Food is a powerful thing. It has the ability to restore and revitalize health or create stress, anxiety, and dysregulation of some of our most basic physiological functions.
We hear a lot about the different ways food can improve our health but what about the effects of ‘food stress’ and the anxiety or craziness that food can create?
Food sensitivities, food allergies, self-imposed food rules and restrictions, and power struggles with kids over food are scenarios where food can make us stressed out and neurotic. The physical and mental stress can ultimately lead to damaging health effects. For example, nutrient deficiencies that can occur with the removal of whole food groups and elevated levels of stress hormones, like cortisol and adrenaline, can lead to changes in organ function over time, cause low-grade chronic inflammation and thus chronic illness.
So how can we turn food stress into food success?
Food allergies and food sensitivities are on the rise in the United States. According to Food Allergy Research and Education, 32 million Americans have food allergies including 5.6 million children under the age of 18. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that food allergies in children increased by 50 percent from 1997 to 2011.
Dietary restrictions can feel overwhelming and stressful in the beginning not only for the individual but also for the family, especially when the elimination of an entire food group can carry the risk of nutrient deficiencies. Eating out feels difficult and cooking at home feels tricky and confusing.
Working closely with a qualified nutritionist can help with integrating dietary changes into daily life to help ensure adequate nutrient intake from other food sources and/or supplements if necessary. During the transition, a personal chef or a meal planning app can be helpful for a short amount of time to become familiar with new ingredients, new recipes and new ways of cooking.
Self-imposed Food Rules and Restrictions
Another form of food stress comes from self-imposed food rules and restrictions.
Making sense of confusing dietary trends, food fads, and the nutrition hype that floods mainstream media can take a mental, emotional, and physical toll. Are you familiar with analysis paralysis? In the search for answers it’s easy to become paralyzed by information, or stuck in the muck as I like to say. Confused by how to move forward we take no action at all.
On the other hand, we try and integrate some arbitrary food practice based on purported health claims and this combined with unrealistic performance demands and poor body image, quickly turns into disordered eating behaviors that if gone unchecked and unresolved can lead to serious health consequences.
The solution? A change in mindset. Food freedom can come with a change in how we relate to food and our bodies. This shift develops over time and learning to use nutrition information as a tool rather than a form of restriction or punishment.
Power Struggles with Kids and Food
Lastly, as parents we often find ourselves in a power struggle over food with our children. Too often we impose arbitrary food rules with the best of intentions, hoping to teach our children healthy habits that they will carry into adulthood only to find ourselves in a total food rebellion! We get in the way of our children’s intuitive wisdom and interfere with hunger and fullness cues that set the stage for food fear and food stress later in life.
According to researchers the food habits of parents is one of the greatest influences on a child’s eating behavior and food choices. So, the best thing we can do for our children is to lead by example. Stay active and expose them to a variety of nutrient-dense, whole-food choices rather than micromanaging their food behaviors.
If food is creating unhealthy stress in your life, you’re not sure how to integrate necessary dietary changes, or you struggle to find the joy and pleasure in everyday eating, let’s connect.
Book a free call on my website to learn how we can get you back on the path to food success and away from food stress.
Scaglioni, S., De Cosmi, V., Ciappolino, V., Parazzini, F., Brambilla, P., & Agostoni, C. (2018). Factors Influencing Children's Eating Behaviours. Nutrients, 10(6), 706. doi:10.3390/nu10060706