Smorgasbord Health – Middle-Age Spread..Not always down to what you eat!

smorgasbord healthI know that the mantra is supposed to be ‘love your body whatever its shape‘ and people ‘tut, tut’ when you complain about your various bits and pieces that seem to distort your image…… but you know what….it can be a real pain at times. It is particularly frustrating when you are doing everything right.. eating, exercising, drinking plenty of green tea and only having one digestive with your coffee!!


This is me 22 years ago at age 41 on holiday in America and weighing in at 300 lbs. I would go on to add another 30lbs over the next few months until I was size 32. To put things into perspective… I am 5ft 11inches so the overall impression was huge.  Along with this excess weight came several health problems which led to me studying not just nutrition but also a deep interest in psychology and anatomy.  I made some very interesting discoveries about myself that would help me lose my weight.

I eventually lost 150lbs over 18 months, recovered my health and apart from the occasional period, when I would put on a couple of stone, I have managed to keep most of that weight off. I will never be classified as skinny but I am very happy to be at a much healthier weight rather than fit into a size 10 pair of trousers.

Each time that I have added those extra 28lbs or so, it has been the result of one particular physical response.

I believe that to be healthy you need to focus on three elements; physical, mental and emotional. You also need to identify your triggers that result in a blip in your health and weight.  I know for me it is stress and whilst I might not show it outwardly, inwardly it lays down fat in all the wrong places as my body reacts to a constant level of stress hormones into the system.

Chronic Stress is when this acute stress response is repeated on a continuous basis. Whilst the body, after a hundred thousand years, is well able to handle the occasional stress response and in fact uses it positively, if the response becomes a normal way of life, other parts of the brain and body become involved leading to long term damage.

For example, ongoing stress causes the hypothalamus and the pituitary gland, which are the master controllers for the body, to release a chemical called ACTH (adrenocorticotropic hormone) which stimulates the adrenal gland to produce and release cortisol which disrupts sleep patterns leading to increased levels of stress. Our bodies are simply not designed to live at high alert for sustained periods of time; it just wears it down leading to illness and usually weight gain.

How has it impacted me?

In the last eighteen months I have put on 28lbs despite eating normally, cooking from scratch and being reasonably active.  The one added ingredient has been stress.

There is a reason that they say that moving house is as stressful as divorce or a bereavement. And the last eighteen months have certainly demonstrated that point. Between the worry of not selling and subsequent financial concern – the Spanish intricate legal system – packing up a large house ourselves in 3 weeks – selling two cars – waiting anxiously for ten days before the banks got their act together and transferred the funds to Ireland – living under someone elses roof for three months (very gratefully of course) – finding a house as quickly as possible – the buying process – renovations etc. It has been relentless.

Don’t get me wrong, I am loving the end result and in a few weeks time the work will be finished and our furniture will be arriving from Spain. We already love where we are living; despite missing our friends we had to leave behind. We have our family closer both here in Ireland and in the UK which is such a pleasure. We are looking forward to a future that will be so much less fraught with worry.

However, the cost to the body of all this internal stress, is another reason for our middle-aged spread.

If you look around you and even in the mirror…. you will see that there are a great many of us over the age of 50 who carry that evidence of internal stress, particular around our middles. Of course some of that extra weight is down to the hormonal changes that naturally take place for both men and women, but after working with clients all these years, I can also tell you that it is also down to something more dangerous.

Most that I have spoken too about stress have textbook examples across the board. Finances, jobs, relationships, the future, health, family, the world and its apparent spiral into mindless chaos. Even the lack of extended family, as men and women in their 70s and 80s wonder what is to become of them as they become ill. Even those who feel financially secure wonder how long that might last as they see their pensions and dreams of a stress free retirement dwindle.

This is mirrored in much younger men and women too which is even more concerning as it means they will be living with this stress reaction from much longer than those in middle-age. They are the ones who will be fuelling the statistics of heart disease and other chronic illnesses of the future.

Identifying your stress triggers.

I can identify the stress over the last two years and can finally see light at the end of the tunnel. I also have something that has gone a long way to mitigate the effects of that stress which is my writing, in its various formats. For me sitting down at the keyboard is hugely beneficial and goodness knows where my weight would be if I had not been able to write every day.

I am also starting swimming again in September once the holiday season is over at the local leisure centre, I am going to be helping out with the decorating which I do with music on my head and paint all over me; we will also be getting one of the greatest stress busters of all times.. a four-legged running machine.

What I want to convey is that our weight and health is not just about eating a balanced diet, watching your fluids, taking regular exercise… You can be doing all of that and still be unable to shift extra weight or even be putting it on.

If you are looking at embracing some health changes to eat a healthier diet, get more exercise etc… you also need to be honest about the stress in your life. Make a list and you will find that by finding solutions to combat that stress will actually do your body as much benefit as making changes to your food intake.

We all have our own ways of combatting stress.. I have mine lined up and I know that by Christmas my extra two stone will have vanished. But, despite my training and experience, even I can get caught out when I allow stress to get the better of me.

I wrote some posts on stress and its impact on the body and here is a couple that you might find helpful.

Thanks for dropping in and if you have any questions you can always ask.. in the comments or if you prefer by email..