Whole Body Nutrition Blog
The Science of Becoming Super Human
Stress is a complex process involving individual resources and vulnerabilities as well as our environment.
We can create our own stress, we can have genetic reasons for stress, illnesses which cause us stress, or we may be living in a stressful environment. Some of these stressors can affect us more than others.
Psychological, behavioral, and physiological adaptations to survival requirements are necessary for an individual’s capacity to adapt. In other words, not all stress is bad, but too much for too long can wreck our physiology. Chronic stress is referred to as Allostatic Load (AL). It results in the “wear and tear” of the adaptive regulatory systems resulting in biological alterations that weaken stress adaptive processes and increase the risk of disease susceptibility. Have you ever worried yourself sick over something, like actually getting a cold or caused yourself GI issues? This is one example of how stress can change our physiology. Chronic dietary imbalances, for example, consuming the typical American diet that is high in “bad” trans fats, fried fast food, and refined sugars that leads to excessive weight gain will affect physiological performance due to it promoting chronic low-inflammation that is detrimental for both your physical and mental status. The consequence of that diet is increased pro-inflammatory cytokines, such as IL-6, which leads to increased hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA-) axis activity and promotes chronic stress. How high is your Allostatic Load?
Here is a shortlist of eating stressors:
Eating too much or too little
Eating late at night
Eating the wrong foods
Eating while multitasking (driving, in meetings, moving around, etc.)
Eating on the go
Not chewing food enough
Eating foods that stress your body (gluten, dairy, sugar, peanuts, nightshades, etc.)
So, what can you do?
Actually stopping and eating. Allow yourself time in your busy schedule to stop, breathe for 5 minutes, and then eat. We have trained ourselves that taking time to eat is wasting time and that we should be doing something while we eat or we are not productive. Mindlessly eating creates stress in the body and can lead to inflammation and weight gain. It is okay to take time to eat during the day and to be present with your food. That healthy salad or chicken and broccoli that is in front of you can cause weight gain because you are eating in a stressed-out state of being.
Metabolic Flexibility varies from person to person. We can observe this when we see that one person may be able to skip meals and lose weight wherewith another person it can actually cause weight gain. I see this most often in women. We are taught by certain diets out there only to eat 500-700 calories to lose weight. Wrong! That might work temporarily in some people, but it does not work long term for anyone. Starving yourself is not the answer and will cause stress in the body. We have also been taught to grab a bar of some sort like a protein bar or granola bar. These are not satisfying, and people usually eat two or three to feel “full.” By eating more than one bar, a person could have had an entire NUTRITIOUS meal that gave the body a balance of vitamins and minerals and kept you full until the next meal instead of experiencing a carbohydrate high like the bar gave you.
Intermittent fasting can be a great way to lose weight and get hunger cravings under control. Your body cannot be in a high-stress state when you are trying this, or it will lead to weight gain. Hormonal signals that are activated when you eat, such as ghrelin and other gut peptides activated by fasting or feeding, act differently in each of us and are important regulators of energy balance. This is where a Nutrition Coach can help you devise a plan of getting your stress under control and how to use intermittent fasting to your benefit.
Stress can be perceived or non-perceived. Sometimes we do not realize we are stressed. We excuse it as busyness. The increased amount of perceived stress experienced by individuals in modern society affects food choices. A recent study showed that sadness favored eating a high fat/sweet, hedonically rewarding foods, whereas food choices during a happy state favored dried fruit. The basis for this behavior and others that lead to obesity are slowly becoming understood. They include cortical and subcortical pathways that involve learning and memory of reward and pleasure, as well as habit formation and decreased cognitive control. Just like when we learn to ride a bike as children and not ride one for years only to pick it back up as we never stopped, we can create food and mood memories in the brain where we choose certain foods based on our mood. Elevated stress hormones, along with palatable food intake, may serve as feedback signals that reduce perceived stress, thus reinforcing stress-induced feeding behavior.
You may not be able to get out of stressful situations immediately, but we can reduce stress by mindfully eating a whole foods diet, significantly reducing snacking throughout the day, practicing gratitude, and utilizing mindful breathing techniques. Our breath is one way we can tell our bodies that we are okay and we need not stress. Shallow fast breathing tells our bodies that we are being chased by a lion, and we need blood flow to go to all of our extremities so we can “fight or flight”. This is the way most of us spend our days that ultimately causes us stress. If you can train your body to take deep belly breaths then you can automatically reduce the stress your body feels. There are many programs that show you how to use your breath to tell the body to remain calm. I use the 4-7-8 method (watch this video) and heart-rate variability training with my clients. When a person cuts us off in traffic while we are eating a fast-food burger and ketchup falls on our shirt, we lose our s**t saying words that would make mom blush. We can use our breath to recover from that and other stressful events. Breathwork is super cheap and easy to practice and can be one of the most valuable tools available to us that can help us to reduce our stress.
Look out for follow-up blog posts about other ways that we can reduce our stress levels and stress-factors!
Consultations are always FREE. If you are interested in personalized Nutritional and or Epigenetics Coaching or if you have questions regarding your health and how it may be affecting your life goals please feel free to reach out to me by filling out the contact form below. It’s time to stop suffering and to start thriving!
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