Stress. We hear about it all the time. It’s in our daily vocabulary. We feel the weight of it constantly.
What if I told you that the food you consume is stressing your body out and making things worse?
It sounds crazy, right? When I think of stress, I think of a busy schedule, too many commitments, big life events or tragedies, etc. I don’t think of an internal response. However, the food you eat has a major impact on your stress hormone: cortisol.
Cortisol is the fight or flight hormone. The purpose of it is actually a good thing! It is supposed to protect your body during times of stress. Imagine living in the wild and a mountain lion is approaching. Cortisol shoots through your body through the adrenals (hello, adrenaline!) in order to increase glucose for energy to ward off the attacker. Your heart rate increases thanks to epinephrine and you’re able to store fat needed for the fight. After the mountain lion has been killed and the situation is resolved, your body returns back to its normal state. All is well.
Here’s the problem with our current diet. When we eat lots of sugar and refined or simple carbs, our blood sugar is frequently crashing, signaling to the body that we’re under attack and need an increase of cortisol. So glucose is increased and fat is stored. This is super taxing on the adrenals, because due to the carb-sugar cycle we are always in, our adrenal glands are ALWAYS shooting out extra cortisol, way more than was intended in human design. Our cells soon become resistant to cortisol. What does this lead to? Inflammation, a poor-functioning immune system, type 2 diabetes, fertility issues, inability to lose weight, cancer, thyroid problems, depression, chronic fatigue…the list goes on.
Not to mention when we are constantly in fight or flight, our food won’t be digested properly, because we can’t enter “rest and digest” mode. THAT leads to leaky gut, IBS, ulcers, acid reflux, you get the picture.
(Side note – this is why I am so heavily against energy drinks. If you need more caffeine than one cup of coffee a day to function, you have an adrenal issue going on. Excess caffeine will only shoot out more cortisol, leading to all the issues I mentioned above.)
Cortisol should peak in the morning and steadily decrease throughout the day, so that by bedtime, your body is ready for sleep. Unfortunately for most of us, we consume nothing but sugar in the form of refined carbs (bread, pasta, cereal, chips, crackers, “healthy” bars). We must eat constantly to pick up after the crash, and our blood sugar is going up and down, keeping cortisol on tap as a result. Add in a busy lifestyle, work drama, relationship issues, tragedies, changes…and it is one giant recipe for overall inflammation.
This isn’t an adult-only issue. Our kids are more stressed out than ever before, and that bowl of cereal in the morning is doing way more harm than good in the long run. I saw it with my middle school students who couldn’t remain focused from class to class. It is an EPIDEMIC, and monitoring screen time isn’t enough. It doesn’t even scratch the surface.
Reduce caffeine intake. Drink caffeine in the morning, when cortisol is supposed to be higher naturally. Stop drinking it in the afternoon or evening.
Consume complex carbs and a LOT of veggies. Complex carbs like whole grains, brown rice, quinoa, buckwheat, amaranth all contain fiber to slow down the release of glucose into the bloodstream. Veggies also contain fiber and plenty of phytonutrients to keep inflammation in check.
Load up on omega 3s and healthy fats. Most Americans take in waaaay too many omega 6s and many of us grew up on processed vegetable oils and margarine, which are extremely inflammatory. By adding in healthy fats like olive oil, avocado oil, coconut oil, grass fed butter, ghee, and fatty fish, you decrease inflammation.
At every meal, try to include a protein, fat, fiber and leafy greens to really stay full and keep blood sugar from getting all wacky. I’ve found this formula to keep me from snacking like crazy throughout the day. When I fuel my body with the right things, I’m not reaching for snacks to pick me up – and my body can slow down the release of insulin and reset hunger hormones.
If you need extra support and struggle with willpower, supplement with chromium and alpha lipoic acid. Both can improve blood sugar. I take this formula and it really makes a difference in my mental clarity and digestion, thanks to the prebiotic (that also helps with blood sugar).
Blood sugar, inflammation, and gut health are at the root of just about every preventable chronic illness there is…but the key word there is PREVENTABLE. Get off the blood sugar roller coaster, be nice to your cortisol, and you will reap the benefits. Life is too short to be miserable. I want to nourish my body to live a flourishing life.