Updated: Jul 18
Those battling extra weight have likely heard many explanations for their predicament. The experts at Harvard will tell us it's a genetic condition, or a hereditary brain disease. Some conventional doctors might claim that the weight is an unfortunate result of a burned-out thyroid, or dysfunctional hormones. Some women assert with a sigh of resignation that it's an unavoidable side effect of menopause, and some men will say it simply comes with age. Might as well embrace those bellies, fellas!
All of these theories have one thing in common...
They turn us into helpless victims that are powerless against the whim of age and destiny.
I am not a fan of the victim mentality, because it keeps us trapped, hopeless, and weak. If you are interested to know why so many Americans are carrying so much extra weight, I am here to share what I believe is the crystal-clear answer. At the end of the day, it all boils down to this:
Overweight bodies are stuck in a constant state of chronic stress and self-preservation.
It really is this simple. Stress leads to extra weight, and more stress further reinforces the extra weight. When the body is stressed, its natural and appropriate response is to hold on to fat. It does this to keep us alive in the short term, at least long enough to reproduce and continue the survival of the species. It appears this elegant design is working beautifully, because... well -many generations later...here we are!
Instead of hating our bodies for doing the very thing it has been intentionally created to do, we could learn to listen, understand, and work with the process instead of against it. Your body will tell you what the problem is if you take the time to be still and listen. The tricky part in this process comes in figuring out the WHY behind the stress, and then putting in the hard work to address it.
Personally, I find this part of the journey to be intriguing, and even fun. Don't get me wrong...identifying the stressful insults is not easy, but neither is it all suffering, self-denial, and white-knuckling drudgery. This is a complex and intriguing puzzle to be solved. A mystery, if you will. A mystery with a solution! Isn't that good news? There are all sorts of interesting experiments to be run, and layer upon layer of amazing revelations to be experienced. So much potential for growth and self-awareness when you approach it with the right mindset!
Let me break it down into a few simple categories to get you started. Why is your body constantly stressed and holding on to fat? Take a look at these possibilities, and keep in mind they are all interrelated, just as the organs and systems of your body are all intricately connected. So this list is not prescriptive necessarily; it simply provides a framework from which you can begin to identify troublesome areas and make progress.
Your diet stinks. Food is more than just calories. It is information. When you choose to consume things that really aren't nourishment (processed snacks, microwave meals, fast food, alcohol, sugary beverages, fake fats, and so on), you send a message to your body that real food is scarce - so scarce, in fact, that this human has resorted to consuming a cocktail of chemicals and fake ingredients just to stay alive. This behavior screams DANGER and quickly sends the body into fat-storage mode. The body is resilient and designed to survive, and for that reason, it will do the best it can with the resources provided - building cells and hormones out of junk material resourcefully enough that you think, for a time, that everything is just groovy. But make no mistake. Your garbage diet is a constant stressor on your mind and body, and probably one of the two most profound insults on your longterm health...sleep being the second.
You don't sleep. You go to bed too late, have trouble falling asleep, wake up repeatedly, jolt into consciousness with the obnoxious sound of an alarm clock, and stumble through your morning feeling half-dead. If it weren't for caffeine, sugar, and daily drama, you'd never make it through a single day. Thinking back to the time of our ancestors, humans who weren't sleeping were either struggling to survive the elements, desperately seeking nourishment, or in jeopardy of death from wild animals and enemy tribes. The body's response? Store fat! Depending on your source, some will argue diet is most important to good health, while others claim sleep is king. Either way, fix both of them and you'll be well on your way to healing, and to shedding pounds.
You've forgotten how humans are created to move. Either you exercise too little, or you exercise too much. Both extremes will undermine your health and potentially pack on the pounds drastically over time, because this behavior doesn't fit your human biology. Think square pegs in round holes. Are you sedentary most of the day - going from your bed, to the kitchen table, to your car, to your desk, back to your car, the table again, a lawn chair beside your kid's soccer field, to the couch, to your bed? If so, you likely suffer from pancake butt as well as a dysfunctional metabolism. The human body is not designed to sit all day, and you stress it out when you do, so get moving! On the other hand, if you're working out hard most days of the week, on your feet constantly, and doing tons of cardio, that's not proper human behavior either, and it tells the body that you are, again, in danger - hunted, under attack, and vulnerable. (Why else would you be moving around so frantically?) If this is you, give your body a break. Reassure every organ and system that life is good, things are chill, and it's perfectly safe to slow down, relax, and REST.
You don't have a trusted tribe. If things go south for you, do you have at least one person you can call for support? Do you have family or friends who believe in you, value you, uphold and honor you? Without those trusted relationships, the body will default to Operation Fight, Flight, Freeze when life gets hard, and store fat as a means to keep you safe.
You spend little to no time outside. I read recently that Americans spend 93% of their time indoors. This is outrageous! No wonder we are fat and sick. Nature is life - LITERALLY. When we aren't in the sun, breathing fresh air, and connecting with nature, again our bodies get the signal that times are lean, that we are trapped indoors, that proverbial "winter" must have arrived with a punishing sinister spirit, and that food will soon become scarce. Cue survival mode! Cue fat storage!
Your body is overwhelmed with toxicity and trauma. Medications, alcohol, smoke, blue light, fluorescent light, contaminated water, recycled air, pesticides, chlorine, heavy metals, chemical residue, excessive vaccinations, underlying infection, mold. These are just some of the many modern toxins burdening our bodies. Add to those insults the assorted traumatic events, relationships, and experiences from childhood and beyond, events which we've avoided or repressed, and you can understand how negative stressful energy can become trapped within our bodies. Toxins that can't be metabolized through the liver and kidneys get stored in our fat cells as a way to protect us. And to dilute the poison, the body seeks to add more fat. Chronic dis-ease = fat storage. That is one of the body's innate responses to any and every persistent stressor.
When you think of body fat in an allegorical sense, it represents safety, protection, security, comfort, margin, and plenty. Figure out why your mind and body are seeking this kind of reassurance through the accumulation of body fat, and then provide what it really needs in a more holistic, health-promoting way. Prepare amazing comfort meals for your family with whole food quality ingredients. Take a long relaxing trail walk at a local park with a friend. Plan a detox weekend with lots of rest, good food, and no screens. Revamp your exercise routine to honor what your body truly desires in this season, on this day, at this time, in this moment. Weight loss is a marathon event, not a sprint. But my hope is that you will enjoy the journey and one day empower others to do the same. Good luck, and Godspeed!
Psalm 139:13-14 NIV - For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.