I'm sure it doesn't come as a shock when stressful times come into your life. Everyone gets stressed from time to time, so the old adage "stress management", has a flaw. We cannot manage life's stressors, but we can learn to manage ourselves under times of stress. If you don't know much about the stress response, let me give you a little lesson (the coles notes version). Fight/or Flight is the technical term for the response our body goes through when we face something stressful. Thousands of years ago, fight/flight helped us in natural disasters, confronting attackers, or running away from anyone or anything. When the stress response is activated during an event, your heart rate speeds up, blood pressure elevates, stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol are released into the circulatory system, respiration quickens, blood flow is rerouted away from the stomach and transported towards our extremities to give us the necessary power to either fight or flee. What also happens during stress is the digestive system shuts down. Digestion is not needed when you are running away from a hungry lion who's looking for lunch.
Fast forward to 2014. You are anxiously rushing through your morning trying to get to work, meetings, etc. You may or may not eat breakfast, maybe you have a coffee and a muffin on the run. Then you rush through lunch or sit in front of your computer eating while you work, not being present for your meal, which should actually be an event, not just something we need to get through, to rushing through the rest of the day. Have you ever felt after a meal, that wasn't relaxed, that your food is still sitting in your stomach? It's because it is. All your bodily energy went to fight/flight instead of digestion. That means you could be eating the healthiest food on the planet and have your digestion dramatically reduced because you ate it on the run or when you were anxious. The same part of our brain that turns on stress, also inhibits digestion, and vice versa.
Do you ever wonder why European countries have some of thinnest and healthiest people, yet none of them count calories or exercise in gyms like we do in North America? In fact, lots of them smoke cigarettes, drink everyday, and eat bread, pastries, butter, cheese, cream etc. The one big difference between us and them is pleasure and stress. In France, eating is an event to be enjoyed and a event that takes time. Meals span out over hours, food is savoured and eaten slowly, and most importantly, no one is worried that their lunch might make them fat.
The more you worry about your weight, the more cortisol you pump out, which in turn stores fat, especially around the midsection Quite literally, the more you worry about fat, the fatter you'll become. Clinical study after clinical study have shown that an excess in cortisol is strongly associated with fat accumulation because one of cortisol's chemical response is to store body fat and inhibit muscle growth. The bottom line is we need to relax, and we need to be able to digest the food we put into our bodies. Your objective for the week is to slow down when you eat, and slow down in life. Here are a few things you can do to help you:
1. Breath deeply. We talked about how important breathing is last week and it trickles into this week for sure. When you are stressed, breath deeply. You can trick your body into thinking it's relaxed by your breath. Breath deeply while you eat to encourage digestion.
2. Slow down your exercise. This is important if you do high intensity workouts more than twice a week. Stress is stress, and chronic stress, which is a result from excessive impact with anything (including exercise), does and will take it's toll on the body. If you don't exercise at all, get out a few times this week and just walk for half an hour.
3. Meditate on what is good. If you don't think you're into meditation, think about the last time you worried over meeting a deadline. That worry is a form of meditation, only geared in the wrong direction. Spend your day thinking positively, and about how you're going to reach your goal of renewed health.
4. Love yourself. When you love and value yourself, you will naturally gravitate towards foods and activities that nourish the body and build it up. When you love yourself, you will remove unnecessary stress that has dominated you, and you'll reclaim your life. When you love yourself, you won't force feed yourself, starve yourself, or yo-yo diet. You will listen to what your body actually wants, and that will be different for everyone.
Marc David says, in his book The Slow Down Diet, "By including more time with food, you can elevate yourself from a mammal that feeds to a human being who eats".