In my early twenties, at a point in my life when I didn’t know which way was up and I was mistreating myself if every sense of the word, I began to feel this deep-seated pain in my stomach that I had no control over.
Every morning my stomach was replaced by this weight, and when I thought about eating, it made me sick. Water and coffee typically carried me through until the evening when I’d force myself, force myself, to eat. I knew I needed something and I wanted to eat, I couldn’t enjoy the food around me as I had before; it was as if my brain was registering food as a toxin. Nothing ever sounded good, everything made me nauseous, and each bite seemed like torture. I had no idea what was happening.
When Food Becomes Your Mental Health’s Pawn
I knew my body wasn’t functioning how it should, but what I didn’t know, was that I was experiencing severe anxiety. My stressful lifestyle and lack of self-care were eating away at me in a way that was causing my appetite to diminish completely.
I heard about anxiety before, but never experienced it, or so I thought. From what I knew in my younger years, it only occurred for a short period -like when something new or overwhelming came up. Anxiety didn’t affect you entirely – morning and night – for weeks on end, and it surely didn’t cause you to vomit while brushing your teeth. -WRONG!
This was a time in my life when I heard, “I bet you’re pregnant,” whenever I mentioned what was going on with me. Never, NOT ONCE, did anyone ask me if I was okay, stressed, sad, overwhelmed, or anything else. This was disheartening, and it drove me crazy because everyone seemed to focus on my reproductive system and nothing else.
Determined to find answers and with the help of the internet, I realized my lifestyle and poor mental health were the underlining causes of my physical symptoms. Experiencing this body-mind connection first hand, and in such an intense manner, was an outstanding wake-up call that pushed me forward on this personal-development journey.
My body was figuratively screaming out for help. If I kept giving in to the symptoms of my stress and anxiety my physical and mental health would continue downhill. So, I took back control. I separated myself from the awful feelings I was having towards food and decided that I would do everything I could to aid in my overall health -starting with my diet.
When life throws you for an unexpected loop, how does it affect your appetite?
Do you run towards food when life’s too much, or, do you become so overwhelmed that the very thought of eating makes you nauseous and stressed? Maybe a little mixture of the two depending on the time of the day?
We face many daily stressors that sometimes we don’t realize just how impactful that stress is when it comes to our relationship with food. When we don’t recognize this quick, or sometimes slow, change it can further damage our mental and physical health alongside the stress. This is why focusing on and continuing our healthy eating habits during a stressful or traumatic time is vital to our well-being.
Food For Thought
When we’re anxious, depressed, or life’s got us down, the instinctual urges that affect our eating habits (eat or don’t eat) are the body’s natural way of coping with said stressors. By first understanding that this change is physical and chemical, it gives us the power to:
-RELEASE THE GUILT
-RECOGNIZE THE CHANGES
-CORRECT THE HABIT.
If you lose your appetite when somethings got you down or stressed, it’s because your body is producing a large amount of cortisol (the fight-or-flight stress response).
This chemical response to the outside world causes your stomach and digestive system’s functions to change without your say-so, which is why it can be such a challenging and confusing experience.
Your body’s natural urge to eat and function suppresses. It can even stop breaking down food altogether or speed up the elimination process. Your brain is doing what it believes is the right thing to do to help you cope, but this chemical change can have adverse effects like, reducing vital nutrients that your body needs to overcome the upset. If you allow this response to run the show, in time, you’ll begin to experience poor quality of sleep, headaches, weakness, and worsening mental health.
If you experience an increased appetite, it’s because your brain wants you to release dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin, and endorphins into your system (the wonderful chemicals in our brain).
These chemicals want to make you feel better, so you instinctually do everything you can to make it happen. This is where mindless and unhealthy eating habits are formed; because your brain has registered food (usually junk) as a positive coping mechanism, it craves it.
Although the intentions of eating are good, too much of the wrong foods, will have the oppositive effect of what your body originally wanted; especially processed foods filled with sugar, caffeine, and additives. When you let the “wrong foods” fill you up, it can further harm your mental and physical health and keep you from healing the way your body had intended to.
Although these powerful instinctual drives are natural, thankfully we can recognize them for what they are and address them as quickly as possible. The ultimate goal in all of this is to care for the underlining cause, our mental health, and we can’t do that if we’re not providing our bodies with the vital nutrients, it needs to heal.
Care of Your Gut; Care of Your Mind
Okay, so we know how our eating habits can change and why they do but what’s the best way to combat those changes. First, you have to dedicate your time and consistency to a healthier you. This change isn’t about losing weight or cutting down a few jean sizes, which can very well happen when you gain control of your eating habits and also feels great on its own, it’s about healing. When you begin to heal your mind and your body with food, you provide yourself with a strong platform that can help you overcome life’s stress, unhealthy habits, trauma, LITERALLY EVERYTHING.
The truth, these foods aren’t a “quick fix,” they’re helpful tools that will provide you with what you need to heal your mind, body, and soul.
“Let Food Be Thy Medicine and Medicine Be Thy Food.” – Hippocrates
Nuts. Seeds. Tofu. Red Meat. Turkey. Chicken. Fish. Oats. Beans. Lentils. Eggs (keep the yolk!). Cheese. Dairy.
Tryptophan is a wonderful essential amino acid that your body changes into serotonin, and there’s such a wide variety of sources that regardless of what your food or diet restrictions are (paleo, dairy/gluten free, vegan, vegetarian, etc.) there are tryptophan-rich foods that can be very helpful to you specifically.
These foods will help you stabilize and regulate your mood as well as your sleep patterns. They will replace the highly processed and sugary foods that our body craves when we want to eat, and they will assist you in regaining your appetite and feel better when you are producing too much cortisol. They’re a win-win food when fighting stress and anxiety.
Raw Fruits & Vegetables
Raw is best.
When it comes to receiving essential vitamins and minerals. Canning or cooking fruits and vegetables reduces, then limits, the number of nutrients your body absorbs. If your body’s digestive system isn’t working correctly due to stress, it reduces the number of nutrients that it’s going to consume. You want to make sure you’re eating foods that are nutrient packed, that way you absorb as much as possible.
A bowl of vegetables with hummus or a fresh fruit smoothie can have you feeling better, faster, and longer than any cupcake or in my current case, Halloween candy, ever will. It’s so important to remember that moderation is key. Of course, we can have a sweet treat now and again, but you have to be able to recognize the difference between a small treat that won’t derail your health and over-indulgence that will lead to negative impacts both mentally and physically. Remember, moderation is key.
Fresh Juice & Water, Water, Water
To remain our healthiest, drinking plenty of water is paramount. I can’t say that enough.
Trauma, stress, and anxiety can negatively affect essential bacteria in your body that digests food and cortisol could be derailing your digestive system as well. Plenty of water with your raw fruits, raw vegetables, and the tryptophan-rich food is what’s going to help you improve your digestion so that you can absorb all of their vital nutrients.
Fresh, natural juice is also a great choice because you’re getting the best of both worlds: loads of nutrients and plenty of water. Juicing first thing in the morning or when you’re starting to feel awful will have a very positive impact on your bodily systems and aid your emotional health.
Vitamins & Minerals
Biotin assists in nervous system functioning which can be damaged by stress and anxiety. It can also aid cell growth and healing as well as energy. You can find it in egg yolks, sardines, meat livers, cauliflower, cabbage, sweet potatoes, nuts, lentils, strawberries, and bananas to name only a few.
B9 -Folic Acid or Folate:
B9 plays a crucial role in brain function, especially mental and emotional health. You can find natural occurring Folate in beans, leafy green vegetables, and citrus fruits or Folic Acid in supplement form.
B Vitamin Complex:
Vitamin B’s are crucial to our overall health and helps reduce the effects of daily stress on our body and mind. Vitamin B1 (Thiamine), B2 (Riboflavin), B3 (Niacin), B5 (Pantothenic acid), B6 (Pyridoxine), B12 (Cobalamin), as well as B7 (Biotin) and B9 (Folate) mentioned above, can all be found in a B Vitamin Complex if you choose to take a supplement. What’s important to remember is if you’re fueling your body with plenty of fruits, vegetables, and healthy meats your body will naturally obtain these wonderful vitamins so a supplement may not be necessary.
Magnesium is one of life’s many important building blocks, yet the majority of us aren’t receiving enough of this anxiety and depression miracle worker. It can but isn’t limited to the following: reduces stress hormones, is an anti-inflammatory, removes heavy metals, increases brain plasticity, and stimulates GABA receptors in the brain. Sadly, even the healthiest of foods today won’t provide you with the amount of magnesium you need due to mineral depleted soil which means finding a supplement may be best.
I use a magnesium chloride spray that I rub into my arms, legs, and abdomen twice daily. You can also find magnesium in pill form. Remember that it is possible to take too much magnesium so only take your recommended dietary allowance.
Potassium is another mineral that is necessary for our body’s function and plays a significant role in our nervous system and helps stabilize our moods because it helps regulate serotonin. Bananas are commonly known for their potassium, but even though they’re popular, there are better sources that can provide you with more of this necessary mineral. You can find potassium in beans, dark leafy greens, sweet potatoes, avocados, fish, dairy, nuts, citrus fruits, prunes, and dates to name a few.
Life, is stressful. It’s going to throw things at you that may make you feel like you just, you just can’t. You face so much as a mother, as a woman, as a human, that sometimes your body and mind begin to fall apart right before your eyes without you realizing it. You’re not failing because you lose control of your eating habits. You’re not broken or crazy because you’re suffering or can’t seem to heal quickly. What’s happening is that you need to take the reigns back. This is why self-care and being incredibly aware of how you’re treating yourself and what feels RIGHT is paramount to your health. The more you get in touch with yourself -mentally, emotionally, and physically- the better you will be at recognizing when somethings wrong. When you do this, you can take charge and do what’s best for yourself (like, eat healthy foods) before life lets you get carried away by stress, anxiety, guilt, trauma. anger, and everything else.
Remember to love hard, live great, and heal yourself accordingly.