How to Rest, Digest & Destress
Our food choices and lifestyle habits can have a huge impact on the balance between our Parasympathetic Nervous System (Rest & Digest) and our Sympathetic Nervous System (Fight or flight). Whilst acute stress responses can play an important role when dealing with imminent threat, chronic stress is a driver of most diseases and something we all need to reduce.
Luckily, there are things we can focus on everyday to enter the rest & digest state, which will improve nutrient digestion, sleep, energy levels, performance and overall well-being.
TIP 1: Eat a wide variety of quality protein.
This will ensure you’re getting the amino acids (the building blocks of protein) that support your parasympathetic nervous system, improve sleep, mood and relaxation. Tryptophan, for example, is an amino acid needed to make melatonin and serotonin, which promote quality sleep and improve your mood. Food sources include grass-fed, organic poultry and eggs, oily fish, Greek yoghurt, cheese, nuts and seeds.
TIP 2: Boost dietary magnesium intake.
Magnesium is essential for regulating neurotransmitters and helping the body to relax. Incclude more magnesium-rich foods in your diet such as dark green, leafy vegetables, nuts, seeds, wholegrains, legumes, dark chocolate, and avocado.
TIP 3: Eat slowly and chew properly!
This gives your gut the best opportunity for digesting and absorbing your food. If you constantly eat on the go, when stressed or in a rush, your body won’t benefit as much from all the amazing nutrients, and you’re doing yourself a huge disservice. So when you next eat, take your time, chew your food and enjoy it!
TIP 4: Be mindful about your workout schedule
Whilst running and HIIT workouts can be amazing for strengthening and working up a sweat, your body responds to this activity with a release of cortisol, generating a fight-or-flight response. Prolonged high cortisol levels can lead to a host of symptoms including weight gain and fatigue. So think about the intensity and timing of your workouts, and take recovery days. Try changing up your workouts throughout the week and opt for more gentle movement in the evening as you wind down, such as yoga, Pilates or a walk in nature.
TIP 5: Eat a wide variety of seasonal vegetables.
Vegetables are amazing sources of Vitamin A, C, B vitamins, iron, calcium, and magnesium which all contribute to a restful state. So fill your plate with a colourful mix of veg such as dark green leaves and root vegetables (beetroot, squash, sweet potato, and carrots etc).
TIP 6: Limit stimulants
Limit the number of stimulants you consume that naturally push you into that sympathetic nervous state:
- Swap refined carbohydrates for high fibre wholefood alternatives
- Swap your afternoon coffee for decaf or calming herbal teas
- Be mindful about your alcohol intake, choosing the right moments to drink (e.g. a birthday) and the right moments not to (e.g. a casual Tuesday night).