Let’s be honest…being home has its blessings, but it offers unlimited access to the kitchen. During this time of dramatic changes, uncertainty and elevated stress, our subconscious mind is looking for ways to have control. Combine the desire for control with unlimited access to the kitchen and the result is the intense urge to EAT! I want to encourage you that this response is not bad. Yes, you heard right! The desire to eat during this season of high stress is not a bad thing. Let me share a bit of the science behind why you are experiencing this and then offer you helpful tips on how to navigate through.
Our body’s autonomic nervous system functions on two levels: 1) the rest, restore and digest mode called the parasympathetic response and 2) the preparing for activity, thinking, responding, fight and flight response called sympathetic response. This response engages the release of adrenaline (works in the short term) and cortisol (works in the long term). Our autonomic nervous system is constantly engaging in both. As we are active throughout the day we are in sympathetic function. As we sleep, sit down to eat, or rest we are in parasympathetic function. Unfortunately, with the go-go-go mentality we are engaged in, we live in a constant state of stress leading to sympathetic dominance which then affects our body’s ability to properly engage in the rest phase of parasympathetic function. Sympathetic dominance attributes to mental sluggishness, digestive problems, sleeping problems, rapid pulse, increased sweating, restlessness, neck and shoulder tightness and fatigue (just to name a few).
Let’s circle back and talk about the eating component. As your body is producing adrenaline and cortisol, there is an increased need for sugar (glucose) in the bloodstream as your brain is requiring more glucose for energy and signaling your body to increase the ability to repair tissues. The need for energy stimulates the signal to eat, because when we eat we are consuming the fuel for our body.
Eating is your body’s way of coping with the increased energy level to function. Eating when under stress is not bad. It is our body’s natural coping mechanism.
What you eat matters.
The error that we make in this desire to eat is what we turn to as food fuel. The quickest fuel for our body is carbohydrates. The desire to bread, pasta, crackers, pretzels, donuts, chips…you complete the list…is what we find as quick and convenient choices for this carbohydrate intake. While these foods will provide quick energy, they are not giving us essential nutrients, vitamins and minerals equating to wholesome nutrition. Let me insert this fact: Stress depletes our body’s resources of vitamins and minerals, therefore we need to replenish those resources through our food. Highly processed food, food with additives, coloring and preservatives are not whole-food based nutrition.
Let’s also consider the fact of the quantity being consumed, especially with convenient carbohydrate sources. Grabbing the bag or box of food and digging in results in an unconscious awareness of how much is being consumed until that “full” feeling is triggered. By then, it may be half to most, if not all, of the bag or box. Another interesting fact is when our sympathetic function is engaged it cannot provide the accurate signal to our brain of the feeling of full. This impairment results in overeating. Combine this impaired signal with the reality that our body is not optimally digesting in sympathetic function and we are consuming a large quantity of food in an environment of poor digestion, we end up with gastric upset, bloating, “rock in the stomach” feeling, and consequently digestive issues.
You have the ability and power to make good food choices.
The key is choosing good carbohydrates. Vegetables, whole fruit and whole grains will provide you with an array of vitamins, nutrients, phytonutrients and energy that are supportive. Fresh vegetables and fruits are ideal, especially if you can purchase organic. Frozen would be the next best choice with canned produce as the very last (much of the nutrition is lost in the canning process and it may have added sodium and other additives). Creating this as a habit will take time, but it will be an effort with great dividends. What are good carbohydrate choices?
Vegetable Carbohydrates: carrots, cucumbers, colored peppers, spinach, kale, broccoli, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, green beans, mixed salad greens, romaine lettuce, red cabbage, beets, kohlrabi, tomatoes, garlic, onions, white potatoes, sweet potatoes, peas, asparagus
Fruit Carbohydrates: strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, bananas, grapes, oranges, kiwi, pineapple, mango, apples, pears, watermelon, cherries, peaches, grapefruit, lemons, limes, plums
Grain Carbohydrates: brown rice, white rice, quinoa, rolled oats, steel cut oats, barley, farro, teff, amaranth, buckwheat
Now I know you are thinking “but a carrot stick is not as satisfying as eating potato chips.” True. I get that and at times I’m right there with you. Let me empower you with this…
The 80/20 Rule: Practice making wise food choices 80% of the time and allow room for modified food choices for the other 20%.
The 80/20 rule is a liberating way of thinking and one I encourage my clients develop when we work together on transitioning to whole food and real food lifestyle. Looking at the carbohydrate list again, when you make these wise food choices 80% of the time, how do you manage the 20% choices? Here’s are some tips to keep in mind:
Let me also touch on the fact that if you are constantly desiring to eat carbohydrates, your body may be indicating the greater need for fat and protein. These two macronutrients provide sustained energy while carbohydrates provide quick energy. Considering adding a protein or fat to your carbohydrate, perhaps something like this:
- Vegetable slices and hummus
- Corn chips and guacamole
- Nuts/Seeds and dried fruit
- Cheese and whole grain crackers
- Apple slices and nut butter
- Nut butter and whole grain crackers
- Toasted whole grain bread with smashed avocado
You CAN do this.
We were created with the ability handle stress. We have the power to control what goes into our body as we eat to support and enhance our response to stress. As you make wise and healthy food choices, you are supporting your body not just physically, but emotionally as well.
If you would like more on this topic and what other ways you can make wise and healthy food choices, let’s talk. I offer a free 15-minute consultation to discover how I can best support you. I can be reached at 330-606-5857 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.