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How Stress Can Affect Digestion

We spend so much time thinking about what we should be eating, wading through all the confusing media messages and new diet plans out there. But thinking about HOW we eat is just as important. Our bodies can only use the nutrients from our food if our digestive system is working efficiently, and this can be helped by focusing a little bit more on reducing our stress levels before, during and after a meal.

Eating too fast

This is a common habit in the modern world when we are constantly rushing around, and often eating at our desk or in front of the telly without really thinking about what we are putting in our mouths. It has been linked to:

  • Indigestion and acid reflux, due to lack of chewing and pressure on the stomach valve

  • Bloating, due to taking in air when gulping down food, and

  • Obesity, especially in women, as there is not time to process the fullness signals from the stomach, which can take up to 20 minutes to reach the brain.

Slow down

When you sit down to eat, try to remove other distractions like books, magazines and phones from the table, and just focus on what is on your plate. Take a few deep breaths in and out through your nose before you begin, then chew each mouthful slowly so the saliva can help to start the digestive process, and pause between mouthfuls. This mindful approach to eating will also help you to notice when you are starting to feel full and therefore prevent over-eating.

Stress and digestion

Stress has been linked to digestive complaints such as indigestion, constipation and diarrhoea, as the body turns its attention and blood supply away from the digestive system in the presence of the stress hormone cortisol. This is why it is not a good idea to eat when feeling stressed or upset.

Take a deep breath

So how do we reduce our stress levels? Well, when we breathe deeply, with an exhale a little longer than the inhale, our parasympathetic nervous system is activated, which has a relaxing effect on the body, lowering stress levels and allowing for improved digestion. Deeper breathing also allows more oxygen to circulate to the brain, which may help avoid the mental slump often felt after a meal.

So, next time you eat, remember to take some deep breaths, instead of inhaling your food!


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