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05 Aug, 2020

Eve Kalinik on the relationship between stress and the gut

The gut is increasingly being recognised as playing a crucial role in maintaining both our physical and mental health. To get a better understanding of the far-reaching benefits of maintaining a healthy gut and how to support it, we spoke to Nutritional Therapist Eve Kalinik.

Health

Besides the food we eat, would you agree that digestive health is also about enjoying and connecting with our food?

Yes. Eating is a multi-sensory experience but many of us don’t even use one sense. You can help your gut simply by sitting and being present with your plate.

You could also be fermenting all day long but if you’re not looking after your mind, if you’re stressed out the whole time, then the hormones that we produce when we’re stressed can directly affect and stress our gut. Cortisol which is one of the main stress hormones can compromise the barrier functioning of the gut especially when it is persistently being pumped out, which can drive inflammation in the body overall and may also impact negatively on the composition of the bacteria in our gut.

On the flip side if the gut is not functioning well it can send messages to the brain via various signals and communication channels that something isn’t quite right which can heighten stress and inflammation in the body including the brain.

Stress-management is like any other muscle, we need to constantly work at it. Everyone is different, it’s about what resonates most with you, be it gentle yoga, meditation, breathing exercises or mindfulness and is a necessary part of helping to support the gut-brain connection.

In terms of the current pandemic we find ourselves in, if someone came to you and said they’ve been feeling really stressed about everything and can’t stop eating KitKats to calm themselves down – what would you advise them?

Well, really it’s a case of working out the cause or trigger, and in this case, it is likely going to be due to heightened stress and anxiety. If somebody feels like they’re constantly responding to stress in their life through food, mindfulness and meditation help you get to a better place to deal with it.

During lockdown, a lot of people have had their routine changed. Where they might usually spend the majority of time in the office with lots of distractions and colleagues around, anything goes when nobody is watching, so it’s important to build routine while we’re at home. A lot of it is boredom or seeking reward in the face of stress.

Planning is also great. Sit down in the morning and write a plan for the day, including meals. If mid-afternoon is when you tend to look for answers in the fridge, do something at that time like a yoga class or go for a walk, or practice meditating. Of course, treats are part of a healthy approach to our food, but mindless constant grazing in response is something else. Try adding these into your plan across the week so that you have them to look forward to, rather than banning altogether or having them occur more haphazardly.

Many of the external factors and challenges of life are out of our control, but through mindfulness techniques we can work at being better placed mentally to respond to them which is quid pro quo for the health and happiness of our gut too.

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In order to maintain a happy gut, and seemingly, a happy mind, we must look at our diet as well as external factors such as stress-management. We’ve designed our Summer Set package to help with just that. Find out more here.

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