Stress is a common side effect of living a modern life. It builds up and up and up because everything we do is far more hectic than it ought to be. We work too much, worry too much, and even when we try and relax, our bodies stay tense and stressed. In many ways, we are behaving like skittish prey animals. And, oddly enough, if we stop eating like skittish prey animals, we might be able to handle our stress much better, and enjoy our lives more.
You see, stress isn’t just that feeling of pressure or anxiety when something is beyond your control. That is the form of stress we are most familiar with as it is the easiest one to notice. But stress isn’t about the external influences, or the most obvious effects of them. Stress is the name we give to that point where we start to give up. If we are mentally stressed, we understand that means we are doing too much, resting too little, our minds are too busy, and a lot of what we are doing is psychologically and emotionally harmful. But our bodies can be stressed too. On a physical level we can be stressed by working out: lifting weights, running, pushing ourselves to the limits. And what stresses our bodies metabolically? Well, of course it is pushing ourselves metabolically to the limit.
Our bodies are designed to extract nutrients from our food, put those nutrients into cells, and grow more, healthier cells. To do this, we handle a delicate balance of blood, stomach, hormones, etc every day. We eat good food, our stomach gets the energy from it, our guts get the micronutrients from it, our liver and pancreas break them down, our blood carries the good stuff to the cells, and our kidneys and colon get rid of what’s left. But when we influence one aspect of this process and stress one of our organs, push it to its limit, the whole thing falls apart.
The modern diet is basically designed to create internal stress. When we eat too often, too many carbohydrates, too few fats, too few micronutrients, and too many calories, we are telling our bodies that we live in a harsh, stressful environment. High carbohydrate diets do this first and foremost by messing with our blood glucose. When we eat carbs, our blood glucose spikes suddenly. High blood glucose is poisonous, so we release insulin to lower it. Our insulin moves the glucose into cells that burn it, then muscles, then finally fat for storage when our muscles can’t take any more. This drops our blood sugar, making us hungry again. This whole process stresses our bodies.
On top of that, eating too many carbohydrates gets in the way of eating more nutrient-rich foods. When we make potatoes, grains, or legumes the largest portion of food on our plate, we are missing out on all sorts of amazing vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and beneficial oils. If instead of having two cups of cooked pasta we had two cups of steamed broccoli, boiled carrots, raw beet slaw, or indeed a vegetable mix, we would be getting hundreds of times the nutrition for a fraction of the calories. But when we eat too many carbs we stop craving nutritious foods, and just crave more carbs.
On the other hand, a high fat, very low carbohydrate diet protects us against those highs and lows in our blood sugar. This is because on a ketogenic diet we run on fats and proteins, recombined into ketones, an alternative to glucose. And to boot, when we eat a ketogenic diet we are eating more calorie-dense foods, and fewer calories too, as we are better satiated. This leaves more space on our plates and in our stomachs for foods that don’t have many calories at all, but are loaded with goodness. Altogether, removing the negative carb spike cycle and adding extra nutrients gives our bodies the tools it needs to heal. These nutritious foods send a signal to our bodies that we are safe, that there is good food, and that we are living well. In turn, our bodies respond with reduced cortisol, healthier organs, and improved satiety.