Could The Way You Eat Be Adding More Stress To Your Life?


Eating on the go. Skipping a meal. We all do it from time to time. And that's ok. It's when it becomes a pattern in your life that the way you eat can affect your health just as much as what you eat.

Where, When & How Are You Eating?

Stress makes you vulnerable to developing eating habits that can end up being a source of additional stress for your body. Eating when you're not hungry, eating for comfort, eating in front of the tv or computer, eating while at your work desk, eating alone, eating late at night or skipping meals due to lack of time puts stress on your body's ability to stay in balance.

Your body has an elaborate system for dealing with stress called the HPA axis or Hypothalamus - Pituitary - Adrenal Axis. When you're threatened - be it physically or emotionally - your brain sends a signal to the hypothalamus which initiates the stress response through a cascade of hormones involving your pituitary gland and your adrenal glands. The end result is the release of cortisol, adrenaline, and nor-adrenaline which enable you to fight or flee the threat at hand.

Here are some of ways your eating habits might be overwhelming the normal functioning of your HPA axis:

  • Working while eating or eating in a hurried fashion: Your body was made to "rest and digest" not "eat and run". When you rush through a meal or multitask while eating, you're forcing your body to compromise your digestion in many ways:

  • A four-fold decrease in blood flow to your gut. Even if you're eating the healthiest of meals, you won't be absorbing all those nutrients into your bloodstream.

  • A decrease in the amount of of digestive enzymes released.

  • Eating quickly means not chewing your food thoroughly: Your parents were right, chewing your food completely is one of the most important parts of your meal. Chewing slowly enables you to:

  • Absorb nutrients more fully. Your saliva contains enzymes that aid in digestion. The longer you chew, the smaller the food particles will be which enhances the absorption of those food particles.

  • Enhance your overall digestion. The act of chewing stimulates the release of digestive juices and enzymes in your stomach and gut.

  • Avoid overeating. Chewing your food slowly stimulates your brain to release hormones that control your appetite by telling you when you've eaten enough. Chewing also allows your taste buds to be fully engaged which can lead to a greater sense of satisfaction. Eating quickly doesn't give your brain the time needed to make you feel satiated. The result: you just keep on eating until that bag of chips is empty! Studies have shown that you consume less calories by eating slowly and chewing thoroughly.

  • Skipping a meal: When you skip a meal, your blood sugar eventually drops, creating a stressful situation for your body. In order to prevent you from eventually passing out, your adrenal glands produce cortisol - the stress hormone - which stimulates your liver to produce blood sugar (glucose). One European study found that kids who skipped breakfast were more likely to be overweight and obese.

  • Overeating & consuming too many carbohydrates: High blood sugar levels from eating too many carbohydrates forces your body to release more insulin. When too much insulin is released, your blood sugar can drop rapidly, creating another stressful situation for your body. Overtime, these big swings in your blood sugar can lead to HPA dysfunction and diabetes.

  • Emotional eating: When you're under stress or anxious, you may be tempted to use food as a source of comfort. The foods you most often choose when feeling stressed are generally high in sugar and rich in carbohydrates, placing additional demands on your HPA axis.

  • Eating in front of the TV: It's no surprise that research shows that eating in front of the TV is associated with being overweight and eating less vegetables and fruit.

  • Eating irregularly and eating late at night: Emerging evidence suggests that eating irregularly and eating late at night are linked with being overweight and poor blood sugar control.

Ways You Can Reduce Stressful Eating Habits

You can break bad eating habits by incorporating these three things into your mealtimes:

  • Eat mindfully: Don't be hurried or distracted while eating. Instead, take the time to savor your meals and be more conscious of what you put into your mouth and how quickly you eat. Mindful eating will not only improve your digestion, but appears to decrease binge-eating and reduce the incidence of and complications associated with diabetes.

  • Eating with others: Studies shows that when families eat together they eat healthier meals, consuming more vegetables, grains, fruits, and calcium-rich foods. Eating together in front of the TV, however, undid those healthy benefits. Among adolescents, family meals were associated with improved nutrition, less eating disorders, less substance abuse, and improved sense of well-being.

  • Find out what's eating you: Be aware of how you relate to food. Are you truly hungry when you reach for something to eat? Are you eating as a form of reward or comfort? What's your history with food? Depending upon how your mealtimes were as a child, you may or may not have a positive association with eating.

Changing the way you eat is one of the most beneficial things you can do for your health. By doing so, you'll not only reduce your level of stress, but will be better able to face the challenges that come your way. One more thing: get enough sleep. Adequate amounts of high-quality sleep promote healthy eating habits which can lead to weight loss. For more information on how you can improve what you eat and the way you eat, contact us today.

References

Ackard, et al. Abstract: Family mealtime while growing up: associations with symptoms of bulimia nervosa. Eat Disord. 2001 Fall; 9(3):239-49.

Bandin, C. et al. Abstract:Meal timing affects glucose tolerance, substrate oxidation and circadian-related variables: A randomized, crossover trial.Int J Obes (Lond). 2015 May;39(5):828-33.

Bionara, HB et al. The association of breakfast skipping and television viewing at breakfast with weight status among parents of 10-12-year-olds in eight European countries; the ENERGY (EuropeaN Energy balance Research to prevent excessive weight Gain among Youth) cross-sectional study. Public Health Nutr. 2014 Apr;17(4):906-14.

Eun, R. Emerging role of the brain in the homeostatic regulation of energy and glucose metabolism. Exp Mol Med. 2016 Mar; 48(3): e216.

Fitzpatrick, E. et al. Abstract: Positive effects of family dinner are undone by television viewing.J Am Diet Assoc. 2007 Apr;107(4):666-71.

Fulkerson, et al. Abstract: Family dinner meal frequency and adolescent development: relationships with developmental assets and high-risk behaviors. J Adolesc Health. 2006 Sep; 39(3):337-45.

Garaulet, M. et al. Timing of food intake predicts weight loss effectiveness.Int J Obes (Lond). 2013 Apr;37(4):604-11

Gonnissen, HK, et el. Abstract: Chronobiology, endocrinology, and energy- and food-reward homeostasis. Obes Rev. 2013 May;14(5):405-16.

Loucks, et al. Associations of Mindfulness with Glucose Regulation and Diabetes. Am J Health Behav. 2016 Mar;40(2):258-67.

McCory, MA et al. Abstract: Energy and Nutrient Timing for Weight Control: Does Timing of Ingestion Matter? Endocrinol Metab Clin North Am. 2016 Sep;45(3):689-718.

Medina, WL et al. Abstract: Effects of Mindfulness on Diabetes Mellitus: rationale and overview. Curr Diabetes Rev. 2016 Jun 6.

mindfulness seems to have beneficial effects on all aspects of diabetes, including incidence, control and complications.

Neumark,-Sztainer, D. et al. Family meal patterns: associations with sociodemographic characteristics and improved dietary intake among adolescents. J Am Diet Assoc. 2003 Mar; 103(3):317-22

Neumark-Sztainer, et al. Family meals and disordered eating in adolescents: longitudinal findings from project EAT. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2008 Jan; 162(1):17-22.​

Varady, K. Meal frequency and timing: impact on metabolic disease risk. Curr Opin Endocrinol Diabetes Obes. 2016 Oct;23(5):379-83.

Vik, FM et al. Associations between eating meals, watching TV while eating meals and weight status among children, ages 10-12 years in eight European countries: the ENERGY cross-sectional study. Int J Behav Nutr Phys Act. 2013 May 15;10:58.

The contents of this blog are intended for educational purposes only. The information presented here is not a substitute for proper medical attention, diagnosis, or treatment by a qualified healthcare professional. Always seek the advice of your healthcare provider before starting or making any changes to an existing treatment plan, exercise program or dietary regimen, and before using nutritional supplements.

~ Dr. Sarah Williams ~ Concord & Nantucket, Massachusetts ~

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