Photos by Christoph Walters
So you want to lose a little weight and diet and exercise just aren’t cutting it. You’ve read the books, tried out the Paleo diet, signed up for Crossfit, and maybe these things have worked for awhile, but life gets busy! Right? Stress is a bully, and it tends to push its way back into your life despite your best efforts to keep it at bay. Bills keep coming, the kids get sick, the sink gets clogged, traffic is awful! Well I’m here to remind you to breathe!
We are a nation of fight-or-flight individuals, and ironically enough, the more multi-tasking we do and the faster we go, the more inflammation our bodies and minds experience. Back in the days of our ancestors,our fight or flight reaction was necessary to survive- we had to outrun predators and hunt down our next meal. The physiological reactions that take place in our bodies at a cellular level prepared us to meet those needs . Let's look at what happens when you are in a constant state of stress, registered by the body as a version of fight-or-flight and thus resulting in excess weight:
The reaction begins in the amygdala, which through a series of reactions will quickly trigger a response in the adrenal glands to effectively increase epinephrine and consequently lead to a spike in cortisol . Increased cortisol will increase blood-pressure, blood-sugar, and suppress your immune system. You will experience this boost in energy as an acceleration in heart rate kicked off by short, panting, breaths, flushing, dilation of you pupils and upset stomach. Additionally, the circulation of cortisol functions to turn fatty acids into available energy, which prepares muscles throughout the body for response. The body will always opt to burn blood sugar over excess fat in times of stress.
The human body is radically adaptable but it doesn't always plan ahead. By slowing down our breathing and more importantly inhaling and exhaling through our noses and not our mouths, we can communicate to our brains that we are not in crisis and that it doesn’t need to reach for more easily accessible energy in our blood stream. Instead it will use excess fat stores which aren’t as readily available when under duress. When you breathe as deeply as possible, especially while doing light to moderate exercise, you will access all four lobes of your lungs, which sends a signal to your brain that you are safe and that you are free to use that visceral fat as fuel.
Challenge yourself during your next hike or yoga class to breath deeply, and evenly through your nose only. The more you practice the easier it will be for you body to recognize that you are safe, happy, and healthy.