Food Sensitivity or Food Stress?

Today I wanted to talk about something that has come up quite a bit lately with my clients and that is the impact of stress on our digestive system (and really, overall health)! Everyone is more stressed than usual, and we have been for the last year and a half, simply with the state of the world around us. So, for a lot of people they are noticing more digestive issues, exhaustion, not sleeping as well, etc, etc. We naturally want to try and figure out what’s going on when we are not feeling our best and food is such an easy scapegoat for that.

When your stress levels are high, your sympathetic nervous system is activated. Your sympathetic nervous system is known as “fight or flight” mode, which is something you’ve likely heard before. If not, essentially it’s a term to describe being in a state ready to fight or flee, much like our ancestors had to when they were being chased by a bear, for example. In the world we live in now, this system activates when we perceive a threat. A lot of these perceived threats are simply found on social media, articles we are reading, beliefs we are adopting, etc. So, obviously, with these types of threats, we don’t necessarily need to have the adrenaline to fight or flee, right? We need to be able to learn how to calm our nervous system in these moments by activating our parasympathetic nervous system – which is in charge of our “rest and digest” mode. See when you are in a state of stress, or “fight or flight”, your body is prioritizing saving you from the perceived threat and as such, it puts other bodily functions, such as digestion, on the back burner. In order to help improve your digestion during these times, it’s important to find ways to activate your parasympathetic nervous system more.

Let’s look at this in terms of dieting and food rules that you may have come to believe in the past. If you believe that a certain food is inherently bad for you and that you should limit or avoid it, then it can induce stress by eating it. Do you know the guilty feelings that you experience after eating certain foods? That’s inducing stress. Over time, this can actually lead to feeling as though you have an intolerance or sensitivity to these certain foods. I mean, if every time you eat it you notice digestive discomfort, then that’s a fair conclusion to come to! The other thing that happens when we are stressed out and eating, is that we tend to not properly chew our food which of course, will also lead to digestive issues.

I also, do just want to mention that I am in no way trying to negate any food sensitivities or intolerances that you may have, but I’m just saying that for a lot of people it’s the stress around eating these foods that cause them issues, not the food in and of itself!

So how do you deal with this? One of the best things that you can do is to ensure that you are as relaxed as possible when you are eating. There are a few techniques to activate your parasympathetic nervous system (the “rest and digest” mode) and one of the simplest ways is practicing deep breathing exercises. Deep breathing and especially long and slow exhales, directly help to calm down the nervous system. Practice a variety of stress-reducing exercises and, before you eat, make sure to slow your breathing first. While eating, become more mindful about properly chewing your food (until it’s a fine paste) and eating more slowly, while enjoying the meal. I know this isn’t always possible for every meal, but even to start practicing this once a day will have benefits!

Give it a try and let me know how that goes for you!

Food Sensitivity or Food Stress?

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