My normally even sensibilities are being restored by a post from a Paleo proponent of all things!
Although I do believe Paleo-type diets may be a positive choice for some -- I do not subscribe to the idea that all of us should eat in this way (my enjoyment of life would be severely limited if I chose to eliminate some of our more modern foods -- like crusty french bread!). I also find that many Paleo proponents make their diet choices sound more like a very cult-y religion and I want nooooo part of that, thank you very much!
But this post got me thinking about how stress (on an psychologicial level) effects our foods choices -- which in turn effects our stress (on a physiologic level) and round and round we go (or in the case of many of us -- round and round we become).
I've edited the post for length -- to read the whole thing, click here.
We all know the daily stressors we encounter like traffic, money problems, and poor sleep. What people may not realize is that a diet that alters proper energy pathways can also cause stress. Improper glucose uptake and poor mitochondria function are two common examples of this. Another major cause of this is any type of anemia.
If a person is anemic it becomes nearly impossible to fix the damage stress has caused to the adrenals due to the lack of oxygen. In the absence of oxygen, glucose becomes our primary fuel through glycolysis. Glycolysis ends up burning through sugar quickly and this can lead to food cravings and hypoglycemia. Any type of inflammation can impact the mitochondria and affect ATP production in the cell.
**ATP is the "energy-carrying molecule found in the cells of all living things. ATP captures chemical energy obtained from the breakdown of food molecules and releases it to fuel other cellular processes."
When we encounter stress, our HPA axis increases its activity. Foods high in sugar, fat, and salt elicit a strong response from our opioids. Opioid release seems to be a strong defense mechanism to an overactive HPA axis (Tanja, 2007). Meal choice can directly affect mood. Certain foods can reduce anxiety and irritability and place us in a more positive place. This is due to the effects food can have on opioids, serotonin, and dopamine. Chronic exposure to foods eliciting these responses will down regulate our sensitivity to these transmitters and force us to eat more to elicit the same mood altering response. This can lead to weight gain (Gibson, 2006).
**HPA axis is shorthand for the workings of the hypothalamus, pituitary and adrenal glands -- all involved in our stress response to lions on the savanna and the possibility we may have overdrawn our checking account.
Our reward system is masterfully set up to push us towards things that are beneficial to our survival, such as sex and food. The question I would like to ask is, what if all those times we reached for highly rewarding foods when our HPA axis was firing caused our circuits to be rewired to actually seek out these foods during times of high stress?
By succumbing to the cravings for salt, sugar, and fat during times of stress, are we changing the way our brain chemistry works so it is harder to resist the cravings next time we are under stress? I think many of us (unscientifically, of course) would agree that sure is the way it feels!
So the author continues on with the idea that a solid stress management plan should accompany any weight management plan. In today's day and age, who doesn't have stress that drives them to behave in ways they wish they didn't?
(and let's face it, even if you weren't stressed at all before -- working on mindfulness can be stressful in and of itself!)
If eating has been your go-to stress management plan in the past, what replacement stress management system have you put in place now that you've decided not to use food to do the job?
Until you figure that out, stress will always knock you off the path you are working so hard to be on.