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MetS, Weight Wobbles and Stress

Written by Dr Arien van der Merwe


Excerpts from her book ‘Managing Diabetes and Metabolic Syndrome’ and adapted from her online course on MetS and Inflammation.

Are you low on energy? Do you wake up tired and stressed out every day? Are your clothes getting tighter and tighter? You might have MetS!

What is MetS (Metabolic Syndrome)?

By 2010, 150 million people around the globe were diagnosed with metabolic syndrome and it is predicted that this figure will increase to 300 million by the year 2030.

Undetected Metabolic Syndrome can lead to an increased risk of developing pre-diabetes, diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, depression, stroke and more.


Common symptoms of MetS include:

  1. Increased waist circumference – fat deposits around the abdomen, often a simple muffin top can indicate the start of MetS, with as little as 5kg fat accumulation
  2. Lipid profile imbalances: Increased triglycerides, LDL cholesterol, with low HDL cholesterol
  3. Moderate to high blood pressure
  4. Increased fasting insulin indicating insulin resistance
  5. Increased fasting glucose that may lead to diabetes
  6. Genetic factors and stress levels are also contributing factors.

The most effective way to manage MetS and weight wobbles, is through lifestyle change. An integrative, holistic medical approach that includes a healthy sustainable eating plan, based on low carbohydrates and high plant oils such as organic foods, fruit, vegetables, nuts, extra virgin coconut and olive oil, nutriceuticals (nutri- from nutrition and – ceutical from pharmaceutical – i.e. food as medicine), well researched herbal remedies, a gentle exercise program (e.g. yoga, walking, swimming, dancing), combined with nutritional guidance, advice on dealing with sugar addiction and insulin resistance, stress management and relaxation training, including consulting with a holistic practitioner to provide the essential support and guidance. This approach will go a long way in lowering the risk of this widespread health challenge.

Weight Wobbles

Fat accumulation is the main cause of chronic inflammation in the body and may increase your health risks associated with all lifestyle diseases (incl. MetS, diabetes, heart disease, depression and more). Lose fat, to become healthier! 

Losing weight, especially fat weight, is not only about a better looking body, but more importantly, about managing the health risks that can pose a serious threat to your health and wellbeing.

Lifestyle changes that include healthier eating habits; regular, moderate, enjoyable physical activity, and losing as little as 5%-10% body fat, have shown phenomenal health benefits much more effective than any medication can ever be.

Losing fat weight can prevent and even reverse existing diabetes; lower blood pressure, cholesterol and triglyceride levels; and improve sleep apnoea and other sleep problems — along with helping you feel better about yourself, and have more energy. 90% of diabetes, 80% heart disease and 60% of cancers are preventable with healthier lifestyles and maintaining normal body weight.

‘We have seen a consistent pattern in our weight loss studies: when patients lose 5%-10% of their body weight, they lower blood pressure, reduce LDL (bad) cholesterol, improve glucose tolerance and restore insulin sensitivity, and in general, lower the risk for cardiovascular disease’, says Catherine Champagne, a researcher with Louisiana State University’s Pennington Biomedical Research Center.

Doctors constantly report that they successfully take patients off blood glucose, blood pressure and cholesterol lowering medications after the patients lost as little as 5kg of fat.

Losing even a little weight can be especially beneficial for people who store their excess weight around their abdomen (apple shape), rather than their hips (pear shape). Fat stored around the waist and in the liver, is more metabolically active, which makes it a high risk trigger for heart disease, but also easier to lose.

The Stress Connection

The purpose of the stress reaction, is to ensure survival of the human (and other) species. We know it as the classic fight-flight-freeze reaction. This is most effective for physical threats. We elicit this reaction for threats experienced in our own minds. The body goes into survival mode, mostly because of unconscious feelings of cold and hunger, based on guilt, need for belonging, around emotional eating, etc. This sends survival signals through for protection – the best protection being fat deposits in our pantries (around the waist and abdomen) to use for insulation and fuel!

Weight gain and difficulty maintaining healthy weight is a common concern in women over 35 years of age. Underlying stress from deeply buried unconscious emotions, plays an important role. As do increased cortisol levels, insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome. Overeating might be a way of trying to find nourishment for emotional needs through food, or may be due to an underlying need for protection and safety. The stress reaction of cold and hunger, is a very deeply ingrained, instinctive survival response, some people have when internal, mostly unconscious, stress is experienced.

The increased stress metabolism leads to more free radical formation and oxidative stress, which causes renegade inflammation, accelerates the ageing process, as well as being an important cause in all physical diseases and ailments. This is also the reason why long term stress over many years, will be visible as advanced ageing of the skin with wrinkles at a younger age, as well as physical diseases like osteoarthritis, heart disease, menopause with severe symptoms, depression, metabolic syndrome, and even cancer.

Insulin: Essential to allow glucose to enter cells for energy and fuel usage. Fat and muscle cells may become resistant to insulin, leading to high blood glucose/sugar despite high insulin secretion, because the cells cannot use the glucose inside the cells for fuel. The high blood glucose then triggers fat production.
Cortisol: Stress hormone released from the adrenal glands during long term stress. Increase in cortisol results in more insulin resistance and thyroid hormone resistance.
Thyroid hormones: T3 and T4 are required in every cell to regulate metabolism. Low or borderline levels may lead to lack of energy, weight gain, fatigue, hair loss, constipation, etc.


To summarise the interplay of hormones during stress

The many symptoms of high cortisol levels (that can ultimately lead to adrenal fatigue) – mostly due to an inner state of high tension/distress (constantly feeling overwhelmed, anxious, worried) of chronic distress

  • Food cravings – especially for refined sugar (sweets, confectionary, white flour, etc)
  • Increase fat build up around the abdominal area and waist
  • Insulin resistance
  • Normal to high fasting blood sugar/glucose
  • High blood pressure
  • Distrubed sleep
  • Depression
  • Mood swings
  • Brain fog
  • Irritability
  • Premature ageing
  • Low immune system function leading to frequent colds, cold sores and other infections
  • Muscle and bone density loss
  • Stomach/peptic ulcer
  • Hair loss
  • Skin conditions like eczema and acne

The answer: A solution based healthy lifestyle to address MetS, weight wobbles and stress

Healthy, lifestyle eating guidelines combined with a fat loss program. Intermittent fasting is one of the most effective ways to lose fat. The most practical way is to have your last meal (mostly containing protein and vegetables or salads) not later than 7pm. Then wait 16-18 hours before you ‘break your fast’ around 11h00 the next morning. Try this 5 days a week and notice how effective this lifestyle habit is!

The correct herbal remedies for fat burning and blood sugar balance (e.g. fenugreek, Gymnema sylvestre, cinnamon, combined with effective natural food supplements (e.g. high B-complex vitamins, Vit. A, C and E; co-enzyme Q10, bioflavonoids, minerals in an amino acid formulation, e.g. selenium, chromium, molybdenum, vanadium)

Regular, enjoyable exercise – interval training

Contact with nature – rooting and grounding

Relax and unwind every day – even 5 minutes a day of belly breathing

Mind solutions to address subconscious emotional saboteurs that lead to vicious cycle of feeling overwhelmed, stressed out, eating for comfort and break, putting on fat weight

Keeping a daily journal to write down feelings, repetitive negative thoughts, dreams

Written by Dr Arien van der Merwe, medical doctor and author, specialising in natural and mind-body medicine, herbal remedies, fat loss, stress management, workplace wellness and holistic health counselling.

Address: The Green Healing Space at 16 Hope St, Hermanus and 426 Cliffendale Dr. Faerie Glen, Pretoria. Whatsapp video consultations are available for anywhere in South Africa and abroad.

Tel no: 067 1166 111 / 066 199 1038. Email: & Website:

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