Stress destroys health. Kind of dramatic, right? But it’s true. And the funny thing is a LOT of people are actually stressing out about the very thing that could be nourishing our health: Food.
As someone who tries to live a “toxic-free” life, I’m constantly amazed at how stressful and toxic the health world can be. Don’t ever tell someone that you write about health and wellness. If you do, be prepared to get all sort of comments that demonstrate just how messed up our idea of healthy living is.
You’ll get comments about the fear of eating certain real foods because study x, y, and z have proven they will kill you. You’ll get comments about the latest weight-loss trends. You get comments drenched in fear, guilt, disgust, and fanaticism.
Does it really have to be so confusing?
Nope. As someone who has previously discussed the idea that there is no one diet that’s perfect for everyone, I’m doing my best to try and get people to calm down a little bit and get back to a more basic approach to eating and healthy living.
And believe me, it’s been a long road… a journey that I’m still figuring out. I do not have all the answers (by any stretch of the imagination), but I can relate with so much of the rigid idea of health because I’ve been there. I remember the day when I thought I knew what the perfect diet was for everyone. I remember the time, not too long after that, when I started feeling less certain. The day when I feared eating anything because there was research to show that everything is bad for you.
The trouble is that mainstream recommendations are doing a lot more harm than good. Basically, if you think you’re doing everything “right” according to mainstream experts, you are probably putting a lot of strain on your metabolic health. -Elizabeth Walling, The Nourished Metabolism
And then I remember the day when I started realizing that maybe all the “scientific proof” in the health world wasn’t so accurate. Like the idea that everyone should drink 8 oz. of water a day. Or the idea that sugar is bad. In fact, some of the most strongly held “truths” in the health world are the very ones doing a lot of damage to our body.
Understanding the body’s needs
The problem with so much of the nutritional information out there is that it ignores the big picture. Like when the China Study goes after milk but makes no distinction between pasteurized milk from sick and abused cows (you know, the stuff most readily available to consumers) and clean raw milk from healthy cows that has enzymes still intact for proper digestion. Sure you can use all the “data” you want to cherry pick a “scientific” study, but if you don’t step back and see the whole picture it’s not an accurate assessment of the real situation.
I think this is also true for those who talk so fervently about a “nourishing” diet while providing long lists of foods that must be consumed and foods that should be avoided. Hey, I’m all for nourishing food, but when I start to stress that my body may be failing because I didn’t get my weekly ration of liver or kale into my diet I begin to wonder if I have a healthy approach to food.
The body is extremely sensitive to stress… and that most certainly includes the stress of a hyperactive desire to eat perfectly.
Stress Destroys Health: The effects of chronic stress
Most of us think of deadlines, job interviews, or other “extreme” and emotionally charged situations when we think of stress. And ultimately stress is a part of life… and sometimes it’s even a good part of life. When faced with an immediate stressful situation our body pumps up the stress hormones to help us deal. In those short bursts stress serves an important purpose.
The problem, however, is that stress isn’t always tied to some sort of emotional event. When stress goes from obvious and short-lived to subtle and chronic that’s when we start hitting a danger zone.
As I mentioned in this post, there are a variety of ways that our body can begin to live off our stress hormones, adrenaline and cortisol, including highly restrictive diets. And while those hormones can provide mental clarity, energy, and decreased cravings in the beginning, the body was not designed to live off these hormones.
Ironically, one of the major side effects of chronically living off these hormones is poor digestion and assimilation. If we are chronically stressed our body can’t absorb a lot of what we give it. So much for that highly nourishing diet.
Other symptoms of chronic stress include:
- Poor thyroid function
- Blood sugar swings
- Loss of lean body tissue like muscle and bone mass
- Mood swings and depression
- High blood pressure
- Sleep problems
- Inflammatory skin conditions like eczema
- Susceptibility to illness and infection
- Weight gain, particularly in the abdominal region
Not a fun list, right?
Back to the big picture:
If healthy living is really your goal, then you need to consider your metabolic health. Why? Because our metabolism is the key to a healthy body. And stress plays a huge role in that health. Before you sress about every micro-nutrient or latest “study” worry about this most basic function of life. I’m not suggesting you give up real food or quit your job to take a year long vacation so that you are never stressed (although, wouldn’t the vacation be awesome?)… But I am suggesting letting go of any zealot tendencies that are keeping your from finding real joy, real vitality, and real health.
But where do I start?
I’d start simple:
- Focus on getting quality sleep (and lots of it) on the best mattress you can afford.
- Focus on enjoying your food, and eating with mindfulness.
- Focus on deep breathing, meditation, and relaxation to counteract your busy day.
- Focus on the positive relationships in your life.
- Don’t stress about the things you have no control over and change the things you do.
I’d also highly recommend getting your hands on Elizabeth Walling’s book: The Nourished Metabolism. It’s full of useful information to get stress in check, and find balance in this real food world.
The Nourished Metabolism
This is a wonderfully comprehensive guide for learning how to improve your metabolic health with simple but powerful changes in your diet and lifestyle that will nourish your metabolism and bring it back to its optimal state–a state where things like insomnia, poor digestion, low body temperature, dull skin, and mood swings become the rarity instead of the everyday.
What I love about Elizabeth’s book is that it provides clear and useful information without trying to shove you into some sort of dietary box. She’s an advocate of doing what works for you, and helps you find your own way through the confusing world of nutrition. Check it out here.
What will you do to nourish your metabolism today?