It was the famous stress scientist Hans Selye who suggested that stress can be a positive or negative force. But how do we know whether we are dealing with stress effectively? There’s a common theme among clients both male and female who have got used to feeling in control of their health by suppressing appetite, symptoms and a false sense of health by perhaps feeling in control. Is this control a false economy? A well-known symptom of stress is a loss of appetite and skipping breakfast, it feels better to perpetuate the production of stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol to liberate energy from stored fats and stride through the day with their endorphin like qualities. A common theme of females suffering from poly cystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is chronic irregular eating or over eating in the obese. High stress can be chronic and perceived as the norm. I’ve observed the former in my eldest daughter through under eating as a product of emotional stress
‘For those habituated to high levels of internal stress since early childhood, it is the absence of stress that creates unease, evoking boredom and a sense of meaningless. People may have become addicted to their own stress hormones, adrenaline and cortisol, Hans Selye observed. To such person’s stress feels desirable, while the absence of it feels like something to be avoided.’ Gabor Mate
It should come as no surprise why some studies suggest that short term fasting, and calorific restriction seem to be productive in reversing aspects of inflammation and auto immune disease. When the body is stressed even eating certain foods becomes stressful. Dairy, sugar, fruits, grains all get the blame. I feel better when I don’t eat these some say. I feel better when I don’t eat others say. Is it the food or is it you? Can you be so fragile that eating some fruit for example is enough to send your biology into a tail spin. Eating sugar in excess can be problematic but then so can eating fat or anything in excess.
A foundation of good health is built upon biological flexibility, potential and far away from equilibrium states.
The inability to utilise carbohydrate is a snapshot of the inflexibility of an individuals’ metabolism and not the carbohydrate. Evolutionary biology has provided efficiency by aerobic metabolism of carbohydrate and fat. The loss of efficient use of carbohydrate/sugar is the hallmark of a loss of function or flexibility and the chronic use of fats as a fuel is problematic due to increased oxidation of these lipids which can damage the aerobic apparatus within the mitochondria. The Randle cycle or glucose fatty acid cycle should allow flexibility between using either fats or carbohydrate as a fuel (Randle, Garland, Hales, & Newsholme, 1963). It’s often the lack of flexibility, decreased oxidation of carbohydrate and perpetual use of fats that damage the energy producing cells. Saturated fats are the preferred fuel of aerobic (oxidative) metabolism but in aggressive metabolism of cancer cells, unsaturated fats are utilised perpetuating the damage, promoting inefficient glycolysis or anaerobic metabolism that creates the acidic state of the cell.
The dogma that persists in nutrition circles is not based on sound reasoning but limited ideas that look at short term studies related to carbohydrate restriction. When a system loses its capacity to regulate sugar, we blame sugar instead of looking at the variety of factors that are responsible for degraded biology, carbohydrate utilisation and insulin responses.
Whether excessive exercise or inadequate nutrition the end result may be similar and its effects are far reaching into metabolism, cardiovascular, sexual and reproductive physiology.
By improving life conditions (in many ways) the hormones of pleasure can have a bigger role in our physiology. I think the experience of pleasure (whatever capacity for pleasure there is) increases the ability to experience pleasure, but I don't offer this with much hope as a therapeutic approach, since I know of people who say that running to exhaustion makes them "feel good" - neither "feeling good" nor "having orgasms" has a clear meaning, at present. Ray Peat
I’m not suggesting that going long periods without eating are necessarily bad, nor if you enjoy running is that bad either. Context is key. If you enjoy running run. If you have the capacity to go long hours without eating, then do that too. However if you have a system that lacks flexibility these actions can be problematic.
Have you ever considered not engaging in intense exercise for a couple of weeks to see how your body really feels?
I think this is a useful test to discover where your biology is really at. It can help determine whether you have been propping up a dysfunctional biology with intense exercise that falsely elevates your body temperature through activation of the sympathetic stress pathway. Slowing down and just focusing on walking and a few stretches shouldn’t feel stressful. Equally an individual who switches to eating regularly every 3 hours or so with the same amount of calories they were previously eating shouldn’t feel stressful. We all have patterns, routines and to the extent that they are effective or not is dictated by the metabolic flexibility that one should have. I’ll also suggest that metabolic flexibility could be analogous to emotional flexibility and mood states. A sign of improvements to metabolic flexibility and flux is return of energy, ability to tolerate exercise, good sleep, libido and emotional responses among other aspects of function. How do you know if it’s working? This diagram suggests what drivers are necessary and how to overcome your unwanted symptoms with the right inputs.
Some patience seeking the return of these aspects of function is needed. After all, if you have spent decades constrained by negative symptoms then it may take more than a few weeks or months to fully resolve these patterns. In addition to the foundational work on hormones and chemistry, some people might find a need to address belief systems or require counselling for trauma or emotional grief to help resolve emotional stressors.
Mate, G. (2008). In the realm of hungry ghosts. Close encounters with addiction. Canadian Family Physician.
Randle, P. J., Garland, P. B., Hales, C. N., & Newsholme, E. A. (1963). The glucose fatty-acid cycle its role in insulin sensitivity and the metabolic disturbances of diabetes mellitus. The Lancet, 281(7285), 785–789. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(63)91500-9
Peat, R. (1997). From PMS to Menopause: Female Hormones in context.
Selye, H. (1987). Stress without distress. In Society, stress, and disease, Vol. 5: Old age. (pp. 257–262). http://doi.org/10.1080/00228958.1983.10517713