Imagine a relationship with food and your body that leaves you nourished and fulfilled each day. Imagine having the confidence to relax and enjoy the food you choose to eat. If you’ve tried all the diets to strengthen your metabolism but have not achieved success, there’s one basic reason why: You’re moving too fast.
Biologically, Stress Causes Cravings
In a state of stress, the body automatically shifts into the classic flight-or-fight response, also known as the sympathetic nervous system reaction. As a result, your digestive system shuts down to different degrees because your blood moves away from your midsection where digestion occurs. Instead, your blood flows to your legs, arms, and mind, so it can quickly react to a stressful situation.
Your stress hormones also activate, which can lead you to crave more calories. Cortisol, the main stress hormone involved here, plays a key role in this stress response. Cortisol stimulates a flood of hormonal signaling from the hypothalamus to adrenal glands to engage you in pleasure-seeking behavior. This causes you to consume high-energy/fat foods, such as foods filled with sucrose and lard.
So, it’s actually a hormone that sends a signal to your brain to seek these high-fat foods—it has nothing to do with self-control! We are so hard on ourselves when we have a craving, but really it’s your body asking you to relax— take a bath, ask for a hug, go dance! Your body is seeking the food to create a relaxing feeling for you, but what happens to many of us is we play the blame game.
The amount of pressure society and media put on body image and diet may explain why losing weight is notoriously difficult. Losing weight can be stressful, which can make you feel anxious. In this stress response, cortisol comes into full gear and creates high-energy food cravings. Eating high-energy food blunts the feeling of stress and makes you feel better, but this is short-lived. Stress will come around again, especially if you haven’t learned healthy de-stressing techniques, and the vicious cycle begins again.
Relax! Your Metabolism Depends on It
Relaxation begins with building self-awareness and positive thought processes into your life. Once this is established, you can find other ways to relax and organize your pleasure before the stress and cravings are full force. When you are in a relaxed mode, your parasympathetic nervous system is activated. All the blood flows to your midsection to churn and assimilate the food and absorb all your nutrients. Your metabolism and digestion work in full speed.
Our body’s natural state is relaxation, and we are genetically programmed to seek pleasure and avoid pain. When we eat, we are seeking the pleasure of food and avoiding the pain of hunger. Therefore, adding pleasure to your food will metabolically optimize your meal. The chemical CCK (cholecystokinin) is produced in the body and has a number of functions in your parasympathetic nervous system. It aids in digestion, suppresses appetite, and stimulates a pleasure sensation in the cerebral cortex.
This shows us how pleasure, metabolism, and a naturally controlled appetite are interwoven to the core. The same chemical reaction that metabolizes the meal also tells us when to finish the meal and makes us feel good about the entire experience.
The key to pleasure’s powerful effect in balancing your appetite is that it promotes a physiologic relaxation response. We overeat most when we’re anxious, stressed, or unaware. A relaxed, pleasured eater has natural control. A stressed eater produces more circulating cortisol. Because cortisol desensitizes us to pleasure in our day-to-day stressors, we need to eat more food to feel the same amount of pleasure as when we’re relaxed.
Therefore, if you’re anxious about gaining weight or frightened to eat a dessert, you’ll generate more cortisol. This chemical will swim through your bloodstream, numb you to pleasure, and ironically create the very self-fulfilling prophecy you feared from the beginning: If you eat something fun, you wont be able to stop.
Take in All Your Senses During Your Next Meal
So how do you begin receiving pleasure with your next meal? Pay attention with your senses. Each time you take a bite, give yourself one mindful moment to check in. Use all your senses to really be in the experience. Eyes: Chefs go to great lengths to prepare food attractively because they know it can add excitement and satisfaction to the experience. Take in your food’s shape and examine the color. Food’s appearance has a lot to do with how much we enjoy it.
Smell: Your sense of smell is tied to your sense of taste. You get to begin your enjoyment of the food’s flavor without eating it. Breathe in slowly, searching through the scents for a preview of what you’re about to eat.
Sound: Take a moment to listen to the sounds around you to be more in the experience of your environment and food. Listen to the sound of your breathing to assist you in relaxation.
Touch: The sense of touch gives us information on the texture, shape, and temperature of food. Begin to really notice the different textures in one mouthful of food. Describe the texture of the food to yourself in detail and take in the full pleasure of the experience. There are so many fun ways you can describe food—mushy, crunchy, soft, solid, oily, succulent, dry, juicy, sticky. Have fun with it! Temperature is also an important piece of information to the brain. Foods taste different depending on their temperature, and their textures change as well.
Taste: Flavor is perhaps the most powerfully sensual information we get from eating. The variations are endless and intriguing. Our taste buds (actually working with the sense of smell) can bring us great pleasure. When you have taken a bite of food, check in and see what flavors are there.
By Nicole Ohebshalom of WomenCo.