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Saturday, February 18, 2012

State of Nature

You may be able to see in color, hear in stereo and solve long division in your head, but your body is as unaware of its surroundings as that house plant you can't quite kill or keep alive.  Do you think that because you wear shoes your feet know they aren't touching the ground?  You think because you sit down at a table to eat with a fork and knife your body digests meat any differently than it did 10,000 years ago when you killed it yourself?  You think your muscles know they're lifting steel plates off a stack instead of repairing your shelter or killing prey? You think that's air you're breathing?



Remember the state of nature?  That pesky political theory describing how people would act if there were no government?  As political creatures we may never have truly experienced it, but as biological creatures we live it every day.  The body functions in a state of nature; despite the complex social structures we live in, as far as your bodily functions are concerned, we are still cavemen--still animals.  Geopolitical struggles, globalization, technological advances, the price of gas--all completely unnoticed by your body.  To think that humans have in any way "advanced" over the past few centuries is patently absurd.  We are, biologically, nearly identical to our forebears--why should we treat our bodies differently?

The human body is built for survival.  Your body's main concern AT ALL TIMES is staying alive--whether you're in class, or at a club, or sleeping, your body is just trying to make it through another day.  Understanding this concept pretty much unlocked the secret to bodybuilding for me.  Once I knew why my body was behaving the way it was, I could more effectively go after change where it was needed and achieve change more quickly too.  The only way you can force your body to make real, lasting change is by understanding and taking advantage of the survival mechanisms already in place.  Will power will only get you so far before you run into a wall, whether your goal is growth or loss.

Mechanism 1:  Your body is programmed to think that food is a scarce resource.  Therefore, it uses only the bare minimum of what you eat in order to survive and stores as much of the rest as possible. This is why people get fat.  Extra calories are eaten at every meal and the body stores as much of it as possible for later.  Because, hey, you never know when the gravy train is going to run out!  Small, frequent meals tells your body that food is plentiful and that fat storage is unnecessary.  So why do fat people keep getting fat?  You would think that with excessive bodyfat, the body would "turn off" the mechanism by which it is trained to store energy, but unfortunately this is not the case.  Not only does the body have no real "shut it down, we're fat enough" mechanism when it comes to excessive bodyweight (like I said, your body is not expecting to be in this situation, given its experiences over the past 10,000 years), fat stores also emit hormonal agents which are also absurdly unhelpful--resistin, estrogen, aromatase.  Insulin regulates blood sugar by spiking when sugar is introduced to the system, aiding in protein synthesis and muscular growth.  In overweight individuals, a resistance to insulin causes this mechanism to fail, whereby further energy is stored as fat--not only that but insulin resistance impedes protein synthesis and muscular hypertrophy.  Estrogen is no help either, signalling to your body with higher E2 levels that additional fat stores are desireable, i.e. in order to facilitate child bearing.  Aromatase works similarly as well, breaking down the testosterone you do have into even more estrogen, eek!  Visceral fat is directly correlated to insulin resistance and can contribute to type II diabetes, congestive heart failure, and a host of other negative physical reactions--reason numero uno to get rid of that belly fat!  Think of your bodyfat as a ball rolling downhill, on either end of the spectrum, once you start moving in one direction or the other, it becomes increasingly more likely that you will continue on that trend.

Mechanism 2:  Your body is willing to sacrifice one emergency plan for another.  Your body is constantly operating on contingency plans.  What if I run out of food?  Well, I have these fat stores.  This is why carrying muscle mass is so helpful: when your body has one easily accessible means of survival (muscle tissue), it will relinquish the other (adipose tissue) more easily.  Fat also requires very few calories to maintain once it has been established, muscle tissue on the other hand, require significantly more, leading to increased metabolic rate.  Yay!

Mechanism 3:  Continuity of training increases adaptive response.  The longer you "trick," or train, your body into thinking it has readily available sustenance and adequate emergency energy stores, the better.  This affects both fat loss and muscle gain.  Training hard and asking for adaptation is only effective if your body has the resources to adapt.  If your body is led to believe that food is available, it will have no problem allocating resources to repair and grow--increasingly so the more you do it.

Food is a resource and a communication system; tell your body how to change by restructuring your diet, tell your body what to change by altering your diet composition.

Now get to work.

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