Busy and stressed? It’s affecting your digestion

Tuesday, May 1, 2018 6:52 PM

Are you sitting down in a quiet, relaxed environment with no distractions at meal time? Or are you stressed out, driving or working on the computer, taking bites as you rush through your to-do list?

If your meals sound more like the latter, then you are not alone. There’s also a good chance you are experiencing some negative consequences as a result, and today’s column is going to give you the “scoop” on what’s going on.

If you are stressed out and rushing through your meals, you may not be absorbing many of the healthy nutrients from the food, even if you are eating super-healthy. The problem is that you don’t absorb many nutrients when you are in a stressful situation.

The good news is that by making a few changes, you’ll enjoy your food more. Even better, you’ll also notice a dramatic increase in your energy and a dramatic decrease in your stress level. You’ll be healthier and feel better because you’ll absorb more healthy nutrients.

We’ve all heard how our body responds negatively to stress. If you haven’t, here’s a quick overview: When you’re relaxed, taking your time and not worried about everything on your to-do list, you have more blood in your organs as well as enzymes essential for proper digestion and nutrient absorption.

On the other extreme, you’ve probably heard of “fight or flight.” This is the adrenaline rush that occurs when you are threatened or scared by, for example, an approaching bear. It causes more of your blood to move from your organs to your extremities to help you defend yourself or get away fast. Even though we don’t encounter these situations every day, we’ve all created stresses that have the same effect on our bodies. The result is that you don’t have the necessary blood in your organs to digest food and absorb the nutrients to fuel and repair your body. The fewer nutrients and fuel you get, the more stress on the body, and it becomes a vicious cycle.

This means you need to take the age-old phrase “you are what you eat” and change it to “you are what you absorb.” The good news is there are easy things you can do to increase your absorption of nutrients and reduce your stress level.

Try setting aside a minimum of 20 minutes for lunch. If you feel stressed or rushed, try taking a 5-minute walk while focusing on your breathing; take a deep breath in through your nose, hold it, then let it out of your mouth. Laugh with a friend or read a funny joke. All these strategies reduce stress by impacting the hypothalamus in your brain. Bonus tip: Make a conscious effort to chew each bite more than your usual times. Digestion starts in your mouth, and not chewing or salivating greatly impacts this step.

So stop eating while stressed! Instead, calm your mind and body, then sit down to that amazingly healthy lunch. Believe me, you will absorb many more nutrients, which will allow your body to thrive.

Fran Sutherlin is a local registered dietitian, health coach, speaker and owner of Sustainable Nutrition, which has offices in Durango and Bayfield. She can be reached at 444-2122 or