Air Be and Breathe: Metabolism and Breathing

We can live without food for weeks and water for days, but air for just a brief few minutes.”

-Patrick McKeown author of Oxygen Advantage

I recently shared how rehabilitating my breathing mechanics helped improve my metabolism. It wasn’t necessarily solely about getting rid of excess weight I was carrying around, but about feeling less better. I remember sitting with myself and saying “I just want to feel better”.

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So what is the relationship between optimal breathing and improved metabolism?

In today’s blog I want to help you understand how “over-breathing” is potentially contributing to the following symptoms, including a sluggish metabolic rate:

  1. Pain: joints, muscles

  2. Headaches

  3. Fatigue

  4. Lack of motivation or enthusiasm

  5. Increase in stress or anxiety

  6. Weight gain/sluggish metabolism

So how is it that over-breathing, hyperventilation and not enough CO2 contributes to the above symptoms?

Well, when we take in too much oxygen we are impacting the internal harmony of our body’s homeostasis, the point at which we individually feel balanced and safe. Having a normal blood pH scale, normal temperature, normal blood sugar, and normal blood pressure are examples of homeostasis.

Let’s chat briefly about blood pH and it’s correlation to our metabolism and eating behaviors. On a scale of 1-14, a normal pH level is 7.35-7.45. Having a pH level of 0=too acidic, conversely a pH level of 14 is far to basic (alkaline). Our brain and body are constantly trying to keep us within this small range of 7.35-7.45. How often and well we breathe can push over to one side or the other.

If we find ourselves in an over-stressed and over-breathing state our blood pH levels will rise above 7.45 forcing us into an alkaline state. We end up decreasing CO2 levels, not allowing the blood pH to return to homeostasis. What’s so fascinating is that our brain will begin to crave more acidic foods as a means to elevate acidity levels and bring us back down to neutral pH levels.

So what are acidic foods? Processed foods.

Processed foods, animal proteins, processed grains and snacks like chips, cookies, cakes etc. are more acidic.

Now, I am ALL about balance and food enjoyment. However, when I was struggling with my metabolism, I was constantly binging on processed foods, further contributing to my lackluster energy levels, joint pain and increased weight. You see, one stressor - chronically over-breathing, further propelled my desire and cravings for processed foods. I wouldn’t have been successful if I hadn’t addressed my chronic over-breathing state.

Food wasn’t the root cause of the problem, rather one can argue it was breathing.

So how do you know if you’re an over-breather?

Below are some questions you can answer from the book Oxygen Advantage:

  1. Do you sometimes breathe through your mouth as you go about your daily activities?

  2. Do you breathe through your mouth during depression sleep?

  3. Do you wake up in the morning with a dry mouth?

  4. Can you visibly notice your breathing during rest?

  5. When you observe your breathing, do you see more movements from your chest than from your abdomen?

  6. Do you regularly sigh throughout the day?

  7. Do you sometimes hear your breathing during rest?

  8. Do you experience symptoms resulting from habitual overrbreathing, such as nasal congestion, tightening of the airways, fatigue, dizziness or light headedness?

If you happen to answer yes to any of the questions above, you most likely are over-breathing. Don’t worry though, majority of us are. I have to be conscious of how I’m breathing and every day set aside time to breath INTENTIONALLY.

 Learning how to manage stress and better breathe helped restore my metabolism.

Learning how to manage stress and better breathe helped restore my metabolism.

Intentional breathing (especially via mediation practices) encourages us to slow down and bring our attention elsewhere than anxious thoughts surrounding body image, food, calories etc. I’ll be the first to say that meditation is HARD. I’ve attempting it over and over again and have repeatedly failed at making it a routine practice. So just remember that you’re not alone if you’re struggling at finding ways to make it a part of your routine.

I’ve received a lot of help from meditation apps like Calm (which I am currently using) and Headspace. Each meditation practice is guided, which is extremely helpful if you find yourself checking off a never ending to-do list while thinking of what to cook for dinner. The calm voice allows me the space to let these thoughts come in, but to also watch them leave. I’ve developed more skill around breathing and my body as a result of sitting with my breath and being present.

Breathing more intentionally can have a profound effect on stress. And if we’re seeking homeostasis, less excess stress can positively contribute to a healthier metabolism. Think of it this way, we’re giving our body the space to let go of excess energy we’re storing (a typical stress response is added weight or body fat) and utilize our body’s natural reserves.

So in conclusion, instead of us spending so much time counting calories, obsessing over myfitnesspal, or sweating out that extra piece of bread, let’s focus on the inhales and exhales.