Let me ask you a question…when was the last time you felt stressed out? From everyday annoyances to major catastrophes, stress is something that – whether we like it or not – affects us all. Stress is a major factor behind just about any health issue.
As Joshua Rosenthal (founder of the Institute for Integrative Nutrition) says, it doesn’t matter how healthy a person eats if they’re stressed out all the time. The key is learning how to manage and navigate the bumps in the road to minimize the impact – and to also realize the impact stress has on the gut.
By definition, stress is any type of physical, mental, or emotional factor that causes tension in the body. This tension causes chemical, physical, and behavioral changes. Stress is what initiates the body’s “fight-or-flight response”.
There are two types of stress. Mental and physical. Mental stress is the psychological experience of distress, which occurs as the result of how a person perceives their internal or external environment. It can include negative thoughts, worry, anxiety, and overwhelming emotions. Physical stress refers to physiological distress that originates in the body, which can include food intolerances, toxins, pollutants, intense workouts, injuries, poor sleep, and childbirth.
Stress sets off our sympathetic nervous system. That, in turn, slows down digestion and the flow of food. The parasympathetic nervous system, which controls digestion, slows to a halt.
Can we all see why this is problematic? Chronic stress wrecks havoc on our GI tract, which inhabits most of our immune system and 90% of our cells, which are bacterial. The good bacteria dies; the bad bacteria thrives; gut dysbiosis occurs leading to a host of issues. Some we night not even realize have anything to do with being totally stressed out!
10 consequences of chronic stress:
Increased belly fat
Food intolerances and allergies
Elevated blood sugar levels
An altered microbiome
Increased acid reflux, indigestion, GERD, and ulcers
Intensified IBS symptoms
Increased risk of developing small-bowel intestinal overgrowth, or SIBO
Experience any of the above?
What can we DO about it? Here are my top five suggestions around taking stress out of the equation, at least while eating, so our body can rest and digest.
1. Leave any problems behind. Forget about work or school for just a short period.
2. Create mindful awareness. Chew slowly and thoroughly.
3. Express gratitude. You have healthy food at your fingertips.
4. Dine in pleasant surroundings. This time of year - al fresco is best!
5. Eat without distraction. Put the phone down. Turn the TV off. If the kids are crazy during dinnertime, wait until they are in bed!
Psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor, Viktor Frankl, once said, “Between stimulus and thought, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response.” In our practice, Dr. Massa and I recommend a high quality supplement that helps with our bodies stress response increasing dopamine and seratonin.
Sources and Additional Reading:
Amare Global, 2018
Institute for Integrative Nutrition, 2018