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Stress Responses and Eating: What They Have in Common

Stress Responses and Eating:  What They Have in Common

I just watched a fascinating video of a talk given at Google by Dr. Emmett Miller, an MD who practices holistic medicine.  He made two points that I think are extremely relevant to our approach to eating.

The first point is that holistic medicine views the human body as one large system composed of a series of smaller systems, with each system working together and influencing the others.  This is in contrast to traditional Western views of medicine, which view the different systems of the body as separate.  That old paradigm is what leads doctors to specialize and become cardiologists, podiatrists, etc.  The result, Miller says, is that doctors understand in great detail the functioning of one part of the body, but have very little understanding of how the parts work together to create a state of wellness (or lack thereof).  Furthermore, holistic medicine views human beings as part of larger and larger systems like Russian nesting dolls – we’re a part of our families and groups of friends, cities, states, countries – and ultimately all of humanity.  This certainly applies to the impact our diet has on our bodies.

Nourishing yourself with quality food promotes the healthy functioning of each system of body, allowing the larger system to operate smoothly.  But when you consume large quantities of processed, artificial foods, eventually one system will fail and, because the systems are interconnected, others will fall like dominoes.

Next, Miller argues that animals have a sort of inner sensor that allows them to detect the influence of stressors and know how to react.  But our own inner sensors have been somewhat obscured.  Contemporary society, he says, has created many stressors that are outside and beyond those anticipated by nature.  When we’re hungry, we know to eat.  When we’re thirsty, we know to drink.  But how do we respond to stressors like office politics, stressful course loads at school, and the like?

I think that, even though there may not be a primordial response to those kinds of stressors, we can respond to them in constructive ways by listening to our intuition and being authentic with ourselves.  Deep down, we have a sense of what’s best to do in most situations.  It’s when we doubt ourselves that we make unhelpful decision.  The same is true with eating, of course.  If we listen to our bodies, we’ll know what kinds of food they need and in what amounts.  But if we’re counting calories on one hand, or eating large amounts of processed foods on the other, we’re ignoring and almost silencing our intuition.  Once again, the validity and importance of intuitive eating are reinforced by this outlook on stress responses and holistic medicine.

How to Become an Intuitive Eater

Read more: Eating for Health, Health

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Sarah Cooke

Sarah Cooke is a writer living in California. She is interested in organic food and green living. Sarah holds an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Naropa University, an M.A. in Humanities from NYU, and a B.A. in Political Science from Loyola Marymount University. She has written for a number of publications, and she studied Pastry Arts at the Institute for Culinary Education. Her interests include running, yoga, baking, and poetry. Read more on her blog.


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3:25AM PDT on Oct 9, 2011


10:30AM PDT on Jul 24, 2011

When stressed food makes me sick.

2:11PM PDT on Jul 5, 2011


5:42AM PDT on Jun 23, 2011

Thanks for the article.

6:11AM PDT on May 15, 2011


4:00PM PDT on May 5, 2011


6:44PM PDT on May 4, 2011

We are certainly one entire system; I agree that Western medicine doesn't look at us that way. I think many of us eat unconsciously - myself included. A very effective exercise is to keep a written account of what you eat - which I have done for the past month. As a result I have lost weight, which has encouraged me to continue to monitor my intake. Also helps you to keep a record and ensure the right amount of fruit and vegetables are consumed. Developing a holistic attitude makes one more conscious of our actions and how each action impacts on others or our earth.

10:55AM PDT on May 3, 2011


10:28PM PDT on May 2, 2011

very interesting read, thanks i forget to eat when under terrible stress.

3:10PM PDT on May 2, 2011

Intuitive eating--hmmmm--I try to eat only when I'm hungry and try to stay active--stress is a killer though!! When work gets too stressful I try to stay objective and keep my priorities.

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