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Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Causes of Panic Attacks

The short and obvious answer: panic attacks are caused by high anxiety. But, what exactly is anxiety? Understanding how anxiety crops up will help you defeat panic attacks.

One of the biggest myths surrounding anxiety is that it is harmful and can lead to a number of various life-threatening conditions.

Definition of Anxiety

Anxiety is defined as a state of apprehension or fear resulting from the anticipation of a real or imagined threat, event, or situation. It is one of the most common human emotions experienced by people at some point in their lives.

However, most people who have never experienced a panic attack, or extreme anxiety, fail to realize the terrifying nature of the experience. Extreme dizziness, blurred vision, tingling and feelings of breathlessness—and that's just the tip of the iceberg!

When these sensations occur and people do not understand why, they feel they have contracted an illness, or a serious mental condition. The threat of losing complete control seems very real and naturally very terrifying.

Fight/Flight Response: One of the root causes of panic attacks?

I am sure most of you have heard of the fight/flight response as an explanation for one of the root causes of panic attacks. Have you made the connection between this response and the unusual sensations you experience during and after a panic attack episode?

Anxiety is a response to a danger or threat. It is so named because all of its effects are aimed toward either fighting or fleeing from the danger. Thus, the sole purpose of anxiety is to protect the individual from harm. This may seem ironic given that you no doubt feel your anxiety is actually causing you great harm…perhaps the most significant of all the causes of panic attacks.

However, the anxiety that the fight/flight response created was vital in the daily survival of our ancient ancestors—when faced with some danger, an automatic response would take over that propelled them to take immediate action such as attack or run. Even in today's hectic world, this is still a necessary mechanism. It comes in useful when you must respond to a real threat within a split second.

Anxiety is a built-in mechanism to protect us from danger. Interestingly, it is a mechanism that protects but does not harm—an important point that will be elaborated upon later.

The Physical Manifestations of a Panic Attack: Other pieces of the puzzle to understand the causes of panic attacks. Nervousness and Chemical Effects…

When confronted with danger, the brain sends signals to a section of the nervous system. It is this system that is responsible for gearing the body up for action and also calms the body down and restores equilibrium. To carry out these two vital functions, the autonomic nervous system has two subsections, the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system.ebook Graphics

Although I don't want to become too "scientific," having a basic understanding of the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system will help you understand the causes of panic attacks.

The sympathetic nervous system is the one we tend to know all too much about because it primes our body for action, readies us for the "fight or flight" response, while the parasympathetic nervous system is the one we love dearly as it serves as our restoring system, which returns the body to its normal state.

When either of these systems is activated, they stimulate the whole body, which has an "all or nothing" effect. This explains why when a panic attack occurs, the individual often feels a number of different sensations throughout the body.

The sympathetic system is responsible for releasing the adrenaline from the adrenal glands on the kidneys. These are small glands located just above the kidneys. Less known, however, is that the adrenal glands also release adrenaline, which functions as the body's chemical messengers to keep the activity going. When a panic attack begins, it does not switch off as easily as it is turned on. There is always a period of what would seem increased or continued anxiety, as these messengers travel throughout the body. Think of them as one of the physiological causes of panic attacks, if you will.

After a period of time, the parasympathetic nervous system gets called into action. Its role is to return the body to normal functioning once the perceived danger is gone. The parasympathetic system is the system we all know and love, because it returns us to a calm relaxed state.

When we engage in a coping strategy that we have learned, for example, a relaxation technique, we are in fact willing the parasympathetic nervous system into action. A good thing to remember is that this system will be brought into action at some stage whether we will it or not. The body cannot continue in an ever-increasing spiral of anxiety. It reaches a point where it simply must kick in, relaxing the body. This is one of the many built-in protection systems our bodies have for survival.

You can do your best with worrying thoughts, keeping the sympathetic nervous system going, but eventually it stops. In time, it becomes a little smarter than us, and realizes that there really is no danger. Our bodies are incredibly intelligent—modern science is always discovering amazing patterns of intelligence that run throughout the cells of our body. Our body seems to have infinite ways of dealing with the most complicated array of functions we take for granted. Rest assured that your body's primary goal is to keep you alive and well.

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Not so convinced?

Try holding your breath for as long as you can. No matter how strong your mental will is, it can never override the will of the body. This is good news—no matter how hard you try to convince yourself that you are gong to die from a panic attack, you won't. Your body will override that fear and search for a state of balance. There has never been a reported incident of someone dying from a panic attack.

Remember this next time you have a panic attack; he causes of panic attacks cannot do you any physical harm. Your mind may make the sensations continue longer than the body intended, but eventually everything will return to a state of balance. In fact, balance (homeostasis) is what our body continually strives for.

The interference for your body is nothing more than the sensations of doing rigorous exercise. Our body is not alarmed by these symptoms. Why should it be? It knows its own capability. It's our thinking minds that panic, which overreact and scream in sheer terror! We tend to fear the worst and exaggerate our own sensations. A quickened heart beat becomes a heart attack. An overactive mind seems like a close shave with schizophrenia. Is it our fault? Not really—we are simply diagnosing from poor information.

Cardiovascular Effects Activity in the sympathetic nervous system increases our heartbeat rate, speeds up the blood flow throughout the body, ensures all areas are well supplied with oxygen and that waste products are removed. This happens in order to prime the body for action.

A fascinating feature of the "fight or flight" mechanism is that blood (which is channelled from areas where it is currently not needed by a tightening of the blood vessels) is brought to areas where it is urgently needed.

For example, should there be a physical attack, blood drains from the skin, fingers, and toes so that less blood is lost, and is moved to "active areas" such as the thighs and biceps to help the body prepare for action.

This is why many feel numbness and tingling during a panic attack-often misinterpreted as some serious health risk-such as the precursor to a heart attack. Interestingly, most people who suffer from anxiety often feel they have heart problems. If you are really worried that such is the case with your situation, visit your doctor and have it checked out. At least then you can put your mind at rest.

Respiratory Effects

One of the scariest effects of a panic attack is the fear of suffocating or smothering. It is very common during a panic attack to feel tightness in the chest and throat. I'm sure everyone can relate to some fear of losing control of your breathing. From personal experience, anxiety grows from the fear that your breathing itself would cease and you would be unable to recover. Can a panic attack stop our breathing? No.

A panic attack is associated with an increase in the speed and depth of breathing. This has obvious importance for the defense of the body since the tissues need to get more oxygen to prepare for action. The feelings produced by this increase in breathing, however, can include breathlessness, hyperventilation, sensations of choking or smothering, and even pains or tightness in the chest. The real problem is that these sensations are alien to us, and they feel unnatural.

Having experienced extreme panic attacks myself, I remember that on many occasions, I would have this feeling that I couldn't trust my body to do the breathing for me, so I would have to manually take over and tell myself when to breathe in and when to breathe out. Of course, this didn't suit my body's requirement of oxygen and so the sensations would intensify—along with the anxiety. It was only when I employed the technique I will describe for you later, did I let the body continue doing what it does best—running the whole show.

Importantly, a side-effect of increased breathing, (especially if no actual activity occurs) is that the blood supply to the head is actually decreased. While such a decrease is only a small amount and is not at all dangerous, it produces a variety of unpleasant but harmless symptoms that include dizziness, blurred vision, confusion, sense of unreality, and hot flushes.

Other Physical Effects of Panic Attacks:

Now that we've discussed some of the primary physiological causes of panic attacks, there are a number of other effects that are produced by the activation of the sympathetic nervous system, none of which are in any way harmful.

For example, the pupils widen to let in more light, which may result in blurred vision, or "seeing" stars, etc. There is a decrease in salivation, resulting in dry mouth. There is decreased activity in the digestive system, which often produces nausea, a heavy feeling in the stomach, and even constipation. Finally, many of the muscle groups tense up in preparation for "fight or flight" and this results in subjective feelings of tension, sometimes extending to actual aches and pains, as well as trembling and shaking.

Overall, the fight/flight response results in a general activation of the whole bodily metabolism. Thus, one often feels hot and flushed and, because this process takes a lot of energy, the person generally feels tired and drained.

Mental Manifestations: Are the causes of panic attacks all in my head? is a question many people wonder to themselves.

The goal of the fight/flight response is making the individual aware of the potential danger that may be present. Therefore, when activated, the mental priority is placed upon searching the surroundings for potential threats. In this state one is highly-strung, so to speak. It is very difficult to concentrate on any one activity, as the mind has been trained to seek all potential threats and not to give up until the threat has been identified. As soon as the panic hits, many people look for the quick and easiest exit from their current surroundings, such as by simply leaving the bank queue and walking outside. Sometimes the anxiety can heighten, if we perceive that leaving will cause some sort of social embarrassment.

If you have a panic attack while at the workplace but feel you must press on with whatever task it is you are doing, it is quite understandable that you would find it very hard to concentrate. It is quite common to become agitated and generally restless in such a situation. Many individuals I have worked with who have suffered from panic attacks over the years indicated that artificial light—such as that which comes from computer monitors and televisions screens—can can be one of the causes of panic attacks by triggering them or worsen a panic attack, particularly if the person is feeling tired or run down.

This is worth bearing in mind if you work for long periods of time on a computer. Regular break reminders should be set up on your computer to remind you to get up from the desk and get some fresh air when possible.

In other situations, when during a panic attack an outside threat cannot normally be found, the mind turns inwards and begins to contemplate the possible illness the body or mind could be suffering from. This ranges from thinking it might have been something you ate at lunch, to the possibility of an oncoming cardiac arrest.

The burning question is: Why is the fight/flight response activated during a panic attack even when there is apparently nothing to be frightened of?

Upon closer examination of the causes of panic attacks, it would appear that what we are afraid of are the sensations themselves—we are afraid of the body losing control. These unexpected physical symptoms create the fear or panic that something is terribly wrong. Why do you experience the physical symptoms of the fight/flight response if you are not frightened to begin with? There are many ways these symptoms can manifest themselves, not just through fear.

For example, it may be that you have become generally stressed for some reason in your life, and this stress results in an increase in the production of adrenaline and other chemicals, which from time to time, would produce symptoms….and which you perceive as the causes of panic attacks.

This increased adrenaline can be maintained chemically in the body, even after the stress has long gone. Another possibility is diet, which directly affects our level of stress. Excess caffeine, alcohol, or sugar is known for causing stress in the body, and is believed to be one of the contributing factors of the causes of panic attacks (Chapter 5 gives a full discussion on diet and its importance).

Unresolved emotions are often pointed to as possible trigger of panic attacks, but it is important to point out that eliminating panic attacks from your life does not necessarily mean analyzing your psyche and digging into your subconscious. The "One Move" technique will teach you to deal with the present moment and defuse the attack along with removing the underlying anxiety that sparks the initial anxiety.

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Ecological Gardening

When we think of organic gardening and permaculture we tend to conjure up images of leathery-skinned bearded warriors who dedicate their lives to working long days in their vegetable plots.  Whilst this may be a wonderful way to live your life, it doesn't suit the average suburbanite with a full-time job and a hefty mortgage.

Growing food is typically seen as either an art form or damned hard work.  It's no wonder very few people do it on a serious level.  But what if a technique came along that was so easy and so prolific that even the busiest corporate executive could grow a significant portion of their family's food in less time than it takes to drive to the shops.  Ecological gardening just might be the answer.  In my experience, it's the ultimate modern-day convenience veggie plot.

I didn't have a light bulb moment that said, "Ah, so this is ecological gardening".  My vegetable garden was no different to anybody else's for many years until I made a few changes.  The first and probably most significant was squeezing far more plants into a given area.  The second change was to never dig the soil.  And thirdly, I upgraded my composting system.  Once these simple strategies were in place I noticed the garden taking on a life of its own.  Weeds virtually stopped growing in the beds and plants started living much longer.  The garden could endure longer periods without water, I was yielding far more than I ever had and I could harvest every day of the year.   I wanted to know what was happening at a scientific level and applied my university training as an environmental scientist to understand why I was getting such amazing results.  I had to completely let go of all my preconceived ideas as a gardener and look at the plot through the eyes of an ecologist.  After some time I realized that I had created an ecosystem made up of edible plants, and it behaved in exactly the same way as a natural habitat.  I became more of an observer than a gardener and the role of head gardener was pulled from under my feet as nature took up the reins.

Employ Nature, she works for free
The wonderful thing about nature is that she works tirelessly, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.  Nature follows very simple laws and works in the same way, on any system, anywhere in the world.  When we create an ecological garden we are creating a living, breathing ecosystem.  By doing this we get nature working for us, and not against us, and her great stamina works in our favour.

Niche Spaces and why they are important
A pristine ecosystem is made up of thousands of living and non-living components all coexisting in a given area.  Each living component occupies its own niche space and the role of the niche space is very important to understand when creating an ecological garden.  Let's look at an example.  Imagine a giant rainforest tree crashing to the ground after standing tall for hundreds of years.  Such a large tree would have filled an enormous niche space.  Lying in the soil, hundreds of dormant seeds spring to life, desperately fighting for their opportunity to occupy the best real estate in the forest: the empty niche space.  The niche space is quickly filled and harmony is restored.

When we look at a traditional vegetable garden with this type of insight, what we see is a very unnatural system.  There is very little diversity and a lot of empty niche spaces.  Nature enforces her will on vegetable gardens in exactly the same way she does a rainforest, and this means that empty niches spaces will be filled as quickly as possible.  However, in a traditional vegetable garden there are no desirable seeds waiting to fill the niches spaces, so weeds fill them instead.

The solution is to create a garden that has tightly filled niche spaces so that weeds don't have any opportunities.  We can do this by planting the garden very tightly with a diverse range of plants of differing shapes and characteristics.  The result is a dense jungle-like planting arrangement that can yield an unbelievable amount.  The denseness also creates a highly protected micro-climate.  This ideal growing environment causes your plants to last much longer.  Greens don't bolt to seed as soon as a hot spell hits and cold sensitive plants are more protected as well.

How to manage an ecological garden
Managing an ecological garden is different to managing a traditional vegetable garden.  With an ecological garden, there is far less to do.  As you become the observer and allow nature to take over as head gardener, you will notice that the garden is in a continual state of gentle change, just like a natural ecosystem.  It can be difficult for the traditional gardener to stand back and observe as we, human beings, like to control things.  This style of gardening calls for a great deal of faith in natural laws. Sure, there will be times when you need to step in and direct the system in a certain way; however that is almost always because a certain plant species is getting too successful and the system is at risk of loosing diversity.

Natural Pest Management
The dense mixed-up nature of the ecological garden creates a natural form of pest management.  Pests generally locate their target plant species using sight or smell.  Imagine how much more difficult it is to see your target plant when its outline is blurred by a sea of green.  And how on earth could you smell your target plant when there are so many conflicting smells.
No More Need to Rotate Crops
Crop rotation is practiced by dedicated gardeners for a very good reason.  Different plants require different minerals from the soil, in different proportions.  After an area has been planted with a certain species, the soil can be left depleted of certain minerals.  To lessen the effects of this depletion a different crop will be planted in the area the following year.  In addition, many gardeners rest their garden beds periodically and grow a green manure crop, usually a legume such as Lucerne or field peas.  These plants add nitrogen from the atmosphere through a process called nitrogen-fixing.  However, crop rotation simply isn't necessary with ecological gardening because the mixed-up planting arrangement counteracts the effects of mineral depletion because a single species doesn't dominate a single area.  Likewise, green manure crops are not necessary as nitrogen is topped up in two ways.  Firstly, through planting edible legumes such as peas and beans within the jungle-like mass.  And secondly, by the addition of compost to the surface of any bare areas.

Composting

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Compost is an important part of the ecological garden and is a very valuable commodity.  To me, composting is a way of building valuable nutrients that will, one day, feed me and my family.  The average person buys food from a shop, consumes it and then sends the waste away.  This is simply buying nutrients, taking what you need for that precise moment, and disregarding the remainder.  It's a nutrient flow that only flows in one direction, like a fancy car roaring down the road.  You admire the car for a moment, but after a second or two, it's gone.

My goal is to slow down the car and then get it to do a U-turn.  I want to keep the nutrients within my property where I can capitalise on them.  By doing this, I am able to use the nutrients again, so I don't have to buy them for a second time.  In effect, I am creating a system that is self-sustainable.  Composting is a vehicle in which we are able to create a nutrient cycle within our property.  We are part of that cycle because we consume the nutrients when they are, for a brief time, in a useful form.  Then they return to the compost and slowly make their way into another useful form where we consume them again.  This cycle can go on and on indefinitely.

Throw away the hoe
Natural ecosystems don't require gardeners with shovels and hoes to come along every season to turn their soil, and neither does an ecological garden.  However, it is best not to walk on the garden beds as this will cause unnecessary compaction.  Of course, this requires the installation of permanent pathways that are positioned in a way that the gardener can obtain access to the plot.Digging soil upsets the soil structure which, in turn, reduces the soil's ability to pass on valuable nutrients to plants.  The loss of soil structure also reduces the soil's ability to hold water.  Developing good soil structure is actually the best water conserving technique I know, and when practiced in conjunction with a dense planting arrangement creates a holistic soil ecology management plan.  A dense planting arrangement will shade the soils surface, stopping surface crusting which causes runoff and nutrient depletion.  Developing good deeper structure will allow soil organisms to do what they do best – turn organic matter into available plant nutrients.

Self Seeding
If you are lucky enough to visit a pristine rainforest you will probably be awestruck by the towering canopy.  However, the future of the rainforest lies in the soil in the form of seeds – tiny cells of life waiting for their opportunity to prosper.  If we are going to create an ecological garden then we have to make sure it too, has a future.  By allowing some plants to go to seed, we can build up seed stores, just like the rainforest.  And like the rainforest, we should aim to have thousands of seeds of many varieties spread right across our plot.  Most of these seeds will never germinate because in the ecological garden the niche spaces are so tightly filled that opportunities for new life are limited.  However, eventually a plant will be eaten and an empty niche space will appear.  If we have thousands of seeds lying dormant, the chances of the niche space being filled with something desirable are pretty good

Who should set up an ecological garden?
Absolutely everyone from farmers to inner-city townhouse dwellers.  It may seem strange, but if you have never grown food before then you are, in some ways, at an advantage.  Experienced gardeners may like to see themselves as adopting some ecological gardening techniques, but find it difficult to let go of the need to control the system.  Like all industries, the gardening industry can get stuck in doing things a certain way and most seasoned gardeners will inevitably over-work the garden.  As a species, human beings prospered when we learnt to cultivate food using tilling and other traditional agricultural methods, so it's difficult to turn back to where we came from – nature.  It might even feel like a step in the wrong direction.  But if we can let go of our need to control every living thing on the planet, and start to work with nature, we actually gain more control by being able to grow food more efficiently than ever before.  It's a paradox – but it works!

Setting up an ecological garden
Any existing vegetable garden can be converted into an ecological garden.  Firstly, get your pathways laid out so that you never have to walk on your garden beds again.  After that, get a good composting system going and apply it to the soil surface.  Then plant densely and diversely.

If you don't have a vegetable garden, my suggestion would be to create a classic Esther Deans 'no dig' garden to get you started.  Once erected, simply follow the ecological gardening method.

Mini-ecological garden
If you live in a unit or townhouse with no soft ground you could create a mini-ecological garden using a series of containers.  Polystyrafoam boxes with drainage holes are ideal.  Fill them with good potting mixture and arrange them side by side using as many as you can fit onto your verandah or patio.  Rather than developing a large composting system, you could purchase a worm farm and add the worm casts to the soil surface as fertilizer.  Once the boxes are set up, simply adopt the ecological gardening method.

The Ecological Gardening Method – the key principles.

  1. Plant densely
  2. Plant a diversity of plants within a given area
  3. Get a good composting system set up and use the compost as a surface mulch on bare patches
  4. Allow some plants to go to seed
  5. Only interfere with the system when a single species of plant over-dominates and simply scratch out excess plants when they are small.

Growing food is not hard work, especially when you have nature helping you 24/7.  A small area can provide you with such a bounty of food, saving your family thousands of dollars per year.  Most of us don't have much time to spend in the garden, including me.  I only invest around eight hours of time per year to growing my food, and although I live on a small farm I only use a space of around 6 x 6m.  That's an area that could fit into many suburban backyards several times over.  The most wonderful thing about this method is that I know I can ignore my vegetable garden for months and it won't miss a beat.  So, if you believe growing food is only for tough bearded warriors with lots of land and time, think again.  Ecological gardening could be just the thing for you.

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Cortisol, Stress And Body Fat: Straight Answers To The Top 20 Questions About The Stress Hormone

It seems that every time science uncovers some type of association between body fat and anything, opportunistic entrepreneurs are waiting in the shadows to create a product and a marketing campaign around it. They ride the wave into the multi millions, until the buzz dies down or until the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) sues and slaps a padlock on their warehouse doors. Then, it's on to the "next big thing in weight loss," because they know there will always be a gullible crowd eagerly waiting for the next quick fix. The most recent example is when researchers discovered a correlation between cortisol and abdominal body fat. Cortisol was then blamed as the latest culprit in the obesity problem, and cortisol-suppressing pills were touted as the "miracle solution."

Big Claims, Little Proof

After a web search on the subject of cortisol, here are some of the claims you may find:

The advertising claims include just enough scientific fact to make even the savviest consumers say, "That makes sense, I think I'll try that." They also hit home emotionally by focusing on common hot buttons such as stress (who isn't at least a little stressed in this day and age?) Brilliant marketing. Convincing. Unfortunately, most of the claims being made are completely false, with only a tiny thread of truth woven in.

Cortisol is a very important hormone that you must understand if you want to get maximum results from your training and nutrition programs, but if you don't educate yourself, you may become one of the millions of victims to fall for this latest fad. The answers to the frequently asked questions in this article will arm you with the science-based facts, while helping you steer clear of the hype-based scams.

What is cortisol?

Cortisol is a hormone produced by your adrenal glands. It falls into a category of hormones known as "glucocorticoids", referring to their ability to increase blood glucose levels. Cortisol is the primary glucocorticoid.

Why does your body produce cortisol?

Cortisol is a stress hormone. Your body produces cortisol in response to stress, physical, mental or emotional. This can include extremely low calorie diets, intense training, high volume training, lack of quality sleep as well as common daily stresses such as job pressures, fights with your spouse or being caught in a traffic jam. Trauma, injury and surgery are also major stressors to the body (Note: much of the research done on cortisol and stress has been done on recovering patients, and such findings may not carry over to healthy, athletic populations).

What does cortisol do?

Cortisol is part of the fight or flight response. Faced with a "life or death" situation, cortisol increases the flow of glucose (as well as protein and fat) out of your tissues and into the bloodstream in order to increase energy and physical readiness to handle the stressful situation or threat.

How do you know whether your cortisol levels are high?

You can get your cortisol levels tested if you choose to. The most common method of testing is a blood test (blood cortisol levels). Saliva and 24 hour urine tests are also available.

What is a normal level of cortisol?

Cortisol levels are higher in adults than children and levels fluctuate throughout each 24 hour period, so tests must account for the time of day. Cortisol concentrations are highest in the early morning around 6 – 8 a.m. and they are also elevated after exercise (a normal part of your body's response to exercise). The lowest levels are usually around midnight. According to the Medline Encyclopedia, normal levels of cortisol in the bloodstream at 8:00 a.m. are 6-23 mcg/dl.

Should you get your cortisol levels tested?

For serious competitive athletes, it may be worth the time, expense and inconvenience to have cortisol tests done on a regular basis. Some strength and conditioning coaches insist on it. For the average trainee, as long as you are aware of the factors that produce excessive cortisol and take steps to keep it in the normal, healthy range, then testing is probably not necessary.

Is cortisol related to abdominal obesity?

Yes. There is a link between high cortisol levels and storage of body fat, particularly "visceral" abdominal body fat (also known as intra-abdominal fat). Visceral fat is stored deeper in the abdominal cavity and around the internal organs, whereas "regular" fat is stored below the skin (known as subcutaneous fat). Visceral fat is particularly unhealthy because it is a risk factor for heart disease and diabetes.

Does Cortisol Make you fat?

No, cortisol is not "the thing" that makes you fat. In fact, one of the effects of cortisol is to increase the breakdown of stored adipose tissue into glycerol and fatty acids where it can enter the bloodstream and then be used as energy. High levels of cortisol are merely one contributing factor to storage of abdominal fat, not the primary cause. An excess of calories from too much food and not enough exercise is what makes you fat.

If cortisol is related to abdominal obesity, then will taking a cortisol suppressing pill get rid of abdominal (belly) fat?

No. Just because there is an association between high cortisol levels and abdominal body fat doesn't mean that a taking a cortisol-suppressing pill will remove abdominal body fat. The studies which showed a relationship between cortisol and body fat did not test whether suppressing cortisol removes fat that is already deposited on your body.

Does stress make you fat?

No. If it did, then everyone who is stressed would be gaining fat. Many people lose weight while under stress. In some studies, test subjects with the highest cortisol (and stress) levels lost the most weight. Stress, by itself, does not increase body fat. However, if stress stimulates appetite and leads to overeating, then the excess calories from "stress eating" can make you fatter. <<< Watch This Amazing Video For More Information >>>

Is cortisol is bad for you?

Cortisol is not "bad for you," it is a hormone that is essential for life as part of our natural stress response. There are many hormones in our bodies, which in the proper amounts, maintain good health, but in excess or in deficiency, have negative effects or even contribute to health problems or diseases. Cortisol is no different. For example, Cushing's syndrome is a disease of high cortisol levels, while Addison's is a disease of low cortisol levels. You want to maintain a healthy, normal level of cortisol, not suppress your cortisol to nothing or allow it to remain elevated.

Chronically elevated cortisol levels may have a variety of negative effects. Cortisol is catabolic and elevated cortisol levels can cause the loss of muscle tissue by facilitating the process of converting lean tissue into glucose. An excess of cortisol can also lead to a decrease in insulin sensitivity, increased insulin resistance, reduced kidney function, hypertension, suppressed immune function, reduced growth hormone levels, and reduced connective tissue strength. Chronically elevated levels of cortisol can also decrease strength and performance in athletes.

Can suppressing cortisol improve your muscle growth and strength?

High cortisol levels can increase muscle protein breakdown and inhibit protein synthesis (building up muscle proteins), so a chronically elevated cortisol level is clearly counterproductive to building muscle. Bringing elevated cortisol levels back to normal may improve recovery, strength, hypertrophy and performance. However, there is no scientific evidence that reducing your cortisol levels below normal will have any effect on increasing strength or muscle growth.

Should you take a cortisol-suppressing supplement to help you lose weight?

In my opinion, no, absolutely not. Cortisol suppressing supplements are not a valid solution for losing weight. The FTC has filed lawsuits against the makers of Cortislim and Cortistress, charging them with making false and unsubstantiated claims that their products can cause weight loss. Lydia Parnes, acting director of the FTC's bureau of consumer protection says, "The defendant's claims fly in the face of reality. No pill can replace a healthy program of diet and exercise." Reducing excessively high cortisol levels through supplement use may prove beneficial in some ways for hard training athletes. However, pills do not make you lose fat. Body fat is lost by creating a caloric deficit through exercise and nutrition.

Should you take a cortisol-suppressing supplement to help control your stress levels?

There are quite a few supplements, mostly herbs, which are reputed to have "calming," "relaxing," "tranquilizing," "stress-relieving" or "anti-anxiety" effects. These include Magnolia bark, kava kava, valerian, L-theanine and too many others to mention. However, very few studies exist which have directly tested the effects of these herbs on cortisol levels. Although some people may find value in these types of products, the ideal solution is to reduce the stress or change your perception of the stress to lessen its physical effects. Treating symptoms does not remove causes. It can be dangerous to "band-aid" the effects of stress while the stress remains in place.

What should you do if you have a lot of stress in your life?

It makes sense to take steps to reduce stress in your life and lessen the impact of stressors that cannot be avoided. Trying to avoid stress completely is not possible, nor is it desirable. Stress is an important part of life because you can't achieve positive adaptations and growth without stress to trigger them. It's continuous stress that you want to avoid. It's okay to expose yourself to stress, provided there is a sufficient period of rest afterwards so you can fully recover.

One of the best ways to keep cortisol in the normal range is to reduce stress and allow time for recovery and renewal. There are effective and natural means of reducing stress that don't cost a penny, including getting out in nature, deep breathing, enhancing sleep quality, relaxation exercises, meditation and visualization-guided imagery. It's important to develop a calm mind and sense of tranquility.

What's in those cortisol pills anyway?

The ingredients can vary in type and quantity from one brand to the next. Some ingredients are included in the formulations to have a relaxing or stress reducing effect, some are included to reduce cortisol levels, while others are aimed at insulin and blood sugar stabilization. Cortislim, for example, contains Magnolia bark, beta sitosoterol, theanine, green tea extract, bitter orange peel extract (source of synephrine), banaba leaf extract, vanadium, vitamin C, calcium and Chromium.

Other ingredients that are often used in the various product formulations include Epidemium, phytosterols, tyrosine, Branched chain amino acids, ginseng, ashwaganda, astragalus, kava kava, St. John's wort, Melatonin, SAM-e, Valerian, Gingko Biloba, Phosphatidyl Serine (PS), Acetyl L-carnitine and Glutamine. Reviewing all of these is beyond the scope of this article.

If you decide to take a cortisol suppressing supplement what should you look for?

Before you even think about supplements (or drugs), keep in mind that unnatural suppression of cortisol may not be wise or necessary, especially if you haven't used all the natural cortisol and stress management strategies at your disposal first. Once your nutrition, training and recovery bases are covered, there is some solid research showing that certain supplements may be beneficial, especially for athletes engaged in extremely hard training.

Carbohydrate consumed with lean protein immediately after training has a cortisol suppressing effect. High glycemic index (GI) carbs in particular, cause an insulin spike, which not only helps restore muscle glycogen, stimulates protein synthesis and kick starts the recovery process, it also helps lower the exercise-induced rise in cortisol. The research supporting this practice is substantial. (This should serve as a warning to people on low carb diets that are so strict that they don't even allow small amounts of carbs after workouts). Rather than solid food, many athletes prefer a liquid "meal" using a commercial post workout drink containing whey protein and maltodextrin plus dextrose or glucose (fast acting protein and high GI carbs) because the rapid absorption time may speed recovery.

Vitamin C, known mainly for cold or flu protection and antioxidant properties, may decrease cortisol levels. A study by Marsit, et al showed a reduction in cortisol levels in elite weightlifters taking 1000 mg. of vitamin C per day. Other studies have reported similar findings.

Phosphatidyl serine (PS) is a phospholipid, which appears to have cortisol suppressing properties. Studies by Fahey and Monteleone have shown that daily doses of 800 mg can reduce cortisol. These studies did not conclude that PS would help you lose weight or gain more muscle.

Glutamine is an amino acid, which in some studies, has been shown to decrease cortisol and prevent a decrease in protein synthesis. Many strength athletes swear by glutamine for improved recovery, but the research is still not conclusive about efficacy or dosages for athletes or bodybuilders. Much of the research on Glutamine was performed on patients recovering from surgery, burns or traumas (severe stresses to the body).

Acetyl-L Carnitine (ALC) has been studied in Alzheimers patients as a method of improving cognitive function. One study showed that long term use of Acetyl L Carnitine lowered cortisol in the Alzheimers patients. Research on rats and mice has shown that ALC increases luteinizing hormone, which may in turn elevate testosterone. Whether these findings carry over to healthy athletes has yet to be proven, but some coaches and athletes believe that ALC lowers cortisol and elevates testosterone. Success Story!

It's important to note that the research on some of these substances is often conflicting and inconclusive. It's also important to note that many of the cortisol suppressing supplements which are marketed to athletes or to people seeking weight loss do not contain doses anywhere near the amounts that were used in the research. (Yet another way that supplement companies deceive consumers).<<< Watch This Amazing Video For More Information >>>

How can you lower your cortisol levels naturally?

You can lower cortisol naturally. In fact, if you are overtrained, unnatural cortisol suppression may be nothing more than a "band aid," and continued overtraining can lead to adrenal exhaustion, which could take months to remedy. Sometimes the best thing you can do is take a rest or decrease your training volume and intensity rather than artificially attempt to suppress cortisol. Symptoms of overtraining include elevated resting pulse, sleep disturbances, fatigue, decreased strength and decreased performance.

How do you spot a weight loss pill scam?

The cortisol pill is just one in a long string of bogus weight loss products, and it won't be the last! Why? Because weight loss supplements are big business! Eight or nine figure fortunes have been made from the sales of a single product, which was later proven to be a total farce.

How do you protect yourself? Do your homework! Don't take anything unless you know exactly what's in the product, why it's in the product and how much is in the product. Review the scientific research. Don't buy a weight loss product just because a radio personality says it works! Don't jump on the phone with your credit card in hand after watching a thirty-minute infomercial! In this day and age, you have to be smarter than that!

Conclusions

Excessive cortisol is not good. But cortisol is not inherently bad; it's a vitally important hormone and part of your body's natural stress response. Cortisol does not make you fat. Stress does not make you fat. Stress may lead to increased appetite… Increased appetite may lead to eating too much… Eating too much makes you gain fat. Make sense?

Cortisol suppressing agents may have some practical uses. But rather than thinking of cortisol supplements as a weight loss miracle (which they most surely are not), get yourself on a solid exercise and nutrition program and seek natural ways to enhance recovery and reduce stress. By doing this first, you may be pleasantly surprised to find that you're losing fat and gaining muscle and there isn't a need to take supplements at all.

For more information on how to lose body fat safely, permanently and naturally without supplements or pills, check out the e-book, Burn The Fat, Feed The Muscle at <<< Watch This Amazing Video For More Information >>>

Excess Abdominal Fat is Not Only Ugly, but Extremely Dangerous to Your Health – This is More Than a Vanity Issue!

big stomach, visceral fatAlthough this picture depicts an extremely overweight man, this article applies to dangerous types of fat inside the bodies of both men and women… and this discussion also applies even if you only have a slight amount of excess stomach fat.
Did you know that the vast majority of people in this day and age have excess abdominal fat?  It's true – as much as 70% of the population in some "westernized" countries such as the US and Australia are now considered either overweight or obese.  The first thing that most people think of is that their extra abdominal fat is simply ugly, is covering up their abs from being visible, and makes them self conscious about showing off their body.

However, what most people don't realize is that excess abdominal fat in particular, is not only ugly, but is also a dangerous risk factor to your health. Scientific research has clearly determined that although it is unhealthy in general to have excess body fat throughout your body, it is also particularly dangerous to have excess abdominal fat.
There are two types of fat that you have in your abdominal area. The first type that covers up your abs from being visible is called subcutaneous fat and lies directly beneath the skin and on top of the abdominal muscles.
The second type of fat that you have in your abdominal area is called visceral fat, and that lies deeper in the abdomen beneath your muscle and surrounding your organs. Visceral fat also plays a role in giving certain men that "beer belly" appearance where their abdomen protrudes excessively but at the same time, also feels sort of hard if you push on it.
Both subcutaneous fat and visceral fat in the abdominal area are serious health risk factors, but science has shown that having excessive visceral fat is even more dangerous than subcutaneous fat.  Both types of fat greatly increase your risk of developing heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, stroke, sleep apnea, various forms of cancer, and other degenerative diseases. 
Excess stomach fat has also been associated in studies with higher levels of C-reactive protein (CRP), an indicator of inflammation within the body that can lead to heart disease and other health issues.
Part of the reason visceral fat is particularly dangerous is that studies show that it releases more inflammatory molecules into your system on a consistent basis.
One of the major reasons that some people accumulate more visceral fat than others can be from a high carbohydrate diet that leads to insulin resistance over time (years of bombarding your system with too much sugars and starches for your body to properly handle the constant excess blood sugar) … and studies show that high fructose intake particularly from high-fructose corn syrup can be a major contributor to excess visceral fat.
If you care about the quality of your life and your loved ones, reducing your abdominal fat (including reducing visceral fat) should be one of your TOP priorities! There's just no way around it. Besides, a side effect of finally getting rid of all of that excessive abdominal fat is that your stomach will flatten out, and if you lose enough stomach fat, you will be able to visibly see those attractive six pack abs that everyone wants.
So what gets rid of extra abdominal fat, including visceral fat? 
Is there actually a REAL solution beyond all of the gimmicks and hype that you see in ads and on commercials for "miracle" fat loss products?
The first thing you must understand is that there is absolutely NO quick fix solution. There are no pills or supplements of any sort that will help you lose your abdominal fat faster. Also, none of the gimmicky ab rockers, rollers, or ab belts will help get rid of abdominal fat either. You can't spot reduce your stomach fat by using any of these worthless contraptions. It simply doesn't work that way.
The only solution to consistently lose your abdominal fat and keep it off for good is to combine a sound nutritious diet full of unprocessed natural foods with a properly designed strategic exercise program that stimulates the necessary hormonal and metabolic response within your body. Both your food intake as well as your training program are important if you are to get this right.
I've actually even seen a particular study that divided thousands of participants into a diet-only group and an exercise & diet combined group. While both groups in this study made good progress, the diet-only group lost significantly LESS abdominal fat than the diet & exercise combined group.
Now the important thing to realize is that just any old exercise program will not necessarily do the trick. The majority of people that attempt getting into a good exercise routine are NOT working out effectively enough to really stimulate the loss of stubborn abdominal fat. I see this every day at the gym.
Most people will do your typical boring ineffective cardio routines, throw in a little outdated body-part style weight training, and pump away with some crunches and side bends, and think that they are doing something useful for reducing their abdominal fat. Then they become frustrated after weeks or months of no results and wonder where they went wrong.
Well, the good news is that I've spent over a decade researching this topic, analyzing the science, and applying it "in the trenches" with myself as well as thousands of my clients from all over the world to see what works to really stimulate abdominal fat loss.
From my research, two of the most important aspects to getting rid of visceral fat are:
1. The use of high intensity forms of exercise and full-body resistance training.  Low intensity cardio exercise simply isn't as effective for removing visceral fat in particular.  High intensity exercise such as interval training or full-body weight training are very effective at helping to improve your body's ability to manage glucose and increases insulin sensitivity, a crucial step in removing visceral fat.  These types of high intensity exercise routines are also very effective at increasing your fat-burning hormones and creating a hormonal environment conducive to burning off abdominal fat, including visceral fat.
2.  In addition, it's vitally important to get blood sugar under control to help restore insulin sensitivity through the right nutrition.  This means greatly reducing sugars and refined starches in your diet (including fully eliminating any use of harmful high fructose corn syrup!), and focusing more of your diet on healthy fats (such as avocados, nuts, seeds, coconut fat, olive oil, free-range eggs, fatty fish and fish oils, etc), as well as increasing protein and fiber intake.  The standard diet recommended by the government, which contains an unnaturally high grain intake is NOT conducive to controlling blood sugar and reducing visceral fat! 
Reducing grain-based foods in your diet and getting more of your carbs from veggies and high fiber fruits such as berries can go a long way to helping to solve this problem.
Learn the Truth about Losing Your Stomach Fat Permanently
program for losing abdominal fatYou may not realize this, but the entire basis of my Truth about Six Pack Abs program is NOT about abs exercises… instead, it's actually about detailed strategies for both nutrition and exercise that maximize your ability to lose abdominal fat.  The entire solution… all of the nutritional strategies, as well as training sequences, exercise combinations, and more have all been compiled in my Truth About Six Pack Abs Program in order to help you to burn stomach fat faster.
Keep in mind that the whole point of this program is NOT abdominal exercises (that is only a very small portion of it). The main point of this program is showing you the absolute most effective nutritional strategies for losing your stubborn abdominal fat, and maximizing a fat-burning hormonal environment in your body so you can get rid of that dangerous health risk, as well as get a flatter more defined midsection.
If you follow the guidelines, you WILL lose your belly fat that has been plaguing you for years. This is not guesswork… it is a proven system that works time and time again for all of my clients on every corner of the globe that actually apply these strategies. If you apply it, the results will come. It's really that simple.
One of the main reasons that most people fail in their fitness goals is that they have good intentions at first to adopt a new lifestyle, yet after a few weeks or months, they abandon their good intentions and slip right back into their old bad habits that gave them the excess body fat in the first place.
I want to help you succeed in finally getting rid of that extra abdominal fat that is not only UGLY, but also DANGEROUS. A lot of people have emailed my support team with questions about whether they need any special equipment for these workouts, if they're too old or too young for this program, if the diet tips will apply to them, etc.  I've made a page that should answer all of your questions…
FAQ – Questions about the Truth about Six Pack Abs abdominal fat loss program
Also, I completely understand that you're skeptical if this will actually work for you… so I think you'll want to see some of the reader reviews from people just like you that are using the system and getting killer results…
Reader Reviews of the Truth about Six Pack Abs abdominal fat loss program
Don't waste another day allowing that nasty abdominal fat to kill your confidence as well as contribute to your risk for MAJOR diseases.
Get the solution to rid yourself for life of this problem by reading more details about this unique workout and diet program at the home page — Losing Dangerous Abdominal Fat

Fat Loss for Visible Abs — Workouts, Nutrition, and Lifestyle Tips for Success

CB: Mike, let's start off with some background on the types of people you train, and your training background.

MG:  Craig, I've been a Certified Personal Trainer for almost a decade now, and in recent years, I've become certified as a Nutrition Specialist as well. As for the types of people I train… I've trained everybody from skinny teenagers looking to add some bulk to their frame, to middle-aged housewives and businessmen looking to lose body fat, to senior citizens looking to get stronger and leaner in their golden years.

CB: You have a site, The Truth About Abs. So…what the heck is the truth?

MG: Well Craig, from what I see on a daily basis, one of the most common fitness goals people have is to get a flatter stomach and if possible, achieve some sort of a "six pack abs" appearance to their midsection. Unfortunately, most people struggle for years without ever achieving this goal.

Instead, I see so many people waste so much of their time on worthless abs exercises, and falling for every gimmick product that comes onto their TV screen promising them a 6-pack in only 2 minutes a day while sitting on their couch.

To be honest, seeing so many people over the years waste their hard earned money on all of these worthless ab gadgets, machines, and bogus fat loss pills was really getting under my skin.

That's why I developed my Truth about Six Pack Abs Program. Over the last couple years, this program I developed has gained popularity worldwide, and has now recently become the most popular abs program on the internet with over 200,000 people in over 150 countries using my system.

So what's the truth? The truth is that people are looking in the wrong direction to achieve this goal… abs exercises are NOT the answer to six pack abs! Sounds counterintuitive I know. In fact, ab-specific exercises are the LEAST important training aspect in getting a six pack.

Most people think there must be some magical "underground" abs exercise that is going to finally get them their six-pack after years of struggling.

The fact is, the real solution to seeing a visible six-pack is simply bringing your body fat % down to a low enough level to where the abs become visible. Most people already have a six pack hiding underneath their stomach fat and don't know it. This is generally about 10% body fat or lower for men, and about 16-18% body fat for women from my experience.

Heck, even my 7-year old nephew has a six pack… do you think he got that by doing "abs exercises"? No way! He has a six pack because his body fat % is extremely low since he's so active running around playing all day at his age.

So the most important aspect to getting visible abs is actually a properly designed full body training program, combined with good nutrition that can be maintained for life (instead of a short-term gimmick diet).

CB: For a beginner, how much focus needs to be on abs? What other exercises would you give them for fat loss?

MG:  For beginners, I generally start them off with the most basic bodyweight exercises such as bw squats, bw lunges, bw step-ups, pushups, inverted body rows, along with basic dumbbell exercises like overhead presses, rows, etc. We also work on body stabilizing exercises like planks and side planks and a few stability ball exercises to make sure they've learned to properly engage their entire "core" area in stablizing the body.

CB: What type of cardio/interval training do you use for fat loss?

MG:The programs I design are almost entirely based on high intensity resistance training instead of cardio. In fact, my resistance training workouts get people sweating and huffing and puffing much more than any boring cardio workout ever will.

The bottom line based on research as well as my personal experience… cardio is NOT necessary for fat loss! In fact, some of the leanest people I know NEVER do traditional cardio. Personally, I haven't stepped foot on a treadmill, elliptical machine, or stationary bike in about 8 years and I maintain single digit body fat year round.

Now don't get me wrong about the cardio thing… in reality, I actually work on exercises that are much tougher and more intense than traditional cardio… I prefer wind sprints, hill sprints, swimming sprints, speed rope jumping, etc to complement my resistance training… all of which are more anaerobic in nature than aerobic.

This type of training stimulates a vastly higher metabolic response in the body than steady pace cardio.

Of course, most people can't just jump right into doing wind sprints without injury until they've gotten themselves into pretty good shape first. I use various resistance training methods and interval training for most people before they are ever ready to even attempt any type of sprinting.

CB: Tell us about your favorite bodyweight exercises and how you use them in a fat loss program.

MG: I like to combine bodyweight exercises and free weight exercises into what I call "tri-sets" or "quad-sets" (aka – mini circuits). Basically, I pick 3 or 4 exercises that don't work the same body movements (non-competing) and combine them into high intensity mini-circuits for my clients.

A great example would be:

1. mountain climbers for 20-30 seconds
2. dumbbell squat & presses (combination squat then press overhead)
3. stability ball leg curl-ins
4. stability ball plank holds (a little harder than a floor plank)

This type of circuit can be done without much rest at all between exercises and we would repeat the circuit several times before moving to a new circuit. This creates a high intensity fat burning workout that works almost every muscle in the entire body.

CB: Let's turn to nutrition. What is your fat loss nutrition philosophy?

MG: I could talk about nutrition for hours and it's such a controversial subject, so I'll keep this brief…

It doesn't have to be as complicated as the "diet gurus" make it out to be. It can be a lot simpler…

1. whole, unprocessed organic foods, as close to their natural state as possible

2. High nutrient density food choices instead of nutrient deficient processed foods

3. Fruits and vegetables (lots of vegetables) as your main source of carbohydrates instead of so much reliance on grains as is so prominent in our food supply these days

4. Moderate amounts of high quality protein at each meal

5. High fiber intake to help appetite control and glycemic control (maintaining more balanced blood sugar)

6. Don't neglect healthy fat intake from nuts, seeds, organic eggs, wild fish or fish oil, virgin coconut oil and olive oils, avocados, etc (helps appetite control and hormonal balance)

Once you gain control over the aspects listed above, everything else usually works itself out in your diet… you no longer crave sweets or junk food because your body finally has all of the nutrients it needs. Another important thing that this style of eating does is that it tends to bring people naturally back to the proper amount of calories they need each day without having to attempt to count calories or anything like that.

CB: How do you address "lifestyle" with your clients to help them lose fat?

MG: One of the most important things I try to instill in my clients is that this has to become part of their lifestyle if it is ever going to work long-term. They need to make their health and fitness a priority in their life, and they must enjoy it…whether it's because they actually enjoy the actual exercise and healthy eating, or because they enjoy the feeling of strength or energy or confidence that it gives them.

CB: Give us some of your unique fat loss stories. For example, have you ever made one small change to a client's program that helped them get through a plateau? Or has a client ever responded to one form of training that surprised you? Stuff like that…

MG: I had one client a couple years ago… a guy in his early 30′s…a classic case in reality. He'd been doing the same routine for years… about an hour of cardio 5 days/week while reading the newspaper, and then he'd finish it off with a few weight machines.

He finally came to me because his body was actually getting worse despite his long workouts. I asked him to put his trust in me, and asked if he'd be willing to try something drastically different…

I asked if he would fully give up his cardio for 6 weeks and follow one of my free weight training routines instead. I actually insisted that he didn't do any cardio at all during this experimental 6 weeks of change…only weights would be allowed. This was hard for him at first as he was so accustomed to just doing all of this boring cardio because it was easy. But easy workouts don't create a better body!

The results were incredible… I think his strength improved about 30-40 lbs on almost all of his lifts during that 6 weeks while simulataneously losing about 15 lbs of body weight, and his beer belly shrunk down considerably to the point where he had to go out and buy some new pants with smaller waists.

All of this by doing LESS CARDIO and more weight training (but in high intensity fashion).

Another story… As far as clients getting new results from just a small tweak…

A few people that have been stuck at a fat loss plateau have come to me and I gave them a simple nutrition trick to try. This simple change was to start basing their last full meal of the day around just meats with lots of veggies and salad… basically, no starches with dinner, just meat and veggies.

As simple as that sounds, I've seen many people break their fat loss plateau just by implementing that into their diet. So many people think that their meals need to be based on starch like pasta or rice, but I think it's so much easier to lose fat when your meals are based around meat and vegetables instead of starch.

I could go on, but I hope that gives your readers some useful ideas for now.

CB: Thanks Mike!

Click here to see what actual users of the Truth about Six Pack Abs program are saying.

Here are common questions and answers about the Truth about Six Pack Abs program. Whether you're man or woman, young or old, workout at home or in a gym, your answers can be found above.

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Fighting Hormones with Hormones

Diet Solution Program New York's Premier Fat Loss Expert and the creator of the Final Phase Fat Loss programAs you may have heard me say before (and if you haven't, you're going to hear it now!), when you are breaking through a fat loss plateau or trying to get to the Final Phase of leanness, things get a bit murkier than they do with traditional fat loss.

Rather than dieting excessively in order to create a calorie deficit, we are now looking to enter into energy debt…and we do this with intelligently designed training protocols. That's because keeping energy intake high ensures that Leptin levels don't drop and throw another hormonal monkey wrench into the machinery.

You see, when you're getting very lean or you've hit a plateau, fat loss is not just about calories in vs. calories out. It's about your hormonal environment and the way that affects fat storage, and thereby fat loss.

When you've lost the first 20 or 30 or whatever pounds, you've lost the "easy" fat. What you'll notice about your body is that you're now holding fat specifically in your trouble areas; and those trouble areas are determined by your specific hormonal environment.

It's not just about energy debt or cardio or to a lesser extent, diet (although all of those things do factor in quite a bit, obviously). When your fat loss has stalled and you're trying to break through that wall, or when you're trying to rid yourself of those last stubborn 5-10 pounds, it's a hormonal battle.

And there is only one way to win: fight hormones with hormones.

So, let's look at the three specific hormones that cause the most common types of regional fat storage.

1. Estrogen – The female sex hormone responsible for lower body fat storage patterns.

2. Insulin – Or rather, insulin resistance. This nasty little dude heavily influences fat storage in the love handles and lower back area.

3. Cortisol – The appropriately dubbed "stress hormone" is part of the reason you've got more flab than ab.

There you have it…those are your enemies!

Now, I want to talk to you about how you can actually increase the production of other hormones through the manipulation of training methods in order to offset the above mentioned "bad" hormones.

In this corner…
Estrogen vs. Testosterone

Now that we've established estrogen is the main reason lower body fat storage occurs, we need to know how to work around that.

Well, how else would you combat estrogen but with testosterone?

To put it bluntly, when it comes to fat loss and muscle gain…

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Testosterone GOOD – Estrogen BAD

It's for that reason that professional athletes, bodybuilders, and the juicers down at the Jersey Shore use illicit steroids that are derivatives of testosterone.

Of course, that's not an option for us – and certainly not desirable.

Instead, we are going to increase testosterone levels naturally; through training. Not only will this increase the net fat-burning effect of all exercises, but more appropriate to our purposes here, it will also facilitate in getting rid of lower body fat.

I should mention something here to alleviate any concerns. It is NOT possible to produce a detrimental amount of testosterone through training. So ladies, you don't have to worry about any masculinizing effects.

Instead, training produces what we would term a "high" amount of testosterone from a physiological perspective, relative to what your body normally produces. For the guys, this means that such training will help you put on a bit more muscle – just not steroid muscle.

Got it? Okay, moving on.

At this point, I know you're thinking, "All right Roman, get to the point, what do I do?"

Great question! Well, the answer is Density Training.

Training in a way that seeks to increase training density is one of the best ways to spur your body to produce and release more testosterone, which will (obviously) help you lose that estrogen related fat storage.

Training density can be defined as the amount of work you do in a given amount of time during a training session. So, if you want to increase density, you can…

(1) Do more work (sets, reps, or both) in the same amount of time
OR
(2) Do the same amount of work and decrease the time in which you do it

However, I've come up with a method of Density Training that is specific to radical fat loss! This means that not only will you produce the testosterone necessary to mitigate your regional fat issue, but you'll also lose more fat on the whole.

Pretty cool, eh? So here is how we do it…

As an example, let's pick 3 exercises: the overhead press, the dumbbell row, and the squat.

Setting these up in a circuit fashion, you perform them one after another with little rest in between.

Sounds like just about any circuit training protocol, right?

WRONG!

Instead of having a set number of reps, we're going to be performing each of these exercises for TIME – you simply have to do as many as you can in a given time period.

To make it easy, let's say you did each of the above exercises for 30 seconds. In performing such a circuit, your results might look like this:

Overhead Press – 25 pound dumbbells for 20 reps
DB Row – 40 pound dumbbells for 18 reps
Squat – 100 pound barbell for 22 reps

Not too shabby. Now, HERE is where it gets crazy.

We're going to take advantage of some cool things that happen in the body; triggers that will make you more efficient and more capable.

So, to do that, we're going to INCREASE the weight by 10-20% and try to do MORE reps.

Does that seem impossible? It isn't.

Due to neuromuscular junction and neural activation, in almost ALL cases, you'll be able to do just that.

Your second attempt at that circuit might look like this:

Overhead Press – 30 pound dumbbells for 23 reps
DB Row – 50 pound dumbbells for 20 reps
Squat – 120 pound barbell for 25 reps

Now, I know you're having trouble believing that outcome is even possible (much less common), but I implore you, try it for yourself!

Density Training is fun, challenge-based, burns a heck of a lot of fat, and most importantly, is one of the best training modalities around for increasing testosterone production and release. And that's why training for increased workout density will help you shed stubborn lower body fat AND more fat on the whole.

Insulin Resistance vs. IGF-1

Insulin resistance is combated very nicely by a hormone called IGF-1, or Insulin-like Growth Factor One.

Producing extra IGF-1 via training will help you (and me!) improve insulin sensitivity and begin to rid ourselves of our love handles and lower back fat.

We know that insulin resistance is very common, particular in people who were previously overweight. So, if you have lost some fat and you're now struggling to lose a bit more (and that fat happens to be in your love handles), I'm willing to bet you're suffering from some degree of insulin resistance.

In order to get rid of that fat, we need to do fat burning workouts (obviously) and increase insulin sensitivity to the greatest degree that we can. As a result, we need to employ what I call Dynamic Training.

Dynamic Training is pretty much the over-arching concept of how I design fat loss training programs; it consists of using fast-paced movements to teach the body how to move more efficiently.

Because this style of training is extremely expensive in terms of energy (calorie) demand, Dynamic Training is excellent as a general fat loss modality.

Perhaps more importantly however, is the fact that utilizing these types of exercises and setting them up in a non-competing circuit fashion under the Dynamic Training umbrella is an incredible way to produce IGF-1. And doing that is one of the most effective methods to mitigate insulin sensitivity.

Take it from someone who knows!

Nothing is better for combating love handle fat than increasing insulin sensitivity – and like I said, one of the most effective ways to do that is to produce more IGF-1 through Dynamic Training.

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Cortisol vs. Growth Hormone

And now we come to our final bout of the evening–the main event, as it were.

We have touched on cortisol a bit, so I won't rehash that too much. Suffice it to say that the higher your cortisol levels are, the more fat you're going to be storing on your belly. Given that fact, it stands to reason that if you store fat primarily in the abdominal region, you're a victim of high cortisol.

Never fear, though: Growth Hormone is here!

Also known as the "Fountain of Youth", growth hormone is the single most effective compound your body can produce to affect both fat loss and muscle gain. The more of it you produce, the faster you'll lose fat and build muscle. It's just as simple as that.

Now, in addition to that awesome little fact, growth hormone is going to whoop cortisol's butt AND help you burn belly fat.

Also, you've probably heard that one of the ways to reduce your cortisol levels is to get more sleep. That's something you hear on nearly all of the medical TV shows. What you don't hear is the reason.

You see, sleeping is one of the main ways by which your body produces growth hormone. In other words, while you're sleeping, it's your body's primary opportunity to produce growth hormone. And, as I stated previously, growth hormone is one of the main hormones that reduces the effects of cortisol.

So, sleep more and you'll produce more GH! Produce more GH and you'll have less cortisol! Therefore, sleeping more, results in lower cortisol levels. Got it?

Of course, I'm not suggesting you can just sleep your way past a fat loss plateau (although getting more sleep does help). I'm merely illustrating the relationship between cortisol and growth hormone.

Which leads us to the production of growth hormone as it relates to training…

While nearly all forms of exercise produce both growth hormone and cortisol, some types are better than others.

For example, cortisol is heavily produced in long duration cardio sessions. But let's not do that.

Instead, we're going to utilize a style of training that produces more growth hormone…Lactic Acid Training (in order to get to the growth hormone, you must first produce lactic acid).

By definition, lactic acid is a by-product of the chemical reactions that take place during exercise. This substance is wildly irritating to the nerves, and your body responds. Think of lactic acid as a type of oil…igniting fires as it flows through you. Your body will put those fires out by dousing them with soothing, cooling growth hormone.

Okay, maybe I'm being a little simplistic with my metaphor, but it gives you a general idea.

In any event, we must structure training to produce the most lactic acid possible. And because lactic acid is primarily produced in the concentric (positive) phase of anaerobic exercise, we will extend that period, and decrease the eccentric period.

What that means is that we lift the weight very, very slowly. And then we lower it very, very quickly so that we can have a fast turn around.

As an example, if you're doing a squat, you'll descend to the bottom of the squat very quickly (drop down fast, but still controlling the weight somewhat) and then lift the weight sloooowly, oh so sloooowly – over a period of 4-6 seconds.

This will create tremendous amounts of lactic acid, which will in turn send GH production into overdrive.

Now, I must mention that training in this way necessitates the use of lighter weights than you would normally use on any given exercise. Therefore, if you're interested in Lactic Acid Training, I suggest you reduce the weight you'd use on any exercise by about 30% in order to be both safe and effective.

With traditional training methods, you'd lift the weight pretty quickly and lower it slowly. Here we're doing the opposite, in order to produce the most lactic acid possible…which will then lead to a corresponding increase in the production of growth hormone.

This will result in not only reducing cortisol, but also reducing cortisol related fat storage in your belly. And on top of it all, it's great for fat loss in general!

To learn more about John Romaniello's Final Phase Fat Loss, click here.

Health And Fitness Is Not A 12-Week Program

Not long ago, one of the members of my health club poked her head in my office for some advice. Linda was a 46 year old mother of two, and she had been a member for over a year. She had been working out sporadically, with (not surprisingly), sporadic results. On that particular day, she seemed to have enthusiasm and a twinkle in her eye that I hadn't seen before.

"I want to enter a before and after fitness contest called the "12 week body transformation challenge." I could win money and prizes and even get my picture in a magazine."

"I want to lose THIS", she continued, as she grabbed the body fat on her stomach. "Do you think it's a good idea?"

Linda was not "obese," she just had the typical "moderate roll" of abdominal body fat and a little bit of thigh/hip fat that many forty-something females struggle with.

"I think it's a great idea," I reassured her. "Competitions are great for motivation. When you have a deadline and you dangle a "carrot" like that prize money in front of you, it can keep you focused and more motivated than ever."

Linda was eager and rarin' to go. "Will you help me? I have this enrollment kit and I need my body fat measured."

"No problem," I said as I pulled out my Skyndex fat caliper, which is used to measure body fat percentage with a "pinch an inch" test.

When I finished, I read the results to her from the caliper display: "Twenty-seven percent. Room for improvement, but not bad; it's about average for your age group."

She wasn't overjoyed at being 'average'. "Yeah, but it's not good either. Look at THIS," she complained as again she grabbed a handful of stomach fat. "I want to get my body fat down to 19%, I heard that was a good body fat level."

I agreed that 19% was a great goal, but told her it would take a lot of work because average fat loss is usually about a half a percent a week, or six percent in twelve weeks. Her goal, to lose eight percent in twelve weeks was ambitious.

She smiled and insisted, "I'm a hard worker. I can do it"

Indeed she was and indeed she did. She was a machine! Not only did she never miss a day in the gym, she trained HARD. Whenever I left my office and took a stroll through the gym, she was up there pumping away with everything she had. She told me her diet was the strictest it had ever been in her life and she didn't cheat at all. I believed her, and it started to show, quickly.

Each week she popped into my office to have her body fat measured again, and each week it went down, down, down. Consistently she lost three quarters of a percent per week – well above the average rate of fat loss – and on two separate occasions, I recall her losing a full one percent body fat in just seven days.

Someone conservative might have said she was overtraining, but when we weighed her and calculated her lean body mass, we saw that she hadn't lost ANY muscle – only fat. Her results were simply exceptional!

She was ecstatic, and needless to say, her success bred more success and she kept after it like a hungry tiger for the full twelve weeks.

On week twelve, day seven, she showed up in my office for her final weigh-in and body fat measurement. She was wearing a pair of formerly tight blue jeans and they were FALLING OFF her!

"Look, look, look," she repeated giddily as she tugged at her waistband, which was now several inches too large.

As I took her body fat, I have to say, I was impressed. She hadn't just lost a little fat, she was "RIPPED!"

During week twelve she dropped from 18% to 17% body fat, for a grand total of 10% body fat lost in three months. She surpassed her goal of 19% by two percent. I was now even more impressed, because not many people lose that much body fat in three months.

You should have seen her! She started jumping up and down for joy like she was on a pogo stick! She was beaming… grinning from ear to ear! She practically knocked me over as she jumped up and gave me a hug – "Thank you, thank you, thank you!"

"Don't thank me," I said, "You did it, I just measured your body fat."

She thanked me again anyway and then said she had to go have her "after" pictures taken.

Then something very, very strange happened. She stopped coming to the gym. Her "disappearance" was so abrupt, I was worried and I called her. She never picked up, so I just left messages.

No return phone call.

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It was about four months later when I finally saw Linda again. The giddy smile was gone, replaced with a sullen face, a droopy posture and a big sigh when I said hello and asked where she'd been.

"I stopped working out after the contest… and I didn't even win."

"You looked like a winner to me, no matter what place you came in" I insisted, "but why did you stop, you were doing so well!"

"I don't know, I blew my diet and then just completely lost my motivation. Now look at me, my weight is right back where I started and I don't even want to know my body fat."

"Well, I'm glad to see you back in here again. Write down some new goals for yourself and remember to think long term too. Twelve week goals are important, but fitness isn't 12 week program you know, it's a lifestyle – you have to do it every day, for the rest of your life."

She nodded her head and finished her workout, still with a defeated look on her face. Unfortunately, she never again come anywhere near the condition she achieved for that competition, and for the rest of the time she was a member at our club, she slipped right back into the sporadic on and off workout pattern.

Linda was not an isolated case. I've seen the same thing happen with countless men and women of all ages and fitness levels from beginners to competitive bodybuilders. In fact, it happens to millions of people who "go on" diets, lose a lot of weight, then quickly "go off" the diet and gain the weight right back.

What causes people to burn so brightly with enthusiasm and motivation and then burn out just as quickly? Why do so many people succeed brilliantly in the short term but fail 95 out of 100 times in the long term? Why do so many people reach their fitness goals but struggle to maintain them?

The answer is simple: Health and fitness is for life, not for "12 weeks."

You can avoid the on and off, yo-yo cycle of fitness ups and downs. You can get in great shape and stay in great shape. You can even get in shape and keep getting in better and better shape year after year, but it's going to take a very different philosophy than most people subscribe to. The seven tips below will guide you.

These guidelines are quite contrary to the quick fix philosophies prevailing in the weight loss and fitness world today. Applying them will take patience, discipline and dedication and they will put you in the minority. Just remember, the only thing worse than getting no results is getting great results and losing them.

1) Don't "go on" diets. When you "go on" a diet, the underlying assumption is that at some point you have to "go off" it. This isn't just semantics, it's one of the primary reasons most diets fail. By definition, a "diet" is a temporary and often drastic change in your eating behaviors and/or a severe restriction of calories or food, which is ultimately, not maintainable. If you reach your goal, the diet is officially "over" and then you "go off" (returning to the way you used to eat). Health and fitness is not temporary; it's not a "diet." It's something you do every day of your life. Unless you approach nutrition from a "habits" and "lifestyle" perspective, you're doomed from the start.

2) Eat the same healthy foods consistently, all year round. Permanent fat loss is best achieved by eating mostly the same types of foods all year round. Naturally, you should include a wide variety of healthy foods so you get the full spectrum of nutrients you need, but there should be consistency, month in, month out. When you want to lose body fat, there's no dramatic change necessary – you don't need to eat totally different foods – it's a simple matter of eating less of those same healthy foods and exercising more.

3) Have a plan for easing into maintenance. Let's face it – sometimes a nutrition program needs to be more strict than usual. For example, peaking for a bodybuilding, figure, fitness or transformation challenge contest requires an extremely strict regimen that's different than the rest of the year. As a rule, the stricter your nutrition program, the more you must plan ahead and the more time you must allow for a slow, disciplined transition into maintenance. Failure to plan for a gradual transition will almost always result in a huge binge and a very rapid, hard fall "off the wagon."

4) Focus on changing daily behaviors and habits one or two at a time. Rather than making huge, multiple changes all at once, focus on changing one or two habits/behaviors at a time. Most psychologists agree that it takes about 21 days of consistent effort to replace an old bad habit with a new positive one. As you master each habit, and it becomes as ingrained into your daily life as brushing your teeth, then you simply move on to the next one. That would be at least 17 new habits per year. Can you imagine the impact that would have on your health and your life? This approach requires patience, but the results are a lot more permanent than if you try to change everything in one fell swoop. This is also the least intimidating way for a beginner to start making some health-improving changes to their lifestyle.

5) Make goal setting a lifelong habit. Goal setting is not a one-time event, it's a process that never ends. For example, if you have a 12 week goal to lose 6% bodyfat, what are you going to do after you achieve it? Lose even more fat? Gain muscle? What's next? On week 13, day 1, if you have no direction and no long term goal to keep you going, you'll have nothing to keep you from slipping back into old patterns. Every time you achieve a short term goal (daily, weekly and 12 week goals), you must set another one. Having short term goals means that you are literally setting goals continuously and never stopping.

6) Allow a reasonable time frame to reach your goal. It's important to set deadlines for your fitness and weight loss goals. It's also important to set big, ambitious goals, but you must allow a reasonable time frame for achieving them. Time pressure is often the motivating force that helps people get in the best shape of their lives. But when the deadline is unrealistic for a particular goal (like 30 pounds in 30 days), then crash dieting or other extreme measures are often taken to get there before the bell. The more rapidly you lose weight, the more likely you are to lose muscle and the faster the weight will come right back on afterwards. Start sooner. Don't wait until mid-May to think about looking good for summer.

7) Extend your time perspective. Successful people in every field always share one common character trait: Long term time perspective. Some of the most successful Japanese technology and manufacturing companies have 100 year and even 250-year business plans. If you want to be successful in maintaining high levels of fitness, you must set long term goals: One year, Ten years, Even fifty years! You also must consider what the long term consequences might be as a result of using any "radical" diet, training method or ergogenic aid. The people who had it but lost it are usually the ones who failed to think long term or acknowledge future consequences. It's easy for a 21 year old to live only for today, and it may even seem ridiculous to set 25 year goals, but consider this: I've never met a 40 or 60 year old who didn't care about his or her health and appearance, but I have met 40 or 60 year olds who regretted not caring 25 years ago.

Burn The Fat, Feed the Muscle (BFFM) is a fat loss program which acknowledges the simple truth that going "on diets," entering "Fitness challenges" or competing in "Transformation contests" without having long term goals and a lifestyle attitude, is a recipe for failure. Don't let yourself be part of the latest fitness dropout statistics: visit the Burn The Fat website for more details on how to change your lifestyle… and keep the change!

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