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Managing Your Metabolic Bank Account

Have you ever heard of the terms “metabolic damage” or “starvation mode”? Odds are you have – I just Googled it and it came back with almost 68 million results.  Or maybe you’ve used an online calorie calculator and found that it’s asking you to eat significantly more calories than you’re currently eating, leaving you confused and positive that it’s going to make you gain weight if you eat that much.

What is Metabolic Damage?

“Metabolic damage” has become the go-to term for the premise that your body gains bodyfat very easily on a modest amount of calories, and it requires a significant  amount of low calorie intake and high calorie expenditure to produce any tangible weight loss or fat loss.  It’s not a medical issue, but simply an adaptation by your metabolism to survive in an extreme energy deficit.

“Starvation mode” is a very non-scientific way of saying that when you restrict food intake too hard, you’ll cling onto everything you do get.

So how do these things fit into the big picture when it comes to weight loss and bodyfat loss? Is something wrong with your body? Do you need to be “fixed”?  Probably not. – you just have to give your body a reason to adapt in a positive way.  The easiest, least scientific way to look at this concept is with my favorite analogy, and one that just about everybody reading this can understand – a financial one.

Metabolic Expense Reporting

Let’s say you make $100,000 a year.  You manage your money well – you have some fixed expenses each month – your rent, your insurance, your car – and disposable expenses – going to the movies, trips to the book store, a monthly Chipotle fund, a guys’ weekend in Vegas.  If you get a little carried away and spend an extra hundred dollars, you just move what you need over from your savings account to get you through the next week.  Things work pretty well.

Now, let’s say you get laid off from your current job, and are forced to take a new one making only $30,000 a year.  Initially, you might continue to spend at your usual rate, optimistic that this is just a minor setback, and confident that you’ll get through this quickly so you can get back to your normal level of income.

Then a few months goes by. You’re still going to the movies every Friday, your lunch is still a burrito bowl with double carnitas and extra guac (seriously, almost 2 bucks for guacamole?), and you still go on the occasional weekend trip.  You keep moving a little bit of money out of your savings account to cover how much you’re short.

Except now your savings account is getting pretty sparse-looking.  You sit down with all of your bills, and like a responsible adult, you start figuring out where you can make some cuts. You start using your Netflix account instead of going to the movies, you start making your own lunch at home, and you start passing on your buddy’s out of town invitations.  You trim the unnecessary expenses and make some cuts, but it’s still not enough.

So you start looking at your fixed expenses. You sign a new lease at a smaller apartment, sell your car and take public transit so you can ditch your car payment and insurance premiums.  You conserve where you can, so you can get by on half of what you’re used to.

Getting Deeper into Metabolic Debt

The effect continues to trickle down – when you can’t completely slash an expense, you find other ways to get it done on a budget. You stop buying expensive clothing and start looking for deals at discount stores or second-hand shops. Maybe you replace your air filters every 90 days instead of every 60 days, and you start buying 70/30 ground beef in bulk instead of having flank steak or sirloin. Then, you start skipping meals and eating less to save money, cutting your daily food intake in ha-

Wait a minute. Our analogy just became an analogy-within-an-analogy.  This is some Matrix-level stuff right here.

Getting Your Finances in Order Again

Now, let’s reverse course and find our way back to understanding how “fixing your metabolism” plays out for our frugal Keanu Reeves.

You get a new job, and start making your previous income, so you’re back at $100,000 a year.  Because you’re a responsible adult, you don’t immediately go out and start blowing through your new income. Instead, you’re cautious and make sure that you’ll continue to have enough cash flow coming in before you add any new permanent expenses to your list.  You keep taking public transit and buying second-hand clothing while you rebuild your savings account.  Then you start by increasing your budget for food, housing, transportation, the necessary stuff.  Luxuries are the last to come back, and only once you’ve taken care of everything else on your list.

Why is that last piece relevant?  Because fat loss is a luxury.  It’s very costly and is not a survival priority.  It is the weekend trip to Vegas; f you’re smart and able to avoid impulsive decisions – and trust me, your body definitely is – then it’s only going to happen when you have everything else taken care of.  “Metabolic damage” isn’t a medical crisis – it’s just really good budgeting.

And, if after you make an effort to manage your money better and still don’t feel like you’re getting ahead, it never hurts to bring in a financial planner to do an audit.

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