This Is How Stress Is Wreaking Havoc on Your Metabolism and Preventing Weight Loss
No matter how much we try, we can't completely avoid stress. Fortunately, there are proven ways to reduce stress, such as cognitive behavioral therapy and exercise. We know that high levels of stress can impact everything from getting a quality night's rest to an increase in fat in your abdomen region, commonly referred to as belly fat.
Stress can appear in many ways physically, but there's also a hidden way it's affecting important body processes such as your metabolism. To learn how stress is affecting our metabolism, POPSUGAR spoke with Avigdor Arad, PhD, RDN, CDE, director of the Mount Sinai PhysioLab.
What Is Metabolism?
When the general population talks about their metabolism, they're typically referring to their metabolic rate, which is how many calories your body burns in a period of time. Dr. Arad explained that metabolism is a complex process that essentially relates to your body's ability to process energy from fat, protein, and sugar and how it stores energy. He also explained that everyone has a different metabolic rate that is affected by variables such as age, sex, and activity level.
Another extremely important variable that can affect your metabolism is your hormones. A reduction of estrogen for women and testosterone for men can lead to an increase in fat mass or a loss of muscle mass, and it's also related to your ability to burn fat, Dr. Arad explained. While these hormonal reductions are inevitable and occur with age, such as during menopause, Dr. Arad explained that there's another hormone that can really wreak havoc on your metabolism: cortisol.
How Stress Affects Your Metabolism
"Cortisol is the stress hormone, which basically leads to people eating more, sleeping less, and it may affect insulin resistance," Dr. Arad explained. "It's probably the most important hormone in that regard because insulin tells the body to store and build rather than to burn," he said. If you become very insulin resistant (the cells in your muscles, fat, and liver don't respond well to glucose in your blood), you can have a lot of metabolic repercussions, he explained.
"It can affect your ability to oxidize fat and to oxidize sugar. When you develop insulin resistance, it's a state of metabolic disaster because it means that your body is not communicating well," Dr. Arad said. "For each person, it manifests differently, but it means that you may not be burning fuel when you need to, you may not be storing fuel as you need to . . . you're certainly going to be storing much more than you need."
According to Dr. Arad, insulin resistance means that your body isn't able to adapt to the various energy fuel sources. "In a healthy body, people can make an excellent adaption in fuel use to whatever is available. A healthy body can adjust the use for energy based on what's available," he explained. For example, a healthy person can eat a diet high in fat and as a result, their body will burn more fat. If the same person ate a diet high in sugar, their body would still be able to use the sugar efficiently, Dr. Arad explained. Conversely, people who become insulin resistant and are overweight lose the ability to be flexible when it comes to burning fuel sources and as a result, their body will end up storing more.
How to Reduce Stress and Improve Your Metabolism
Now that you know how stress can impact your metabolism, you may be wondering how you can manage your stressors and improve your metabolism. Because everyone is different, you'll have to find what works best for you; here's where to start.
According to Psychology Today, general strategies such as deep breathing, listening to music (specifically classical music), taking a hot bath, reading, practicing yoga, meditating, and exercising can help you manage stress. Making lifestyle changes such as getting more sleep, eating a balanced diet, and connecting with others can also help.
You can also boost your metabolism simply by increasing your protein and fat intake because your body has to work harder to process these macronutrients. You should also reduce your sugar intake as your body doesn't work hard to process it, and those calories will be stored as fat if you aren't very active. Exercise, specifically strength training, has been proven to boost your metabolism because you'll be building muscle, which is more metabolically active (it requires more energy) than fat. Here's a four-week strength training program to get you started.