love for tofu, although I’m not a vegetarian.) Finally, I make a greater effort to get the rest I need.
Technology came to my rescue as I searched for a practical way to implement my action plan. How would I find time to take better care of myself? Here are two apps that helped me take control of my health:
Fitbit Coach is a fitness app that partners with Fitbit to track and coordinate personal work-out sessions for every level of fitness. (It’s not necessary for you to own a Fitbit to enjoy this app.) I recommend beginning with the free version before upgrading to a premium subscription.
What I love about Fitbit Coach?
- Workouts customized to match your goals
- Workouts of varying length and difficulty
- Calories and stats automatically sync with your Fitbit app (see below)
- Workouts comprised of both cardio and strength training
- No equipment required – utilizes bodyweight exercises
- Customized workouts increase in difficulty as ability increases
- Multiple customized workouts to choose from daily, allows variety
- Portable – download to phone, tablet, or use on a computer
- Latest version includes audio coaching for running or walking
- Premium subscription only $40/year
Each day, I have a customized workout at my fingertips, literally, and I don’t have to leave my living room.
The Fitbit app allows me to track all my stats, including calorie intake, calories burned, steps, active minutes, exercise, heart rate, water intake, sleep, and more. You can track only those items you want to track. Heart rate, sleep, calories burned, and step tracking require a Fitbit fitness tracker, which is worn on your wrist to monitor your movements and heartrate. The app consolidates all the information collected from your tracker and the information you input directly, providing one overall picture of your progress. How this helps me? It saves me time. Food and meals I routinely consume are stored as “frequent” or “recent” for quick logging, and I can create custom foods to use later. It takes just a moment and a few clicks to keep up with my calorie intake.
What I love about the Fitbit app?
- Portable – my phone is always with me
- Easy in-app search for food items
- Easily scan barcodes to input nutrition information
- Automatically saves recent and frequent foods consumed
- Create custom foods or meals for later use
- Log water intake
- Displays calories burned
- Monitors calorie deficit
- Tracks amount and quality of sleep
- And probably a few things I forgot to mention…
As we move through life, keeping up with responsibilities, it’s easy to lose track of our health. Apps and trackers like Fitbit allow us to seamlessly integrate a workout routine and calorie-logging into our lives.