So far this series has dealt with stress in a very traditional way, but today we are going to switch gears and talk about something we don’t immediately associate with stress: the stress we put our body under when we overindulge.
Overindulging on food is part of our celebration culture. Our traditions mostly mean gathering with people we love and an abundance of delicious food. So we eat . . . and eat. We pile our plates with all sorts of celebratory delectables two or even two and a half times, and we eat way past the point of being full. Or as Louis C. K. put it, “I don’t stop eating when I’m full. The meal isn’t over when I’m full. It’s over when I hate myself.”
We overindulge as a form of celebration, but the problem is, my friends, we can always find a reason to celebrate. And all this overindulging stresses our bodies out.
Overeating means the body has to work extra hard to digest all that food. Your blood supply is diverted to help your digestive system move the extra food leaving less blood for things like your brain. Your brain! And your pancreas has to produce loads of insulin to deal with all that extra sugar flooding in from things like rolls, sweet potato casserole, and pie. Insulin produced under the stress of too much food means the pancreas does a fast and dirty job. And it doesn’t stop until it clears the body of all sugar, which means we now have low blood sugar.
Low blood sugar can leave us confused, tired, and even depressed. Our body directs us to fix these problems by eat more sugar. Thus a horrible cycle that taxes our endocrine system and has us reaching for all the wrong foods is born. This cycle will not be done when the celebrating is over. In fact this is the cycle many of us struggle with on a daily basis. Our bodies are trying to find homeostasis, or balance and stability, but we haven’t given it the right fuel to do that. So we pack on the pounds and feel guilty that we can’t drop weight (causing even more stress), not realizing that a very real chemical battle is being waged which no low-calorie snack food is going to win.
So on this eve of Christmas Eve, I’m making a plea with you. Let’s stop that celebration = overindulgence madness and find some balance. Here are some tips I think will help.
- Set intentions- Before you even get to the table, set the intention to enjoy your food, to make the best choices you can, and to eat only until you are full (or just before).
- Breath– The first few minutes of a big meal can be chaos. We are rushing to get all the food on the table or to get the kids and elderly relatives situated. Once that’s all done, we just jump in and start grabbing and eating food in that same hurried state. So before you sit down to your own meal, calm yourself by take some good, deep breaths to bring yourself into the present.
- Slow down– Chewing is something we don’t do enough, which means we aren’t actually tasting much of all the food we are pushing down our throats. Chew slowly. Allow all the digestive enzymes in your mouth to do their job thereby taking pressure off the stomach and the intestines.
- Listen to your body– The truth is that we will hear our body at some point after the meal when we realize our pants are uncomfortable or we are so tired we can’t keep our eyes open. Why not try listening to your body before you get to that point? The first three steps will help you to do this, but getting good at hearing what your body says before it screams at you takes some practice.
The stress we put our body through when overindulging isn’t all that physiologically different from the stress we experience from taking on too many activities or being ruled by our phone. Overindulging releases the same stress hormones as all those outside stressors. The key is to eating in a way that will make you feel good after the meal by making the best choices available on the table, eat consciously, and eat only as much as you need.
For more post in this series check out Stress Part 1: Stop letting stress steal your joy, Stress Part 2:What if it is your circus and those are your monkeys, Stress Part 3:Sometimes you have to rethink the whole thing.