The term “metabolic syndrome” throws many people off. It’s not so much about metabolism in the way we often think of it, as in, “I’m going to speed up my metabolism with a cup of coffee!”

Think of metabolic syndrome as a prediabetic state — your body is having a harder and harder time using insulin properly, and with that, belly fat is building up, your cholesterol is getting out of whack and your blood pressure is rising.

blood pressure

It’s these factors — high blood pressure, large waistline, high triglycerides, low HDL cholesterol and high fasting blood sugar — that are at the heart of metabolic syndrome. First described in 1988 as “syndrome X,” the number of Americans with the disease has continued to grow with each decade.

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Eating regular meals — breakfast, lunch and dinner every day — can reduce your risk of metabolic syndrome. In a recent study, those who ate irregularly and skipped meals were more likely to have insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome.

Unless you take steps to reverse it, if you are newly diagnosed with metabolic syndrome, you have a very high likelihood of developing full-on type 2 diabetes within about five years, says Sangeeta Kashyap, MD, of the Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine. Additionally, the factors of metabolic syndrome put you at risk for heart disease and certain kinds of cancer.

As grim as this all may sound, there is excellent news for those just diagnosed: Metabolic syndrome is highly reversible, Dr. Kashyap emphasizes. Adopting new eating and exercise habits, along with managing stress in healthy ways, can change the underlying body functions that contribute to these risk factors — and give you more energy and a better outlook.