The left photo was me two years ago training twice as hard but gaining 3.5x the body fat. The stress of preparing to fight at World Games got me down to my weight class but made me skinny fat (21%BF). The right photo was addressing the excessive stress, today at 6%.
Whether you’re stressed due of perpetual feverish occupational demands at work or you’re truly facing imminent jeopardy or exigent circumstances, your body responds as if you’re being physically attacked. Your nervous system cannot differentiate between a true threat or even an emotionally charged argument with a spouse.
Growing up with violence, shame, humiliation and abuse, I quickly became obese. And it took a long, long road to reprocess the toxic chemistry of the body fat I held.
Many know the impact of stress upon junk food cravings, emotional eating, comfort foods, self-soothing snacks, et cetera. Over the years, I removed those through discipline and support. However, these were only the first-line of symptoms, not the ultimate source of the issue. Few discuss the impact of stress upon our biochemistry, when it is actually the hormonal environment that excessive stress creates to increase fat storage, according to researchers. If you’ve been frustrated with dieting and exercise not helping your body fat and weight, I can empathize, believe me.
Let’s look deeper here at the real culprit:
Cortisol often called the “stress hormone” due to its secretion during physical or psychological stress. Excessive stress can disrupt balanced cortisol secretion and not only promote weight gain, it also affects where you put on the weight. Though you can’t “spot reduce” - you can “target gain” body fat. Studies show excessive stress can cause elevated cortisol and fat deposits on the belly and waist; often referred to as “toxic fat” since abdominal fat correlates with cardiovascular disease, heart attacks, strokes, and may contribute to the reality that the world’s number one killer isn’t a bomb, a bullet, a virus or a bacteria, nor even a cancer. It’s stress-related disease.
Our amount of cortisol secreted in response to excessive stress varies between us, with some more reactive than others to stressful events. Normal exercise burns fat, but unfortunately, if the hormonal environment has been imbalanced, the harder you exercise, the more fat your body stores. Thankfully, we CAN train our reactivity to stress to be high and uncontrolled or low and controlled through breath, movement, posture, and mental skills.
Suffering a childhood of obesity, I gravitated into a fighting career, trading one set of excessive stressors for another, and causing me to move from being over-fat to “skinny fat.”
What I discovered to de-stress my life and allow my hormonal balance to be restored, allowed the insulation against my perceived threats to melt away. This week, with no particular “dieting” - only clean, whole eating - I met 6% bodyfat at 43 years of age.
Don’t berate yourself if the “calories in - calories out” level of your nutrition isn’t making substantial changes. (It will for some, so don’t judge yourself against others. It’ll just exacerbate your stress, trust me.) Sometimes the stress we endure has become so excessive that we’ve disrupted our very body chemistry, and it’ll take time to get that back into balance.
If you’re interested in how I did it, check out my book just published, and on sale for the next 4 days: www.PrimalStress.com