Initially, I was a bit trepidatious about taking on the February cover story for Real Simple (even though they are one of my most favorite clients!). They wanted 2000 words on the science of metabolism; I couldn’t quite figure out how that wouldn’t end up being yet another New Year, New You weight loss story. Which — not that I never write those (plumber writer, remember?) — are not my favorite. All that obsessing we do over metabolisms and how to boost them or torch them or otherwise set ourselves on fire in some way seems to me to be entirely at odds with Health At Every Size.
(Refresher: HAES is a school of thought developed by a subset of obesity and health experts, which says it makes more sense to prioritize healthy lifestyle choices than weight loss at any cost. It doesn’t say that everyone can be healthy at every size — but rather, acknowledges that healthy people come in a range of shapes and sizes. So if you make healthy choices, you will be healthier, even if you don’t lose a ton of weight in the process.)
The good news is that the very smart editors at Real Simple weren’t all that interested in a straight-up weight loss story either. Which was a relief because as I learned once I started doing my homework, metabolism is pretty much the main reason why 95% of diets fail and weight loss is so near-impossible to sustain for so many people. Your body’s entire raison d’etrat is to keep everything in balance, which means keeping your weight at a certain set point. If you “increase the burn,” your body will increase your caloric intake correspondingly through a series of complex mechanisms explained in the piece. (Spoiler alert: Calories in versus calories out does not tell the whole story.)
Of course, we still framed the piece around some of that boosting talk — because that’s what everyone wants to know about metabolism anyway! But I’m very proud of the in-depth approach we took to the topic. I also got to feature an excellent workout created just for this story by Sadie Lincoln, founder of barre3. I do a lot of barre3’s online workouts because they are so easy to cram into my day and have the awesome side benefit of always making me feel about three inches taller — so it was super fun to get to chat with Sadie and learn more about her work.
And in the end, of course, any health or weight loss information is all about what you do with it anyway. That’s where I realized that writing about metabolism and subscribing to HAES is not entirely at odds. Because yes, I’ll admit to wanting to boost my own metabolism on more than one occasion. I grew a human being 17 months ago and spent most of the first year of her life most definitely not losing the baby weight — and yes, frequently beating myself up about that fact even though hello, I grew a human being. But I’ve decided that 2015 is the year that I let that sh*t go and recommit to a HAES approach to my body. To that end, I’ve set an ambitious fitness goal: To complete the one mile Beacon-Newburgh River Swim across the Hudson River later this summer. Training for this involves hour-long+ workouts and getting up pretty early to make that happen — both of which contradict some of the advice in the article.
Thus far, this real life experiment bears out my reporting: The aggressive exercise routine is boosting my metabolism (because I burn more calories with all that swimming) — and inspiring my body to balance that right out (because I’m freaking starving after those workouts!). Which means I may not lose any weight doing this. And that’s okay — in fact, it’s entirely beside the point. I will for sure boost my cardiovascular health, get crazy strong shoulders (helpful for carting around the aforementioned human being I grew) and spend a lot of time doing something that makes me feel amazing.
So, go read The Energizer Body. It’s a good story and you’ll learn some fun metabolism facts, like: Your body burns up 8 to 15 percent of the calories you eat just by digesting them! But remember that it’s just information. You don’t have to get hung up on following all (or even any!) of the advice you find in articles like this, unless it actually makes sense for your life and your health choices. But it’s cool that now I know what “diet-induced thermogenesis” means, and you will too.