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Metabolism, Weight Loss, and Stress

There’s a lot of talk about metabolism in weight-loss material. Some diet experts claim that you can speed it up by eating certain foods or slow it down by being sedentary. Often, this information is contradictory and really hard to follow. The truth is that your metabolism does have a lot to do with weight gain and loss, but it may not work in the way you think.

What Is Your Metabolism?

Your metabolism is made up of several components. The first is your basal metabolic rate (BMR), which is the calories that your body burns just to keep itself alive. Even when you’re sitting still, your body is burning calories to digest food, to keep you warm, and to keep your heart beating. These types of activities account for between 70 and 80 percent of the calories your body burns overall. This number varies widely depending on factors such as: An before and after image of a an overweight man fading to a more fit version of himself

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Muscle mass
  • Genetics
  • Hormones

The second factor that makes up metabolism is the thermic effect of food (TEF). This refers to the calories that you burn digesting your meals, and it makes up around 10 percent of the calories that your body burns.

The amount that you move around is the final factor involved in your metabolism. When you move your body, you burn calories, and the number of calories burned will depend on the type of activity you’re doing.

Non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT) refers to the calories you burn through non-sport activities. This can include anything from shopping and cleaning the house to cooking and burns between 10 and 20 percent of your daily calories. Increasing these activities is an easy way to burn more calories and control your weight better.

You can also increase the amount of deliberate exercise you do. The number of calories you burn this way is called exercise activity thermogenesis, and it accounts for 5 to 10 percent of your calorie burn. This refers to any sport or exercise you do that leaves you sweating, so a gentle walk around the block doesn’t usually fit in this category.

How to Boost Your Metabolism

There’s a lot of information out there on how to boost your metabolism. The truth is that some of the strategies work and some don’t. But even those that do work probably won’t have as much of an effect as you’re hoping. Measuring how healthy your metabolism is actually involves a lot of factors. However, here are some of the most common tactics for boosting metabolism and how well they actually work:

  • More Exercise. This is a fairly simple one. If you do more exercise you will increase your metabolism by a little bit. This is because of two factors. When you exercise you burn more calories and you also increase your overall muscle mass. More muscle means that your BMR will be higher, which means that you’ll burn more calories when you’re just sitting around. However, unless you suddenly become an Olympic athlete, this increase is a relatively small one. After all, your exercise level only makes up 5-10 percent of your metabolic rate.
  • Eating More Frequently. This is a common piece of advice for anyone who wants to speed up their metabolism and lose weight. However, if you eat smaller meals more often, it will not only disrupt your schedule, you’ll also be far more likely to overeat, which will only compound your weight problems. However, those with adrenal fatigue sometimes get low blood sugar if they don’t eat every 2-3 hours. You just have to listen to what your body needs.
  • Eating Certain Foods. If you’re eating enough protein, then it will boost your metabolism a little. This means consuming foods like eggs, tuna, chickpeas, chicken, and Greek yogurt to ensure that you’re getting your recommended daily intake. Eliminating processed foods will have the same effect. These foods are too easy to digest, which means you burn fewer calories and your BMR goes down. Also, eating more cayenne pepper or drinking lots of green tea or apple cider vinegar will not noticeably increase your metabolism. They may cause a small increase, but can also have uncomfortable side effects, which is why it’s better to focus on more effective strategies for weight loss.
  • An image of a scale with a blue yo-yo on itDon’t Yo-Yo Diet. Yo-yo dieting doesn’t kill your metabolism. But it does make changes in your body that affect the hormones that make you feel hungry. Your body likes everything to stay the same, so if you suddenly drop weight, then it will produce hormones that make you feel hungry. And then you will eat and put the weight back on again. This problem is compounded by the fact that a smaller body actually needs less food. When you lose weight, you need fewer calories to fuel your body and may even lose some muscle at the same time. So, because your BMR is lower, it will be far easier to overeat and pack the weight on and then some. And some studies show that extreme dieting and weight loss may directly affect your metabolism, causing a dip in your metabolic rate that’s below what your new size would normally demand. This is just another reason why you shouldn’t even consider trying extreme diets.
  • Sleep. This is a strategy that does work. More studies are starting to come out about the effects of sleep and your microbiome on the metabolic rate. Trying to get between 7 and 9 hours of uninterrupted sleep every night can be key in supporting a higher metabolism.

Metabolism and Stress

Stress is a well-known cause of metabolism slowdown and weight gain.

A little bit of stress is normal and can even be good for the body. Stress causes the activation of the NeuroEndoMetabolic (NEM) Stress Response, which helps the body cope with stress and react appropriately. When the cause of the stress is temporary, the NEM stress response shuts down once it’s over. But when you’re under stress over a long period, this system can be active too long, and that’s when problems start.

The adrenal glands are a key element in the NEM stress response because they produce the stress hormone cortisol. They can also become fatigued and start to deteriorate when you’re under stress for too long. When this occurs, it can result in a confusion of symptoms that affect every system, organ, and circuit in your body, which is characteristic of Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome (AFS).

Inexplicable and frustrating weight gain is a common symptom of AFS. This can be the result of several factors associated with this disorder including an inadequate diet, a sedentary lifestyle, fatigue, and hormonal imbalances.

Metabolism is affected in different ways by the stages of AFS:

    An image of a woman holding her face in frustration with a scale in the foreground

  • In the first stage, metabolism will be boosted by the cortisol released to help the body cope with stress.
  • In the second stage, metabolism starts to become dysregulated, and weight problems may start to appear.
  • By the third stage, the dysregulation has worsened, and the metabolic systems and circuits of the NEM have been driven into exhaustion.
  • By the time you reach the third and fourth stage, you may find yourself bed bound and debilitated.

Obviously, it’s better to avoid this stage by addressing underlying adrenal fatigue and circuit imbalances early. One of the circuits in your body that will be negatively affected by AFS is the hormonal circuit, which is strongly connected to weight gain and your metabolism.

How Hormone Problems Can Cause Weight Gain

The Hormonal circuit consists of the adrenal glands, the thyroid gland, and the sexual organs, which are the ovaries for females and the testes for men. As with every circuit in the body, these hormones exist in a delicate balance, so when one becomes dysfunctional, the others often follow. These organs also produce a variety of hormones that affect a wide variety of functions, organs, and circuits in the body. This means that, as they degrade, it can cause widespread health problems.

The thyroid gland in particular is highly relevant to metabolism, as it excretes the hormones that control and regulate the metabolic rate. The thyroid regulates the metabolism of every cell in the body, so if it starts to degrade, the results can be catastrophic.

Thyroid issues can result in inexplicable weight gain, fatigue, and other symptoms related to a slower metabolism. Some see weight gain around the middle and struggle to lose the excess weight, no matter what type of diet or exercise program they try. Thyroid medication also does not address the root cause of the problem.

The Bioenergetics Circuit and Metabolism

The bioenergetics circuit is also strongly linked to metabolism. This circuit includes the pancreas, liver, and the thyroid. The thyroid is part of both the hormonal circuit and the bioenergetics circuit, so both of these circuits are impacted if AFS causes declining health and function.

The bioenergetics circuit is designed to provide every cell in the body with the energy needed to function. If this circuit malfunctions, energy production is threatened and can result in metabolism derangement.

The pancreas, in the bioenergetics circuit, controls insulin levels and produces enzymes that help with digestion. Dysregulation here can cause weight gain and slow the metabolic rate because insulin resistance and blood sugar levels are strongly connected to metabolic syndrome.

Losing Weight With Adrenal Fatigue

Correcting a slow metabolism and losing weight isn’t an easy or straightforward process. Strategies to address the thyroid imbalances or other problems that are causing the weight gain are at best ineffective and at worst outright damaging for your overtaxed body. The only way to address these problems is by dealing with the underlying adrenal fatigue, and this demands the help of someone who’s aware of AFS and the problems it can cause. By correcting the underlying adrenal fatigue, the connected organs and systems will start to become balanced again. This will naturally help to return your metabolism to normal functioning.

When you have AFS, it’s important that you don’t adopt extreme weight loss strategies such as a strict diet or a heavy exercise routine. Although this might normally boost your metabolism a little, when you have AFS it can cause more damage to your already-taxed systems. AFS is caused and worsened by stress, and these tactics increase your stress levels. That’s why any recovery strategy you adopt needs to be gentle and nourishing, and if you notice any adverse reactions, then you need to stop immediately and seek out help.

The Takeaway

An image of a frustrated woman staring at her plate of toastIf you focus on boosting your metabolism to lose weight without making other changes, then you’re probably wasting your time. This rate is tightly regulated and is dependent on several factors; trying to change just one of them probably won’t have a big effect. However, AFS also affects your metabolism and could be a reason for unexplained weight gain. Finding ways to address the root causes of AFS could help your metabolism in this case.

 
© Copyright 2020 Michael Lam, M.D. All Rights Reserved.


Dr. Lam's Key Question

Your metabolism is tightly regulated and there isn’t much that you can do to speed it up. Some strategies will boost it slightly, but the truth is that you have to do the hard work of addressing underlying health issues if you want to lose weight or maintain a healthy weight range.

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