A New Definition of Metabolism

Written By:

A sitting girl in yoga pants and a baggy shirt happily eat food from a bowl

Many people use the word metabolism, but few know what it actually means. Indeed, if you asked a room filled with a hundred doctors and nutritionists, “What’s the definition of metabolism?” you’d likely hear a hundred different answers to the topic metabolism definition. It’s no surprise, then, that the rest of us would be confused about this topic. So in the spirit of furthering science and making nutrition and health a lot more interesting, let’s take a look at the old definition of metabolism, and come up with a newer one that’s more crispy and fresh.
Here’s the basic, undisputed classic textbook definition of metabolism:
Metabolism is the sum total of all the chemical reactions in the body.
Are you surprised it’s that simple? Of course, we can talk about the metabolism of such specific tissues as the liver and thyroid. We can talk about the metabolism of specific substances such as cholesterol. We can also talk about the metabolism of different body systems, such as digestive metabolism. People who say “I want to speed up my metabolism” are actually referring to calorie-burning metabolism, also known as thermic efficiency.
With this understanding, if we wanted to “increase metabolism”, we’d make it our business to kick-start our body’s chemical efficiency with exercise, drugs, the latest supplement, or the magic combination of foods. These approaches have certainly proven useful, but they are no longer adequate in describing metabolic reality.

That’s because metabolism doesn’t occur in the body alone.

It operates equally and simultaneously in body, mind, and emotion. Astounding research in the mind-body sciences has exquisitely highlighted the connection between what we think and feel, and the chemistry of the body. Science has revealed the profound effects of the chemistries of stress, relaxation, pleasure, depression, and the effects that even prayer, pets, and other people have on our metabolic lives. Simply put, mind influences chemistry.
Indeed, everything that happens in our world from birth until death is part and parcel of metabolism. All sensory input that impacts the human nervous system undergoes some form of digestion, assimilation, and elimination.  In this very moment, we’re metabolizing elements of our last meal, words on this page, and important details of pivotal events that happened earlier this week or even previously in our lives. We metabolize our dreams, fears, and fantasies, our ups and downs, our jealousies and joys, the beauty that surrounds us, the betrayals we’ve suffered, and our fortunes and misfortunes – this in addition to all the frozen yogurt, chicken sandwiches, and sushi we eat. No wonder we take so many digestive aids.
So taking all these elements into consideration, our new, more updated, and more scientifically correct definition of metabolism would look something like this:

Metabolism is the sum total of all the chemical reactions in the body, plus the sum total of all our thoughts, feelings, beliefs, and experiences.

Not only is this definition of metabolism more biochemically accurate and complete, you might also recognize it as intuitively correct. If you do, then you are in sync with such disciplines as Ayurveda and Chinese Medicine, which for thousands of years have acknowledged the inseparable nature of mind, body and cosmos. Chances are you’ve had many moments in which your metabolism was transformed by something other than food, drugs, or exercise. Can you recall a time when you were sitting at home feeling low energy and sorry for yourself, a time when if someone asked you “How’s your metabolism?” you would have answered that it was sluggish and stuck? Then quite suddenly the phone rings and it’s a love interest calling, or it’s someone reaching out to you with good news about money. Your mood instantly skyrockets. You feel alive and optimistic. And in that moment, if we asked again, “How’s your metabolism?” you’d say it was humming.
So what happened? You had an enormous energy rush yet you didn’t drink any coffee or take any drugs. It was a shift in your emotional world that ignited the chemistry in your body. And that’s how quickly metabolism can change.
Many people have come to believe that somehow they’ve been shortchanged on their metabolic allotment. We think we don’t have enough chemical force to lose weight, have enough energy, or be immune-strong because somehow, our metabolic machinery has broken down. All we need to do it fix it with a vitamin, a drug, a diet, or an exercise program. If only we could find the right expert with the right answer, it would all work out.

The truth is, we are born metabolically powerful.

If you’ve made it this far, the miraculous body you inhabit has done a worthy job. The forces of the universe launch us with a life-sustaining thrust that enables us to gather along our journey all that we need to continue to soar. But when we stay trapped in fight-or-flight survival physiology because of chronic, low-level stress, because of speed, because of a lack of breathing, awareness, and pleasure, and because of discordant rhythms and unkind thoughts towards self and others, we lose power big time. Furthermore, we lose power when we surrender our dignity and our inner authority to a job, to money, to the “experts,” to hurtful emotions, and to a life without love – to name just a few.
The point is, we have more ways to impact metabolism than we could have imagined. Yes, we need to eat in a good way and take care of our body chemistry with the right supplements and strategies. But we also need to remember that everything that happens in our inner world has an impact – and often profoundly so – on our metabolism.
Claim your personal power more and more, be the person you’re meant to be in this life, and you claim a wealth of metabolic strength. It’s as simple as that. And it’s as profound as that. Personal power and metabolic power are one and the same. Improve one, and you improve the other.
But don’t just take my word for it. Experiment for yourself. Notice how your health is infused with an extra helping of vitality when you allow the real you to emerge.

And of course, I’d love to hear your stories and insights around how your metabolic power has increased when your personal power was more fully accessed. How have you seen this to be true?

My warmest regards,
Marc David
Founder of the Institute for the Psychology of Eating
© Institute For The Psychology of Eating, All Rights Reserved, 2018

A sitting girl in yoga pants and a baggy shirt happily eat food from a bowl

Become a Mind Body Eating Coach

Make real, lasting change - in your life and the lives of others using eating psychology coaching tools.


Subscribe to The Psychology of Eating Podcast

Get notified when new episodes go live.

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Listen to The Psychology of Eating Podcast

Follow Us

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.