Learn How to Nourish Your Body in Times of Stress.
Nourishing your body is a true act of self-care. Last month, I talked about the importance of self-care and how this impacts your food behaviors. One of the most important acts of self-care is eating and nourishing your body. But what happens when you are stressed out, or an event has occurred, or that you take a medicine that blunts your hunger cues? Suddenly, your hunger cues aren’t reliable to follow. When you find yourself in this place, it is where it is shifting to a place of rational eating- eating because you know you need to.
Disruptors to Hunger
In my article, “How Self-care is Key to Becoming Attuned to Your Body,” I discussed attunement disruptors. An attunement disruptor is anything that interferes with your ability to hear your body and respond to it in an appropriate amount of time. When you are in an acute or chronic state of stress, have an illness, or are an athlete in intense training, your hunger can be blunted for several hours or what can feel like days. This is when you can’t rely on those hunger cues you have been working so hard on hearing. I have so many clients that will say, “I don’t feel hunger, so why should I eat then?!”
There can almost be fear in this like you are losing what you have worked so hard on. It is important to realize that the work you have done to restore your hunger cues is just remembering what was already there. Once you have found it, you never lose it. But life will come along and feel like it is mucking it up. But that is all that it is- life. You are human. Things will happen that will challenge your body and your system.
The Nervous System Response
When we are going through stress or pushing our bodies to do more physically, we activate our sympathetic nervous system. We go into “fight mode.” When we are in this mode, our body inhibits digestion and blunts hunger. If you think of it, back in the prehistoric days, it didn’t serve us to be hungry when a tiger was chasing us—all of that blood needed to be in our muscles to run away. Even though we aren’t faced with tigers anymore, our bodies still register stress in the same way.
This is why you must rely on your rational thought to keep yourself nourished and know you can’t rely on your intuition, instinct, or emotion. Your system is offline. It requires you to use the data you have collected by observing what keeps you satiated and nourished. These are the foods that you know you have liked and that last you. It’s realistic that when you are under stress, you may not want to cook. So having meals that you can assemble and just put together can be a good plan.
Keeping to the eating guideline every three to four hours can be helpful. You might find yourself stretching to five hours. Keep that your max. This is the time that it takes for your food to be metabolized and for your blood sugars to normalize. It might be helpful during more stressful times or if you are on a medicine that blunts your hunger, to set an alarm on your phone to go off to remind you to eat. You often need the physical reminder again, just as you were learning, reminding yourself to eat. You are not doing it wrong if you need this reminder. It is assistance in helping you take good care of nourishing yourself.
Try your best to keep to your normal pattern of eating. This may be three meals and a couple of snacks. Even if it feels like “check the box” meals or snacks, you know you are taking care of your body in the way that it needs.
It can be helpful to create what Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch call “Nutrition 911.” Nutrition 911 is a list of meals and snacks that you know you like, and at the very least, can tolerate to fuel your body. In this plan, you want to think about foods that are easy to prepare. This can be the assembling of meals or meals that require minimal effort on your part. It can also meals that you know can pick up that you know that you feel nourished after and will sustain you.
You may find that you might do better with smaller meals or even snack-like meals throughout the day. As you come up with a list, remember to stay flexible. There is no rigidity here. This is a backup plan you are devising for yourself, not a new meal plan to follow. The intention is purely about self-care and giving yourself a list of foods to choose from when you have zero appetite and can’t decide what you’d want.
Eating During Stress Instead
You may feel the opposite during stress. You may go towards food rather than not eat. Self-care is essential here too. I am never one to take emotional eating off the table. But rather, encourage other acts of self-care before going to the food for soothing. It is still learning what you need that the food is masking or “filling.”
Self-care is a journey that we as women are always learning to master. What we need and want during life changes, depending on what season of life we are living. Whatever stressors come your way, remember that you are always worthy of taking care of- these very acts of nourishing yourself are feeding your body and your soul. It is just learning the practice of kindness and compassion for oneself during these times of stress and turmoil when we want to shut off or not take care of ourselves. Instead of turning away from yourself, you turn toward yourself and say, “I see you. I will take care of you. I will nourish you.”