A friend of mine brought up a good topic on Facebook the other day, something I’ve had to deal with quite a bit over the years. I guess it’s mostly been because I haven’t reached a ripe old age yet, unlike my distinguished colleague Mr. Thiboutot. The issue is this: while a client is discussing their poor state of health accompanied by an extra X0 lbs, they say “I wish I had your metabolism.” I’ve always dodged the statement by moving the focus to something more productive, like a good coach, by saying “well, you just have to do what works for where you’re at now” which of course is true.
But what I really wanted to say is “How dare you write off all the hard work I’ve put in at the gym and the restraint I’ve shown at the feeding trough by claiming it’s my metabolism! Do you have any idea how insulting that is? I started lifting weights when I was 12 in my hometown’s YMCA and except for a few months here or there I’ve never stopped exercising. I also started reading about nutrition soon thereafter, even though I wish I hadn’t ever read some of it now that I look back on it.”
“Right now, I’m 31 and I’m as lean as I have been in years, getting older be damned. At what point will I be old enough where you can’t use that excuse? What about a guy like Randy Couture? Is he old enough to shut you up?”
Okay, enough of my being as bitter as raw kale. As we’ve discussed before, the metabolic slowdown associated with aging, after adjusting for body composition differences, equates to a change of 1-2% per decade. (Roberts) Crunch the numbers, if your average caloric burn is 2000 calories/day when you’re 20, it will be 1900 calories/day at 70. The important point here is that these figures are adjusted for changes in body composition. What does this mean? Well, as we age we tend to lose some muscle and gain some fat, the former being more metabolically active than the latter, especially if you use it. These figures take that into account and establish the estimated metabolic slowdown due to other, less controllable factors like a decrease in brain glucose utilization.
Roberts and Rosenberg also discuss evidence of an attenuated adaptive increase or decrease in thermogenesis in response to overfeeding or underfeeding with age. What does this mean? The older you get, the less your metabolism responds to overeating or undereating by speeding up or slowing down, respectively. This would lead to older people gaining more weight as a result of overeating than their younger counterparts. But, before you go feeling vindicated for your flabby waistline, it also means older people will lose more weight as a result of undereating compared to their younger counterparts, given the same degree of deficit. Shut it.
It should be noted that this attenuation in adaptive thermogenesis is tied to lean tissue – just one more reason to keep the muscle you have and maybe add some.
“But, maybe I have a slow thyroid… so there”
What if you have a slow thyroid? Well, researchers investigating sublclinical hypothyroidism (SH) had to split the SH group into upper and lower halves to discover a difference in resting energy expenditure per kilogram of fat free mass. No differences were found in various energy expenditure measurements between the entire SH group and healthy controls. (Tagliaferri) In thyroidectomized patients, basal energy expenditure was about 300 calories/day lower than healthy controls before thyrotrophine-suppresive thyroxine therapy. (Wolf) A deficit of 300 calories/day will put a nice dent in your ability to eat without paying much attention and maintain your body weight, but please understand that this is in thyroidectomized patients. This is severe and if you’re reading this wondering “Hey, I wonder if I have that” you probably don’t. My guess is you’d know.
By all means, if you feel you might be suffering as a result of an underactive thyroid, go to the doctor. Have them run an extensive test and try to help you figure it out because it’s a serious issue. But don’t go crying hypothyroid simply because you “can’t loose [sic] weight, no matter what” you try.
The BBC Tells you to STFU about It
The most exciting part, in my opinion, starts at about 8:30 into this video and continues into this video where Debbie gets her metabolic rate tested and finds that her metabolism is spot-on average and she can no longer blame her weight problem on a slow metabolism. Then they have her keep a food diary for nine days, first by video at the end of the day and then by journaling throughout the day. At the same time, they use the doubly-labelled water method to calculate the amount of calories she takes in and expends. When comparing her video and journal food diaries to the doubly-labelled water calculations, they find Debbie failed to report 60 and 43 percent of her calories, respectively.
Debbie, like many others, claims a slow metabolism is to blame for her life-long weight problem. A lack of control at the plate is really the problem, and I’m not talking about swinging a bat.
It all ends in the end
Look, we’re all going to die and chances are unless you really screw things up you’ll live about as long as me. You have every right to spend those years however you want. If you’re comfortable with 30 extra lbs hanging off your ass, who am I to tell you not to keep it there? But if you’re not happy with that extra 30, do what you need to do to get it off (WARNING! MAY REQUIRE EFFORT) and don’t you dare say “I wish I had your metabolism” to anyone who has been putting in the effort all along.