Ways to increase metabolism

Energy and the caloric requirements of each individual are dependent on four different aspects. The metabolic requirements of each individual are affected by the daily physical activity, the movements made subconsciously, the thermogenic effect of food (i.e. the energy needed for digesting food) and the basal metabolism.

The definition of basal metabolism can be described as the body’s chemical reactions that are designed for its smooth functioning. These reactions are responsible for a large number of functions in the body such as the cell metabolism, the maintenance of body temperature, the smooth function of the gastrointestinal tract, the glands and many other. In order for these chemical reactions to be accomplished the human body requires energy and the measure to count energy is called calorie. The higher the intensity of these chemical reactions is the more calories are required.

Metabolism in the human body is influenced by several factors. Men in general have increased basal metabolism than women and thus they achieve easier weight loss.  Also, men usually have a higher percentage of muscle tissue than women. Increase in muscle tissue and also weight gain in general leads to the increase of the basal metabolism. Also, the age of an individual can be another factor affecting basal metabolism. During growth energy and metabolic needs are increased, while after the age of 20 metabolism begins to decrease by 1-2% per decade. Besides the sex, age, weight gain, muscle mass, etc metabolism is influenced by various hormonal disorders. Poor functions in the thyroid gland, which has the effect of reducing a hormone called thyroxin, reduces metabolism by 40% while in a state of hyperthyroidism metabolism can be increased by 80%. Other factors that increase metabolism and energy needs are pregnancy and breastfeeding, increased body temperature (i.e. fever), cold climate, caffeine intake and some catabolic diseases and injuries.

Metabolism increases mainly in two ways: by exercising and by following a correct diet. Physical exercise helps to burn more calories and causes an increase in muscle tissue which also increases metabolism and energy needs.  When talking of nutrition it is suggested to reduce fat and simple carbohydrates (i.e. sugar) and avoid or reduce the consumption of sweets, fried foods and processed meat. Food consumed should mainly consist of vegetables, fruits, complex carbohydrates (whole grains, oatmeal, etc.) and protein (fish, chicken, etc). Surveys suggest that protein increases metabolism by 40%. It is advised not to skip meals during the day as the consumption of 5-6 meals daily increases metabolism. When following a weight loss diet one must be patient and not reduce excessively calories consumed as this will have a negative impact on the metabolism in the long run.  Finally, consumption of plenty water is advised in order to increase metabolism, hydration and detoxification of the body.

The way of measuring basal metabolism is achieved by using indirect calorimetry. The method of inducing one to indirect calorimetry is by lying down comfortably and wearing a mask which is connected to a special apparatus that measures combustion accomplished in the body according to the proportion of oxygen inhaled and carbon dioxide exhaled.

Yiannis Kerimis MSc RD

Clinical Dietitian

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Child Obesity

Child obesity is considered a major problem of our contemporary society. It is becoming common for children and teenagers to develop health problems, such as type II diabetes and hypercholesterolemia, which usually appears in adulthood. Childhood obesity is due to the influence of various factors such as heredity, family and social circle influences and last but not least the psychology of the child.
Children have a 50% chance of becoming obese if one of the parents is obese while the chances are increased if both parents are obese. Obesity can also be influenced by the fact that when a child lives in an environment unsuitable for outdoor games it is natural to find some forms of entertainment that promote physical inactivity such as television, computers, video games, etc. Accumulation of unwanted weight in children is also linked to the replacement of certain emotions with food. Many parents tend to reward their children with food.  Usually, a child is given sweets or is rewarded with a meal in a fast food restaurant when it performs well in a school project with the result of linking food with positive feelings.  Eventually food becomes an action related to positive emotions and later in adulthood overeating subconsciously sooths them when they are struggling to overcome a stressful situation or a negative emotion.

Childhood obesity can be treated with a proper diet, exercise and emotional support.  Overweight children should not be encouraged to follow grueling diets as this might influence their natural and biological growth in a negative manner.  It is a real challenge to stabilize a child’s weight in harmony with their increasing height during growth. In some severe cases of obesity weight loss should not exceed the amount of 2.2-4.4 pounds per month. With the help of an expert, a child should follow a balanced diet containing a combination of all food groups.

Scientific researches suggest that when a nutritionally balanced breakfast becomes a part of a child’s routine, children have less chances of becoming overweight. Children should also consume two main meals and two snacks that are nutritionally rich such as yogurt with fruit. Soft drinks or concentrated fruit juices should be replaced with fresh juices and water. Vegetables should always be a part of a main meal and when parents are accustomed to consuming vegetables children will eventually imitate them. Parents should also discover which vegetables are more likeable to their children and present them in an attractive way. Children over the age of 2-3 years can consume dairy products reduced in fat (semi-skimmed) as they contain the exact same vitamins as the full fat ones.

The combination of a balanced diet with physical exercise such as cycling, swimming or team sports guarantees a child’s good physical condition and a body weight that is close to their ideal.

In addition to promoting a balanced diet and exercise, parents should provide emotional support to their children. When a child is overweight parents should approach it in a diplomatic way and explain in a polite but yet comprehensive manner why the child has to pay attention to its nutritional intake and offer some examples.  When speaking to children in need of a diet change, parents should avoid adjectives such as “fat” or “obese”.

Food should never be associated with emotion thus rewarding or punishing a child should not be supported with food.  For example, many parents promise to reward their children with ice cream if they do well in their school exams or threaten them not to give ice cream if they do not eat their vegetables first. Ice cream in this case is used as a reward (positive emotion) and vegetables as something oppressive (negative emotion).

Parents have to realize that children imitate them in general and food consumption is not an exception. When parents follow a well balanced diet then children will follow and learn how to adopt a healthy way of eating.

In conclusion, one can say that children that follow a well balanced diet combined with exercise and adequate emotional support will have a healthy and natural growth and will maintain their ideal weight for their height.

Yiannis Kerimis MSc RD

Clinical Dietitian

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