Written by: Sara Garofalo, Executive Contributor
Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.
In this week’s article, we talk about how your diet plays a major role in your anxiety and stress level. Surprised? By the end of this article, you will be convinced that what you eat has a direct effect on how you feel.
Many of us don’t realize that the brain-gut connection is HUGE! But most of us have experienced it first hand. For example, have you ever been nervous about a big presentation at work or before a first date, and your stomach felt like it was twisted up in knots?
This most likely did not have anything to do with a medical condition, it was your nerves causing a physical symptom to alert you to your emotional distress. This is commonly known as a “psychosomatic” connection and it goes both ways. Not eating well causes gut problems that cause anxiety. On the other hand, stress that isn’t dealt with properly can cause your gut health to get thrown out of whack.
In this article, I will talk about what you can do on both ends to foster a healthier brain-gut connection, feel more at ease in your mind, and lose weight naturally.
1. Boost Gut Health by Decreasing Inflammation
Shockingly, one third of people experience anxiety due to stress. By reducing inflammation in your stomach, you can reduce anxiety and regulate your gut health for optimal brain and digestive functioning. Inflammation is often caused by unprocessed preservatives and other chemicals that are lingering in your stomach. Many of our foods, even those we think are healthy, are laced with these unhealthy additives, preservatives, and chemicals. Of course, when we are stressed we also tend to go for the “easy fix,” stopping for that quick fast food on the way home or neglecting to cook healthy, clean eating meals.
In a well-balanced gut, the unhealthy additives that are present in our food are processed and moved along naturally. When we are stressed or overwhelmed our biology is affected leading to poor gut health. Have you ever skipped a period due to stress? Then you know there is a connection between what you are experiencing emotionally and how your body reacts. You may not have realized that all of our body systems are affected by our emotional state.
When we are over-worked our body goes into shut down mode and, believe it or not, even the tiny micro-organisms that regulate your gut health are affected. Normally, “good bacteria” in your gut such as probiotics, help to regulate the balance in your stomach. But when we are stressed this healthy pattern is interrupted due to the block in healthy signals from your brain.
When you experience more stress than your immune system can handle, your body instinctively begins reserving energy and that slows down the metabolic processing that moves harmful chemicals in your stomach along. This causes a build-up in your gut, which causes bloating, weight gain, stomach discomfort, general lethargy, and lack of energy. And gut health, according to the ancient lifestyle of Ayurveda, equals your overall health. Simply put, once your gut is compromised everything is affected. So, mitigating our stress and anxiety levels is crucial to maintaining a healthy digestive system, weight, and mindset.
2. Look for Ways to Lower Your Stress Level
We all know stress isn’t good for us. Heart disease is still the number one leading cause of death in women. But how do we combat stress in a world that is more complex and scary than ever? We may never be able to eliminate stress completely, and stress in small amounts is a good thing that alerts us to potential dangers if we pay attention to it. But, we can reduce stress and try to find the root cause of it, instead of turning to those fave comfort foods or neglecting a healthy diet when overwhelmed. This only compounds the problem and leads to that vicious cycle of eating our feelings and binge eating when we aren’t dealing with what is going on in our minds.
Unprocessed emotions lead to gut problems just like unprocessed chemicals in the gut can cause mental health problems. This is why they call it the “gut-brain axis,” because it really can go either way. If no medical conditions exist, the uncomfortable bloating and excess weight you carry in your stomach is likely caused by your emotions. Ever found yourself worrying and stuffing it down? You may start to feel some discomfort in your stomach. This is a sign that you are not dealing with your feelings and they are becoming a physical symptom of your emotional distress.
If you find yourself with your heart racing, palms sweaty, waking up in the middle of the night for no reason worrying, or experiencing tense muscles and pain, you may be dealing with more stress than you realize. The first step is to pay attention to what your body is telling you and then look for places in your life where you can let go of added stress.
This is a great article outlining the ways stress and anxiety show up in our bodies as physical symptoms. Women tend to be people-pleasers by nature and much of our stress comes from giving so much and not balancing that with self-care. You can combat this by saying “no” more often, not piling so much on your plate, literally and figuratively! and/or taking up a new self-care hobby purely for fun. Create space in your life and schedule that is just for taking care of yourself! For men, anxiety can manifest in the body as chest pain, sexual performance issues, and high blood pressure. Lowering stress, for both men and women, always improves gut health and helps you lose weight naturally.
3. Foods to Eat to Reduce Anxiety
What we choose to eat also greatly affects our brain and gut health. Some of the foods you already eat and enjoy are actually exactly what you need to include in your diet to feel and look better. Here are some of the foods that have been known to boost energy, mental health and gut health: Spinach, leafy greens, almonds, whole grains, salmon, avocados, and even rich foods like oysters and egg yolks.
Anxiety is thought to be caused by a “lowered antioxidant state” which suppresses our immune system’s ability to fight stress. What this means is that what we do or don’t eat directly affects our emotional state. Eating foods rich in antioxidants, like berries, seafood, and even dark chocolate, (you’re welcome), helps to reset your gut health. The omega-three fatty acids in these foods will boost your mood and help you eliminate anxiety and worrisome thoughts.
4. Build a Healthy Lifestyle Routine
One big problem I see when working with my private weight loss coaching clients is when we neglect to stick to a routine our motivation slips, and our anxiety increases. For example, you should aim to have your meals around the same time every day. When we don’t do this what inevitably happens is that we skip a meal and then binge on the next one. The lack of balance and routine disrupts normal rhythms in our gut and causes constipation and other blockages that are toxic to our system. It also causes a spike in anxiety immediately because your body is going from starvation mode to being over-satiated, and lacking balance. This becomes a self-defeating pattern when we feel our life, and our bodies, have gotten out of our control.
How often do you actually sit down to eat your meals? Always wolfing down a quick snack or protein bar on the way out the door? If so, it is time to slow way down and start putting your mental and physical well-being first. After all, you can’t pour from an empty cup, as the old adage says. Rest is important to digestion. Our bodies are not designed to process on the go.
Stop eating lunch at your desk, step away from the computer and you will become more aware of not just what you are putting into your mouth, but how much. This “rush and go” habit can be causing digestive problems that prevent your gut from absorbing all the nutrients you should be getting from your food. Why is this? When we aren’t at rest our gut reacts by restricting the gastrointestinal chemicals that break down our food. As a result, we don’t absorb all the benefits from the vitamins and minerals in the food we eat, leading to a decline in both physical and mental health.
5. Do the Inner Work to Heal Your Past Trauma
Stress and anxiety usually have much deeper roots than that stressful day at work or the daily pressures of being a parent. Unless we have taken the time to look into our own childhoods and identify our deepest triggers, they continue to show up in all facets of our life. For instance, If you grew up in an unstable environment as a child, any time you encounter a highly charged, stressful situation your immune system may become overwhelmed and you don’t even realize it. Over time, repeated exposure to stress, either at work or at home, could be harming your mental and physical health more than you know.
Often those that think they do the best under pressure are chronic stress holders who have such a high threshold for stress that they don’t notice how much it is affecting their health on a daily basis. If you feel like just slogging through each day is weighing you down, I encourage you to try meditation, go for walks in nature, or find anything that helps you relax and re-regulate your nervous system. This will naturally restore your gut health and help you lose weight naturally that you have been struggling to get off.
If you try these methods and are still frustrated with losing weight and feeling balanced, contact me for a free call with no obligation of any kind. I am more than happy to share with you how working with a personal weight loss coach online can help you reach your goals and feel better right away. I don’t believe in eating terrible food or in deprivation. You can lose weight, de-stress, and feel more energized by implementing clean eating habits and it works fast! You can even lose weight without exercise by eating foods for gut health.
Sara Garofalo, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine
Sara Garofalo is a certified Intuitive Health and Life Coach, and Certified Ayurveda Counselor, helping HSP women to get to the root cause of their weight gain and break free from emotional pain through a mind-body-soul transformation.
Sara’s goal is to help women break unhealthy patterns and become more intuitive about their bodies through a sustainable holistic approach.
With her Intuitive Gifts and Healing sessions, Sara has been helping women heal from the deepest traumas and roadblocks stored in the body that are preventing women from becoming the healthiest version of themselves.