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Juniper Journal

What is metabolic health and how does it impact your weight?

Here's what you need to know about the role metabolism plays in body weight regulation.

What is metabolic health and how does it impact your weight?
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If you’re looking to embark on a weight loss journey, chances are you’ve heard the phrase 'metabolic health' thrown around. The term refers to the functioning of the body’s metabolic processes, with a primary focus being the body’s ability to regulate blood sugar levels, allowing you to avoid that nose-dive in energy levels post-meal. 

You might think weight loss simply involves eating in a slight calorie deficit as you increase your exercise and physical activity levels, but metabolic health shouldn’t be ignored. Increasingly, metabolism has been closely linked to weight management as it influences the body’s ability to store and break down fat, and convert calories from food into energy.

If you’re wondering how you can improve your metabolic health to assist with your weight loss journey, we’ve got you covered. Here, we unpack everything you need to know about the role metabolism plays in body weight regulation and the signs your metabolic health may need improvement.

What is metabolic health?

Metabolic health refers to the physiological processes that allow the body to function optimally. As chemical reactions occur in the body to convert food into energy, our body can then regulate blood sugar levels, manage insulin sensitivity, and maintain a healthy balance of various hormones that regulate our metabolism. 

It’s our metabolism that’s responsible for the breakdown of nutrients consumed into energy. This is an important process not only for bodily functioning but also one that’s linked to our weight.

When it comes to burning calories, the body does this in several ways: through exercise, everyday activities, and the energy required to keep the body functioning at rest (otherwise known as your basal metabolic rate). 

If your basal metabolic rate is higher, you’ll burn more calories at rest and during activity. People with a high metabolism can afford to take in more calories just to maintain their weight. However, a slow metabolism sees you burn fewer calories at rest and during activity. Those with a slow metabolism, therefore, have to eat less to avoid weight gain. 

What factors impact your metabolic health?

Just like weight loss will come to be impacted by various factors, so too can your metabolism. Whether it’s contributing to optimal metabolic health or proving a negative influence, these factors include: 

Stress 

Chronic stress is one of the most detrimental factors for metabolic health. By releasing hormones like cortisol, which can lead to insulin resistance and weight gain, stress can even contribute to metabolic dysfunction and high blood pressure.

The inflammation in the body which is also caused by stress can worsen metabolic health, too. 

Sleep

Lack of sleep slows your metabolic rate. A 2017 study also found a direct correlation between late-night snacking and weight gain [1].

Lack of sleep also disrupts your hormones, including ghrelin, which regulates your hunger cues. That’s why you tend to reach for sugary sweets or highly processed foods when sleep-deprived. According to the CDC, you should aim to get 7 hours or more of sleep a night. 

Exercise

Physical activity not only helps burn calories but can also improve insulin sensitivity, which is important for regulating blood sugar levels and fat storage. 

When it comes to metabolic efficiency, you want to do both aerobic exercise and resistance training. Studies have shown that strength training can increase basal metabolic rate, meaning you burn more calories at rest, with people experiencing this temporary increase for up to 48 hours following exercise [2].

Diet

What you eat is of great importance when it comes to metabolic health.

Diets high in processed foods, added sugars and unhealthy fats can all contribute to insulin resistance and metabolic dysfunction. Ensure you’re eating a balanced diet rich in whole foods, fruits, healthy fats, fibre, and vegetables. 

Protein is also an essential nutrient to consume. The thermic effect of food (TEF) refers to the increase in your metabolism following eating, as your body needs extra calories to digest, absorb, and process the nutrients in your meal. Protein causes the largest rise in TEF, with 20-30% of its usable energy required for metabolism. In contrast, carbohydrates need just 5-10% and fats less than 3%. 

Genetics

Genetics play a significant role in determining an individual’s metabolic rate and ability to store or burn fat. Some people inherit genes that promote a faster metabolism, meaning they can eat more without gaining weight, while others have a slower metabolism simply due to their genetics. 

That said, simply having a slow metabolism doesn’t mean you can’t improve metabolic health with lifestyle factors such as a balanced diet and physical activity. 

Age

While it was long thought that metabolism slows down with age, recent studies suggest that metabolism reaches its peak much earlier in life and slows down much later. It’s only at 60 years old that researchers found basal metabolic rate began to decline, along with fat-free mass and fat mass [3].

While age is a factor outside of our control, lifestyle choices like diet and exercise can help to reduce some age-related metabolic changes, particularly in relation to decreases in muscle mass. 

What’s the link between metabolic health and weight?

You may have heard those with a slow metabolism bemoaning their inability to eat a lot for fear of weight gain, or perhaps you’ve heard the phrase, “You’re so lucky you’ve got a fast metabolism and can eat so much without putting on weight!”

But is there actually a link between metabolic health and weight?

While metabolic health is a complex physiological process, more evidence is mounting that people who are overweight or obese are more likely to have poorer levels of metabolic health. Not surprisingly, studies are indeed finding a link between metabolic health and weight.

Researchers have found that obesity and its associated symptoms, like high blood pressure and high blood sugar, contribute to a condition called metabolic syndrome [4]. Those with metabolic syndrome have a higher risk of developing chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and certain cancers. 

How do you measure metabolic health?

When it comes to metabolic health, there are 5 markers one examines to gain an understanding of how well it may be functioning or what can be improved. These markers include:

Blood pressure

High blood pressure is a risk factor for metabolic syndrome. In order to assess cardiovascular health, regular blood pressure checks are conducted. 

Waist circumference

Studies have found that waist circumference has a strong correlation with health risk indicators, followed by body mass index (BMI) [5]. While it’s important to consider the percentage of body fat and fat distribution, health risks can be assessed by waist circumference measurements. 

Glucose

Given that metabolic health refers to the body’s ability to generate and process energy, glucose is an important measurement to take into consideration. For metabolism to work effectively, you want to maintain stable blood sugar and ensure you get enough exercise. 

Triglycerides

A common type of fat that accounts for about 95% of all dietary fats, triglycerides are an important marker of metabolic health. Those who are overweight or obese due to eating more calories than they burn will likely have raised triglyceride levels circulating in the blood, which can contribute to metabolic syndrome. 

HDL Cholesterol

High-density lipoproteins are known as the “good” cholesterol. They are thought to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease because they have antioxidant properties in the vasculature and also improve glucose metabolism in the skeletal muscle.  

These markers are important for determining metabolic health but can also be used to determine if you have metabolic syndrome. The National Institute of Health defines the condition as having 3 or more of the following traits:

  • Blood pressure: Increased blood pressure of 130/85 millimetres of mercury (mm Hg) or higher.
  • Waist circumference: A waistline that measures at least 35 inches (89 centimetres) for women and 40 inches (102 centimetres) for men. 
  • Glucose: An elevated fasting blood sugar of 100 mg/dL (5.6 mmol/L) or higher.
  • Triglycerides: A high triglyceride level of 150 milligrams per deciliter, or 1.7 millimoles per litre, or higher of this type of fat found in the blood. 
  • HDL Cholesterol: Reduced HDL cholesterol with less than 40 milligrams per deciliter in men or less than 50 mg/dL in women. 

Consistently incorporating lifestyle changes like a healthy diet and regular exercise can work to keep glucose levels stable and improve metabolic health. However, if these changes have been implemented and you’re still struggling with metabolic syndrome, health professionals will then place you on medication. 

Signs of poor metabolic health

While the above markers can be used for a clinical metabolic health assessment to determine if you have metabolic syndrome, there are other signs to be aware of.

Although these symptoms in isolation don’t necessarily mean your metabolic health is poor, it’s worth being mindful and discussing them with your healthcare provider. 

  • Low energy: It’s natural to find yourself occasionally feeling fatigued or sluggish after a busy week or hard workout session, but consistently experiencing low energy levels may be an indication of unstable glucose levels. A blood sugar spike can lead to a sudden surge in insulin and a drop in blood sugar, often leading to a feeling of fatigue and seeing you crave carbohydrates and sugars
  • Acne: While acne can occur at any stage in life, for adults, many believe it to be a reflection of unstable glucose levels. Studies have found that those who eat a low-glycemic diet experience less acne, while it’s believed that high-glycemic foods can cause inflammation that triggers the overproduction of sebum in your skin [6]. This can result in acne flare-ups, even in adulthood. 
  • Brain fog: Lack of mental clarity can surprisingly be a sign of poor metabolic health. Scientists believe the condition can result from 2 metabolic-related pathways: a dysregulation of glucose or a triggering of neuroinflammation in the brain. When we have too much glucose circulating in the bloodstream, it can hinder our cognitive function. This was confirmed in a 2019 study that found adults who consumed more than 14 teaspoons of sugar a day had a higher risk of cognitive impairment [7].
  • Mood changes: It’s not surprising to find that our diet can impact our mood. Research has found that people with insulin resistance and a bigger waist circumference are more likely to develop a depressive episode [8].

What happens when you’re metabolically unhealthy?

When you’re metabolically unhealthy, you'll likely develop the condition known as metabolic syndrome. As mentioned above, this diagnosis presents risk factors for other health issues and metabolic diseases, such as:

  • Type 2 diabetes: When experiencing insulin resistance for prolonged periods, you can develop type 2 diabetes. This condition makes the body unable to effectively use insulin to regulate blood sugar, leading to chronic hyperglycemia. 
  • Obesity: Those who are metabolically unhealthy are more likely to experience weight gain and obesity. As seen with measures like waist circumference, excess body fat (particularly around the abdomen) can result from poor metabolic health. 
  • Cardiovascular issues: Poor metabolic health can put you at greater risk of developing cardiovascular diseases due to elevated levels of triglycerides, high blood pressure, and reduced levels of HDL cholesterol. 
  • Increased risk of cancer: As some studies have suggested, poor metabolic health can put you at risk of developing certain cancers. 
  • Sleep disorders: Metabolic issues can also lead to sleep disorders or contribute to disruptions in your sleeping routine. 

How to improve your metabolic health

Consistent lifestyle changes have the power to improve your metabolic health. Use the tips below to work towards maintaining stable blood sugar levels, which will improve your metabolic health and support weight loss. 

Focus on nutrition

When it comes to metabolic health, you want to avoid crash diets that negatively impact metabolism or lead to nutrient deficiencies due to the nature of their restriction.

Instead, eat healthy, balanced meals that focus on nutrient-rich foods like fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains. 

Regular exercise

Regular physical activity is essential for optimal health.

Ideally, though, you want to incorporate both aerobic exercises and strength training into your routine. This means you won’t just be burning calories and improving cardiovascular health but also maintaining lean muscle mass, which is important when it comes to burning calories at rest. 

Prioritise sleep

We all know that inadequate sleep can negatively affect overall health and metabolism. Ensure it’s a priority by getting 7-9 hours of quality sleep each night. This won’t just help with regulating hormones that directly affect your appetite, but also improving your metabolic health. 

Limit alcohol consumption

It’s important to stay hydrated, and drinking plenty of water throughout the day is the best way to support digestion, metabolism, and overall health. Alcohol, however, should be limited. Excessive alcohol consumption can disrupt your metabolic processes and also lead to weight gain, as these empty calories contribute to your daily consumption. 

Eat regularly

As with crash diets, skipping meals can wreak havoc on your metabolism. As well as contributing to irregular blood sugar levels, going long periods without food can see you overcompensate later on. It’s important to eat balanced meals regularly throughout the day to maintain energy levels and support metabolism. 

With these changes to your diet and lifestyle, your metabolic health can be improved. However, it’s important to remember that there are a range of factors to consider when looking at metabolic and overall health. Just as no two people are the same, approaches towards improving health should be tailored to your individual needs. 

Thankfully, Juniper’s Weight Reset Program delivers a personalised approach to weight loss, while also taking a holistic approach to ensure your journey is a sustainable one proven to get the results you want. With an expertly designed program and clinically proven treatments, you’ll have access to seasoned medical professionals, dietitians, and health coaches who will support you every step of the way. 

With the added support of a community of like-minded women sharing their own weight loss journey, Juniper’s Weight Reset Program will allow you to improve your health and take on your weight loss goals from a holistic approach. 

Image credit: Getty Images

If you’re looking to embark on a weight loss journey, chances are you’ve heard the phrase 'metabolic health' thrown around. The term refers to the functioning of the body’s metabolic processes, with a primary focus being the body’s ability to regulate blood sugar levels, allowing you to avoid that nose-dive in energy levels post-meal. 

You might think weight loss simply involves eating in a slight calorie deficit as you increase your exercise and physical activity levels, but metabolic health shouldn’t be ignored. Increasingly, metabolism has been closely linked to weight management as it influences the body’s ability to store and break down fat, and convert calories from food into energy.

If you’re wondering how you can improve your metabolic health to assist with your weight loss journey, we’ve got you covered. Here, we unpack everything you need to know about the role metabolism plays in body weight regulation and the signs your metabolic health may need improvement.

What is metabolic health?

Metabolic health refers to the physiological processes that allow the body to function optimally. As chemical reactions occur in the body to convert food into energy, our body can then regulate blood sugar levels, manage insulin sensitivity, and maintain a healthy balance of various hormones that regulate our metabolism. 

It’s our metabolism that’s responsible for the breakdown of nutrients consumed into energy. This is an important process not only for bodily functioning but also one that’s linked to our weight.

When it comes to burning calories, the body does this in several ways: through exercise, everyday activities, and the energy required to keep the body functioning at rest (otherwise known as your basal metabolic rate). 

If your basal metabolic rate is higher, you’ll burn more calories at rest and during activity. People with a high metabolism can afford to take in more calories just to maintain their weight. However, a slow metabolism sees you burn fewer calories at rest and during activity. Those with a slow metabolism, therefore, have to eat less to avoid weight gain. 

What factors impact your metabolic health?

Just like weight loss will come to be impacted by various factors, so too can your metabolism. Whether it’s contributing to optimal metabolic health or proving a negative influence, these factors include: 

Stress 

Chronic stress is one of the most detrimental factors for metabolic health. By releasing hormones like cortisol, which can lead to insulin resistance and weight gain, stress can even contribute to metabolic dysfunction and high blood pressure.

The inflammation in the body which is also caused by stress can worsen metabolic health, too. 

Sleep

Lack of sleep slows your metabolic rate. A 2017 study also found a direct correlation between late-night snacking and weight gain [1].

Lack of sleep also disrupts your hormones, including ghrelin, which regulates your hunger cues. That’s why you tend to reach for sugary sweets or highly processed foods when sleep-deprived. According to the CDC, you should aim to get 7 hours or more of sleep a night. 

Exercise

Physical activity not only helps burn calories but can also improve insulin sensitivity, which is important for regulating blood sugar levels and fat storage. 

When it comes to metabolic efficiency, you want to do both aerobic exercise and resistance training. Studies have shown that strength training can increase basal metabolic rate, meaning you burn more calories at rest, with people experiencing this temporary increase for up to 48 hours following exercise [2].

Diet

What you eat is of great importance when it comes to metabolic health.

Diets high in processed foods, added sugars and unhealthy fats can all contribute to insulin resistance and metabolic dysfunction. Ensure you’re eating a balanced diet rich in whole foods, fruits, healthy fats, fibre, and vegetables. 

Protein is also an essential nutrient to consume. The thermic effect of food (TEF) refers to the increase in your metabolism following eating, as your body needs extra calories to digest, absorb, and process the nutrients in your meal. Protein causes the largest rise in TEF, with 20-30% of its usable energy required for metabolism. In contrast, carbohydrates need just 5-10% and fats less than 3%. 

Genetics

Genetics play a significant role in determining an individual’s metabolic rate and ability to store or burn fat. Some people inherit genes that promote a faster metabolism, meaning they can eat more without gaining weight, while others have a slower metabolism simply due to their genetics. 

That said, simply having a slow metabolism doesn’t mean you can’t improve metabolic health with lifestyle factors such as a balanced diet and physical activity. 

Age

While it was long thought that metabolism slows down with age, recent studies suggest that metabolism reaches its peak much earlier in life and slows down much later. It’s only at 60 years old that researchers found basal metabolic rate began to decline, along with fat-free mass and fat mass [3].

While age is a factor outside of our control, lifestyle choices like diet and exercise can help to reduce some age-related metabolic changes, particularly in relation to decreases in muscle mass. 

What’s the link between metabolic health and weight?

You may have heard those with a slow metabolism bemoaning their inability to eat a lot for fear of weight gain, or perhaps you’ve heard the phrase, “You’re so lucky you’ve got a fast metabolism and can eat so much without putting on weight!”

But is there actually a link between metabolic health and weight?

While metabolic health is a complex physiological process, more evidence is mounting that people who are overweight or obese are more likely to have poorer levels of metabolic health. Not surprisingly, studies are indeed finding a link between metabolic health and weight.

Researchers have found that obesity and its associated symptoms, like high blood pressure and high blood sugar, contribute to a condition called metabolic syndrome [4]. Those with metabolic syndrome have a higher risk of developing chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and certain cancers. 

How do you measure metabolic health?

When it comes to metabolic health, there are 5 markers one examines to gain an understanding of how well it may be functioning or what can be improved. These markers include:

Blood pressure

High blood pressure is a risk factor for metabolic syndrome. In order to assess cardiovascular health, regular blood pressure checks are conducted. 

Waist circumference

Studies have found that waist circumference has a strong correlation with health risk indicators, followed by body mass index (BMI) [5]. While it’s important to consider the percentage of body fat and fat distribution, health risks can be assessed by waist circumference measurements. 

Glucose

Given that metabolic health refers to the body’s ability to generate and process energy, glucose is an important measurement to take into consideration. For metabolism to work effectively, you want to maintain stable blood sugar and ensure you get enough exercise. 

Triglycerides

A common type of fat that accounts for about 95% of all dietary fats, triglycerides are an important marker of metabolic health. Those who are overweight or obese due to eating more calories than they burn will likely have raised triglyceride levels circulating in the blood, which can contribute to metabolic syndrome. 

HDL Cholesterol

High-density lipoproteins are known as the “good” cholesterol. They are thought to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease because they have antioxidant properties in the vasculature and also improve glucose metabolism in the skeletal muscle.  

These markers are important for determining metabolic health but can also be used to determine if you have metabolic syndrome. The National Institute of Health defines the condition as having 3 or more of the following traits:

  • Blood pressure: Increased blood pressure of 130/85 millimetres of mercury (mm Hg) or higher.
  • Waist circumference: A waistline that measures at least 35 inches (89 centimetres) for women and 40 inches (102 centimetres) for men. 
  • Glucose: An elevated fasting blood sugar of 100 mg/dL (5.6 mmol/L) or higher.
  • Triglycerides: A high triglyceride level of 150 milligrams per deciliter, or 1.7 millimoles per litre, or higher of this type of fat found in the blood. 
  • HDL Cholesterol: Reduced HDL cholesterol with less than 40 milligrams per deciliter in men or less than 50 mg/dL in women. 

Consistently incorporating lifestyle changes like a healthy diet and regular exercise can work to keep glucose levels stable and improve metabolic health. However, if these changes have been implemented and you’re still struggling with metabolic syndrome, health professionals will then place you on medication. 

Signs of poor metabolic health

While the above markers can be used for a clinical metabolic health assessment to determine if you have metabolic syndrome, there are other signs to be aware of.

Although these symptoms in isolation don’t necessarily mean your metabolic health is poor, it’s worth being mindful and discussing them with your healthcare provider. 

  • Low energy: It’s natural to find yourself occasionally feeling fatigued or sluggish after a busy week or hard workout session, but consistently experiencing low energy levels may be an indication of unstable glucose levels. A blood sugar spike can lead to a sudden surge in insulin and a drop in blood sugar, often leading to a feeling of fatigue and seeing you crave carbohydrates and sugars
  • Acne: While acne can occur at any stage in life, for adults, many believe it to be a reflection of unstable glucose levels. Studies have found that those who eat a low-glycemic diet experience less acne, while it’s believed that high-glycemic foods can cause inflammation that triggers the overproduction of sebum in your skin [6]. This can result in acne flare-ups, even in adulthood. 
  • Brain fog: Lack of mental clarity can surprisingly be a sign of poor metabolic health. Scientists believe the condition can result from 2 metabolic-related pathways: a dysregulation of glucose or a triggering of neuroinflammation in the brain. When we have too much glucose circulating in the bloodstream, it can hinder our cognitive function. This was confirmed in a 2019 study that found adults who consumed more than 14 teaspoons of sugar a day had a higher risk of cognitive impairment [7].
  • Mood changes: It’s not surprising to find that our diet can impact our mood. Research has found that people with insulin resistance and a bigger waist circumference are more likely to develop a depressive episode [8].

What happens when you’re metabolically unhealthy?

When you’re metabolically unhealthy, you'll likely develop the condition known as metabolic syndrome. As mentioned above, this diagnosis presents risk factors for other health issues and metabolic diseases, such as:

  • Type 2 diabetes: When experiencing insulin resistance for prolonged periods, you can develop type 2 diabetes. This condition makes the body unable to effectively use insulin to regulate blood sugar, leading to chronic hyperglycemia. 
  • Obesity: Those who are metabolically unhealthy are more likely to experience weight gain and obesity. As seen with measures like waist circumference, excess body fat (particularly around the abdomen) can result from poor metabolic health. 
  • Cardiovascular issues: Poor metabolic health can put you at greater risk of developing cardiovascular diseases due to elevated levels of triglycerides, high blood pressure, and reduced levels of HDL cholesterol. 
  • Increased risk of cancer: As some studies have suggested, poor metabolic health can put you at risk of developing certain cancers. 
  • Sleep disorders: Metabolic issues can also lead to sleep disorders or contribute to disruptions in your sleeping routine. 

How to improve your metabolic health

Consistent lifestyle changes have the power to improve your metabolic health. Use the tips below to work towards maintaining stable blood sugar levels, which will improve your metabolic health and support weight loss. 

Focus on nutrition

When it comes to metabolic health, you want to avoid crash diets that negatively impact metabolism or lead to nutrient deficiencies due to the nature of their restriction.

Instead, eat healthy, balanced meals that focus on nutrient-rich foods like fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains. 

Regular exercise

Regular physical activity is essential for optimal health.

Ideally, though, you want to incorporate both aerobic exercises and strength training into your routine. This means you won’t just be burning calories and improving cardiovascular health but also maintaining lean muscle mass, which is important when it comes to burning calories at rest. 

Prioritise sleep

We all know that inadequate sleep can negatively affect overall health and metabolism. Ensure it’s a priority by getting 7-9 hours of quality sleep each night. This won’t just help with regulating hormones that directly affect your appetite, but also improving your metabolic health. 

Limit alcohol consumption

It’s important to stay hydrated, and drinking plenty of water throughout the day is the best way to support digestion, metabolism, and overall health. Alcohol, however, should be limited. Excessive alcohol consumption can disrupt your metabolic processes and also lead to weight gain, as these empty calories contribute to your daily consumption. 

Eat regularly

As with crash diets, skipping meals can wreak havoc on your metabolism. As well as contributing to irregular blood sugar levels, going long periods without food can see you overcompensate later on. It’s important to eat balanced meals regularly throughout the day to maintain energy levels and support metabolism. 

With these changes to your diet and lifestyle, your metabolic health can be improved. However, it’s important to remember that there are a range of factors to consider when looking at metabolic and overall health. Just as no two people are the same, approaches towards improving health should be tailored to your individual needs. 

Thankfully, Juniper’s Weight Reset Program delivers a personalised approach to weight loss, while also taking a holistic approach to ensure your journey is a sustainable one proven to get the results you want. With an expertly designed program and clinically proven treatments, you’ll have access to seasoned medical professionals, dietitians, and health coaches who will support you every step of the way. 

With the added support of a community of like-minded women sharing their own weight loss journey, Juniper’s Weight Reset Program will allow you to improve your health and take on your weight loss goals from a holistic approach. 

Image credit: Getty Images

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