Over the past week, I dealt with an unexpected and stressful situation in which I really noticed the affect of stress on my body. My digestion and eating rhythm were off and my hunger pangs were out of whack or non-existent. Thankfully, I didn’t have the urge to binge.
It was that situation that inspired this week’s blog because I experienced first hand how stress affects the body, specifically digestion and eating. The negative affects of stress on the body are well documented and include: headache, fatigue, sleep interruptions, chest pain, and stomach aches (Mayoclinic.org). But did you know that stress has a negative affect on the digestive system, decreases metabolism and can lead to weight gain? These are the little known symptoms of stress!
So, what happens when you eat under stress? Here are some of the common biochemical burdens of stress on the body (David 35):
- Decreased Nutrient Absorption.
- Increased Nutrient Excretion (usually as urinary loss).
- Increased Blood Cholesterol.
- Increased Cortisol (usually associated with weight gain, abdominal obesity and inability to lose weight).
- Decreased Gut Flora (healthy bacteria in your gut that aid in digestion).
- Decreased Oxygen Supply.
- Decreased Thermic Efficiency (this means calorie burning, folks!).
- Decreased Thyroid Hormone (decreases metabolic activity).
- Increased Erratic Function of Lower Esophageal Sphincter (causes heartburn).
- Increased Insulin Resistance (a factor in diabetes, weight gain, heart disease and aging).
The list goes on but you get the idea! In a nutshell, eating under stress, anxiety or duress causes physiological reactions that impede digestion, nutrient absorption (causing possible malnutrition) and weight gain. Wow…who knew?
What does it mean to eat under stress? Eating too fast, eating while distracted (at your desk, while watching TV, etc.), and eating under an anxious or stressed out mood are considered stressful conditions during mealtimes.
With a little practice, you can overcome eating under stress the majority of the time. Here’s what you can do:
- When you sit down to eat, ask yourself, “Am I eating under stress?” If you are, take 5-10 deep cleansing breaths before you start eating. This accomplishes a couple of things, physiologically, to decrease stress. One, carotid bodies (clumps of nerve tissue containing chemical receptors) are fooled into thinking that blood pressure is rising and they signal a message for blood vessels to dilate, which causes an overall drop in blood pressure and diminishment of the stress response. Two, slow, deep breathing has been shown to increase endorphin release in the body, producing a sense of relaxation and well-being (David 35).
- Eat in a pleasurable environment. Light candles, set the table with the fancy dishes, eat with people who nourish your mind, heart and soul, hold conversation that is free of negativity and use eating as a time to let go of worries (at least for the duration of the meal!).
- Be mindful. Focusing on what you are doing in the moment (in this case eating) allows you to let go of those worries I mention above!
Thankfully, my stressful situation has been resolved and was not life-threatening but I will use this post as my own reminder to slow down when I eat. After all, I want to be nourished, healthy and well on my way to a well-oiled metabolism!
Reference: David, M; The Slow Down Diet; pp. 16-42; 2005.