A new study confirms what many of us already know: that our emotional health overrides whatever we put in our mouth.
Stress activates a cascade of toxic biochemical processes in our body, some leading to heart disease, others diabetes and often resulting in weight gain especially around the stomach.
Yup, that's right.
A telltale sign of stress and not handling it too well is if we gain weight around our midsection.
This totally sucks, cos this part of our body is not supposed to have fat around it - junk in our trunk and thick thighs are all fine for our health and can even look super hot, but fat on our gut is the type of fat which is "active", inflammatory fat. This is why we want to get rid of it, not just strictly from a vanity point of view. Now we are not talking puppy fat here, it's actual rolls. So if we are the type of person who is already obsessing about whether we have a six pack or eight pack, this post is not for us. Yeah, if we are the frantic, neurotic type, it's our personality that needs to go, not the bodyfat so much.
Too low bodyfat is associated with frazzled nerves, poor sleep and infertility issues big time. So yup, it is a balancing act.
In this study, female mice were given a normal diet and saw a dramatic shift in their gut microbes in response to the stress.
Post-stress, the gut microbes in the female mice changed to different types of microbes, as if they were eating a high-fat, junk food diet.
Stress seems to alter the gut microbiota in a negative way – more in women than in men though.
This is most likely due to the fact that women have 52% serotonin compared to men, making women less biologically equipped to deal with high levels of stressors.
Now obviously raising kids is not exactly stress-free, but the oxytocin that a mother releases during the bonding with her child counteracts a big portion of the stress chemicals.
But only if she is not also being pushed from work and elsewhere i.e. things that require high levels of dopamin and serotonin in order to avoid burnout.
Men do not experience the same level of oxytocin when becoming a father and thus the raising of babies will be more stressful for them than for women.
We can argue all day about gender equality but fact is nature is designed like that, so to make life as smooth as possible it is better to roll with it. Women are biologically and chemically designed to be the caretakers, while men the providers. And while most women will find that they are more resilient to deal with the type of stress that comes with raising kids (due to oxytocin release), most men will find that they are far better equipped to deal with work related stress and performing in sports - because they have higher levels of dopamin and serotonin which means that they are naturally more driven, focused and get a kick out of competition. This type of stress is less stressing for most men. Yes, unless the stress has to do with raising kids. Many a woman knows that their husband will be stressed out, if she leaves the kids over the weekend while she goes away for some work-function. Now it is not because either gender is better than the other, but because each is biochemically wired for specific roles.
We have completely screwed over ourselves with gender equality.
So much so that we have stress everywhere we go - yay for that. In the home space the kids are throwing tantrums, cos no one is able to take care of them full time anymore. We have stress at work cos both parties are trying to play the alpha part. We come home to stressed out partners, cos we are not taking care of each other properly. Super sad - and that's what we call equality. I'll pass on that I think. Let's focus on equal worth in different skins and job functions. Anyway, if we want to avoid to burn out, we need to create our own set of rules and values to match. We want a life worth living that can actually provide a more carefree, loving and kind environment for ourselves and those we care about.
No amount of clean eating can make up for the negative impact of stress on the digestive system.
We have overwhelming evidence suggesting that stress can indeed alter the gut microbiology and, in turn, have a negative impact on mood. Stress needs to be dealt with through time management and skills on how to be with our emotions better. We can't eat our way out of stress, but we can make sure that our eating doesn't foster stress even more though.
Top 5 eating strategies to lower stress
- Never eat when upset: when we are emotionally wound up, we have less digestive power, so go for a walk and scream at a trash can if need be - and then have your sandwich.
- Eat 3 main meals and max 1-2 snacks daily: constant snacking never leaves our digestive system time to fully digest the previous meal and that is stressful for our digestion and bacteria flora, as food easier ferments when it stays too long in the system.
- Drink water between meals rather than with: water dilutes digestive enzymes, so limit it to a glass with your meals, and drink up between meals.
- Don't cut out an entire food group: i.e. eating low carb drains the anti-stress chemical that is serotonin and also leads to ketosis. Long-term ketosis (i.e. more than 6 months is when you usually can begin to see changed on lab work when this type of diet is followed) is taxing on our kidneys and liver. We are not meant to use ketones as fuel more than short spans of time, i.e. in spring when we were waiting for new crops to grow and our storages were running low - this season worked as a natural weightloss, detox season due to the seasonal changes and natural low resources in nature. However, spring is following by summer with an abundance of fruit and carbs to nourish our cells and provides glucose for energy.
- Eat food you enjoy: yes, we also create stress hormones if we eat food we hate. So either learn to like healthy foods and find out which healthy food you might be able to enjoy - tip: everything cooked in organic butter is delicious, even cabbage and broccoli if that's your achilles heel. Lemon-butter roasted broccoli is fingerlicking good. I promise.
References: Diabetologia. 2014; 57(8): 1552–1560. Eating two larger meals a day (breakfast and lunch) is more effective than six smaller meals in a reduced-energy regimen for patients with type 2 diabetes: a randomised crossover study J Physiol Anthropol. 2017; 36: 1. Microbiome and mental health in the modern environment J Nutr. 2017 Sep;147(9):1722-1728. Meal Frequency and Timing Are Associated with Changes in Body Mass Index in Adventist Health Study 2.