Ogren: Learn your metabolism, evolve your nutrition

As malnutrition and obesity become more prevalent, we need to improve education about metabolism and how to feed our bodies well.


David Monterroso

Terra Brister, interim assistant director of holistic student support, said the classes allow students of color to take up space in places historically known to be predominantly white, such as the gym.

by Allison Ogren

Nutritional needs vary by sex, age, lifestyle, exercise routines and more, but our wellness education does not reflect that. “Eat less, exercise more” just isn’t the whole story.

It’s no secret that obesity and metabolic disorders are on the rise in the United States. Currently, about 74% of adults are overweight or have obesity. While the weight on the scale is not always a direct indicator of overall health, conditions like obesity can put you at risk for developing several other conditions like diabetes and heart disease.

Overall health can be supported at a range of weights if the body is getting the nutrition and activity it needs. But, learning what nutritional deficits your body has can be a very difficult task.

Most people have been aware for a long time that men can eat a lot more food without developing obesity as quickly as women, but there is a whole lot more to the story. Understanding that nutrition is not one-size-fits-all can help empower all people to make healthy choices for their bodies and lifestyles and fend off both excess weight and preventable medical conditions.

The “Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025” is a publication that lays out guidelines from what nutritional needs are present at different ages and between sexes to how to identify and build “nutrient-dense” meals instead of “calorie-dense” to make healthier meal choices.

The Dietary Guidelines breakdown has a lot of interesting information about recommended levels of nutrients as compared to average intake, all laid out by sex and age. Some nutritional differences the guidelines recommend between sexes include a higher protein and fiber intake in men than in women and a higher iron intake in women than in men.

There are several categories where the recommendation of a given nutrient is equivalent in weight between men and women, but not equivalent as a proportion of total intake, as women generally need to consume fewer calories.

The number of nutrients in different categories can shift not only based on sex but also based on your activity levels and body composition. As your body changes when you change your diet and activity level, so do your nutritional needs.

The fitness industry on social media can be as helpful as it can be harmful in spreading information on how to support changing bodies along different fitness journeys. There are real, helpful tips and products out there mixed right in with false tips or “magic” supplements and strategies. The online fitness industry often pushes the “one-size-fits-all” trap in which you think because it worked for someone who looked like you on the outside, it will work for you too.

Maybe it will. But maybe it won’t, and you will have wasted time and money and likely frustrated yourself in the process.

So, how does one sift through this mountain of information available to us on the internet to figure out what is real and what would apply to our unique bodies?

The answer is learning more about metabolism and assessing what is going on in your own body. There are many ways to do this, and health technology is getting into this field as well through products like Lumen.

Talking with a licensed nutritionist and testing your metabolic status is probably going to be the gold standard for educating yourself and sorting out a nutritional program for the foreseeable future, but this can be expensive.

Here at the University of Minnesota, students have the opportunity to consult with the SNAC (Student Nutrition Advocacy Collaborative) program and have a “checkup” to discuss nutrition on a budget with a peer educator. This is a budget-friendly way to get started on your nutrition journey, but it is beginner-level and only looks at a snapshot of your diet and does not include any metabolic testing.

Learning your body and listening to what it needs is perhaps the most efficient as well as the most cost-effective way to create a healthy lifestyle for yourself. Plus, front loading some education and healthy choices now can save you a lot of money and strife later on in life that can come from potentially preventable medical conditions.

It would be so much simpler if one weight, one diet or one lifestyle would guarantee good health, but that is not how human beings appear to work. We have a lot of variation as a species, and we should learn how this variation can inform our choices to make health an easier goal to achieve.

Would you like Allison to follow up on this topic or explore something specific? Contact her at [email protected] with questions, comments or story ideas.