6 Signs Your Metabolic Health Is Out Of Balance (And What To Do About It)

It is normal to experience the occasional headache, belly bloat, or bad night of sleep. But more frequent or even daily occurrences could be signaling metabolic imbalance. Learn what to look for, and tips to restore balance.

a woman looking thoughtful while standing outdoors

Metabolic health refers to how efficiently your body converts food into energy. Metabolic health also encompasses your body’s natural ability to regulate blood sugar, cholesterol, blood pressure, and weight. 

There are certain common symptoms that can be clues your metabolic health needs attention. This article gives will explain what to look out for, and how to get back on track. 

Consequences of Poor Metabolic Health 

There are short-term and long-term consequences of poor metabolic health. It may sound scary, but rest assured your body is resilient, and you do have the ability to make the changes that can turn things around. 

Left unmanaged, poor metabolic health can significantly increase your risk of developing:

  • Insulin resistance
  • Type two diabetes 
  • Heart disease 
  • Unwanted weight gain 
  • Alzheimer’s disease1
  • Chronic inflammation 

<p class="pro-tip"><strong>Learn about </strong> <a href="/blog/insulin-resistance-vs-prediabetes">insulin resistance vs pre diabetes</a>.</p>

Symptoms Of Poor Metabolic Health 

Long-term inflammation and stress can present in many different ways in the body. Some symptoms are visible on the skin, while others can be more subtle. If you suspect your metabolic health is starting to decline, deliberately monitor your health over a two-week period. Having more information about the nature and frequency of uncomfortable symptoms can make it easier to identify the lifestyle changes that can help you feel better (tips and recommendations follow this list). 

1. You're always tired, no matter how much sleep you get

Your energy levels will naturally wax and wane throughout the day, and through different seasons of your life. But waking up tired and lethargic every day is not normal. 

If you have tried increasing your sleep schedule but continue to feel sluggish and easily fatigued, it could be a symptom your metabolic health is suffering. 

When you feel chronically low energy, you are more susceptible to mood swings, poor food and drink choices, decreased commitment to exercise, and a compromised immune system. 

<p class="pro-tip"><strong>Learn about </strong> <a href="/blog/sleep-and-weight-loss">the relationship between sleep and weight loss</a>.</p>

2. You can't lose weight, no matter what you try

Nutrition is not a perfect science but there are firm guidelines that should help you lose weight—at least a little. If you find that your efforts are not showing any changes in your weight, your metabolic health may be responsible. 

Avoid making drastic changes during this time, no matter how frustrating it can be to experience weight loss plateau. A significant reduction in caloric intake can actually hurt your metabolism and throw your body into survival mode. 

In survival mode, your metabolism will slow down and all calories will be stored to ensure you survive the “state of famine” your body believes it is experiencing. 

<p class="pro-tip"><strong>Learn </strong> <a href="/blog/boost-metabolism">7 natural ways to boost metabolism</a>.</p>

woman doing squats using a resistance band outdoors
Fat storage is a biological survival mechanism that can be triggered by undereating, overexercising, and other perceived threats

3. You constantly have a headache or migraine

A headache can make you feel uncomfortable or irritable, but a chronic headache or a migraine is a different (and much worse) beast.  

A 2019 article from the European Headache Foundation suggests that people who live in larger bodies are more susceptible to chronic bouts of inflammation.2 This state sends inflammatory markers to the brain which can be responsible for causing primary headaches. 

<p class="pro-tip"><strong>Learn more about </strong> <a href="/blog/ways-to-reduce-inflammation">what causes inflammation and how to reduce it</a>.</p>

4. You always feel bloated, even after eating very little

Your gastrointestinal system is one of the most intricate bodily systems. Not only does it digest and break down food for energy and nutrient absorption, but it also signals your brain to produce hormones. 

Your digestive system is also susceptible to stress. Chronic levels of stress wipe out health-promoting bacteria and prevent your body from replenishing a healthy gut flora.  

Experiencing bloating and gas is one of the first signs that something in your digestive tract is off. Even without eating a lot of food, an unhappy gut will feel bloated and uncomfortable. It is an early sign that your metabolic health could be worsening.

<p class="pro-tip"><strong>Learn about </strong> <a href="/blog/what-is-cortisol">managing cortisol (the stress hormone) for better health</a>.</p> 

5. Your skin is constantly dry and itchy

Bouts of dry and itchy skin (such as eczema) can be seasonal, especially during the months of the year when you are mostly indoors. But having dry skin all the time may be an indicator that something in your body is out of balance. 

Eczema is a condition characterized by red, itchy, dry patches of skin.3 A flare-up can occur for a variety of reasons, even if you’ve never had eczema before. Chronic stress, allergens, certain foods, and lifestyle changes can all trigger a bout of dry skin. 

While multiple studies have linked obesity and eczema, it’s unclear whether other markers of metabolic imbalance (high blood pressure, high blood sugar and high cholesterol) are associated with eczema.4 Psoriasis, which also causes dry, itchy and flaky skin, has been associated with multiple markers of metabolic syndrome.4

While skin problems may not be an indication of metabolic imbalance on their own, they could be part of a constellation of symptoms indicating poor metabolic health.

6. You can’t fall asleep, or wake up frequently during the night

Per the CDC, an adult between the ages of 18-60 years of age should sleep seven hours or more per night.5 In 2016 they conducted survey research and found that one in three people don’t meet that goal, which is a huge portion of the population. Those numbers have only increased since the pandemic.6

Insomnia and waking up frequently throughout the night prevent your body from entering deep sleep. Without deep sleep, your body may not heal as efficiently, the brain may not unwind and relax, and of course, energy levels are low the next day.6

Good sleep is essential to your health. A review from 2017 indicated that poor sleeping habits negatively affect metabolic health, cardiovascular health, and brain health.7

woman sleeping on her side in a well-lit bedroom
Quality sleep is essential for every bodily process, including cognitive function.

How to Restore Your Metabolic Health 

Focus on small, sustainable changes that address the symptoms listed above. If you aren’t sure where to start, prioritize the symptoms making the biggest impact on your health and quality of life. 

Improve Your Sleep 

If you don’t have one already, develop a bedtime routine that helps prime you for a good night's rest. 

Tips for getting a better night’s sleep:

  • Go to bed at the same time every night 
  • Take a shower or a hot bath and dedicate some time to pamper yourself 
  • Sip on decaffeinated tea such as chamomile or mint 
  • Complete a calming guided meditation (bonus points for minimizing screentime if using an app) 
  • Put your phone and other screens away at least half an hour before your bedtime, and catch up on reading or journaling instead
  • Consider using over-the-counter melatonin supplements (under the guidance of your pharmacist)

If your sleep is being affected more than two nights per week you may want to speak to your doctor about the possibility of using a sleep aid to help you return to a regular sleep pattern. 

<p class="pro-tip"><strong>Learn more about </strong> <a href="/blog/improving-sleep-quality-how-to-not-wake-up-tired">improving sleep quality</a>.</p>

Take Probiotics to Lessen Bloating 

You may want to start taking a probiotic supplement to replenish the healthy gut bacteria in your digestive system.8

Although naturally fermented foods offer small amounts of live bacteria cultures, they may not be concentrated enough to have a real impact on your gut microbiome. If you need help picking a brand of probiotic supplement, talk to your pharmacist. 

As your gut health improves, you can transition to a ‘management’ approach and rely on fermented foods for probiotics. Popular food sources include:

  • Low-sugar kombucha tea
  • Unflavoured kefir products (a drinkable yogurt)
  • Dairy-based yogurts
  • Different types of sauerkraut 

<p class="pro-tip"><strong>Learn about </strong> <a href="/blog/prebiotic-foods-list">how prebiotic foods improve gut health</a>.</p>

Stay Hydrated 

Although this may sound obvious, it is surprising how many people forget to drink water throughout the day. Inadequate fluid intake is one of the most common contributors to headaches and migraines, especially during the hotter months of the year. 

Choose water whenever possible because juices and sodas are very high in refined sugars, which work against your metabolic health goals. If plain water sounds boring, you can try flavored sparkling water, or water with fresh lemon juice. 

<p class="pro-tip"><strong>Learn more about hydration: </strong> <a href="/blog/does-drinking-water-help-you-lose-weight">can drinking water help you lose weight?</a>.</p>

Spend Less Time Being Sedentary

As of 2020, it is estimated that Americans are sedentary for an average of 7.7 hours per day.9 It is known that extended periods of inactivity will impair lipid metabolism, diminish carbohydrate metabolism, reduce insulin sensitivity, and increase the risk of certain cancers. 

People who sit for more than four hours a day have an increased risk of poor health outcomes compared to people who only sit for two hours. Break up your day with more activity by: 

  • Including several small walks throughout the workday 
  • Opting to take the stairs whenever possible 
  • Getting up out of your desk chair for a stretch break 
  • Prioritizing movement when you return home from work at the end of the day 
  • Tagging a peer for support so you can remind each other to move more 

When you feel able, start to incorporate more vigorous exercise routines into your week. Regular physical activity is a great way to be proactive with your long-term health goals. 

<p class="pro-tip"><strong>Learn about NEAT: </strong> <a href="/blog/neat-weight-loss">non-exercise thermogenesis for weight loss</a>.</p>

Manage Your Stress Levels 

Life will always bring varying degrees of stress. The best thing you can do is learn and practice healthy strategies so you can manage your response when stress feels overwhelming. 

Different strategies for managing stress include:

  • Having a creative and fun outlet, such as arts and crafts 
  • Exercising, either alone or in a group 
  • Scheduling some solo time for self-care 
  • Talking to a loved one 
  • Spending time outdoors without any screens

There are many possible ways to mitigate the stress response. Choose techniques that align best with your lifestyle so you’ll be more likely to keep it up.

<p class="pro-tip"><strong>Learn more about </strong> <a href="/blog/how-to-manage-stress">managing stress for better health outcomes</a>.</p>

Key Takeaways 

Your metabolic health goes beyond digestion. It encompasses important systems in your body that keep you healthy. 

The best time to start addressing any health concerns you have about your metabolic health is right now. It will take time and consistency to see improvement. 

Try to focus on one behavior change at a time. Although it can be tempting to make several diet and lifestyle changes at once, sweeping change isn’t as likely to be sustainable. 

<p class="pro-tip"><strong>Learn more about </strong> <a href="/blog/how-to-approach-metabolic-health">easy ways to approach metabolic health</a>.</p>

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References

  1. de Widt, L. (2017, October 25). Researchers link Alzheimer’s gene to Type 3 diabetes. Mayo Clinic News Network. Retrieved July 2022, from https://newsnetwork.mayoclinic.org/discussion/researchers-link-alzheimers-gene-to-type-iii-diabetes/ 
  2. Razeghi Jahromi, S., Ghorbani, Z., Martelletti, P., Lampl, C., & Togha, M. (2019). Association of diet and headache. The Journal of Headache and Pain, 20(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/s10194-019-1057-1 
  3. Sohn, A., Frankel, A., Patel, R. V., & Goldenberg, G. (2011). Eczema. Mount Sinai Journal of Medicine: A Journal of Translational and Personalized Medicine, 78(5), 730–739. https://doi.org/10.1002/msj.20289 
  4. Hu, Y., Zhu, Y., Lian, N., Chen, M., Bartke, A., & Yuan, R. (2019). Metabolic Syndrome and Skin Diseases. Frontiers in Endocrinology, Volume 10. https://doi.org/10.3389/fendo.2019.00788
  5. Centers For Disease Control And Prevention. (2017, March). CDC - How Much Sleep Do I Need? - Sleep and Sleep Disorders. Sleep and Sleep Disorders. Retrieved July 2022, from https://www.cdc.gov/sleep/about_sleep/how_much_sleep.html 
  6. Jahrami, H., BaHammam, A. S., Bragazzi, N. L., Saif, Z., Faris, M., & Vitiello, M. V. (2021). Sleep problems during the COVID-19 pandemic by population: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, 17(2), 299–313. https://doi.org/10.5664/jcsm.8930 
  7. Grandner, M. A. (2017). Sleep, Health, and Society. Sleep Medicine Clinics, 12(1), 1–22. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jsmc.2016.10.012 
  8. Serra, J. (2022). Management of bloating. Neurogastroenterology & Motility, 34(3). https://doi.org/10.1111/nmo.14333 
  9. Park, J. H., Moon, J. H., Kim, H. J., Kong, M. H., & Oh, Y. H. (2020). Sedentary Lifestyle: Overview of Updated Evidence of Potential Health Risks. Korean Journal of Family Medicine, 41(6), 365–373. https://doi.org/10.4082/kjfm.20.0165

About the Author

Julia Zakrzewski Headshot
Julia Zakrzewski is a Registered Dietitian and nutrition writer. She has a background in primary care, clinical nutrition, and nutrition education. She has been practicing dietetics for four years.
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