I have good news, and I have bad news. The bad news is that the stress in your life (all of our lives!) is probably the biggest reason you aren’t losing weight (if that is what you are looking to do). No matter how healthy you eat, or how hard you work out, if you have daily stress, you probably won’t lose weight.
Here’s why: Digestive stress is about 25% what we eat, and 75% who we are being when we eat. You could be eating a salad for lunch, but if you’re eating it while, say, gossiping about coworkers, it’s may be destroying your metabolism and creating digestive upset. This is thanks to cortisol, a stress hormone that is intended to keep us alive and out of danger. Think of humans back in the day: When hunting and gathering, we would occasionally encounter an aggressive animal, resulting in a threatening situation that would cause our body to go into “fight or flight” mode and release a hefty dose of cortisol. The hormone is quickly pumped into the arms and legs so that we can run for our lives from any and all lions and tigers and bears. (If you actually think about it, cortisol is amazing.)
While we rarely have to run away from lions in this day and age, we do have to run from other “threatening” issues (see: late bills, broken limbs, worrying emails). And unfortunately, our body cannot differentiate between a lion chasing us and our boss yelling at us: It responds the same exact way, no matter the cause of stress. What’s interesting is that this life-saving mechanism was intended to be temporary, only lasting for a short stint until you, you know, escape or get eaten, but, in today’s world, we are in a chronic state of stress, meaning there is an overflow of cortisol being released throughout the day that, for one, blocks us from properly digesting our food.
Why? If the blood is moving away from your digestive system, the digestive process stops. And if you’re eating while you’re stressed, you are shoving food into your body without a way for it to be processed or absorbed at all, and it’s slowing down your metabolism. (Are you familiar with the skinny legs and big belly syndrome? Guess what? That’s the result of excess cortisol. All the fat accumulates in and around the belly, creating that round midsection._
Ready for the good news?
You can create optimal digestion just using your breath. All you need is two minutes. We can’t eliminate the stress from our lives, but we certainly CAN trick our bodies into thinking we aren’t stressed right before we eat, thus maximizing the efficiency of our digestion and taking it out of survival mode.
Do this by taking nice big inhales, and slow exhales. I like to call this the “5-5-7 Breath”: You inhale for five seconds (until at about 2/3 capacity), hold for five seconds, and then exhale slowly for seven seconds (this is usually the hardest part for people).
When you breathe deeply like this, it resets your brain and body to a relaxed state, allowing your blood to flow properly to your gut, thus creating maximum efficiency! I would highly recommend doing this a few times before you eat any meal or snack.
Now, bon appetit: Here’s to less stress—and better digestion!
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