Tag Archives: metabolism

It’s Not Just You: Stress and Fat Are Linked

In times of stress, many of us turn for consolation to sugary, fatty, high-calorie foods. Macaroni and cheese? Meatloaf and mashed potatoes with extra butter? A massive hunk of buttercream-frosted cake? They don’t call them “comfort foods” for nothing.

“I often see unmanaged stress lead to overeating and binging with my clients,” says Kara Lydon, RD, LDN, RYT, author of Nourish Your Namaste e-book and blogger at The Foodie Dietitian. “When we push away our basic needs for self-care — relaxation, spirituality, fun, sleep — we wind up feeling overexerted, depleted and stressed and turn to food as a way to fulfill an unmet need. Overeating because of stress often leads to more stress and anxiety and it becomes a vicious cycle.”

Given that, the results of a recent British study that found a link between long-term stress and obesity may not come as much of a surprise.

The study, conducted by researchers at University College London and published in the journal Obesity, looked at hair samples representing about two months of growth from more than 2,500 men and women age 54 and over participating in the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing to determine the levels of cortisol, a hormone associated with stress, present in the hair. The researchers found that those with higher levels of cortisol, which plays a role in metabolism and fat storage, were more likely to be overweight or obese – to have a larger waist circumference, weigh more and have a higher body-mass index.

Although the study found only an association and not evidence of cause or consequence, the study is important in light of the dangers of excess abdominal fat, including heart disease, diabetes and early death, lead author Sarah Jackson, a research associate in the department of epidemiology and public health at University College London, maintains.

“I think the take-home message from our study is really to try and maintain awareness of healthy lifestyle habits during times of stress,” Jackson tells Healthy Eats. “When we’re stressed out we may find it more difficult to find the motivation to go for a run or resist unhealthy foods, and that’s when it is easier for weight to creep on.”

The study also underscores the need to find ways of curtailing stress or dealing with it in ways that don’t involve food, Jackson says.

Lydon agrees. She recommends that, when you feel compelled to binge or overeat in times of stress, that you pause and ask yourself the food you’re about to tuck into is really what you need. “Often times, taking a walk outside to connect with nature or taking a warm candlelit bath is enough to fulfill an unmet need and the craving subsides,” she says.

Because everyone is different, Lydon suggests making a list of non-food-related things that help you combat stress – and keeping them handy. “Things like yoga, deep breathing, meditation, going out with friends, coloring, venting to a loved one, or getting a hug can all release some stress,” she says.

And unlike that buttercreamy hunk of cake, a hug, while equally sweet, is calorie-free.

 

Amy Reiter is a writer and editor based in New York. A regular contributor to The Los Angeles Times, she has also written for The New York Times, The Washington Post, Glamour, Marie Claire, The Daily Beast and Wine Spectator, among others, as well as for Salon, where she was a longtime editor and senior writer. In addition to contributing to Healthy Eats, she blogs for Food Network’s FN Dish.

*This article was written and/or reviewed by an independent registered dietitian nutritionist.

Nutrition News: Best Metabolism Booster; Sleep, Stress and Belly Fat; and Gardening and Kids’ Health

Reaping What We Sow

Want to raise kids who are lifelong healthy eaters? Hand them a trowel, some seeds and a watering can, and point them to the garden. A new study conducted by researchers at the University of Florida suggests that college kids who either gardened when they were kids or currently garden consumed more fruits and vegetables — 2.9 cups daily, on average, about a half-cup more — than those who did not. “We found that if your parents gardened but you did not, just watching them did not make a difference in how much fruits and vegetables you eat in college,” lead author Anne Mathews told HealthDay News. “Hands-on experience seems to matter.”

Why Your Metabolism Is So Slow

If you have a sinking feeling that your metabolism is slowing, you’re probably right. In a U.S. News article, health and wellness writer K. Aleisha Fetters notes that our metabolism — the base number of calories our bodies burn each day — decreases gradually beginning at age 20. (Yes, that young.) So by the time we are 30, we should take in 150 fewer daily calories than we did at age 20 to maintain the same weight. After age 40 in men and 50 in women, that metabolic decrease accelerates. Fetters says this decline has to do with a loss of muscle mass as we age, as muscle burns calories at a higher rate than fat. The antidote, she argues, is to work toward building muscle mass through strength training and support it with concerted protein consumption.

Sleep, Stress and Belly Fat

Another thing we can do to help keep our bodies in shape as we age? Get enough sleep. Eating right and exercise are key tools in our battle against the bulge. But fitness trainer Gabriella Boston suggests, in The Washington Post, that boosting sleep and reducing stress may be more important still in our efforts to attain a flatter belly (and who doesn’t want that?) as we age. “I would say Number 1 is sleep, Number 2 is stress, followed by nutrition and then exercise,” registered dietitian Rebecca Mohning tells Boston. “If you’re exhausted, it’s better to sleep the extra 30 to 40 minutes than to exercise.” That’s because cortisol, the stress hormone has been found to boost belly fat, sugar consumption and our propensity to make unhealthy food choices. “Stress management is part of weight management,” Mohning maintains.

Nutrition News: Whole Grains, Diet and Metabolism, Sleep and Weight

The whole truth about whole grains

We know whole grains are good for us, but do they have the same health benefits if they are ground up and used, say, as an ingredient in smoothies or flour in cereals? The New York Times’ Well blog has taken that question to nutrition experts and the answer is, basically, yes. “Whole” grains, in which the bran, the germ and the endosperm are all left intact (as opposed to “refined” grains, where the bran and the germ are stripped away), are beneficial either way. Some grains lose a bit of their fiber when ground, but taste better that way, the experts say, whereas others, like flax seed, are more nutritious when ground, because the body can absorb them better. The most-important thing, dietitian Maria Elena Rodriguez tells the Times, is to make sure products have three or more grams of fiber per serving and are marked “whole grains.”

Diet and metabolism

If you have the sense that your diet has messed with your metabolism — that the more weight you lose, the less you can eat without gaining weight — you’re not imagining things. In a Reuters video, Dr. Holly Lofton of NYU School of Medicine explains that it takes less food to power a smaller body — the same way a smaller car needs less gas to propel it than a big tractor-trailer. “So if you’re going from a larger mass to a smaller mass, your metabolic rate will be less,” she says. The best way to lose weight without messing up your metabolism too much, she says, is to have protein in your diet. This will keep you from losing muscle in addition to fat.

Lose to snooze?

Your body weight and diet may also affect your sleep. Researchers at University of Pennsylvania have determined that overweight adults spend a higher percentage of their sleep time in the REM stage of sleep — the stage where you dream, your heart beats more quickly and you breathe faster and that is characterized that is “less restorative” than non-REM stages of sleep. What’s more, the researchers found, those who ate more protein tended to have less stage 2 sleep — the phase when heart rate and breathing are fairly normal and body temperature lowers slightly — and more REM sleep as well.

Amy Reiter is a writer and editor based in New York. A regular contributor to The Los Angeles Times, she has also written for The New York Times, The Washington Post, Glamour, Marie Claire, The Daily Beast and Wine Spectator, among others, as well as for Salon, where she was a longtime editor and senior writer. In addition to contributing to Healthy Eats, she blogs for Food Network’s FN Dish.

Nutrition News: Healthiest Veggie-Cooking Methods, Pregnancy Obesity Risks, Silk For Fresh Fruit

Healthier veggie prep

We all know vegetables are healthy, but some ways of preparing them are healthier than others. In general, cooked beats raw, CNN reports, noting, “Studies show the process of cooking actually breaks down tough outer layers and cellular structure of many vegetables, making it easier for your body to absorb their nutrients.” And while the ideal method may differ slightly for different vegetables, the news site reports, as a rule of thumb it’s often best to steam (don’t boil) or microwave your veggies and “keep cooking time, temperature and the amount of liquid to a minimum.” Then throw in a wee bit of olive oil and you’re good to go.

Best ‘metabolic start’

Eating for two may require some restraint. Women who gain an excessive amount of weight (more than 40 pounds) or have elevated blood sugar levels during pregnancy may “imprint” their children with obesity – increasing the children’s risk of obesity later even if they are born at a normal weight — a new study by researchers at Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research has concluded. “What we think is happening is the baby is adapting to an overfed environment, either because of high glucose or excess weight gain,” Dr. Teresa Hillier, of Kaiser Permanente, told UPI. “Metabolic imprinting, or obesity imprinting, is what we’re talking about. We don’t really understand why it’s happening but we know it’s happening.” Hillier advocates following standard medical recommendations for exercise and diet during pregnancy — and gaining neither too much nor too little weight — in order to give children the best “metabolic start” in life.

Silky stay-fresh solution

Fruit is yummy and healthy when it’s fresh. But when it’s well past its prime? Not so much. But biomedical engineering researchers at Tufts University say they may have found a way to keep fruits and vegetables fresh longer — by coating them in edible silk. The researchers, who published their findings in the journal Scientific Reports, report they were able to extend the life of strawberries and bananas by coating them with a micrometer-thin membrane of edible silk fibroin, which had the effect of “slowing fruit respiration, extending fruit firmness and preventing dehydration.” The researchers cite U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that about half the world’s crops produced for human consumption are lost somewhere along the food supply chain, “mostly due to the premature deterioration of perishable crops.” Given that fact, they note, an edible, “flavorless and odorless” coating that keeps them fresh may have major benefits.

Amy Reiter is a writer and editor based in New York. A regular contributor to The Los Angeles Times, she has also written for The New York Times, The Washington Post, Glamour, Marie Claire, The Daily Beast and Wine Spectator, among others, as well as for Salon, where she was a longtime editor and senior writer. In addition to contributing to Healthy Eats, she blogs for Food Network’s FN Dish.