Is Fear Making Us Fat?

There is no disputing that as a nation we are becoming more obese each year. The CDC has an interesting graphic showing the dramatic increase in obesity over the last 20 years Right now, the even healthiest state in the union, Colorado, has an obesity rate of over a 20% with the unhealthiest states at rates of 30% and more.

While scholars and scientists much smarter than I am have posited theories from poor nutrition due to the abundance of processed foods to lack of exercise (duh!), I’m wondering if we’ve missed the elephant in the room. Could it be that the “war on terror” since 9/11 has had a hand in the dramatic rise in obesity over the last decade?

Think about it . . . cortisol is a stress-related hormone that can be triggered by fear and has been shown to affect fat storage. Unfortunately, fat cells themselves then produce cortisol so the more fat cells you have, the more cortisol you produce. Cortisol also is associated with increased appetite and cravings for sugar. It a huge negative feedback loop that only gets worse as more fat accumulates affecting the ability to sleep soundly because of sleep apnea (good sleep is critical for weight regulation) or exercise because of joint pain related to excessive weight.

Fear in the Mind Becomes Fat on the Body
Mind-body expert Louise Hay wrote a book in 1984 called You Can Heal Your Life that made connections between emotional states and health related issues. Her theories, though not scientifically proven, have been embraced by many and are in line with alternative medicine modalities and teachings. Though some scoff at her ideas, she was able to heal cervical cancer in her own life without traditional treatments – which was the impetus for her book. In her book, she connected fear and obesity well before rates skyrocketed.

Since 9/11 we have become hyper-vigilant, always on guard for the next attack. We have waged war in two countries and we bluster at dozens more. The economy has tanked, people have lost their homes and even if you’re not personally affected by such things, news of them is constant and pervasive. You can’t travel anywhere without being reminded of the danger we face. We live in a stressed-out society that seems to have forgotten that there is essential goodness in waking up every morning to a new day.

National Obesity a Reflection of Our Fear?
While proper nutrition with real food and exercise play a huge role in maintaining a healthy weight, it would not be unreasonable to also consider that how we’ve chosen to respond over the last decade to our safety and security may have a role in the explosion of obesity. Our bodies may simply be a reflection of all this stress, some of it within our control, most of it outside our control. Though we cannot control what happens in the world, we can control how we think about it, how we experience it, how we respond to it.

Asking ourselves, as a nation, if we want to continue to live at war – with other nations, with Democrats or Republicans, with bankers, with oil producers, with health care reformers, with immigrants, with food itself – might be a fair question if we want to get a handle on the obesity epidemic.

Living in peace is a state of mind before it is a reality.

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