Is bodyfat the problem, or a symptom?

I’m sure that your body’s shape and size is very important to you. It is to me too. And its not just about looking good, because bodyfat is one of those things that makes you look – and feel – like you’re less healthy than you could be. So, you, me and everyone else tries things to reduce bodyfat. But, what if that means you are focusing on the symptom, not the cause? Sounds like a recipe for endless frustration. So what if excess bodyfat is actually a symptom?

(The featured image is 1 lb of fat – a replica – that measures about 6.5” x 4” x 3” – I’m a little happier if I lose 1 lb now!)

We all have heard of, and accept that thyroid problems can affect weight, bodyfat and managing both. That makes ‘medical’ sense to us, because it’s well reported, and not really hyped about – it’s diagnosed by testing, which makes is less likely to suffer from media hype as this month’s ‘have you got these symptoms’ illness/ailment.

But what about other factors, that influence bodyfat and weight?

I’m not talking about ‘excess calories’ or ‘too little exercise’ here – I’m talking about other real problems that affect millions of people around the world.

  • How about not getting enough sleep?
  • Eating lots of canned foods, and using air fresheners?
  • Stress at work?
  • Constant changes in routine (or lack of a routine entirely)?
  • Using your laptop late at night, or working on the weekend?
  • Working out late in the evening?
  • Prone to worrying, as a detail-orientated person?

And the list goes on.

The message here is that bodyfat is often a symptom of more than one cause. And that’s what makes it tricky.

The odds are that more than one factor is affecting your bodyweight.

And that’s why we try to treat the symptom, and not the cause. Because it’s the obvious part of the equation. But that’s a little like putting a bucket under a leaking roof, and expecting it to stop leaking eventually.

But let’s take a look at those causes for a moment.

If you treat causes of this symptom of bodyfat as a list of possible reasons why you can’t lose fat, then I suggest you focus on removing as many possible causes as you can.

If you’re following the slow carb diet, then cross off poor nutrition as a potential cause. Also cross off excess calories. If you’re following some of MED workouts in the book, like kettlebells, flying dogs, Occam’s protocol, or a combination, with some interval workouts, and you’re not committed to endurance sports or training at all, cross off poor exercise habits too (excercise habits definitely have a ‘sweet spot’ – too little or too much will cause problems).

Now let’s hypothetically suggest that fat loss isn’t coming, and you’ve been at this for 4-6 weeks. That’s no doubt frustrating, however all is not lost.

Nothing is lost from following a healthy diet, and exercise routine. Removing them as possible causes gets you closer to finding a cause you can correct.

Consider environment, home and work, plus sleep, stress levels in general, and other habits mentioned about. The list is by no means exhaustive, however, and the truth is that a great many of our modern habits are quite detrimental to the human body functioning in an ideal way.

But the good news is that for most people, you don’t need a 100% ideal environment to get some results.

And even better, the better your environment, the healthier you’ll be.

So think about things like how late you stay up after the sun goes down, and whether you wake up with an alarm clock every single day. Consider if you could change your routine to include a relaxing pasttime just before you go to sleep, instead of watching tv, using a computer, or worse yet, arguing or having stressful conversations with family or friends. Think about ordering blackout curtains for your bedroom, and finding a way to keep the temperature at an ideal level, every night.

The truth is that bodyfat, as a symptom, has its root in many more lifestyle factors than any diet company, nutrition company or gym is likely to want to admit to you. And that’s because they don’t have a product to sell you to ‘cure’ that aspect, or that cause.

For a long time, I saw my body as the physical resemblance of how healthy I was keeping myself, with all the sport, limited calories, and other tricks I used to keep lean.

That was, until I became aware of how unhealthy all the sport, low calories and tricks actually were. Then I realized that bodyfat isn’t such a great indicator of health at all.

Having had this ‘wake up’ to the reality of the human body, and what’s actually healthy, my lifestyle takes a much more moderated approach to almost everything – if I feel like going for a run, I’ll make it an enjoyable trail or route, that doesn’t push by much past the 20-30 minute mark. Compare to my old 45-60 minute efforts, this leaves me in a much healthier state when I’m finished. Likewise with nutrition, compared to filling myself with carbs after workouts, and loading up on expensive nutritional supplements, I eat good food, every single day, and can rely on my nutrition to provide almost everything I need.

But more than this, I have a more relaxed view of how much is enough, when it comes to training, effort level in nutrition, and other things like work and play. I don’t need to push the limits of my sleep to have a fun night out, and I don’t need to push the limits of my brain to feel like I’ve been productive. There’s also no ‘gold stars’ in working endlessly, so I’m able to compete with the 50-70 hour office rats who like to swap stories at the gym on the weekend.

I like my life much more now. I bet if you start taking this approach, you probably will too. Think about the causes, not the symptom, and suddenly things can fall into place like never before. And don’t ever let anyone, any ad, or any product convince you that everything in life isn’t all connected, dependent and inter-related, because it all is.

You might be interested in reading these too:

  1. Can slow carb get you below 10% bodyfat? This is a controversial question, for a few reasons. But that's not going to stop me writing this article. I am taking a very hard look at the slow carb diet, for one...
  2. The Last Mile: First Impressions and Meal Diary It's been almost two weeks that I've been following the 3 hour meal schedule of the last mile. Eating my way through piles of nuts, endless chicken breasts and too much spinach to...
  3. 3 Reasons Before and After Photos can slow fat loss Here's a controversial question: If you took a 'before' photo, or if you have a good reference, and you are taking progress photos, or comparing your current state to your reference picture, is...

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4 Responses to Is bodyfat the problem, or a symptom?

  • Justin says:

    Great post explaining some basics of endocrinology Luke.

    • Luke says:

      Thanks Justin.. I have a feeling your understanding of endocrinology goes a little deeper than mine!

  • Huuungry says:

    I am a bit of a food addict. I can pretty well turn it on or off for long periods at a time, given a simple commitment to do so — say, stick to slow-carb or p90x for months at a time — but when life circumstances change, and i fall off for more than a day or two, with no quick and easy reversion to my old routine available (due to changed schedule, new work or family commitments, etc), i can’t even bring myself to ‘tread water’ for an intermediate period of time. instead, i just go to town on all of the worst foods and eat until i’m stuffed. It’s like I know how to be totally on, but my only other option is totally off. I can’t live in the middle. When I’m ‘on’ I eat to keep from being hungry and in a manner that keeps me on the plan — and therefore i know that i can expect certain results. If I’m not ‘on’ then I find no motivation in sacrificing the eating habits that comfort me without the confidence or belief that there are any meaningfully positive results to come… so i revert to eating for comfort. This is totally a mental issue… any tips on overcoming it?


    • Luke says:

      Hey Hungry, I think you’re in a position that a lot of people find themselves in.
      Firstly, I suggest addressing any and all sources of stress in your life, as the underlying issue, that I’m hearing in what your wrote, is that you have no peace of mind. Find some relaxation, and peace, during the week, and everything else might get a little more relaxed. Being able to follow something 100% to the letter is a hallmark of being wound up very tight, likewise your binge periods. So I would keep digging, deeper and deeper until you find the root cause. Then work on that. Forget tricks or tools or strategies or tactics, or the latest research, or any of that. That’s like trying a steel bucket instead of a plastic one, when your roof is leaking, to see if it will stop the leak. Go to the source, and you’ve got a chance to make a permanently change in your life. We’re complicated things, people, and sometimes it takes a bit of time and work to really dig into the original source of something – but it’s well worth the effort in the long run.

      All the best,

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