As a skinny-fat sufferer, you can’t help but wonder: what happened? Where did things go wrong? At what age? What was the catalyst?
As a kid, you don’t think much of this stuff. But as you get older, you can’t help but think of not only how it started, but also how to fix it.
Training? Nutrition? What’s the one single thing that’s responsible for how your body looks?
It’s an intriguing question, isn’t it? The answer, perhaps more so. I mean, one thing responsible for creating the skinny-fat sell you skulk around in? It’s like the holy grail. Know that one thing, and then you know the one thing you need to fix it. Know that one thing, and all of your problems are solved.
But can it be that simple? Can it really be one thing? (And don't worry: the Gogeta picture will make perfect sense soon.)
What makes skinny-fat, if not genes?
So by now you have an idea that skinny-fat isn’t really the same thing as skinny. You should also know that it’s not genetic, so it’s not a label the doctor can stamp on your forehead when you escape the womb. Sometime between then and now though, skinny-fatness was born.
What’s the explanation? How can you have this unique body that isn’t genetically programmed? Well, I have good news for you, because I have the answer.
I think that most of us can agree that when we think of changing our body, we first think of “diet and exercise.” That's definitely two of the most major buckets, but that's not everything.
So what's everything?
Emergence. Emergence is everything. And this is something you need to hammer into your head.
Not long ago, science was all about breaking complex systems into their pieces to understand them. This is known as reductionism and looks a little something like this: to know the body, you must know body’s system, and to know the systems you have to know the organs, then the cells that make up the organs, and—you get the idea. While this is great and fantastic and has done wonderful things, it fueled (and still fuels) emergence neglect.
Emergence is one of those fancy scientific concepts that makes me school girl giddy. It’s the idea that when separate pieces come together they have the potential to form a whole that’s entirely different than the sum of its parts. In other words, you can know everything there is to know about bits and pieces, but that doesn’t mean you know anything when those bits and pieces come together.
A brand new look of body fat
Say you’re working on your training and nutrition, but you’re struggling. You can’t understand how people find the willpower to lay off junk carbohydrates—a problem that could just be a matter of comfort for you. But let’s take a different look.
So with lots of stress, you get cravings for starchy comfort food and you pack it in the abdomen. One final distressing piece of information, based on some fascinating recent work by Mary Dallman from the University of California at San Francisco: consuming lots of those comfort foods and bulking up on abdominal fat are stress-reducers. They tend to decrease the size of the stress-response (both in terms of glucocorticoid secretion and sympathetic nervous system activity). Not only do the Oreos taste good, but by reducing the stress-response, they make you feel good as well.
There seems to be a huge number of routes by which obesity can occur—too much or too little of this or that hormone; too much or too little sensitivity to this or that hormone. But another route appears to involve being the sort of person who secretes too many glucocorticoids, either because of too many stressors, too many perceived stressors, or trouble turning off the stress-response. And thanks to that weird new regulatory loop discovered by Dallman, it appears as if abdominal fat is one route for trying to tone down that overactive stress-response.
– Dr. Sapolsky, Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers
The cliffnotes version of the above process looks something like this. Stress out over stupid Western stuff (waking up to an alarm, commuting to work, being late, hating your job) all day, and you constantly ramp up the sympathetic nervous system.
A side effect of this ramping is the secretion of a steroid called glucocorticoids. They are your long term stress response hormone, and they work to build the body back up after sympathetic breakdown. One of the ways it does this is via energy replenishment. In other words, you get hungrier and crave more food (and it seems, to boot, you crave bad food).
What truly creates your body
Beyond the bomb dropped last section—that fat cells are doing more than just storing “excess” calories, which means that simply dropping calories isn’t exactly a comprehensive or long term fat loss solution—you see that there’s more at work when trying to change your body.
Your body is a reflection of your entire lifestyle—it’s holistic.
In past essays, we talked about genetics. Truth is that it’s impossible to say what any gene does without also classifying an environment in which the genes exist in. (Yes, yes. I picked this bit up from Sapolsky as well. [Paul Bloom, too, so I have some diversity to my name.] I’m not afraid to admit that I’m basically a plagiarized version of Sapolsky's books and lectures as they relate to muscle and movement.)
Culture makes most of your genetics express themselves the way they did. Culture determines your beliefs, foodstuffs, customs, attitudes, environment, pleasures, aesthetics, values, and everything else I’m probably forgetting.
Culture is everything. Culture is emergence.
Everything is emergence.
Training changes nutrition; nutrition impacts training. Then there's this thing called life that's layered on top. Knowing the parts doesn't guarantee knowing how it works when they come together.
In other words, you can know everything there is to know about Goten and Trunks, but that doesn't mean you know anything about Gotenks. When things fuse together, something entirely different is created and has the ability to do things that component pieces couldn't do by their lonesome. Can you say ghost kamikaze attack?
The ONE thing responsible for skinny-fat syndrome
Genetics don’t cause skinny-fat syndrome. Culture creates skinny-fat syndrome.
Culture is the ONE thing.
Bogus, I know. Culture really isn’t ONE thing. Culture is everything. But that’s where your sights should be set, so that's where they will be set for the next essay.
You need to change your culture. It's everything.
Photo Credit: puzzle