What does it mean to be alive, I wonder. One thing it means is that for a short time, in relative terms, we get to enjoy this wide world. Enjoyment means different things to different people, but these days, around here, enjoyment means being entertained. We pay attention to things, and our attention is the highest and most precious thing that we can give. A huge percentage of our daily attention is spent on entertainment.
I happen to find food entertaining. I spend a great deal of my attention thinking about things that are truly good to eat, and now to make those good things better. I entertain myself by educating myself on the state of the art in food science, the physiology of food, and why some foods are better than others for your biological processes. Its one thing I like paying attention to.
From what I have seen the last couple of years, most people pay no attention at all to food. Everywhere you look people are mindlessly selecting and then eating food while giving the very minimum required thought to the process. If you eat while you are driving only one of those activities is getting your attention, and if you live through the trip it is proof that you are not thinking about what you are eating. Selecting from the drive thru menu is another exercise in paying no attention to your meal–“I will have number 2” is probably what you always say, having thought about it once, years ago. If I am describing you, then you are not enjoying your food–you are not in the habit of being entertained by the feeding process.
I know people that are entertained by stress. They pay attention to every contentious issue in their daily life and weigh in. They argue about things and care about things over which they have no control, things that nobody but the other people against whom they are arguing care about. In their minds it doesn’t matter that it is pointless. The body reacts anyway to the stress of the situation. When a man’s face gets red setting at his keyboard in his underwear, it doesn’t matter at all that the fists are only virtually flying. Whereas, in days gone by it would be a difficult thing to stay stressed out every waking hour, these days it is quite simple. My inbox is full of breathless missives from the Democratic party. Today they are wanting me to get all upset at the possibility of a Cruz Administration. Last week it was something equally horrifying. Perhaps in your house it is your favorite Fox News show, maybe you have Alex Jones on your radio, maybe it’s Cramer on the financial channel or Glen Beck that gets you all worked up. While all of this is entertaining to some, the constant stress that this engenders is actually quite harmful. In the real world red faced stress is hard to find. In the virtual world it is hard to avoid.
There are foods that we are all eating that only adds to the pile of stress-inducers.
There are boatloads of evidence that humans are more stressed today than we were thirty years ago. These stresses occur at home, in the workplace, and at school; in other words, all people all the time. Stress (e.g., job stress), depression, and excess cortisol are all linked to metabolic syndrome. For instance, psychosocial stresses correlate with risk of myocardial infarction (heart attacks) in adults. One of the hallmarks of metabolic syndrome is excessive cortisol due to adrenal gland overactivation. These examples all suggest that cortisol is a primary player in the development of metabolic syndrome (see chapter 9).
Lustig, Robert H. (2012-12-27). Fat Chance: Beating the Odds Against Sugar, Processed Food, Obesity, and Disease (pp. 70-71). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
Cortisol is a hormone, like adrenaline. It is naturally occurring and in quieter, saner times, it is a hormone that nobody would really care about. Occasional, maybe even once a day shots of cortisol are not ever going to harm anyone.
These three brain pathways (hunger, reward, stress) drive hyperinsulinemia (excess insulin levels), resulting in obesity and metabolic syndrome (see chapter 9). We call this model the “limbic triangle”— similar to the Bermuda Triangle: once you get in, you can’t get out. 13 Chronic insulin action at the VMH inhibits leptin signaling, which is interpreted as starvation. This decreases SNS activity (sloth) and increases vagal activity (hunger). In the VTA, chronic insulin deregulates hedonic reward pathways by inhibiting leptin signaling (reward). You want to eat more, especially high-fat and high-sugar treats, which results in excessive energy intake. Chronic activation of the amygdala increases levels of cortisol (stress). By itself, this promotes excess food intake and insulin resistance, ratcheting up insulin levels and accelerating weight gain.
Lustig, Robert H. (2012-12-27). Fat Chance: Beating the Odds Against Sugar, Processed Food, Obesity, and Disease (p. 72). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
Oh boy, another thing to worry about. I am trying to gain your attention. Eating that number 2 without thinking is causing you physical problems. Living in constant stress is causing you physical problems. The old saying “you are going to give yourself a stroke” is literally a descent prediction these days.
When cortisol releases from the adrenal glands, it enters the circulatory system immediately. The endothelial and smooth muscle cells that line your arteries are sensitive to glucocorticoids. In addition to this, there is evidence suggesting that high circulating amounts of cortisol makes arteries more responsive to norepinephrine and vascular resistance. When vascular tone is high, the space that blood can move through is reduced. As a result, the heart must pump harder to deliver blood to organs around the body. In turn, your heart continues to respond to other hormonal mechanisms at the kidneys which also increase blood pressure. For example, when the kidneys detect low blood volume or low sodium, they will initiate the renin-angiotensin-aldosterone cascade. All of this means that a constant state of hypertension can result. For the average person suffering from high cortisol levels, this means you increase your risk of other cardiovascular diseases. This includes coronary artery disease and heart attacks.—http://cortisol.com/the-connection-between-your-cortisol-levels-and-vascular-tone/#.VrNyzcdtG7k
Even if you don’t set in front of your TV throwing nerf balls at the idiots every day, even if you aren’t always fearful of melting glaciers, or the deluge of processed foods that are killing us, all you have to do to raise your cortisol levels constantly is eat. If you eat fruit, yogurt, even eight out of ten processed foods, you are raising your cortisol levels…
Adding to your stress-level hormone is making you more reactive to your world. All of the sugar you are eating in your processed meals from restaurants and from boxes and bags is slowly causing lasting damage. Not only are you getting fat, you are getting sick. Don’t get all worked up about it though. Just quit eating processed foods. If you want to enjoy your remaining years, stroke free, with normal blood pressure, normal body weight, normal emotional reactions to your world and the men and women around you, quit eating processed foods.