Why the Stress Around Food is Worse Than the Food Itself

Updated: Jan 17

Vegan. Paleo. Flexitarian. AIP. Ketogenic. How and why does one choose one diet over another? As a Functional Medicine practitioner, I witness the struggle and anxiety surrounding food for my patients on a regular basis. Every individual wants that magic answer and diet prescription from me, and my response usually catches people off guard; “the stress around the food is worse than the food itself.”

Sorry world, but this may come, as a surprise but there is no magic diet or pill. I don’t believe in one diet plan, one supplement or even one lifestyle regimen. But I do believe in one thing, the majority of disease is caused and worsened by chronic stress, including that around food.

As we age (here’s to looking at you 30 year olds), our stomach acid starts to naturally decrease. That would be all fine and dandy as nature intended, if we didn’t live in a world of chronic stress. Chronic stress will exacerbate this process more quickly than we want it to. Chronic stress leads to chronic inflammation in the gut and brain, which will then contribute to chronic disease.

Your stomach acid is the great conductor of your digestion and for our purpose; it has a few key points:

1. First line of defense. Stomach acid is your first line of defense towards pathogens (candida/yeast overgrowth, parasitic infections, bacterial overgrowth) in the small and large intestines. If your pH is at the appropriate levels those bad guys have a less likely chance of survival and reaching your intestines.

2. Digestion of protein. Without sufficient stomach acid you can’t properly digest and absorb protein. Protein is one of the most essential macronutrients to your body’s health and immune regulation.

3. Helps stimulate sufficient digestive enzymes and bile. Adequate stomach acid is required to produce adequate pancreatic enzymes and bile, which are necessary for proper digestion and absorption of carbohydrates, proteins and fats in the diet. Without these we often will find a patient has nutrient malabsorption, pathogenic bacteria and yeast overgrowth due to large chunks of food sitting in the intestines, multiple food sensitivities and possible symptoms of IBS (gas, bloating, diarrhea, constipation, reflux).

As you could guess, this vicious cycle can possibly be a recipe for disaster. Which is why I feel the stress around the food is often worse than the food itself. Most diets agree on a few things; tons of non-starchy veggies, lean protein sources, anti-inflammatory fats and minimizing processed foods. Focusing on more simple guidelines, limiting sugars and processed foods, listening to your body and finding simple ways to reduce and handle your stressors is key. 

Katie Morra MS, RD, LDN, IFMCP is an Institute for Functional Medicine Certified Practitioner and Registered Dietitian specializing in gut health, the microbiome, and nutrition. Her functional medicine nutrition practice is based in Maryland, just outside of Washington, D.C.

Katie focuses on the root causes of inflammation, autoimmune disease, irritable bowel syndrome, small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, candida overgrowth, food sensitivities and leaky gut, amongst other chronic disease states.​

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