Approximately 12 hours between Thursday night and Friday morning, I had several incidents occur that pushed me to the edge. My little puppy, who still really doesn’t have one particular name (he has many – I should call him a dog of many names, maybe DOMM) ate my dinner, while my husband and son were right there. My File Fish became trapped against the intake on the filter (while I was cleaning it) and I had to rescue a baby squirrel from the dogs. It was awful – I was really shaken up about these things, all occurring within such a short amount of time. And these occurrences may not seem like huge things, in the grand scheme of things, but the cumulative effect caused me to unravel a bit. Why, because I hate it when my fish die, I do not like to share food, and I can’t bear to see animals be hurt, even by other animals (this is why I do not watch Animal Planet or National Geographic).
But – I managed to get through Friday – without any issues with straying from my diet, even though the ladies at work had a Birthday potluck breakfast, and brought croissants, muffins, and all kinds of scrumptious foods. I stayed strong. I ate my protein bar, and my salad, and I really felt good that I was not tempted. But before you congratulate me on my will of steel, let me tell you what happened.
Friday night the cravings hit, and they hit hard. I came home, and felt exhausted. All I wanted to do was sit in a room by myself, and pout, and maybe take a little nap. Which I did – take a little nap. When I awoke, I had a cup of tea, and was feeling better about things. And then all of sudden, I wanted nothing more than chocolate, or a cookie/biscuit. That was all I wanted. I laid on the sofa, thinking about what might be in the pantry, what little scrumptious delicacy might I nibble on. I even switched the channel to Hulu – to watch “My 600lb Life” – which I thought might dissuade me from searching for the elusive sweet. It helped a little, but didn’t eradicate that overwhelming desire to eat an Oreo, or whatever else I could find.
I then started pondering as to why there was such a delayed reaction. I assumed the sudden onset of cravings had something to do with all my little traumas over the last 24 hours. And so, I did some research. It turns out the cascade of effects is quite complicated and kind of made my brain hurt trying to understand it all. I am sure this all oversimplified, but here is what I gathered from my research.
I was going to reference all the really complicated articles I found, but the end result bored me to tears, and although it did answer some questions, I am sure the majority of my three blog followers would move on to something about cute baby goats in pajamas or something much more fascinating.
Here is what I figured out:
When we are stressed our body does a whole bunch of things to prepare to deal with the stress, or get the hell out of Dodge (so to speak). Our hypothalamus signals our adrenals which pump out cortisol. As we all know, through watching late night infomercials on TV – cortisol is the evil stress hormone.
Cortisol is great, because it mobilizes energy primarily to the large muscle groups. It tells the body, “Don’t release that insulin, we need all that energy NOW” – it’s like a ship captain saying to his crew during a catastrophic event, “Man the engines sailors – we are in for the fight of our lives.” Cortisol narrows the arteries, increases the heart rate and redirects all the energy to where we need it.
And that is great, that so many things happen, to get us ready to deal with stressors. But we don’t live in the Serengeti, we for the most part, are not on anyone’s dinner menu, we don’t need to slay a dragon, fight a Saber Toothed Tiger, or do anything exciting like that.
To stop the process of cortisol excretion, one has to eat, to replenish the stores, to stop the looping from the hypothalamus to the adrenals. And when we were cavemen, eating wasn’t such a simple process, such as jumping in the car and driving to the nearest convenience store, bakery or fast-food restaurant. Maybe the cavemen stopped at the closest berry bush, and had a snackie. Maybe they said to each other, “Hey I know a really good berry bush, over the other side of the hill. You wanna go?”
We, as a modern society – have much more chronic, although not life-threatening problems, like bills, traffic, unbearable bosses, possibly spouses that cause us undue stress, children that regularly piss us off, jobs we don’t really enjoy, mounds of laundry that never, ever diminish and little rest or relaxation, because – despite all of our time-saving devices, we are constantly being over-stimulated. So…we are chronically in the “fight or flight” state. All the stinking time!!! And because of this we have cortisol roaming around in our systems. When we were fighting Saber Toothed Tigers, and the crisis was over, everything in our system settled down and returned to normal, and we ate berries. For most of us, today, our bodies never go back to normal, we are always on high alert.
And if I understand this correctly, with this constant excretion of cortisol, the body begins to store visceral fat, which also produces cortisol, almost like it is making the cortisol readily available at a moment’s notice. This visceral fat is stored in the abdomen. I have visceral fat, hence my rather tumorous looking abdomen. Because of all this cortisol, the body is not getting enough energy from the foods we consume – remember insulin, the stuff that changes our food into energy, has been suppressed because of the cortisol, so we are constantly hungry and looking for something that will satisfy that hunger. And what satisfies hunger quickly and tastes really, really good? Fats and carbohydrates, that’s what!!! And all that yummy food is stored as fat, because our insulin levels are squashed by the villainous cortisol. And being starved of energy, our body must conserve what little it has, by resting on the sofa and watching inane TV shows, while shoveling more scrumptious high fat, high carbohydrate foods into our bodies (and our bodies are still starving). It’s a vicious cycle. We are starved for energy, we lay down, we eat, we store more visceral fat, making it harder to move, and so we lay down some more, and eat some more.
But what about my cravings?
Here is what I have gleaned from hours and hours of research this morning. I couldn’t really tell you. It has something to do with the fact, that I quite obviously have been chronically stressed for years (refer back to my bulbous stomach – a true sign of visceral fat storage). The death of my fish, the squirrel and Little Tiny Puppy eating my dinner, were kind of the last straw, or something about a camel’s broken back (I am terrible at euphemisms). And because I have been in a deprivation state – with my diet and exercising and I have old habits that have only recently been broken (snacking when bored, upset, or stressed), that lovely cortisol triggered cravings that were almost too much to ignore. But I did.
I read somewhere, it is okay to give into your cravings. But for many of us who are on the plump side, food is an addiction. Just like an alcoholic or a drug abuser, one taste of that high-fat, high-carbohydrate substance, will fling us off the wagon, and we will convince ourselves that a little more next time, will be okay and then there is no looking back.