Why is it so hard to lose weight and yet so easy to find it again? You watch what you eat, you’re not sedentary and you haven’t had a donut in at least three years. So why are those extra pounds so difficult to lose, even when you seem to be doing everything right?
Maybe you have metabolic syndrome.
Metabolic syndrome is a handful of disorders that together set you up for developing type II diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and possibly some cancers.
How can you tell if you have metabolic syndrome?
There are five telltale signs doctors look for. Having one of these does not mean you have metabolic syndrome (but having one does increase your risk for developing heart disease). Having three of these conditions, though, is likely enough for an initial diagnosis. If you think you may be at risk, ask your doctor to run some tests during your next visit.
The five symptoms to look for are:
- High blood pressure
- Low levels of the good kind of cholesterol – HDL
- High blood sugar levels
- High triglyceride levels
- Excess fat around the waist (e.g., 40” for men, 35” for women)
If you’ve had a physical recently, it probably included blood work. Check the numbers for the first four symptoms and talk to your doctor about those. As for excess fat around the waist – well, you will know the answer to that.
None of the potential outcomes of having metabolic syndrome are anything you want, so it’s a good idea to get started right away addressing this problem. Luckily, the steps to take to address metabolic syndrome are also just plain healthy, good for weight loss, and will help with insulin resistance.
Wait, insulin resistance? What’s that?
Insulin resistance and how it affects you
Insulin is the hormone that unlocks your cells and allows them to take in glucose (sugar) from your blood and use it for energy. When that partnership fails to work properly, glucose builds up in your bloodstream. No matter how much insulin you produce, your cells don’t behave as they should. The reason for this breakdown is not completely known, but the disorders that cause metabolic syndrome certainly play a role. Insulin resistance isn’t the whole story of metabolic syndrome, but it’s a strong subplot.
Once you become insulin resistant and your cells cannot properly convert the food you eat into energy, the excess glucose builds up in your blood and is eventually stored as fat for later use. And usually somewhere you don’t want it.
It’s hard on your body (specifically your pancreas) to be insulin resistant and eventually your insulin producing cells will give up the fight, setting you up for prediabetes and then type II diabetes. This will also set you on the path to heart disease and stroke. Ditto for metabolic syndrome.
Steps you can take right away to avoid developing metabolic syndrome and insulin resistance
- Eat right – that means lots of veggies, fruits, fish, lean meats, and healthy fats such as olive oil. Avoid refined grains and other refined carbohydrates. Consider adopting the Mediterranean diet.
- Go very easy on sweets — or, hey, why not give them up altogether? There’s an old saying: A minute on the lips, a lifetime on the hips. It takes less time than you probably think to shake the sugar habit. You’ll have more energy, too. And having more energy means it will be easy and enjoyable to ….
- Get more exercise than you’re getting now – no, that occasional stroll after dinner or game of ping pong on the weekend isn’t enough. Shoot for getting at least 30 minutes of mindful and continuous exercise five times a week. And really, 45 minutes (or more) is better. Remember, you’re not out to smell the roses on these walks, you’re out to elevate your heart rate and get your blood pumping. Be smart – if you’re out of shape and haven’t exercised for a while, don’t start with a triathlon (or even a 5k). Walk at a non-strolling pace. Every week try to go a little farther in the same amount of time, and when that becomes easy, add some time, or change up your exercise.
- Reduce the inflammation in your body – interestingly, inflammation seems to play a role in all this, as it does in so many health issues. Studies show that people with insulin resistance have slightly higher levels of inflammation. We might eventually discover that excess sugar and inflammation are our worst health enemies. Luckily, we have some control over these adversaries. Take a look at our May post, “Inflammation, It’s Insidious,” for a longer discussion on inflammation and what you can do about it. But the short version is cut the sugar, the bad (saturated and trans-) fats, and the processed carbs. And go easy on even the good carbs that come from whole grains and certain starchy vegetables.
- Consider adding vitamin E tocotrienols to your supplement routine — because of their positive effect on lowering lipids, tocotrienols may be beneficial for patients who need help managing blood sugar and insulin levels. They have also been shown to improve insulin sensitivity and help the body create and process glucose better. In addition, tocotrienols’ proven ability to reduce inflammation can help prevent many associated diseases and chronic conditions, improving your overall health.
- Reduce your body weight by 7-10% – everything we’ve just talked about is going to help you accomplish that. What luck.