Today, more than ever, we face a number of growing factors which inhibit our health. The fast pace of life, the expectations we place on ourselves, the expectations others place on us, just to name a few. While 20 years ago, we could be healthy just by eating well, this is no longer the case. We share with you some incredible insights shared with us from Nutritionist Caroline Scott, from Gwinganna Lifestyle Retreat.
The amount of external pressures and stresses, the preservatives dumped in all of our foods, and the heavy processing of our food mean that just choosing healthy food options is no longer enough. To be truly healthy, we need to understand the four quadrants of well being and attend to each of these areas in our lives.
Stress is a constant factor in every single one of our lives. There is no way to eliminate that stress in today’s world unless you go and live in an ashram for the rest of your life and only eat the finest hand-picked goji berries from a one thousand-year-old tree. For most of us, this is not an option. However, stress resilience is about how well we handle the stress in our lives, and this is different for everyone. The good news is that while stress isn’t going away any-time soon, how we perceive the stress and deal with it is what matters and can make a big difference to our wellbeing.
Here are Caroline’s 6 tips for improving your stress resilience:
- Improve your digestion
It seems a bizarre idea that by improving your digestion, you can lower your stress levels. However, digestion and stress are more closely linked than you would originally think. Remember the old phrase “you are what you eat”? Caroline takes this one step further and argues that “you are what you absorb,” and the whole idea of your digestion is to absorb what you eat. If you are experiencing bloating every time you eat certain foods, this is a symptom telling your body that something is wrong. You are not digesting that food properly and therefore not absorbing that food properly either. Other symptoms of digestive issues are reflux, indigestion, abdominal pain, cramping, and lack of bowel movements. Remember that if your digestive system is healthy, you should be having bowel movements every day. Caroline’s rule is “if it’s not daily, it’s not right!” This is because bowel elimination allows your lymphatic system to remove waste from your cells. Therefore it is important that we are eating the right foods to allow and encourage this.
While the type of food you are eating is crucial for digestive health, it is also important to consider the environment of the gut. Is it working correctly? Is part of the gut not producing the enzymes required to break down foods? Stress is one factor that reduces the body’s ability to break down foods and upsets the digestive system. If your digestive system is upset for long enough, you become nutrient deficient, as your body is not able to correctly absorb the vitamins and minerals. If your body is in a nutrient deficient state, you very quickly fall into a disease state.
The solution is to slow this process down. One way to do that is by improving your digestion. When you eat, take time to focus on your meal and slow down. Don’t eat food in front of the television or in your car. Chew your food really well. This gives your digestive system the optimum chance to process the food.
- Support liver function
Stress has a huge impact on the liver. To help the liver function at an optimal level, try to minimise what Caroline calls “liver loaders.” These include the excessive and consistent consumption of
- and lack of exercise.
There are times when alcohol, sugar and caffeine are fine to consume. But there are other times when we have it too often, not to mention when those substances are combined with high levels of stress. Caroline advocates reflecting on your individual body. For some people, they will need to totally eliminate one or more of these “liver loaders.” With your morning cup of coffee, think about how it affects you. Think about why you drink it as well as why you want it. If you are weaning yourself off caffeine, understand why you have a headache, and no it’s not because you “have a caffeine deficiency”.
Cutting down on sugar is a big one which will not only improve your overall health, but will specifically support liver function. Today’s average diet contains a chronic overload of sugar. The research of American Pediatric doctor Robert Lustig has found that if you consume one can of soft drink every day for a year, you will pack on 22 kilos of fat in that year. That is just from one can of soft drink a day.
- Balance your hormones
Hormones make up a delicate balance in the body. There are a lot of things that can put these hormones out of balance. Stress is a big factor that disrupts the levels of these hormones, however other factors can also contribute. For example, when we drink alcohol, it increases estrogen and cortisol (a stress hormone) in the body. When men have increased estrogen in the body, it increases body fat. For women, high levels of estrogen create an imbalance to the already delicate balance of estrogen and progesterone in the body. This is bad, because progesterone contributes to and directly affects our mood through pepping up serotonin levels.
- Eat more plants
Try to mainly eat food that is natural. Caroline’s rule is that “if man made it, don’t eat it.” Unlike packaged, processed and refined ‘foods’ (for lack of a better word), nature’s food is completely balanced in its nutrients. Michael Pollan’s book “In Defence of Food” advocates eating food which looks as close to its natural state as possible. Pollan also argues that as a society, we need to eat more plant-based foods. For example, vegetables are full of micronutrients that we need for good health. Studies have shown that for adults, the more plant-based foods you have in your diet, the lower your risk of cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. New studies are showing that for children, high plant-based diets correspond to higher IQs.
- Breathe more
There might be stress all around you, but it is important to learn how to deal with that stress and manage it. Taking time to breathe deeply has a large impact on reducing stress levels. Focus on deep diaphragmatic breathing. This type of deep breathing shuts down the adrenal response in the body. It won’t change the situation, but it will change how you deal with it.
- Play more, move more, love more
Finally, help manage stress by playing more and moving more. Don’t beat yourself up about following the latest fitness fad. Just focus on functional movement and trying to exercise every day. Also reflect on how you can increase intimacy and love in your life. Dr Dean Ornish, the founder of the Preventive Medicine Research Institute, claims that you can actually reverse coronary heart disease. In his studies, Ornish puts people through a healthy lifestyle program, but it is the ones who also increase intimacy and love in their lives who completely cure themselves of disease.
Ask yourself why we as a society are not experiencing the great benefits of good health? We need to look at how our society is structured and the demands placed on us by others and ourselves. Ask yourself: could stress be a causative factor in your health issues? Caroline promises that age is not the culprit. We have a societal belief that when you pass 60, you will be on pharmaceutical drugs with aching joints. It doesn’t need to be like this. As Joseph Pilates wrote, “We retire too early and we die too young, our prime of life should be in the 70s and old age should not come until we are almost 100.” The assumptions that we have been told about aging are untrue and we need to rethink them. You can start challenging these assumptions, live healthier and start becoming stress-resilient by following Caroline’s six tips. And remember that eating well, feeling good, and being healthy is a choice that you can make each and every day.