Ever wonder why people often crave sweets and junk food under stress?
Not only does this issue have an emotional component, but a physical one.
Learning about a recently-discovered system should give you insight as to why its overactivity triggers food cravings and what to do about it.
The Endocannabinoid System and Overeating
The Endocannabinoid system plays a key role not only in pain management but in our energy balance/food intake.
One contributor to excessive eating is overactivity of the Endocannabinoid system’s receptors, which affects our brains and bodies.
The term ‘Cannabinoid’ may remind you of the culturally-familiar word ‘Cannabis,’ which is associated with the drug Marijuana! That is because scientists, while researching the components of Cannabis discovered THC, which is the element within Marijuana that causes the drug’s “high.”
Cannabis has a well-documented side effect of making the user hungrier (the “munchies).”
While our brains and bodies produce endocannabinoids to help maintain balance in internal functions, such as our immune systems, learning/memory, and sleep cycles, negative effects can occur if this system becomes overactive.
What Over-activates the Endocannabinoid System?
Our modern lifestyles today can over-activate our Endocannabinoid system through:
• Psychological Stress
• Imbalance of Omega 6 and Omega 3 fat intake
• Physical Inactivity
Because the Endocannabinoid system’s role is to maintain balance in our brains and bodies, it is wise to pay attention to how we think, eat, and move every day to support optimal function and finish our race well in the Lord.
Otherwise, our endocannabinoid system will seek immediate (short-term) solutions to the over-activity problem – even if that “solution” is destructive in the long term, such as excessive eating, drinking, or drug use!
Here is how managing these three areas on a daily basis can help us maintain balance in our endocannabinoid systems.
Jesus gives us a principle about managing life stress. In John 14:27, He says:
Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.
As believers in Jesus, peace is part of our inheritance. After all, Jesus gave it to us!
When He tells us, “Let not” our hearts be troubled, nor afraid then that means we have control in this matter. We have power to reject thoughts that make us feel troubled and fearful and instead meditate on thoughts that increase our confidence in the Lord.
The Bible also says in Isaiah 26:3:
You will keep him in perfect peace, Whose mind is stayed on You, Because he trusts in You.
Throughout the day, we can remain in peace, reminding ourselves of the Lord’s love and sovereignty. He reigns!
God knows about our challenges and mistakes before we do! Therefore He already has a plan for our victory.
As a disciple of Jesus, our role is to listen for the Holy Spirit’s voice, center our heart on obedience and do what He tells us to do.
After all, God’s plans for us are better than any we have for ourselves. That is why it is important that we move or stand still when He tells us so that we can move in His perfect timing.
If you are not sure what to do in certain situations, the Lord invites us to ask:
If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him.”James 1:5
Because He has an “open door” policy, the Lord will supply the answers we need. Patience is required because sometimes God’s timing is often not the same as our timing!
If we feel that we lack the strength to take action on what He tells us to do, the Bible has us covered too:
He gives power to the weak, And to those who have no might He increases strength.– Isaiah 40:29
Since God is omnipotent (all powerful), omniscient (all knowing), and omnipresent (everywhere), every situation is better handled through His hands!
Psalm 138:8 inspires one of my favorites requests to God in prayer:
The Lord will perfect that which concerns me;
Your mercy, O Lord, endures forever;
Do not forsake the works of Your hands.
Here is my prayer for all of us when we encounter stress, based upon that scripture:
“Thank you, Lord, for perfecting that which concerns us; Your mercy, O Lord, endures forever;
You will never forsake the works of Your hands.”
Imbalance of Omega 6s and Omega 3s fat intake
While fat serves a useful purpose in our bodies, such as comprising the outer ring of each cell membrane, two family types compete for that honored position.
Before our food system became industrialized, a 1:1 ratio existed between the types of essential fatty acids human beings consumed: Omega 6 and Omega 3 fats. Today, that ratio can be as high as 20:1 in favor of Omega 6 fats – not good!
Omega 3 fats are typically the more fluid types of fats and are found mostly in the areas of our bodies that require speed, such as the brain, the retina (senses light and transmits images to the brain), and sperm.
While most of us think of fish as containing Omega 3 fats, like salmon, fish, tuna, and sardines, Omega 3 fats actually start in the green leaves of plants.
Fish are rich in Omega 3 fatty acids because they thrive on seaweed and other ocean plants.
In contrast, Omega 6 fats are thought of as “storage fats.” Food manufacturers love these types of fats because they are shelf-stable.
Foods made with Omega 6 fats (corn, cottonseed, soy, and safflower oils) can remain on grocery store shelves for months or years, which means increased profits for the food manufacturers.
Omega 3 fatty acids can go rancid quickly. However, they have been shown to improve appetite regulation in humans, while also increasing fat burning at rest.
Foods made with Omega 6 oils can have the opposite effect.
So under stress, it is important to include foods rich in Omega 3s to help our bodies remain in balance and help keep our appetites under control.
Rather than “stewing” in stress all day through sitting, you can help your body weather stress better through regular movement. Regular movement releases tension from your muscles and gives stress a physical outlet.
I recommend getting up to walk or stretch for 5 minutes every half hour each day. That will not only help you release stress but stay more physically limber, which we tend to lose with age and lack of physical activity.
In addition, if you have a deskbound job and are able, I recommend working at least 2 hours of the day standing up (cumulative, not continuous). A recent study showed that, even apart from structured exercise, simply standing improves insulin sensitivity – an invaluable benefit for those suffering from diabetes or at risk for it.
Be sure to transition to standing work slowly so that your body can adjust.
Because I spend many days writing, I am transitioning from sitting work to standing work in my daily routine, using two tools to help:
- An anti-fatigue mat to stand on
- An adjustable laptop table; I use the laptop table on top of the table behind our couch so that I can type comfortably standing up.
It works well and makes my work day more enjoyable and energetic. Plus, I think clearer having those built in movement breaks!
In summary, take care of your endocannabinoid system in managing mental stress, balancing your essential fatty acid intake with more Omega 3s, and increasing your physical movement throughout the day.
When you take better care of your endocannabinoid system, it will better take care of you!
Be blessed in health, healing and wholeness,
Author of the Take Back Your Temple program
P.S. Do you struggle with eating too much sugar? If so, you are not alone!
Overcoming sugar addiction was a key factor on my journey to losing 85 pounds and dropping from a size 22 to a size 8.
In our 14-day Sugar Detox Challenge (inside the the Take Back Your Temple program), you’ll get the same success strategies and support to gain peace in your eating habits and achieve lasting weight loss success.