Anti-Stress Eating Strategies
We’ve looked at some stressors you may not have considered such as negative self-attack and also what the stress response does in the body particularly in relation to weight. The stress and relaxation responses are some of the most powerful drivers of your nutritional health, natural weight and appetite, and a healthy relationship with food. So how can we promote relaxation response instead of stress response around food.
If you are living a stressed life you are likely eating in a stressed way. Eating under stress will lessen every good, positive thing you do in relation to nutrition. Stressed eating is so common and yet it is the most powerful place you can effect a change in your health and nutritional status.
Eating in a slow, relaxed way is probably the hardest thing to do for many people and yet the single biggest victory you can have for nutritional metabolism. Many of us are fast eaters but when we eat fast we put the body into a stress response and create stress chemistry.
Stress chemistry signals your body to hold onto weight.
Every time you eat too fast you create a stress response in the body, you don’t digest your food properly, metabolism slows, cortisol and insulin levels increase AND you are not aware of how much you are eating because you’ve lost your sense of appetite regulation.
As we train ourselves to slow down with food we also train our body to be in the relaxation response. Interestingly the stress hormone cortisol also affects our sense of time and causes us to speed up with everything. As we slow down we also have to face our frenetic pace of life, our culture is addicted to speed, busy is the new cool. Many people have a fear of slowing down. But the chances are if you are eating too fast, you are also doing life too fast.
Slowing your eating is a huge improvement because it means you eat with more awareness and presence so you can tune into your body wisdom.
If you love food then why would you scarf it down super-fast in front of the tv? Wouldn’t you rather savour and relish it? Or maybe slowing down with your food might give yourself a chance to notice that you don’t actually really like the taste of those cookies. If your workplace doesn’t encourage a proper lunch break question how sacrificing your body is going to make you more productive.
Be awake at the plate.
This refers to meal timing and the natural pulse cycles of the body through the day and how they affect the nutrition process.
For many people today they have highly erratic eating schedules including meal skipping. This may be intentional as part of chronic dieting and calorie deprivation or it may be due to intense work schedules. Often people skip breakfast, sometimes even lunch. Then they are ravenous in the afternoon leading to snacking, huge evening meals and evening snacking. Dinner is often the first time in the day a person can relax but if throughout the rest of the day you have not had enough nutrition – and the body keeps score – the brain is just going to scream “HUNGRY” leading to overeating and continuous night time snacking just at the time that the body’s metabolism is slowing down ready for bedtime. In fact, the bulk of our calories should happen in the first half of the day when our metabolic power is highest.
Correcting eating rhythm takes time if you have got into the habit of skipping meals but you have to focus on:
- breakfast at a regular time and it should contain protein and healthy fat
- snacks and lunch at regular times with protein and healthy fat
- maybe an afternoon snack can help to regulate evening appetite
- small, early dinner (by evening time we are less protein hungry so a lighter meal is fine)
If there is a good breakfast and lunch with a healthy macronutrient balance it is far less likely that you will feel the need to eat a huge dinner or snack all night.
Nourishment means so much more than just the nutrients in your food. Things that nourish make us happy to be here, they sustain us, they “feed” us on many levels. If you are not happy to be here you have no reason to take care of yourself. Many non-food things can nourish us – people, places, things, hobbies.
We can eat good food and not be nourished if we eat in a stressed state, or see food as just fuel and an inconvenient use of time. If something feels nourishing to you then it probably is nutritional to you – of course that means tuning into your body wisdom, nobody is suggesting you could live on cookies and cotton-candy.
For food nourishment choose the best quality food you can afford and focus on nutrient dense, alive food that is low in toxins. We often overeat because the food we are choosing is nutrient deficient so it does not nourish us and the body screams “HUNGRY”. Sometimes choosing the best quality food you can afford may mean rethinking your priorities.
Nourishment should be felt all over the body. We tend to focus food just to the sensations of the tongue but when we limit sensation to just one part of the body it we forget the rest of our body.
If you are not getting nourishment in other areas of life it can be easy to become attached to food.
Of course pleasure in food, but also in all parts of life. As humans we have created a complicated relationship with pleasure, with many mixed messages around pleasure that can create shame and guilt. We can have deep seated fears around pleasure, somehow it will harm us or it is bad. We make sub-conscious moral judgements about pleasure.
But, as humans, we are also hard-wired to receive pleasure and avoid pain. Pleasure actually changes brain and body chemistry, helps us feel satisfied and drives digestion, appetite regulation and calorie burning capacity.
The body chemicals associated with pleasure are the endorphins and they are notably produced in the brain and the digestive system. Just eating raises endorphin levels – eating is a pleasurable experience because our biochemistry designed us that way. But endorphins are not only chemicals of pleasure, they also stimulate fat mobilisation, they make you feel good but they also burn body fat. The more endorphin release in your digestive tract the more blood and oxygen is delivered to help with digestion and calorie burning.
This doesn’t mean eating junk food will be ok as long as you get pleasure, again it is listening to your body wisdom. But we have to learn a new relationship with pleasure because the chemistry of pleasure is designed to fuel metabolism. If we fail to feel the pleasure the brain will keep nagging to return to a missed experience. Pleasure is a psycho-biological nutritional requirement.
If you eat things because they are good for you but you don’t like them or if you have simply banished pleasure because you don’t think it’s necessary, or you’re afraid of it, then you are likely not doing yourself any nutritional favours. If you are terrified of eating dessert and gaining weight you will generate more cortisol, numb pleasure and create a stress response – and create a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Pleasure promotes a relaxation response in the body. In relaxation we have the optimal state for digestion, assimilation of nutrients, and calorie burning.
This is the approximate ratio of protein, fat and carbohydrates in the diet. Fibre and water are also considered by some to be macronutrients. Overhauling your macronutrient balance is a basic, easy way to make simple, doable nutritional shifts that can create immediate results. Many popular diets tweak and play around with macronutrient ratios – but you have to explore, play and tune into your own body wisdom about what works for you. Don’t get stressed out over percentages and calories.
In our western culture, we have tended to become over reliant on poor quality carbohydrates. We get our carbohydrates from processed, refined foods such as chips, cookies, muffins, white bread and rice rather than vegetables, whole grains, beans and legumes. Carbohydrates are not created equally – an apple will behave very differently in your body to a muffin.
Too little protein in the diet can contribute to inability to lose weight. But don’t just focus on quantity, the quality of the protein is equally important. We often rely on soy protein and poor quality meats and cheeses but try to include good quality organic fish, meats, free range eggs, nuts and seeds, tofu and tempeh and nut butters in your diet for good protein sources. Better a small quantity of good quality protein than large amounts of poor quality protein.
Too little essential fatty acids (EFAs) in the diet can actually lead to weight gain and inability to lose it, as well as many other symptoms throughout the body including dry skin, brittle hair, mood and memory issues to name a few. Include healthy sources of fat in your diet from things like avocado, olive oil, nuts, seeds, eggs, coconut, sesame oil, coconut oil, salmon, sardines and nut butters. Always make sure your oils are organic if possible and that your nuts and seeds are fresh. Including healthy fat in your diet may require you to address toxic dietary beliefs you hold about fat.
It is not enough to focus just on the food you are eating. You have to consider who you are as an eater. What is your emotional state? How much stress are you operating from? And we need to begin to let go of some of those self-chosen stressors that hold us back metabolically such as negative self-talk and self-attack, those toxic dietary beliefs and the eternal quest for perfection. It is time to grow and mature.