Whether it’s a bag of popcorn or chips, a fancy flavored latte from your favorite coffee shop or a chocolate bar, most of us have some predictable favorite snack go-to’s when we are feeling stressed. We may find that in addition to stress eating, we are also good at boredom eating, distracted eating and social eating. If stress-eating resonates with you, let’s talk! We now know SO much about the body’s reaction to stress and therefore can understand better our cravings, food choices and our body’s ability to utilize the food we eat when under stress.
Stress messes with our digestion in a BIG way!
Stress decreases enzyme activity, which means our food breaks down differently when we eat feeling frazzled, compared to when we are feeling calm! The majority of our digestive issues can be linked to deficiencies that exist somewhere in the 30 feet (yes, our GI tract is that long) known as our digestive system.
Eating in “fight or flight mode” changes everything.
Enzymes that aid in the breakdown of food, peristalsis (contractions that propel food along the digestive tract) and even the stomach lining (mucosa) itself are weakened with stress. This means that nutrient breakdown and absorption are impaired when our nervous system is all geared up. And these are just a few of the things that change with our food digestion when we are emotionally charged at mealtime.
Feel good chemicals are for real.
Study after study have shown us that high-fat, high-calorie foods affect the brain in much the same way as cocaine and heroin. When our brain produces “feel good” chemicals such as dopamine and serotonin, we experience less pain, more energy and mental alertness and we feel happier. The reward circuits in the brain release chemicals that satisfy and comfort, making it easy to return to the foods that provide us this pleasurable experience.
Do you believe you have the ability to restore your health, strength, or a feeling of well-being???
Hopefully the answer is YES. Practicing mindfulness relating to our food, relationships, schedule, environment, etc. IT ALL MATTERS when it comes to improving our health.
Some immediate steps to take to improve our mindfulness as it relates to our food:
1. Ask yourself an important question before that first bite. Am I hungry? If the answer is no, find a stress relieving activity that will allow some positive endorphins to flow. Hello squats, brisk walks, jumping jacks, wall push ups, etc. Get moving and you’ll feel better.
2. Set your system up success with some deep breathing (even 5 deep breaths can affect your nervous system positively), which will lower the stress hormones that impair digestion.
3. Remove distractions while eating. While removing our kiddos from mealtime may not be feasible, we can remove our computers, smart phones and other tech gadgets that make it all to easy to overeat or miss the enjoyment/fulfillment that should come from our meals.
4. Sit down while eating (yes, even you momma!). Give thanks for your food and take a moment to look, smell and appreciate what you are about to consume.
5. Chew food well, even liquids. The mechanical breakdown of the food we eat helps set the digestion up for success.
6. Save liquids for outside of mealtime. We want to keep the digestive enzymes working to their fullest potential, so drink lightly during mealtime and reserve the bulk of the hydration for outside of meal time.
7. Put away the scale and practice POSITIVE SELF TALK. Put up sticky notes on your mirror, in your car, as a background on your laptop, on the fridge, in the closet….basically, wherever negative thoughts repetitively creep in!
8. Ditch the scale and free yourself from the worry and other negative emotions that often come from that number on that device. There are lots of useful ways to measure health outside of our weight.
9. Avoid an “all or nothing” mentality with your diet. By swearing off our favorite foods, we often bring attention to them even more so, which means we are likely going to devour them when our stress is high.
10. Practice checking in with your body before, during and after meal time. Tune in to the body cues before the first bite, mid-way through the meal and before having seconds….check in on your satisfaction to avoid feeling too full after mealtime. If you desire more help on practicing mindful eating or learning how to improve your body’s stress response and therefore digestion, I’d love a chance to meet you. Developing deeper connections and better awareness of our habits and food practices is my passion!
Haley Vilhauer, RDN, CD & the VWS Team
Registered Dietitian & Functional Nutritionist