In part one and part two of this series, I talked about WHAT to eat for your unique body—which foods give you energy and which foods take it away and also HOW you eat by honoring your hunger and fullness scale. I'm going to continue with HOW you eat today with part 3 in this series focusing on whether you're eating in a stressed or relaxed state. There's a HUGE difference and impact on your body depending on which state you're in.
Here's a simple truth: when you are relaxed, you burn more fat! When you are stressed, you accumulate more fat. You can eat the healthiest meal on the planet, but if you eat it in a stressed out, anxious state, your digestion is dramatically diminished. If you ever feel bloated or undigested after you eat, it's a sign that you are having digestive stress—and digestive stress is about 25% what you eat and 75% who you are being when you eat.
Consider this... when you eat, are you typically moving at warp speed, constantly eating on the go, multitasking during the meal, engaging in negative gossip? If you answered yes, then you're feeding the stress response because you're moving too fast! And, if you've ever had the experience of eating a full meal and still being hungry and a feeling like you just can’t get satiated no matter how much you eat, this is a good sign that the stress response is on and your body is not assimilating nutrients from the food you eat.
Eating under stress is not only commonplace, it’s socially acceptable and often a prerequisite for managing a job, a family or having a life, and as you know, stress is the opposite of relaxation. If you’ve worked for a stronger metabolism or you’ve been trying to heal some challenge but have not achieved success, this is the one basic reason you're not making progress toward that goal. When we're moving through life too fast, we inevitably eat fast, which destroys our metabolism and creates digestive upset. It results in meals eaten under a physiologic stress response and diminishes our calorie-burning power.
On the other hand, the slower you eat, the faster you metabolize. The more relaxed you are throughout your day, then the more energy you will have. So, that 3pm or 4pm energy slump that happens is because we’re sprinting throughout the day and then we have to rest and recuperate, so we get this sleepy, foggy brain. We simply get to the point where we can’t do any more and that’s when we end up binging or turning to something that will provide us with pleasure because we’re not getting enough pleasure throughout the day. We’re just stressing.
The connection between stress and metabolism.
Our bodies have what is known as the autonomic nervous system, which is responsible for digestive activity. The atonomic nervous system has two branches: the parasympathetic and sympathetic.
The parasympathetic is also known as the rest and digest, or feel and heal, response. This is the optimal state for digestion and healing. When the parasympathetic is activated, metabolic power increases. This means when we are relaxed, we actually burn more fat.
The sympathetic is also known as fight or flight. This is our stress response. When we are stressed out, guess what happens to digestion? It shuts down. The classic textbook example is that if a lion was chasing you after lunch, you wouldn’t be concerned about digesting your sandwich. The sympathetic nervous system would act effectively to shut down digestion, direct blood flow away from the belly and out towards your arms and legs for quick moving and up to your brain for quick thinking. This is a brilliant mechanism in place for our survival.
While most of us do not have to confront lions on our lunch hour, we do encounter stress. On a physiological level, your body doesn’t differentiate between a lion chasing you and your boss yelling at you or getting tense trying to balance work-home integration, homeschooling, the increased mess around the house with everyone home all day, etc. One is life-threatening, while the other is not. But guess what? On a physiological level, they are the same. They both trigger the body to shut off digestion and store fat. This decreases our metabolic power.
When your sympathetic nervous systems is activated, which is all day for most of us, even at a chronic low level, our parasympathetic is shut off. These do not go ON at the same time. If one is on, the other is off. If we don’t learn how to relax, we won’t be able to tap into our natural mechanism for burning fat and keeping us at an ideal weight.
Have you ever heard of a hormone called cortisol? This is the hormone that is released when we are stressed out. Studies show that increased cortisol in the system leads to fat accumulation. So, people who tend to gain weight primarily around the belly, likely experience chronic low-level stress as excess cortisol production has this strange effect of fattening up the belly.
If your body is even in a low-level stress state most of the time, then you may lose a few pounds here and there, but ultimately no amount of calorie counting or tread-milling will get you where you want to go. And if you're one of those people who uses stress and threat of punishment to motivate themselves to lose weight, you're fighting a never ending battle. For example, using your inner dialogue to tell yourself that if you don’t workout four days this week, then you're not giving yourself permission to get a massage is counterproductive. While using stress and threat of punishment to motivate yourself might work once or twice, it doesn’t really work and isn't sustainable in the long-term.
4 Tips and Tricks to Relax and Slow Down Your Meals
To boost metabolism, you must relax and stop producing so much cortisol and the number one way to do this is to slow down. When it comes to your meals, there are some easy tricks that you can use to do this.
1. Chew your food!
Did you know that the average person only chews their food three times before they swallow? This means your body has to work really hard to break down food. We might as well have a door at the stomach that says: [insert food here.]
Saliva has important enzymes that help break down food, making it easier to digest and assimilate, which means more of it gets used by the body versus being stored as fat.
If you consistently practice chewing your food, you’ll be amazed at how much better your digestion works, how much less you actually need to eat and how much more energized you feel overall—all because chewing is not only slowing down your eating but grinding up your food’s nutrients so you can properly absorb all the vitamins and minerals into your system!
In order to get in the habit of chewing (which for many of us is a new phenomenon because we tend to just swallow chunks without chewing) try chewing each bite of food starting with your very next meal, about 20-30 times. Putting your fork down, and breathing between bites, will help. This may sound like a ton of chewing but you’ll get used to it very quickly.
Even if you only have 5 minutes in which to eat a meal instead of 20, allow the act of chewing to relax you and use it like you would a meditation. That way you’ll enjoy the full spectrum of tastes and aromas that make up the meal and trigger cephalic phase digestion, by the end of your meal, your body will feel satisfied even if it was quick.
2. Fool your nervous system
What if you don’t have time to do the chewing exercise? The good news is that it takes less than two minutes to de-stress the body and move it into a maximum metabolic state. So, you can eat stress-free anywhere, anytime and tap into your metabolic power instantly. You do this by tricking your central nervous system. The shortcut to turn off stress and activate a psychological relaxation response is conscious breathing.
When we are in a stressful state, if we consciously adopt the deep and rhythmic breathing pattern characteristic of the relaxed state, we fool the central nervous system. The brain says something like, ‘Hey, I thought I was a nervous wreck, but I’m breathing like a relaxed person. I must be relaxed.’ The result is a shift from a state of low digestive activity to full digestive force. I’ve watched many people, including myself, cure heartburn, IBS, constipation, and fatigue by regularly using this simple technique.
With any meal or snack, anytime food is about to pass across your lips, ask yourself, ‘Am I about to eat under stress?’ If the answer is yes, I recommend the 5-5-7 breathing method where you inhale for five counts, hold for five counts and exhale for 10 counts. Repeat this ten times. It takes about two minutes and will put you into a total state of relaxation. Plus, you can use this any time when you're feeling a heightened sense of stress or anxiety.
3. Get into the 20-minute meal habit
If you eat breakfast in 5 minutes, make it 10. If you normally take 10, bump it up to 15 and work toward the 20-minute meal practice. It's super easy to track and start. Simply check the clock when you start your next meal. Eat at the pace you normally would and time check the end of your meal. Add five minutes to you next meal until you progressively build up to 20-minutes.
When you take 20 minutes to eat your meals, it allows your tummy to signal to your brain that you have consumed the right amount of food and that your body is full.
4. Incorporate meal times into your schedule
Arrange your home and work schedules as best you can to provide yourself with more time to eat, and more importantly, the time to decompress before you eat. Enroll your family, coworkers and boss in creating more time and relaxation with your meals. If needed, block off your lunch hour in your work calendar every day of the week allow you to really take time to prepare, eat and digest your meal. This will allow you to eat in a more relaxed state and improve digestive power—and ultimately your metabolism as a result. Plus, you'll make healthier choices when not rushing to prepare and consume your food.
Still need help or ready to take your health and wellness journey further? Contact me today to schedule a free 45-minute breakthrough session.