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Make sure stress doesn’t throw away all your nutrients

Do this with me, breathe in deep through your nose and out slowly through your mouth. (Repeat three times.)

It’s been a peculiar year to say the least! With the COVID-19 pandemic, an election year and now, we add in the holiday season. Our daily lives seem so different to what they were this time last year. All these changes can make life more stressful than usual. But let’s not lose hope, and instead, take advantage of this holiday season to slow down, connect with those most important to us (even if virtually) and discover how food can help you feel better.

Nutrition is one of those things that seem to change daily with our lives. Our emotions tend to drive our nutrition, and we eat differently depending on whether we are happy, sad or stressed. The problem is that your innate response to eat based on your emotions could be negatively impacting your health.

Today, stress is many times the biggest enemy to healthy digestion. It can lead to you putting food into your body before it’s primed and ready for optimal digestion. That’s because a body under stress is in a state of “fight or flight.” Biologically, this means your body moves blood from your digestive organs to your extremities and creates a lack of communication between the brain and the stomach. This may work in your favor if you’re fighting off a saber-toothed tiger, but it works against you when it comes to digesting your food and absorbing the nutrients you need to look and feel great.

If stress is not addressed before you take that first bite, it can start a vicious cycle that can eventually lead to fewer nutrients, less energy, more craving, annoying digestive discomforts like reflux, heartburn, gas, bloating, constipation and diarrhea ... or even other more serious health issues.

Scheduling time in your day to “rest and digest” is important, and it’s easier than you might think. This simple shift allows your body and brain to slow down, calm your mood and regulate the enzymes and hormones that help your body use the nutrients from your food.

This means you need to take the age-old phrase of “you are what you eat” and change it to “you are what you optimally digest.”

Here are a few quick tips to help you move out of stress and into optimal digestion:

Set aside 15 to 20 minutes to eat your meal away from the computer, TV and other distractions. Find quick and easy ways to stop the stress cycle in your body before mealtime and improve your digestion such as taking a five-minute walk, slow deep breathing, a good laugh with a friend or colleague, or read a funny joke.Make a conscious effort to chew each bite more than usual – digestion begins in your mouth, and not chewing or salivating reduces your body’s ability to use even the healthiest foods.You may already be focusing on what you’re eating, but this week, focus on how you’re eating. Make sure to work on moving into a more relaxed state of mind for mealtimes. This will promote better digestion and allow you to get the most out of your food. The benefits: You’ll feel better, look better, and have more energy to do all the things you love this holiday season and into the new year.

Fran Sutherlin is a local registered dietitian, health coach, speaker and owner of Sustainable Nutrition, which has offices in Durango and Bayfield and offers virtual-coaching options. She can be reached at 444-2122 or fran@fransutherlin.com.