The Stress and Relaxation Response and How Belly Fat Is Made
The “fight or flight response” is our body’s primitive, automatic, inborn response that prepares the body to “fight” or “flee” from perceived attack, harm or threat to our survival. When we experience excessive stress, whether from internal worry or external circumstance this bodily reaction is also triggered. Originally discovered by the great Harvard physiologist Walter Cannon, this response is hard-wired into our brains and represents a genetic wisdom designed to protect us from bodily harm. This response actually corresponds to an area of our brain called the hypothalamus, which—when stimulated—initiates a sequence of nerve cell firing and chemical release that prepares our body for running or fighting.
After studying the physiological effects of the ‘flight or fight’ stress response, Cardiologist Herbert Benson discovered that by eliciting the ‘relaxation response’ the opposite was also true (1996). This physiologic state of calm is an equally essential survival mechanism, providing us with the ability to heal and rejuvenate our bodies. Today, the relaxation response is crucial when considering how often the fight or flight response is triggered inappropriately.
When our minds become focused through deep breathing, meditation, repetitive prayer, or mantras, the body responds with dramatic affects. There is a decrease in heart rate, blood pressure and metabolic rate (Benson, 1996).
Under stress, the potential to store belly fat is much higher. This is caused by certain hormone receptor sites in the abdominal region or center region of the body.
How does it get there? It’s absorbed via the intestines. But the key player is the omentum (the abdominal fat storage facility). It’s the pouch you carry on your belly. The belly pouch!
So your omentum clears the cortisol steroids because it has receptors that bind to them and can suck them out of the bloodstream (unfortunately, this doesn’t necessarily reduce the stress level that you feel). The steroids turbo-charge the ability of omentum to store fat, so your belly fat (and subsequent waist size) become the best surrogate indicator of how well you are really coping with stress (despite what your brain might be claiming). That uptake of steroids throws your body in metabolic disarray by:
Making your omentum resistant to insulin so sugar floats around without being absorbed and used appropriately by needy cells, and this:
- Chronically raises your blood sugar, which damages our tissues;
- Super-charging your omentum with inflammatory chemicals that destabilize the delicate equilibrium of your hormones;
- Forcing your omentum to pump high-octane fat directly into your liver—causing your liver to make even more inflammatory chemicals.
Here is the bottom line, the human body will always function in a way that ensures survival for evolution. A lot of times this means the body will resist the changes we are trying to induce. When you are stressed out the last thing the body is likely to do is lose weight, specifically fat mass. I have found with a lot of clients that progress will come to a screeching halt due to excessive stress in their lives. Focus on decreasing your stress, creating a planned safe approach to exercise, getting in the right type of nutrition for your goals and which compliment your exercise and everything in life will become easier and more manageable!
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