One of the perks of writing a book about sound medical solutions to common health complaints is that I have an opportunity to reach so many people from so many places on the globe.
In the release of my latest book, The Blood Sugar Solution, I have been inspired by countless tales of the human body's empowered healing from the debilitating effects of insulin resistance and unruly inflammation in each system of the body.
I feel such joy every time I hear feedback from a reader or a patient about his or her success on the program. It's not egotistical joy necessarily, although my passion for functional medicine certainly fills me with happiness. Rather, it's pure gratitude for your willingness to make an effort at restoring your health by honoring the most natural and basic laws of the human body.
Remove unnecessary stressors, seek balance and strive for enjoyment on your ever-changing quest for health and vitality.
While most of you will undoubtedly experience remarkable recovery for your enthusiasm of life via improved health and even complete disease reversal, some of you will get stuck. Try as hard as you might to follow my recommendations precisely, to miss not one workout, to take each supplement I suggest and even set up appointments with your local functional medicine provider, something inside of you simply won't budge.
Maybe you're still tired? Experiencing brain fog? Feeling anxious or depressed? Unable to get your blood sugars down? I've heard it all. Yet the most emotion and frustration tends to come from those people who are striving to lose weight.
Weight gain and stubborn weight loss are often symptoms of something deeper occurring beneath the surface in a body and mind miscommunication. My programs often allude to weight loss as an added benefit but not necessarily the primary task.
This is because weight is like a secret message the body uses to alert us to the inflammation burning within. While it isn't always pretty and certainly is not always healthy, there is much wisdom in its message.
If we listen carefully, our body speaks to us and provides us with the exact information we need in order to reach our individual health goals. I realize that for many of you, achieving your weight loss goal is your No. 1 priority, and until you succeed it may be difficult to see that weight, in some ways, is merely a symptom.
So let's dive into this and talk about how you can use your own body to magically transform your entire relationship with food and outlook on life!
Slow Down, Tune In and Let Go
In 1975, Herbert Benson released his groundbreaking work on the effects of stress on the body in his book called, The Relaxation Response. It's no wonder this Harvard-trained cardiologist has touched the lives of millions worldwide with his pioneering mind-body medicine.
While stress is natural, it is the way in which we handle stress that tends to predict health outcomes. Studies reveal that the more we can engage our parasympathetic nervous system, the healthier we will be. Under this state, the body can effectively rest and digest.
This time of repair and renewal allows us to automatically harmonize the systems of our body to work together and balance "The 7 Keys of UltraWellness." Conversely, when the sympathetic nervous system is chronically engaged we exist in a constant state of stress, which has ultimately led to the current epidemic of stress-related chronic diseases.
Consider there is a continuum of stress and relaxation similar to insulin resistance. We all fall somewhere on this spectrum in any given moment. Each of us has the power to modulate our experience of both by realizing the power we have to tune in to a deeper part of ourselves.
But first, let's understand how stress is the barrier between you and stubborn weight loss.
How Stress Impacts Your Metabolism
The top five factors are:
- The body shifts into survival mode under stress, and your digestive tract literally shuts down. This means that there can be a shortage of the necessary enzymes, bacteria and acids required for proper digestion, absorption and metabolism. Clearly, when the body does not receive the nutrition it needs to function properly it will remain "hungry." You might be reaching for food out of malnutrition even if your intake is excessive! Secondly, all that rancid and decaying food -- poorly-digested stuff that is sitting in your gut -- leads to gut permeability, dysbiosis (an imbalance in gut flora) and inflammation. This "leaky gut" syndrome is responsible for a plethora of conditions, running the gamut from weight gain, hormone imbalance and autoimmune conditions to bloating, cramping and socially-uncomfortable odiferous gas.
Tune In to Let Go...
The next time you eat, ask yourself if you are about to eat under stress. Note how you feel by checking in with your breath -- is it shallow or deep? Get in touch with your heart rate and see if you can find a way to use your breath to slow it down and relax your pulse.
Is your mind racing, and do you have stressful thoughts running it? Are you excited about your food or are you feeling guilty or concerned about what is in front of you? Do you feel calm or restless?
All of these questions are the beginning of embarking on an understanding of how you relate to food. The funny thing is, how we each relate to food tells us a lot about how we approach life and what we want out of it. The next time you catch yourself eating under stress, follow these guidelines:
- Start each meal with three deep belly breaths. For a thorough explanation on how to calm your mind and relax your body, please check out my article on meditation.
. Savor the flavor: Notice the texture and aroma of each bite to get the most flavor. Is it sweet, salty, spicy, crunchy, sour, bitter, or smooth?
. Observe: Notice your body -- is your belly gurgling with hunger? Or are you completely stuffed? Are you stressed or calm, and what could you do in that moment to increase relaxation?
. Be Present: Sit down while you eat, turn off all media or keep it in another room and simply eat while you are eating -- nothing else!
. Resist Judgment: Let go of the urge to engage in negative self-talk and eat with compassion, respect, and gratitude toward your body. Notice when "should" or rigid rules pop into your mind and be aware of any guilt that comes up for you around certain foods. Now is not the time to criticize -- now is the time to calm your mind, slow the chatter and be present in your body.
. Awareness: Notice the difference the next time you drift off during a meal. Bring yourself back to the moment and taste each bite. Maximize your pleasure!
See your symptoms as hidden messages from your inner world trying to tell you to listen -- don't dismiss them. By dismissing these clues or worse, beating yourself up over them, we lose the opportunity to tune in and do the real work of unlocking the mysterious barriers to our unsolved health conditions.
These clues are, in essence, your inner doctor taking residence within each cell of your body saying "Hey you! Something isn't right with this stress you're putting on us, and I can't take it anymore -- I'm falling apart. You gotta help. I'm trying to send you some signals... please see them!"
Examining your stress and seeing its impact on your metabolism will work well for many of you. But I wouldn't be surprised if some of you are wondering about how to get out of the mind and venture to the stress taking place in the heart.
Emotional eating has become ubiquitous in our fast-paced culture, which honors quantity over quality, willpower more than pleasurable nourishment and the dollar more than humanity. How can you fully let go and tune in when your heart is desperate for a different culture but your mind is living in this one?
Now I'd like to hear from you...
Do you think you will be able to pause before a meal and take more time to savor it?
How does stress manifest in your relationship with food?
What impact on your health and well-being does awareness have on you?
Please leave your thoughts by adding a comment below.
To your good health,
Mark Hyman, MD
Mark Hyman, M.D. is a practicing physician, founder of The UltraWellness Center, a four-time New York Times bestselling author, and an international leader in the field of Functional Medicine. You can follow him on Twitter, connect with him on LinkedIn, watch his videos on YouTube, become a fan on Facebook, and subscribe to his newsletter.
For more by Mark Hyman, M.D., click here.
For more on weight loss, click here.
HuffPost Lifestyle is a daily newsletter that will make you happier and healthier — one email at a time. Learn more