Stress is the biggest cause of ill health currently in our culture. It is the underlying cause of many mental and physical health issues. One of the primary ways it can affect your health the most is through your digestive system.
In short, your digestive system is responsible for the absorption of nutrients and elimination of toxins in the body. If it’s compromised and not working effectively your health as a whole is threatened.
This post can only scratch the surface of how important the digestive system is to your whole health and well-being.
Recent studies have proven the stomach has more neurons than the brain, leading researchers to believe the stomach is actually responsible for the workings of the brain and therefore mental and emotional health.
We know some foods destroy the flora and fauna in the gut and effect the serotonin levels in the brain, thus enhancing the likelihood of depression and low mood.
This example really is the tip of the iceberg.
The simple truth is the effects of stress on your eating patterns and digestive system can be hugely detrimental to your health and happiness, often leading to fluctuations in your appetite, the over production of acid and many other symptoms of chronic stress related digestive disorders. An example of one of the most common digestive disorders caused by stress is IBS. IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) is one of those generalized umbrella diagnoses which is used to describe a cluster of symptoms, and really just reaffirms your digestive system is struggling and it could be many things causing it.
Often this diagnosis is given and there’s no support or follow up on how to treat it.
I have had many clients who’ve had this diagnosis and have been left to figure things out on their own, or worse simply given varying forms of medications to plaster over the underlying cause of the symptoms.
Stress is One of the biggest contributors to digestive issues such IBS because when you become stressed your flight or fight stress response in the central nervous system shuts down your digestive system and restricts blood flow, slowing the contractions of the digestive muscles and decreasing secretions needed for digestion. This is so the body can prioritize more important physical functions for survival to prepare the body for attack or to run from a perceived threat.
A flip side to this is when you live in a constant state of stress like many of our society do today, you actually start to produce too much of one secretion in particular and this is acid. Too much acid in the stomach due to feeling stressed causes anxiety and other physical health issues such as stomach ulcers only to name one.
Another symptom or side effect of the stress fight or flight response is weight gain. After a stressful period, your body can go into ‘recovery mode’ where appetite is increased and food cravings take hold. At the same time, metabolic rates will drop to conserve energy, which means the body is more likely to store fat – particularly around the abdomen. Feeling stressed also leads to an increase in levels of cortisol, which is the hormone that contributes to weight gain.
So in short, stress also makes you hold on to fat and causes you to put on weight.
However, chronic stress is also known to suppress appetite, which over time can lead to severe and unhealthy weight-loss.
Weight loss Through Stress is NEVER a good thing!
Weight loss through stress is never a good thing as the levels of adrenaline and nervous energy required for this to happen will put serious strain on your physical and mental health.
Anxiety is a well-known side effect of this happening in your body and can cause further long term mental health issues.
Stress and diet have always been linked. Someone eating a healthy, balanced diet is going to be far less stressed than someone eating a poor diet. If you’re feeling overly stressed, your digestive system is probably under a great deal of strain, therefore making changes to your diet could be key and your first step to take to feeling better physically and emotionally.
Below is an overview of stress relieving foods to include in your diet and certain foods to avoid.
Foods that can have negative effects on the body when under stress include:
A chemical found mostly in tea, coffee and some soft drinks, caffeine reduces our ability to deal with stress because it acts as a stimulant, causing the adrenal glands activated by the flight or fight response to release more hormones like cortisol, which are already high due to the strain our bodies are under. High levels of caffeine also contribute to insomnia and nervousness, which are intrinsically linked to stress.
In addition, caffeine consumption can deplete levels of magnesium (needed for energy production) and metabolism-boosting B vitamins from the body. (essential for good hormonal health in women)
Substituting coffees and teas for herbal varieties or green tea can help reduce your caffeine consumption.
Foods high in fat and sugar
Cravings for processed and sugary foods may be heightened when you are feeling
stressed, however it’s important to avoid consuming these in high quantities. Not only can they play a hindrance on your overall health, but they can also make you feel worse in the long-term. Sugar for example will provide a short burst of energy and temporary relief from stressful feelings, but this will be swiftly followed by a ‘low’ period when your sugar levels crash.
This crash then leads to irritability and increased food cravings, it’s a vicious circle that puts too much strain on your body!
It’s our societies default now to turn to alcohol as a means of dealing with stress, but while it may have an instant calming effect on the body, in the long-term alcohol increases the amount of stress in people’s lives and seriously damages your health. Sorry to be a party pooper, but it just does…
Sleep issues, nervousness and skin irritations are common side effects of drinking alcohol, because alcohol makes the body release larger amounts of adrenaline and affects blood sugar levels.
Stress relieving foods you should eat more of are:
Fruit and vegetables (Of Course)
Eating a diet rich in fresh fruit and vegetables will ensure you get plenty of nutrients and minerals, which is crucial when your body is feeling stressed and using more nutrients than it would normally. Chronic stress can weaken the immune system and affect the body’s defenses – leaving a person more susceptible to infection and disease. If a stressed person falls ill, this will put the body under more strain. Aim to eat at least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day to get a sufficient number of vitamins and minerals, and focus on foods containing vitamins B, C and magnesium.
B vitamins – Found in bananas, leafy greens, nuts, seeds, meat, fish and dairy products, these provide the body with energy after a period of stress.
Vitamin C – The largest store of vitamin C lies in the adrenal glands, which are responsible for the production of stress hormones. Keep these healthy by eating plenty of vitamin C rich foods such as oranges, tomatoes, peppers, leafy greens and broccoli.
Magnesium – This mineral can help to relax muscles and reduce anxiety, while also playing an essential role in hormone and energy production. Nuts – particularly Brazil nuts – are high in magnesium, as are beans and lentils, wholegrains and leafy greens.
However, it’s important to know many researchers and holistic nutritional experts today advise you supplement your nutrition due to the poor quality of fruit and vegetables today.
There’s much research to suggest that our foods are nutrient deficient and therefore carry little of what our bodies actually need to feel fully nourished.
If you’re struggling with stress, weight gain low energy and a loss of general vitality your diet and nutrition could be the problem.
As part of my holistic approach to helping my clients I offer nutritional solutions which are safe and effective in helping them transform their diet, health and well-being.
To find out more you can book a free no obligation consultation with me and learn more about how I can help you transform your health and happiness.