“If we are panicked or overwhelmed by food – it doesn’t matter what we are choosing to put in our body it will not nourish us”
I am eating all the right things.
I am only eating “healthy”.
Why am I still having all of these digestive concerns even when I eat only good things.
These are common things that I hear: from patients, from people around me, sometimes even in my own mind. There is this idea that if you are doing it “right” – eating only the “right” foods, eating only the “right” amount of foods – then you are supposed to feel good. If only it were that simple.
The truth is there is much more that goes into the way that we nourish our bodies than the food that we eat. There is so much more that goes into feeling good then just your food choices. Yes the quality and nutrients of the foods that we choose to put into our bodies is one part of this, but it is not the only thing. The foundation of allowing food to nourish you includes understanding how food impacts your mental health. This means looking at how you feel mentally and emotionally around food. When you are having a hard mental relationship with food you can feel mentally and physically bad even eating the most nutritious foods.
Stress around food and what you are eating doesn’t allow you to seek the nourishment that food offers. Instead that stress can trigger an overwhelmed or panicked state changing the way that our digestive system is working. This state is also called a sympathetic nervous system response or a fight or flight state.
There is a profound physiological link between our nervous system and our digestive systems. Both of these systems produce the neurotransmitter serotonin that helps to regulate our digestive function and our mood. When we are not eating foods that are nourishing our bodies, we can experience changes in our mental health. In this same fashion when we are experiencing extreme stress or emotions in our nervous system this does not allow us to physically digest and use the nourishment of food. In essence our emotional or mental state can influence our physical ability to use food, or engage with food including whether we feel hungry or full.
It is the parasympathetic nervous system response or relaxed state that allows for our brain to reset and for the digestive system to function optimally. If we are constantly being panicked or overwhelmed by food it doesn’t matter what we are putting in our body it will not nourish us. Our nervous system will actually prevent our digestive system from using the food properly.
Having an emotionally or mentally stressed relationship with food also doesn’t give our brain any time to rest and reset. No matter how well you are doing anything else – if you cannot relax around food it will only tax your nervous system instead of nourish it. This can result in changes in your ability to digest food properly and can cause or exacerbate digestive symptoms such as bloating, gas, irregular bowel movements, nausea and much more.
The way to nourish the body and mind most profoundly is by being okay with the foods that you are eating. It means not fighting against the act of eating or the food that you are putting in your body. It means being nice to yourself. It means not using food as a way to be hard on yourself. It means not trying to use food as a way to control what is going on around you. It means not using food as a way of judging yourself or as a way of isolating yourself. It means understanding that food doesn’t have to be perfect, that you don’t have to be perfect. You are okay just the way that you are, just like the food you are eating – no matter what it is – is okay just the way it is.
Letting go of all the rules and restrictions we have around food can set the stage for us to start to feel good. Feeling good means feeling safe in your body. It means being present and seeing things for what they are. Seeing that food is just food – nourishment for our body – and not the be all and end all for you happiness, success or comfort in your own body. When we can separate food from our own happiness and self-worth, that is when we can truly start to let food – no matter what that food is – nourish us. At the same time it also gives us the space to start to find the nourishment that we truly need beyond food. This could be in rest or sleep or passions or work or relationships: any of the things that focusing on food prevents you from engaging with.
During this time of self-isolation there is a lot of time that can be spent thinking about and engaging with food. This can be very triggering for anyone with a complicated food relationship. At the same time it also gives us the time and space to reflect on it. It gives space to sit with the discomfort you might feel around food and reflect on the ways that your relationship with food is actually NOT nourishing you and the ways that this same relationship might be preventing other parts of your life from nourishing you.
It doesn’t have to be this way. YOU can change this. YOU can let this world nourish you.
Today – choose one meal and before eating it sit down and tell yourself all of the reasons why the food on this plate is nourishing your body. Is it because it is right from the Earth? Is it because of the vitamin and mineral content? Is it because you are low energy and need a pick me up? For this exercise the type of food that you are eating – it doesn’t matter- what matters is letting go of judgement towards the food and yourself. What matters is the positive way this food is impacting you.
Every single food has something to offer you. Yes there are foods with higher nutrient content than others, but each food still has something to offer. Once you see what each of the foods you are eating has to offer, keep this in your mind as you take each bite. The focus is not on judging yourself for what you are eating but on reminding yourself that each bite of each food you chose today, at this one meal, is nourishing you.
It is time to stop letting food dictate your worth, your time, your energy. It is time to nourish yourself inside and out.
Please reach out if you need any support at this time. I am always here offering virtual appointments.