Have you ever thought that your anxiety after eating may just affect your health and your longevity? I want to let you into a little secret - people who live to over 100 don't worry overly about 'what' they eat or even 'how much' so they have no reason to feel the slightest bit anxious after eating.
Here's the problem with feeling anxiety around eating. Anxiety shunts your body into stress mode. Stress mode shuts down your visceral organs while your body prepares to handle the danger. Your visceral organs are all the ones in your torso, including your stomach and digestive system. So when you eat and then feel anxious - your body can't process food as efficiently. I’ve written about how thoughts (like fear and guilt) about eating as well as how en-joy-ment of food changes how our body digests and metabolizes nutrition here.
Get to know and understand this anxiety. You weren't born with eating anxieties, so this is something you have 'learned'. Ask yourself these questions....
Don't worry, I'm going to give you a powerful 3-step tool to help you stop your anxiety after eating.
Rule out that possibility that there is a not a physical cause with your healthcare professional because as a psychologist what I’m addressing here some little thought about psychological aspects of how your anxiety around eating manifests.
The mind is a powerful thing, for example if someone believes they have been burned with a cigarette a blister will form even when a cigarette was nowhere near them. This is called the nocebo affect.
By nocebo affect I mean 'holding the belief that something will cause harm/anxiety etc...' Let’s say you’re worried that 'bad foods' (whatever you believe these to be) - you eat - and you high levels of anxiety. Some might call this kind of self-fulfilling prophesy. In other words you believe it will happen and BECAUSE you believe it you are
1) hyper-vigilant for symptoms which means you notice them,
2) you magnify them (while at the same time ignoring pleasant feelings that could dispel the thoughts you’re having) and
3) you attribute them meaning to the symptoms that makes the fear response even worse and thus exacerbating things.
For example: Lets say your fear makes you notice chest pains after eating (sure they could be real - they could be caused by food getting lodged- but they could also be imaginary) The meaning you attribute to these events is that this could be a heart attack and the more you tune into that fast heart beat the more convinced you become it’s heart problems.
Of course you feel fearful, who wouldn’t? The problem is that stress triggers your entire stress response which releases stress hormones like Adrenaline and Cortisol and one of the things that does to your body is to speed up your heart. Well it makes sense that if you're thinking you're having a heart attack, your anxiety is adding to your anxiety. And that's when all the symptoms associated with stress become exacerbated e.g. your breathing becomes shallower, you may feel light-headed and you may attribute these not to feeling fearful but to eating which in your mind is 'causing your heart attack'.
The problem with anxiety after eating is that the anxiety itself could be the cause of the symptoms and have nothing to do with eating whatsoever. It’s like the eating anxiety itself is a way to manifest dysfunction.
Take a peek at this google search result...does it tell you something important? Yes- you're not alone! It's not surprising, we have so many conflicting messages about food and what to eat, and when to eat and how much to eat. It's a sign of a culture going overboard on the food is medicine movement where every micro-nutrient your put into your mouth is leading to your supposed health or doom. It's pretty crazy and it needn't be that way. After all Centenarians, those people who live to over 100 don't count calories or micronutrients or even bother about eating superfoods, nor are they overly concerned about their weight.
1. Become mindful of your suffering. Don't just say I'm feeling anxious, or worried. Acknowledge that this anxiety is causing you suffering. This may not be as easy as it sounds because we're so used to beating ourselves up for 'being silly,' or we're so stuck focussing on the anxiety that we aren't able to stop and acknowledge it's causing us pain.
2. Be kind to yourself. Put your hand on your chest and speak to yourself as you would reassure your best friend or a frightened child. Tell yourself you're going to be OK. Indulge in self-kindness. If someone you knew was suffering what would you tell them. This alone is a great way to de-escalate your anxiety and suffering.
3. Recognize that you are not alone in this kind of suffering. That was why I showed you the google search results - to show you that you're not alone in your suffering around eating.
You could say something like: "It's OK, sweetheart, I'm so sorry you're in pain. You’re not alone, millions of people are experiencing this same anxiety this is just how the human mind works. Don't worry I'm here for you."
You can keep adding soothing things to say to yourself. Here's what this does, it immediately taps into our mammalian brain and releases feel good hormones like oxytocin and as your body can't be in both a position of stress and relaxation at the same time, it stops that fear response from producing fear hormones which exacerbate all your symptoms.
You can do this any time you like, there are no ill side effects, only good ones!
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