Stressed out? Does it influence the way you eat, or vice versa? Usually, it’s both. A vicious cycle. When your diet is unbalanced, it takes the mind out of balance, and when your mind is out of balance, it effects your eating habits. This is what stress does to most us, often making us crave foods that are higher in fats, sugars or salts. Whether you start reaching for comforting foods to blow off steam, or skip meals because you are too tense to eat, stress can take you out of your natural rhythms in very unhelpful ways.
THE STRESSED MIND-BODY.
Our intertwined body and mind are strongly linked to our hormones. Stress spikes adrenalin and cortisol, which can effect our blood sugar (glucose), our appetite (leptin), as well as our mood (serotonin, oxytocin), and even reproductive organs (menstrual cycle, estrogen, testosteron). Hormones are the physical manifestations of how we feel, think and act. To cope with stress, we can regulate them from different arenas, such as regular exercise, sleep, rest, our breathing, and of course: our diet.
THE SWEET SPOT.
Homeostasis is a state of perfect hormonal balance in the body. Naturally, this equilibrium comes with its own state of mind. This is one of the ways our mind-body connection shows up. Arguably, if we would live in this natural state, our bodies would take on their natural form too, meaning at the weight that is most natural and therefore probably most healthy. No factors like thoughts, emotions, busy-ness, stress would have us under- or overeat, because no hormonal misbalance would cause it.
This neutral space in the body and mind, is where you want to operate from, to help you reach your natural state and weight in peace. Here's a few tips how:
1. Peace of mind. Ideally you would meditate before every meal, but since we don't live on Bali, try to at least make an effort to be at a somewhat peaceful state of mind. This way you make space to register that you are eating, leaving you satisfied a lot more truthfully then if you don't pay attention. No distractions like work, a screen, the road please (company is aloud).
2. Give it a break. Digestion is a process that takes a lot of energy, so we don't want our bodies to need to work this mechanism all the time. Constant snacking causes more stress. You can try intermittent fasting every now and then, which has a calming effect on your nervous and digestive system. A very early, light dinner with a big breakfast the next day already goes a long way. General rule of thumb should be 10-12 hours between the last time you eat in the evening and the first time you break your fast in the morning.
3. Become a regular. Irregular habits are something that causes stress for your body too. This is something for you to play with, but you will notice you function really well when you eat more or less around the same times. Could be that your body likes to have three larger meals, or three plus 2 snacks, or five slightly smaller meals. Whatever it is, try and find your rhythm, in sync with factors like the season or your physical or social activities.
4. Food for thought. Every time you eat, try and do a little visualization. How hungry am I? How is this food going to make me feel? We should always opt for a positive outcome. Gratitude always. Even when the food in theory isn't necessarily light - an indulgence is essential every now and then. It is so important to keep enjoying your food and not be too strict, so that you don't feel deprived, and neither too loose, so you become disconnected. Both will help you stay on good terms with your body and its needs.
5. A few tricks of the trade. From this place of full presence at your plate, you can always try and apply a few simple mindfulness-tricks, like:
- Drink a glass of water before and after your meal (avoid drinking much in-between).
- Take a breath before and after every bite.
- Make an effort to really smell, look, touch, feel your food.
- Chew well (of underestimated importance - if we don't do this, it's more difficult to absorb nutrients, and worst case some foods might even remain undigested!).
- Empty your mouth before you take your next bite.
- Finish when you are álmost full.