Rest + Digest

Rest + Digest

 

All images by Sarah Konyer (@sarahkonyer)

While the 2020 holiday season may have its limitations, there’s still one thing we can all look forward to - the meals!  This holiday season, we’re introducing nutritionist, Jennifer Brott, of My Edible Advice, who has kindly agreed to share her expertise with us on how stress impacts digestion, how ritual + scent can play a role, and later, three incredibly decadent brunch recipes inspired by her favorite Woodlot blends.

Today, Jennifer gives us an idea of how stress is impacting the body when we eat, and shares how engaging in soothing activities, like the lighting of a candle, can better prepare our bodies for optimal digestion.

Next week, Jennifer will share three rituals for better digestion, as well as her top scent recommendations for creating a digestion friendly atmosphere!

Introducing, Jennifer!

Let me tell you something I discuss with every single one of my clients: the importance of “rest and digest”. 

As a nutritionist, I work with clients in need of tools to improve their digestive health.  Whether they are dealing with uncomfortable bloating or a chronic disorder like irritable bowel syndrome, we always start at the same place: the mind-body connection.

It is important to understand that our digestive system and nervous system are deeply intertwined.

Biology 101

Our autonomic nervous system controls all unconscious body functions, like breathing and digestion, as well as every organ in our bodies except for skeletal muscles.

The autonomic nervous system has two main divisions:

The Sympathetic Nervous System – also known as “fight or flight” response. 

The Parasympathetic Nervous System – also known as “rest and digest” response.

Our sympathetic nervous system kicks in whenever we‘re experiencing any kind of real or perceived threat.  If fear, real or imagined, shows up in your thoughts or environment (being chased by a bear, running late for a big meeting, or even judging ourselves in the mirror) we activate our “fight or flight” response, and shift into a stress mode.

When this happens our sympathetic nervous system moves our energy and blood flow to our extremities so that we can fight or flee, escape the situation, or freeze in the presence of our stressor.

When our body shuttles our energy and blood to our arms and legs, however, it also moves it away from our internal organs, including our digestive tract.

Digestion is hardly essential when we are fighting for our lives, so, if we find ourselves in a full-tilt stress response (bear!) our digestion completely shuts down.

Yet even in a moderate or chronic stress response (hello, negative self talk) our digestive system is still impacted negatively.  When we’re living in a state of worry or anxiety, our ability to digest, assimilate and metabolize our food is hugely reduced. 

"How does stress impact my digestion?"

The thing is that our stress response holds great influence over our digestion and metabolism.  We can have the most wonderfully healthy food on our plate, but if our sympathetic nervous system is activated, then we’re existing in fight or flight mode and our bodies can’t fully assimilate the nutrition that we’re ingesting.

Stress can: affect gut motility (fancy code for diarrhea or constipation) aggravate acid reflux, disrupt the natural balance of healthy bacteria in the gut (which is not a good thing for your immune system), initiate a relapse in ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease, or spasms in IBS.

"How can I fix it?"

The good news is that we have a whole other system that counteracts our fight or flight response – the parasympathetic nervous system – what some refer to as the “rest and digest” response.  Turning on this system neutralizes the body after stress – the heart rate drops, the pupils constrict, and the muscles relax.

In rest and digest mode, the body begins to repair itself, energy becomes conserved, and even your digestion improves.

You can activate rest and digest mode by engaging in activities that soothe you, like lighting a candle, taking deep breaths, or going for a calming walk before a meal. 

Because sympathetic and parasympathetic modes oppose one another, resting, digesting, and healing can’t take place when survival hormones are running.  The biochemicals of rest and digest are critical for survival too, but long-term survival.

Nature cannot give you a spurt of relaxation like it can give you a spurt of urgency. Adrenaline always trumps the chemistry of serenity, because we are programmed to produce it faster than we can think, for survival.

If stress mode has been your default way of being, you may have to make a conscious effort to slow down and heal with the help of your rest and digest rituals.

I see it in my private practice time and time again - my clients are so accustomed to being on the go that they don’t realize they could often ditch the antacids and bloat by just stopping, slowing down, and relaxing before meals.

Keep an eye out next week for a second part to this series, which will include three rituals from Jennifer for supporting our digestion.  Stick with us until the following week, for three scent inspired holiday brunch recipes that are sure to satisfy all of your senses!

Jennifer is the founder of My Edible Advice.  Learn more about her and the services she provides by visiting myedibleadvice.com, and keep up with her latest offerings by following her on instagram (@myedibleadvice).

Woodlot xo

 

References 

1. Browning, K, Travagli, A. Central Nervous System Control of Gastrointestinal Motility and Secretion and Modulation of Gastrointestinal Functions. 2016 [Pubmed]
2. Dosset, M. Brain-gut connection explains why integrative treatments can help relieve digestive ailments. 2019 [Harvard]
3. Kamiya, A. The Brain-Gut Connection. 2020 [Hopkins]
National Institutes of Health. Stress System Malfunction Could Lead to Serious, Life Threatening Disease. 2002 [NICHD]
4. Sowndhararajan, K, Kim, S. Influence of Fragrances on Human Psychophysiological Activity: With Special Reference to Human Electroencephalographic Response. 2016. [Pubmed]