The Surprising Role of Stress in Digestion


The Surprising Role of Stress in Digestion

Our bodies are wired to cope with stress by shutting down all non-essential bodily functions so your body and brain can focus on survival. This state is referred to as the stress response. It’s when your sympathetic nervous system takes over.

That’s very helpful when you’re facing acute, life-threatening stress, such as being in a serious car accident or when you’re facing an armed attacker who wants your money. It’s less helpful when you live in a constant source of low-level stress.


Because one of the primary functions your body shuts down when you’re in a state of stress is digestion. So if you eat at your desk, or eat quickly between appointments, or eat under any kind of pressure, you’re working against your own biology.

Your digestive system is maximally effective when your body is relaxed. That’s why you can sometimes go on vacation, eat more than you usually do, and not gain weight.  It’s because, while relaxed, you digested your food more efficiently.

Losing weight is harder when you’re living in a state of constant, low-level stress and anxiety.

The same switch that turns the stress response on, turns off digestion. In fact, a good percentage of reflux (GERD)  comes from eating under stress and eating too fast.

Additionally, under stress, your body produces insulin and cortisol, hormones that make it harder to lose weight. The hormone cortisol, for example, which is produced when you’re under stress, has the effect of desensitizing your pleasure receptors. So when we eat under stress (or when we’re feeling guilty), we actually need more food to be able to derive any pleasure from it. That’s one reason why we overeat foods that we feel guilty about eating in the first place. It’s not a willpower issue. It’s a biology issue.

In summary, there are a number of mind sets that are counterproductive to efficient metabolism and calorie-burning. If you’re eating quickly, feeling guilty about what you’re eating, trying to fight your appetite or if you’re distracted and checked out when you’re eating, you’re likely eating while your body’s digestive powers are compromised. Thus, you’re working against your own biology.

In my next post, I’ll talk more about some of the things that contribute to improving your body’s ability to digest your food and burn calories.

Author: Rebeca Espinoza

Rebeca Espinoza writes about health, fitness and weight loss for Spatz Medical, makers of the Spatz3 Adjustable Gastric Balloon.  You can find her at [email protected]. Like the Spatz3 Adjustable Gastric Balloon page on Facebook or follow us on Pinterest for healthy eating tips, inspiring quotes, videos and photos and more.

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