The Mindless Munch
Stress is natural and a very helpful evolutionary reaction all members of the animal kingdom have.
I hope to bring awareness to the relationship between stress and your body in hopes of you understanding the importance of cultivating a less stressed life for both mental and physical wellbeing!
The body does not differentiate between the nerves of public speaking and a grizzly bear chasing you; both induce activation of the nervous system and depending on the intensity of activation your mind may interpret it as a life-threatening situation, whether it is or is not. However, there’s a real difference between the situation where you might die and need the adrenaline kick versus one where you can use tools to calm your nerves and deliver a great speech!
The stress response is hardwired into us and supposed to only occur for a brief period of time in reaction to life’s threats, yet many people experience chronic stress or past traumatic experiences that continue to keep them on high alert. By staying in this heightened state the body produces unending stress hormones that are wearing on the body and ultimately leads to a weakened immune system. The body is very interconnected so if all it’s resources are constantly being zapped by chronic stress reactions many other health issues can arise, such as stomach issues, mood issues, aches in joints or muscles, sleep issues, irregular menstrual cycles, and one I focus on in this article is disrupted hunger cues.
People have different reactions to stressors, meaning what is stressful for me may not bother my neighbor, this is called perceived stress. It’s important not to compare your experience with others because we all come from unique backgrounds and perceive stressors differently. I know myself and friends can say we have turned to food as a way to procrastinate studying and have mindlessly munched on snacks to then realize the whole peanut butter jar is gone! Turning to food is a common coping mechanism because you can enter a moment of pleasure among the overall unpleasant stressful state.
*the infamous Smucker's Crunchy Peanut Butter*
The relationship between food and you changes depending on your level of perceived stress and the duration. Personally I have only experienced short-term, acute stress, which has been shown to increase your desire to eat even when not hungry. Yet, chronic stress can overtime change your food preferences making you desire high-calorie foods and lead to excess caloric consumption. Comfort food that acts as a reward can release dopamine and reinforce neural pathways that develop a stronger response to this “highly rewarding” food. Due to this natural reward response, stress is a major contributor towards obesity. It makes sense that the United States has a rising obesity issue in an overstimulated society where sugary and processed food is found on every street corner! On the other hand, others may experience stress and have adversity to food. They may not feel hungry or feel sick thinking of food. I find this variable relationship between stress and food fascinating!
I wanted to bring awareness to this topic and introduce ways to help you mindfully eat rather than mindlessly munch! First and foremost practice non-judgment for any stress induced eating patterns, as we are all on our own journey to figure out what works for us and how to manage life in the here and now! Bringing mindfulness to eating, meaning non-judgmental momentary awareness, has been shown to increase enjoyment and decrease stress! Every day, every meal, every moment there's a chance to start incorporating more mindfulness for a less stressful life.
5-Minute Mindful Munch Practice:
Make a conscious decision to snack mindfully. Put your work or studies aside, turn off the tv or computer so you can give full attention to your snack or meal. Start by smelling the food, take time to look at it and place it in your mouth, taste it before you start chewing. Slowly chewing and tasting, savoring all the flavor before you swallow it and then linger with the remaining flavor. Take a pause and even a few conscious breaths before repeating the mindful munch sequence until you feel a sense of satisfaction and then pause again to savor the feeling, the sensation, and the emotion.
Stress Reduction Activities and Practices
Meditation & Deep Belly Breathing
Yoga or Simple Stretching
Body Scan Practice
Loving-Kindness or Self-Compassion Practice
Organize Your Space to Be Clutter-Free & Peaceful
Focus On One Task At A Time
Write An Achievable To-Do List
These practices can help you establish a less stressful life, but if you find yourself struggling with unrelenting stress and stress reaction cycles don't hesitate to seek professional help with a psychologist or registered dietician because you can change stress reaction patterns! If you are simply struggling with motivation or follow-through, find a class or a Health Coach (hit me up in September) to support making these changes.
"Live Dirty, Eat Clean & Green",