why don’t we eat healthy food, even when we want too?

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Why don’t we eat healthy food, even when we want too?

Brain_Molecular_Thoughts-ThinkstockI finished a two day conference in Sydney last week, which focused on the relationship between the foods we eat and the effect that this has on our gut, immune and brain health.

As I sat on the train, heading back the the airport, I was instantly transported away from the ideal nutritional approach we had discussed all weekend and faced with the realities of many peoples modern day food and lifestyle choices.

All around me people were plugged in to their phones or tablets, the air was thick with the smell of fried food and people were staving off the afternoon energy dip with sugary foods, energy drinks and coffee. The story was no different at the airport, with a food hall packed with unhealthy, fast food, it was a depressing sight, given the information I had just received.

I have spent the week trying to integrate the science that is showing the negative effects that all this terrible food has on our bodies, with compassion for our struggle with the daily stresses of life and the desire to eat and live well.

The question I have needed to ask myself, is why have we plummeted towards unhealthful foods, so quickly and why is it too difficult for so many people to reverse the trend.  We have more information than even on the benefits and negatives of the food we eat, everyone is aware but still little has changed. I believe we are looking in the wrong direction, towards the symptoms, i.e. poor eating and not the underlying cause.

My personal view, is that the majority of people, including our children, are functioning and living in a hyper vigilant state, or adrenaline overload, as a response to a society that largely operates from anxiety and insecurity (fear). I truly believe that unless we address this issue, then health care, including what we eat, will remain a less than effective band aid. This underlying issue also explains to me, why using fear to promote diets and food philosophies doesn’t work, as it simply adds more anxiety to the pot.

Signs you may be running on adrenaline:

Lack of appetite
Trouble sleeping
Caffeine to feel normal
Low tolerance with others
Anxiety
Tremors
Need to feel busy all the time
Fear of relaxing
Unable to sit still
Bored easily
Craving for sugar and refined carbohydrates
Upper chest breathing
Addicted to strenuous exercise
Feel like you can do anything
Over committing
Sensitive to sound and touch

If you find slow moving movies irritating, get angry when held up by people of situations, or feel bored unless you’re doing something, it’s likely that adrenaline is paying a part in your life and you are hyper vigilant. We have become so used to mass stimulation of our senses through daily life, it simply doesn’t feel normal for us to go slow anymore, to take our time. Is it any wonder that children, who are exposed to over stimulated childhoods, cannot sit still and focus when they get to school?

Modern lifestyles require that the sympathetic nervous system be in action more than ever before, commanding our adrenal glands to send out adrenaline and cortisol into our blood stream, increasing our heart rate and dilating our pupils. This is a primitive flight state, as we protect ourselves from the modern day equivalent of a lion attack.

When our bodies are primed to flee or fight, the digestive system shuts down, so that all of our energy can be sent towards our heart and muscles, our gut flora is compromised and huge amounts of vitamins and minerals are utilized. We feel alert, powerful and in control, a state that can become addictive and is of course prized and praised in today’s culture.

If we tend to live on adrenaline however, several things happen, it becomes essential to be busy all the time, in order to keep ourselves functioning, we stop breathing deeply into our bellies, which contributes to digestive issues and anxiety and our appetite will be lost. When we are on the run, the very act of slowing down enough to cook, let alone chew will be extremely unappealing and we are more likely to reach for processed foods, because they are quick and easy to eat. Sugar, refined carbohydrates and caffeine, also become mainstays of the daily diet, in order to kick start the adrenal state, or take the place of a proper meal. How many people have you heard say that they don’t feel ‘normal’ until they have had a cup of coffee?

This adrenal way of living is a direct response to our current lifestyles, we no longer live in communities who can support us and we are often isolated from families and hands on, rather than virtual, friends. Financial concerns, information overload, social expectations and personal feelings of insecurity and safety, all contribute to the necessity of keeping ourselves busy and our bodies on overdrive.

Let’s face it, we are all worried or scared about something, that’s normal given the level of understanding we have about the state of our health and world. However, like any anxiety, avoiding the fear is not the answer, it only fuels the adrenal glands and doesn’t help us activate the calm and safety of the parasympathetic state, which benefits our health in numerous ways.

Switching our fear response off is not always easy, especially if it’s been running the show for a long time. I think with anything, acceptance of that we are living this way is key and also knowing that nothing awful is going to happen if the survival instinct is switched off, until it’s needed. Calming down can take time and it’s normal to feel tired, even exhausted when you do, the body is now experiencing it’s actual level of energy without the adrenaline, cortisol input and the fatigue can feel scary. The body and brain need to recognise that there is no lion in the cupboard and it is safe to let go.

When we slow down enough and relax, our digestive system works properly, appetite increases, enzymes are released, peristalsis occurs and we can get the most out of the food we eat. Switching off the adrenal state, also means we are more likely to enjoy cooking and eating foods that take some work to chew, such as salads, raw vegetables and wholegrains.

We can all benefit from keeping the tendency towards hyper vigilant living at a minimum. Enjoyable exercise, spending time in nature, switching off from social media and television can all help. Positive social interaction and being mindful of over committing are also beneficial, as are massage, osteopathy, chiropractic and appropriate herbal medicines. When the nervous system is in balance, we feel calm and safe, we are more patient and present to life and the people in it. We are also able to think more rationally and make appropriate decisions for ourselves that benefit our health and wellbeing.