Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Expanding Middle Line? What Your Belly May Be Telling You

Your mid-section can be one of the best barometers of the quality of your diet and lifestyle. There are exceptions to this – pregnancy and hernias come to mind, but for the most part a healthy body is reflected in a tame tummy. A protruding belly contains organs that are under extra pressure caused by the fat collecting there, competing for space. The pressure on these organs often contributes to high blood pressure.

Stress can be a huge component in creating a bulging belly. The stress-chemical cortisol is nicknamed the “belly fat hormone.” While under stress, the body will cease all “unnecessary” functions in order to properly address the perceived emergency. These “unnecessary” functions are pretty much any and all that do not immediately contribute to immediate survival. Our vision and hearing become sharper, heart-rate increases to assure a steady flow of oxygenated blood to muscles for optimal performance. Reproduction, digestion and immune function are moved down in the list of the body’s priorities so that all energies are focused on avoiding sudden death. Digestion is actually altered, causing the body to store reserves around internal organs for padding and protection.

Of course, unlike our ancestors, rarely is our stress the result of an animal attack, entrapment due to a falling boulder, an invasion, famine or migration. Our stressors are more likely to come from work-related conflicts, relationship difficulties, traffic snarls, economic uncertainties and other Western-world woes. Since these usually do not necessitate the use of heightened physical strength or endurance, cortisol and the other stress chemicals produced by the body for survival are not properly burned off. Their effects on our digestion, immune system, and even reproduction, can be long-lasting and damaging. Properly addressing stress – through behavioral modification, eliminating stressful encounters/circumstances, and incorporating vigorous physical exercise – can help to lessen its harmful effects on your body – your waistline included. Yes, it can be inconvenient, but so is life-threatening illness.

Other factors that create bigger bellies include digestive problems triggered by eating foods that cause bloating. These include white potatoes, many grains and dairy, even beer and carbonated soft drinks. While the bloating that these foods can cause won’t migrate around your waist, forming those rolls of back fat (affectionately called “love handles”), it contributes to the overall bulge that makes pants with stretchy waistbands a more appealing option. This bloating is one of the ways our body tells us that a particular food is not working well in our systems. Bloating is NOT normal. Bloating is one tangible indicator, but there can be other less-obvious ones that may not surface for decades. By then, damage to the stomach or digestive tract, or even other parts of the body can be permanent. Eliminating baked goods and pasta can feel like a huge burden, but compared with the lightening, liberating effects of a body that functions properly, you might not ever want to go back to them.

The final component necessary to address when confronting the bulging belly is THE biggie for many people – sugar. Sugar consumption increases insulin production, heightening the risk of type-2 diabetes. More immediately, sugar consumption stimulates appetite, creating a voracious hunger that many people feel is simply their “normal” appetite – and they eat more, and more, and more. Think you don’t over-consume sugar? Odds are, if you live in America you do. The average American consumes more than 160 pounds of sugar each year (for a tangible idea of what this amount feels like, head to your nearest big-box store and pick up a 40-pound bag of dog food, then attempt to pick up 4 of them). A little more than 100 years ago, the annual sugar consumption was about 10 pounds per person. Baked goods, soft drinks and other processed foods are the biggest sugar sources in the modern diet.

While getting into a smaller pair of jeans may not be a motivating factor for everyone, keep in mind that belly size is often an indicator of overall health. Please note: IT IS NOT NORMAL FOR A MAN TO APPEAR TO BE PREGNANT! It is not normal for any non-pregnant person to appear pregnant, for that matter, unless, of course they recently have been. Some people argue that an "enjoyable" life is one that ignores the power of diet and lifestyle on one's health - to restrict ones self is to deny pleasure. To live without the pleasure of eating crap and treating your body poorly is to be resigned to a miserable existence. To continue to embrace your pregnant-looking belly is to embrace the likelihood of type-2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and even some cancers, as well as the havoc they wreak on your body. These health problems are often accompanied by other not-so-serious weight-related maladies like chronic heartburn (according to some estimates, more than $15 billion each year is spent on prescription and over-the-counter antacids), constipation (did you know Americans spend $600 million annually on laxatives?), and erectile dysfunction (Viagra costs approximately $15 per pill). THIS is enjoying life??? By altering your lifestyle to reduce stress and increase physical exercise, and by tweaking your food choices to consume less baked, processed and sugary foods while eating more fresh fruits and vegetables, you can add life to your years and even years to your life. Seems like a great “compromise,” don’t you agree?

Many of us know what to do differently to improve our health, yet for various reasons, we just don’t do it. As your holistic health coach, I can be your accountability partner, helping you to create the healthiest YOU possible. Contact me today to find out how!

Stat sources: The American Pharmacology Association, Dr. Mehmet Oz, The New York Times

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