Part Four – Fight or Flight
Have you ever wondered why those last few kilograms are so stubborn and hard to shift?
If you’re anything like the majority of people, this phenomenon is not only frustrating but also disempowering. It can lead to negative beliefs such as:
- “There’s something wrong with me.”
- “I’ll never get to where I want to be.”
- “I have bad genetics.”
- “My body shape is hereditary.”
- “I have a slow metabolism.”
Ironically, these beliefs become self-fulfilling prophecies, as they promote a ‘giving up’ mentality. Nothing great can ever be achieved if we give up before we get there. As Henry Ford once said, “Whether you believe you can or you can’t – you’re right!”
In Part One, we looked at the Nervous System and how it influences our body to stay the same and to resist change.
In Part Two, we looked at the Circulatory System and how the quality of our blood and where that blood is going to is more important than the quantity of our blood.
In Part Three, we discussed the Calorie Myth and how calories in vs calories out is not the be all and end all of weight loss.
Now let’s look at more reasons why our body makes it so hard to remove stubborn fat.
4. Fight or Flight – Everyone has heard of the flight or flight response. It’s when you get stressed about something and get filled with some sort of fear emotion, whether it’s anger, anxiety, sadness, jealousy, and many others.
You know what it feels like – you have the temptation to either fight or run away. You get sweaty palms, your blood pressure increases, your heart and breathing increases and you can’t think clearly. Have you ever been so angry or frustrated that your hands start shaking? Have you ever taken an exam and forgotten heaps of answers, even though you know you knew them? Have you ever gotten so angry at someone you said something you realised afterwards that you shouldn’t have said?
I’m sure you have, and you’re not alone. The question is not whether this happens to you. The question is what does it have to do with weight loss, and what can you do about it?
Stress is the catalyst for the fight or fight response. Physiologists call it the Sympathetic Nervous System. It comes from many triggers in our modern world. But to understand why stress has the physiological and mental impact it does, we need to first understand what our ancestors bodies were programmed to do in order to survive.
Back in the days of humans living in nature, instead of in the concrete and brick jungles we live in today, there was a constant threat of death and/or injury by wild animals, like snakes, bears and lions. Other survival threats and stressors included not getting enough food, power struggles within the tribe and conflict with other tribes. There certainly weren’t stressors like currency inflation, mortgage repayments, deadlines at work or university exams.
We also dealt with our problems another way – not through conscious communication, manipulation and compromise, but through violence or running away – hence the fight or flight mechanism.
When you look at the human history timeline, we haven’t lived in our industrial world for very long at all in relation to how long we have been here for.
Depending on your beliefs, human beings have been here from anywhere between 7,000 years to millions of years. There is persuasive evidence to support both sides, however what is more important is that the industrial age of living in cities and having ‘society’ as we know it occupies but the teeniest little fraction of the human timeline, regardless of how long you think we’ve been here.
In other words, our biology has not had enough time yet to adapt and evolve to process our modern stressors in an appropriate and constructive way! We are still programmed to respond just like our primitive cavemen ancestors from a biological, neurological, chemical, hormonal and genetic perspective. Keep reading to find out why.
- When stressed, you can’t digest your food properly – Ok, so let’s assume for a moment that you have a completely balanced diet, supplement wisely, eat totally organic and drink green vegetable smoothies daily (and be honest – is this really you?). One would have to assume then, that your body is absolutely nourished. But there’s more to this story than many realise. Stress releases a biochemical cocktail of hormones and neurotransmitters. Two of these are called cortisol and adrenaline. One of the functions of these chemicals is to constrict the blood vessels around your viscera (your trunk where your organs are stored) and divert the blood into the arms and legs. Why? Because when you come up against a lion, it’s fight or flight time! It’s certainly not the time to digest your hamburger! Therefore it is the arms and legs that need blood while this situation is present – NOT your organs. But what do you think happens to organs that have poor blood supply? They don’t work properly of course! And so instead of being digested, the fuel (food) you’ve eaten can get stored away as fat in order to be used later, because your body has this emergency to deal with right now! This is how it is possible that stress can sabotage weight loss – EVEN IF your diet is 100% right.
- When stressed, you can’t think properly – Different parts of the brain are responsible for different types of thoughts and processing. The front of the brain (called the forebrain) is the most recent piece of brain hardware we humans have. Our forebrain is what makes us different from other species, and it is here that we have our sense of will, of consciousness, of decision-making, of logical thought. It is here that we make rational choices, and decide who we want to be. When we stress, blood vessels constrict in the forebrain and push blood to the rear of the brain, called the hindbrain. This has also been called the Reptilian brain in the past, because it is where our animalistic, primal behaviour is stored. Our impulses, our rage, our aggression, our sexual lust and other such behaviours are stored here. When stressed, you can imagine what happens when the blood goes from the forebrain to the hindbrain. We act instinctively and reflexively, like an animal, not like the loving human we know we can be. We physically can’t help our responses in this state, as the blood is the wrong part of the brain! Why? Because when confronted with a lion, we needed reflexive, instinctual behaviour to give us a better chance of survival! We couldn’t afford to waste precious seconds analysing “Does the lion REALLY want to kill me or is it just being friendly?” We needed to act NOW. And that is what this mechanism existed for.
- When stressed, you expose yourself to illness – Given everything we have talked about above, do you think that in an emergency, the body will allocate resources to your immune system? No! It’s not concerned with any internal threats because it is so focussed on your perceived external threats that are threatening your survival. The immune system is one of the highest energy burning processes in your body, so your body diverts that energy away from it and gives it areas such as your eyes (so you can better see your threats), your ears (so you can better hear your threats), your heart (so it can pump faster and deliver more blood), your lungs (so they can oxygenate your blood better and support your muscles), and your arms and legs (so you can run or fight). The result? Stress exposes you to illness by compromising your immune system.
Now this is all very interesting isn’t it? But here is the kicker that most people don’t realise: No longer do our stressors come from bears and lions. No longer are our stressors over in a matter of minutes. No longer do our stressors even need to be REAL – because we can imagine them in our head. Our thoughts themselves can stress us out, and when they do, we call this worry, fear, anxiety, sadness and depression.
The problem is that our body does not know the difference between a real or imagined stress – it acts the same way biologically, neurologically, chemically, hormonally and genetically. And unlike our ancestors, the real and imagined stressors never end! It’s one after the other for many of us! We live in a constant state of stress.
Because of this, we can literally think ourselves sick.
Is it now more important to you to manage your stress in a better way? Does it now make more sense that your weight and health is not JUST about how well you eat and how often you exercise?
I hope that there’s been some lightbulb moments for you while reading this and you will make it a priority to participate in a stress management activity – whether it is mindfulness, belief changes, meditation, hypnosis, prayer, or whatever your preferred method is – pick one and just do it.
Your body, your mind, your friends and your family will all thank you for it.
About the Author: Dale Ingram is the Business Development Manager of Revival and General Manager of Papilio System. He is the co-creator of the Papilio System. He speaks publicly and is passionate about raising awareness of the Power we have within ourselves to make positive Change in our lives.