Your body has a large, complex, and well-trained security force protecting you from the constant barrage of foreign invaders trying to get in. You call it your immune system. And it’s a network of cells, tissues, and organs working together to provide full-time, full-body protection. Without your knowledge, your immune system identifies and attacks a wide variety of day-to-day threats. All while distinguishing these pathogens from your healthy tissues. But this amazing system is sometimes tripped by less evil objects, like pollen. And that’s where your seasonal allergies start.

The symptoms of allergies—running nose, watery eyes, and sneezing—make sense when you consider the role your nose, mouth, and eyes play. They’re easy entry points for invaders, so your tears and mucus are equipped with an enzyme called lysozyme. It’s capable of breaking down the cell walls of numerous bacteria. Your saliva is armed with antibacterial compounds. And your nasal passages and lungs are coated in a protective shield of mucus and lined with mast cells—a type of white blood cell.

Any bacteria or virus that wants to gain entry through these passageways must first successfully navigate through these important defenses. Harmless substances—those that do not pose a threat to your health—also get caught up in these defenses. They are mistakenly targeted for destruction by your immune system. And that’s only the most basic answer for what causes allergies.

But there’s so much more worth exploring, especially if you’re familiar with the runny, watery, sneezy world of allergies. Let’s dive deeper.

Seasonal Allergies: What They Are and How They Happen

An allergen is typically a harmless substance that can trigger an immune system response that results in an allergic reaction. This is considered a type of immune system error.

A seasonal allergy (also called allergic rhinitis or hay fever) is your immune system overreacting to harmless substances in the environment during certain times of the year. Hay fever originally received its name because of the symptoms that people experienced during the summer months when hay was harvested.

Pollen is the most common allergen in sufferers’ seasonal allergies. This fine, powdery substance is produced by trees, grasses, weeds, and flowers mainly during the spring, summer, and fall. Pollination is the transferring of pollen grains from a male part of a plant to a female part so that reproduction can occur. This works when pollen is released into the air, picked up by wind, or carried by insects, bats, and birds to fertilize other plants of the same species.

Pollination is a very important step in the life cycle of many plants. But pollination can be miserable if you experience seasonal allergies.

These tiny, harmless pollen grains float around in the air and can find their way into your nasal passages. This can trigger an immune response inside your nose. That could lead to sneezing, runny or stuffy nose, teary eyes, and an itchy nose, or throat. While these symptoms may sound and feel like a cold, they are not caused by a virus. It’s just your immune system overreacting to that “harmless” plant pollen.

While it can be confusing to determine if you have seasonal allergies or a cold, there are some unique differences:

  • Seasonal allergies do not cause a fever.
  • Any mucus secretions you may experience are typically thin, runny, and clear.
  • Your nose, throat, and ears may feel itching and you may have rapid bouts of sneezing.
  • Seasonal allergy symptoms usually last longer than seven to 10 days as they are tied to pollen production and counts.

How Do Seasonal Allergies Develop?

You weren’t born with seasonal allergies. But you can develop them over your lifetime.

It all begins with exposure to an allergen (molecules with the potential to cause allergy). You’ve been around them all your life without difficulty. But suddenly your body decides a certain allergen is an invader that must be destroyed.

When this happens, your immune system studies the allergen and makes highly specialized proteins called IgE antibodies to act against it. That’s just in case another exposure occurs. Once your body is sensitized, your immune system maintains a lasting memory of that allergen. This process is called priming.

At your next exposure, your previously made antibodies recognize the allergen and turn on special immune cells to fight and destroy it. These IgE antibodies are specific to a particular antigen. For example, if it is ragweed pollen, the IgE antibodies produced by your immune system only attack the pollen from ragweed.

The chance of developing an allergy starts in your genes. While you can’t inherit specific allergies from your parents, the tendency toward developing allergies is passed down. Children with one allergic parent can have up to a 50-percent chance of developing allergies. And with two allergic parents, it can be an 80-percent chance. Anyone can experience allergies, but children tend to be affected more often than adults.

Allergies can take years to develop. And having one allergy can make you more likely to get others. There’s also a threshold for people who have allergies. So, you can handle a small exposure, but too much launches your body into an allergic response. That activates mast cells in nasal tissues and triggers the release of the histamine from basophils and eosinophils (types of white blood cells).

Histamine is an organic compound that causes the symptoms most often associated with allergies. They’re responsible for the itchy nose, throat, or skin; watery eyes; sneezing; cough; and a runny or stuffy nose.

Seasonal allergy sufferers are familiar with antihistamines. These medications are often used to block the effects of histamines. And it’s the most popular way to deal with the symptoms of seasonal allergies.

The Dreaded Season of Allergies

Allergy season is determined by where you live, and what you’re allergic to. Those with pollen allergies likely dread spring, summer, or fall seasons when pollen counts are at their highest levels.

But what pollen producers are most closely tied to what season? Here’s a quick, simple guide:

  • SPRING: Trees (like oak and birch) are the significant source of pollen during spring months. In some areas, they can begin producing pollen as early as January.
  • SUMMER: During the summer months, grasses (like ryegrass and timothy-grass) are a top source of allergy-causing pollen.
  • FALL: Weeds are the top allergy offenders during the fall. This is especially true for ragweed, which grows in almost every environment.

Having one allergy makes you more likely to get others. So, if one year your ragweed symptoms seem more severe than usual, you may also be reacting to another allergen that’s sharing the air.

How Seasonal Allergies Can Cross Over to Food Allergies

Allergies can interact in other unexpected ways. For example, up to a third of people with certain pollen allergies also develop allergies to foods that contain similar proteins. This is called pollen-food syndrome, or oral allergy syndrome.

It’s caused by cross-reacting allergens found in both pollen and raw fruits, vegetables, or even certain tree nuts. It means that you could experience an itchy mouth; a scratchy throat; or lip, mouth, throat, and tongue swelling.

The symptoms of pollen-food syndrome are usually confined to the mouth and throat. That’s because these proteins are sensitive to gastric enzymes, so they are rapidly degraded upon ingestion. That limits the extent of the reaction. In addition, these proteins are sensitive to heat, so cooking the offending food doesn’t cause the same reaction. In most cases, the symptoms subside once the offending food is swallowed or removed from the mouth.

Although not everyone with pollen allergies experiences pollen-food syndrome, the following are the commonly associated pollen allergens and foods:

  • Birch pollen: apple, almond, carrot, celery, cherry, hazelnut, kiwi, peach, pear, and plum
  • Grass pollen: celery, melons, oranges, peaches, and tomato
  • Ragweed pollen: banana, cucumber, melons, sunflower seeds, and zucchini 

All About Allergy Testing

You may have a guess about what causes your allergic reactions. But testing is the only way to know for sure.

Allergy testing can be done as a skin prick or through blood testing. Both methods are used to help determine what substances you may be allergic to. These tests are provided by medical doctors specializing in the immune system and the treatment of allergies. And they are given in addition to a thorough physical exam and health history.

Skin allergy testing is the most common. It’s considered a reliable method to test for certain types of allergens. For this procedure, a tiny amount of select allergens are put into your skin by making a small indentation “prick or scratch” on the surface of your skin.

The skin allergy test determines specific allergies based on how your skin reacts. And the results show up pretty fast. Reactions on the skin occur within about 15 minutes.

If you have allergies, a little swelling and redness will occur where the allergen(s) were placed in your skin. For example, if you are allergic to birch pollen, but not ryegrass pollen, only the birch pollen will cause redness, swelling, and possible itching. The spot where the ryegrass pollen was applied will remain unaffected.

If you’re tired of the seasonal allergen battle, these tests can help determine which allergens trigger your symptoms. And testing can help determine what steps you need to take to avoid your specific triggers. It also helps identify prevention measures or treatments likely to work best for you.

Train Your Immune System

Depending on the type of allergy you have, it’s possible to train your immune system to become less responsive to certain allergens over time—with the help of an allergist or immunologist. Desensitization or immunotherapy is a preventive treatment for allergic reactions to certain substances, including pollens.

Immunotherapy involves giving gradually increasing doses of the immune-offending allergen either under the tongue or as an injection into the skin. The incremental increase in dosing changes the way your immune system reacts to the allergen over time. This can help reduce the symptoms of an allergy when the allergen is encountered by your immune system in the future.

Before starting treatment, it is important for your allergist to help you identify which pollens or other substances trigger allergy symptoms. Skin and sometimes blood tests are performed to confirm the antibodies to specific allergens before therapy can begin.

For those tired of seasonal sneezing fits and constant doses of antihistamines, immunotherapy is a long-term way to address the way your immune system responds to allergens.

Tips for Seasonal Allergy Avoidance

If your nose is driving you crazy, what can you do? Pollen can be difficult to dodge. But avoidance remains one of the best ways to control exposure to allergens during allergy season.

To minimize your exposure to pollen:

  • Stay informed of your local pollen counts by checking the internet or other community sources
  • Remain indoors when pollen counts are high
  • Avoid exercising outdoors early in the morning
  • Keep car windows rolled up while driving
  • Avoid gardening or yard work when pollen counts are high
  • Wear a pollen mask when outdoors
  • Consider investing in a home air purifier
  • Stay indoors on windy days and during thunderstorms
  • Keep doors and windows closed
  • Wear sunglasses while outside to keep pollen out of your eyes
  • Vacuum often to keep allergens out of your home

Beat the Allergy Season Blues

One of the best ways to combat the impact of seasonal allergies is through knowledge, preparation, and action. Knowing what pollens you’re allergic to, controlling exposure, and treating the symptoms before they become overwhelming can help you navigate the perils of pollen season.

Just like a powerful computer, your body is always taking in data and using it to make decisions. But you have nerves instead of a circuit board and a brain rather than microchips. Together, your nervous system directs your body’s functions according to the messages it receives.

Think of the central nervous system as a biological command center. It integrates information from your surroundings and tells your body how to react. And the nervous system does all this while letting you focus on living your life. So, you don’t need to consciously worry about responding to every stimulus you encounter. That would be exhausting.

To save you the mental energy, you need your nervous system to perform voluntary and involuntary actions. Without it, you couldn’t control your arms and legs, maintain a steady heart rate, or breath.

Here’s some other involuntary reactions that rely on your nervous system:

  • Vision
  • Blinking
  • Sneezing
  • Fight-or-flight responses
  • Withdrawal reflex (pulling your hand away from a hot stove)

Your nervous system also helps you:

  • Walk
  • Talk
  • Clap your hands
  • Brush your hair
  • Exercise

The reach of your nervous system is enormous. Every part of your body is hardwired with nervous-system tissue. You can pick up information from your hands and feet, as well as your joints and gut.

Now it’s time to plug into your nervous system and get a sense of how much it does for you. And also learn about the parts and mechanisms that make your nervous system function.

Anatomy: Nervous System Parts

At its most basic level, your nervous system is a collection of specialized cells called neurons, and supporting cells called neuroglial cells or just glial cells. A neuron can conduct electricity and secrete chemical messengers called neurotransmitters. Each nerve cell can pass on information, and receive information from stimuli inside and outside your body. Glial cells surround neurons. Their role is to provide support and protection for neurons.

Neurons have a cell body—just like all other cells. This is called the soma, and it’s surrounded with tiny, finger-like extensions. These are called dendrites. And they receive stimulation from the nerve cells next door.

Protruding out of the cell body is the axon—a long projection that carries electrochemical impulses. Axons are surrounded by a fatty tissue called the myelin sheath. This insulates the axon and speeds up signal transmission. Think of the myelin sheath as the insulation that surrounds the wires in your electronic devices.

The neuron ends at the axon terminal. That’s where signals created inside the nerve cell are sent to the next neuron. Nerve impulses are transmitted from the axon terminal of one neuron to the dendrites of the next. The space where nerve cells meet up and exchange information is called the synapse.

Neurons link up between their dendrites and axon terminals and create a thick, rope-like shape. This bundle of neurons is called a nerve. They pick up signals from your internal organs and outside world and propel the messages towards your brain.

There are thousands of nerves in your body. And they vary in size. The longest nerve is called the sciatic nerve. It stretches from the base of your spinal cord to your foot. The trochlear nerve is one of the smallest. It’s in charge of the rotational movement of your eye.

After neurons and nerves come the bigger organs of the nervous system—the spinal cord and brain.

The spinal cord is essentially one large, thick nerve with a direct connection to your brain. The bones in your spinal column provide structure and protection. That allows messages to travel uninterrupted to and from your brain along the spinal cord.

If you think about your nervous system as a computer, then the brain is the system’s hard drive. It receives every message gathered by your nerves via the spinal cord. Then it interprets that information and initiates a response.

When you want your body to perform an action, it’s your neurons that start working first. They send electrochemical impulses to the brain through the nerves and spinal cord. Your brain returns the necessary instructions to complete the task along the same nerves.

In the next section, you’ll learn more about this process, the role of nerves, and the actions your nervous system can help you accomplish.

How the Nervous System Works

Your body is great at tackling the hard work of your everyday life. And the nervous system is no exception. It divides up the job of sensing and responding to stimuli between its two parts—the central nervous system (CNS) and the peripheral nervous system (PNS).

The CNS is the control center of the nervous system. It includes the brain and the spinal cord. All the nerves that branch out from the spine are part of the PNS. Though they operate in tandem, it is important to highlight them independently. That’s because each section of the nervous system has a unique role and function.

Central Nervous System

Your CNS is the boss of your body. It is responsible for coordinating the messages it gets from the PNS to provide the appropriate physical response. This process is called integration.

The wire-like nerves in your body get stimuli from your environment and send those signals to your brain. But the nerves in your hands and feet aren’t plugged directly into your brain. Instead, your spinal cord makes a single connection at the base of the skull.

Protected by bony vertebrae (the bones of the spine), your spinal cord is the cable that collects the information from all over the body. Acting as one large conduit to the brain, your spinal cord can deliver large amounts of data from a single port, rather than thousands of smaller ones.

This makes it easier for your brain to integrate all the sensations you experience with the right actions and movements. And when it’s time to respond to messages, it can send out instructions in bulk. This takes some work off your brain’s plate by leaving the sorting and delivery work to the spinal cord.

Peripheral Nervous System

All of the nerves in your body (except the brain and spinal cord) are collectively known as the peripheral nervous system or PNS. It’s the job of the PNS to use nerves to sense information about your environment. Your voluntary and involuntary actions, reflexes, and intentional movements are initiated by the PNS.

The PNS communicates back and forth with your brain and spine and lets the central nervous system know what the rest of the body is doing. The PNS does this with specialized nerve cells called afferent and efferent neurons.

Afferent neurons are also known as sensory neurons. They send messages to your CNS. They deal in sensory information like sound, taste, touch, and smell. When you touch sandpaper, or smell a cake baking, your afferent neurons take that stimuli to your brain.

To respond to those sensations, your PNS uses efferent neurons. These carry messages and instructions away from your CNS. Efferent neurons can also be called motor neurons. They do just what their name implies—triggering muscle contraction and movement. Motor neurons make it possible for you to scratch your fingers against the rough sandpaper. They also allow you to take a bite of that delicious-smelling cake.

Both afferent and efferent neurons are present in nerve fibers. So, your PNS can send sensory information to your brain and receive a motor response along the same nerve. You need this kind of back-and-forth communication for voluntary movement.

The nerves of the PNS also manage things outside of your conscious control—involuntary reactions to your environment.

A major example of your PNS at work is your fight-or-flight response. This kicks in when you perceive that you’re in danger. It can also turn on when you’re worried and scared. At that time, your body experiences involuntary changes when you feel stressed.

Take speaking in public, for example. As the moment approaches, you might notice your heart start to race and your palms sweat. Your mouth might even get dry.

These symptoms indicate that your peripheral nervous system is working as it should. Salivary glands, skin cells, and your heart muscle get messages from your brain via the PNS to adjust their behavior to keep you safe. When you take a couple of deep breaths and settle your nerves (pun intended), your heart rate returns to normal. You feel safe and are no longer afraid.

The peripheral nervous system operates a complementary response to fight or flight, often called rest and digest. Your nerves send instructions down from the CNS to calm your body when it’s not in any danger. So, your breathing is steady and your muscles and gut are relaxed when you’re not experiencing stress.

Again, all of these changes occur on their own. You can thank your PNS for running on autopilot so you don’t have to worry about elevating your heart rate when something makes you nervous.

And without a peripheral nervous system, decisions and directions made by the CNS would have to be carried out directly by your brain and spinal cord. The central nervous system may call the shots when it comes to responding to sensations and stimuli. But the PNS is the link between your body and your brain that gets the job done.

Nervous System Technical Support

It’s pretty wild to think that electrochemical impulses are shooting up and down your nerves as you pause to read this article. Your nervous system is always working. So, make sure you’re doing your part to keep your electrical wiring up to code. There are a couple great ways to support and protect your nervous system.

Minimize Stress

Remember all the work your nervous system does to prepare your body for fight or flight? When stresses from work, school, or family life don’t let up, it can be hard for your nervous system to ease out of this involuntary response.

If your mind feels clouded with worry, it can be hard for your brain to efficiently integrate all the messages from your nerves. Sometimes this stress can even manifest itself in physical pain.

Combating stress and returning your body to the rest-and-digest phase will give your nerves a break. Deep breathing, mindful meditation, and exercise are all great ways to take a load off. If possible, try easing your mental strain by eliminating unnecessary work or burdens. And ask for help from family and friends when you need it.

Eat Whole Foods with Healthy Fats and Antioxidants

The myelin sheath covering the axon of your neurons are made of fatty tissue. So is your brain, the head of the central nervous system. That’s why you should choose food that reinforces these important structures.

That means healthy, unsaturated fats, like omega-3s. These are liquid at room temperature, but are also found in solid foods. You can find these healthy fats in avocados, nuts, seeds, fatty fish, and olive oil.

Another great way to protect your brain long-term is by eating foods rich in antioxidants. Berries and other brightly colored fruits and veggies are excellent sources. Antioxidants help protect brain tissue from damage by free radicals. They also support memory and cognitive function.

Try to incorporate these nutrients—and others, like magnesium, iodine, and a variety of vitamins—in your diet. Switch out foods with unhealthy fats (fried foods and prepackaged foods) with healthier options (grilled salmon or walnuts.) Make a brain-boosting smoothie with lots of berries and green veggies.

There are plenty of tasty ways to take care of your nervous system. And your hard-working brain, spinal cord, and nerves deserve the love.

About the Author

Sydney Sprouse is a freelance science writer based out of Forest Grove, Oregon. She holds a bachelor of science in human biology from Utah State University, where she worked as an undergraduate researcher and writing fellow. Sydney is a lifelong student of science and makes it her goal to translate current scientific research as effectively as possible. She writes with particular interest in human biology, health, and nutrition.

Humans crave companionship and camaraderie. That’s why social health is one of your pillars of overall health. And friends are great and important. But being a social animal has drawbacks—more than just the social pressure to go to that party you’d rather skip. Peer pressure can create or reinforce unhealthy habits and behaviors.

That’s right. Peer pressure doesn’t stop existing when you get older. The connections it has to health are important throughout your life. It extends from avoiding the wrong crowd as a teen to finding your tribe of healthy friends as an adult.

Studies have found that teens and adolescents crave acceptance from their peers more than adults. These social pressures produce big emotions in teens that can alter decision-making.

The good news is that people generally get better at dealing with or rejecting peer pressure as they age. But the resistance doesn’t change much between 18 and 30. And research is also uncovering interesting connections between adult peer pressure and health.

A study of adult Australian women found strong connections between health and peer pressure. It showed how much of an impact social norms and support can have on diet and exercise. The results suggested that women who are around healthy people were more likely to exhibit healthier behaviors in diet and activity.

These connections between social pressures and health holds true in the smallest group, too—married people. Studies have consistently found partners who make healthy choices together have more success in sticking with them. But being married also correlates with weight gain.

So, maybe the focus for adults shouldn’t be avoiding peer pressure. Instead, you should seek out or create situations where positive peer pressure can work in your favor.

This is probably most important in diet and physical activity—two areas that have wide-ranging impacts on health. So, let’s take a look at two scenarios where peer pressure and health intersect, focusing first on food choices and then on activity levels.

The Why and How of Peer Pressure and Diet

You already know how important it is to eat a healthy diet. The kind that provides a balance of whole grains, healthy fats, fiber, and plenty of protein. But it’s not always easy.

Some of that difficulty could stem from what people are eating around you. It’s much harder to stick to salad when others are indulging in delicious treats. Willpower only goes so far.

But the opposite scenario is also true—when you are around healthy eaters, you feel pressure to do the same. That’s the positive side of peer pressure. And it’s backed up by more than intuition or experience.

Science supports the fact that healthy eating is contagious. One review from the University of Liverpool—which analyzed 15 studies—says these kind of healthy eating behaviors are “transmitted socially.” This was done through the dissemination of eating norms to participants. And the researchers suggest using this positive peer pressure to change behaviors around healthy eating.

Basically, what your peers—friends, family, or coworkers—are choosing impacts what you choose. If you’re around big eaters choosing high-calorie, high-fat foods, your choices may follow suit. But the power of social norms and peer pressure make it less likely you order the fries when everybody gets a salad.

You want to be part of the group and identified as normal. In fact, you don’t even have to see these behaviors from your peers. Simply viewing the social norm in one way—healthy or unhealthy—is likely enough to push you in one direction.

How can you use this to your advantage?

Start by thinking differently and asking questions. You might be bombarded with ads for fast food and unhealthy foods. That can make you think those foods are what normal people eat. Change your perspective by focusing on the healthy options people choose around you. Even ask your friends what their daily diet looks like. It’s probably healthier overall than the choices they might make at a party or restaurant.

This shift in perspective might be enough to nudge you toward the healthy option for dinner. That’s something you can build on to cement healthy habits.

But if that isn’t enough, you may have to flip the switch yourself. That means creating the positive peer pressure you’d like to see in your group of friends. When you have the option, choose healthy. It’s your turn to host the dinner party, so opt for a plant-based meal. After a while you might see these healthy-eating choices reflected back.

Now you know how peer pressure affects diet. Use it to your benefit and steer the social norms of your peer group toward healthy behaviors.

How Activity is Affected by Peer Pressure

Physical activity is another extremely important piece of your health puzzle. The impact of moving your body extends from your weight and heart health to your bones and joints.

And social pressure can shape your exercise and activity in many of the ways it does your diet.

Nobody wants to be left out. The fear of missing out (or FOMO, for those in the know) is a powerful force. It can push you to go hiking when you’d really like to be watching TV instead. And consistently using that positive peer pressure can help solidify a healthy lifestyle.

Research shows these tendencies start early and extend to adulthood.

One study in children showed close friends provide the biggest impact on activity levels. Another in adults found that couples influence each other’s fitness levels. So, no matter your age, if the people closest to you are active, you’re likely to be, too.

You can apply the tips from above about peer pressure and diet to activity and exercise. “Be the change you want to see” is good advice in many cases. So, you can always start a fitness craze in your group of friends. But there are more options when it comes to peer pressure and fitness.

You probably wouldn’t just sit down to dinner with random people you see eating healthy. That’s outside of accepted social norms. But you can more easily surround yourself with a fitness-based community.

Here’s some ideas to explore:

  • Join group fitness classes at work or a local gym.
  • Get involved in an activity-related group—a running club, recreational sports league, or yoga studio.
  • Seek out online fitness communities for support.
  • Follow social media accounts around activities, sports, and fitness.

Whatever you decide to pursue, talk about it with your spouse and closest friends, and invite them along. Maybe they’re looking for a push, too. So, you can help create an active atmosphere that can pick you up when you need it.

Applying Positive Peer Pressure to Other Aspects of Overall Wellbeing

Your whole life can benefit from a boost of positive peer pressure. It can move the needle across the spectrum of holistic health and wellness—mentally, emotionally, intellectually, and financially.

It all starts by surrounding yourself with people who support your goals. That includes people who will push you to be your best in every aspect of your life. You want to be around people who exhibit the behaviors you want to achieve.

Want to achieve great heights in your career? Join groups and make friends with high achievers. It’s just like hanging out with fitness fanatics to boost your activity and exercise.

Making a wide assortment of friends and creating a varied social network (in real life and online) is key to leveraging peer pressure for your benefit. And now that you know the secrets of positive peer pressure, you’re empowered.

All you have to do now is act. Start using the boost of social pressure to push you in the direction of a healthier lifestyle—and take your friends with you, too.

References

https://www.webmd.com/diet/news/20131230/peer-pressure-may-influence-your-food-choices

https://www.hhs.gov/ash/oah/adolescent-development/healthy-relationships/healthy-friendships/peer-pressure/index.html

https://fit.webmd.com/teen/mood/article/peer-pressure

https://www.womenssportsfoundation.org/health/peer-pressure-can-help-kids-exercise-more/

https://articles.extension.org/pages/71199/how-peer-and-parental-influences-affect-meal-choices

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/12/101206201233.htm

https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/318837.php

https://www.uwhealth.org/news/dealing-with-peer-pressure-when-youre-an-adult/46604

http://www.mentalhealthcenter.org/how-to-deal-with-peer-pressure-as-an-adult/

To do list in a car on driving wheel and hand holding phone - busy day concept

To do list in a car on driving wheel and hand holding phone - busy day concept

The bad news: Your relationship with time is more than likely toxic.

You’re overscheduled, stretched too thin, and find it difficult to focus on the present moment. You probably respond with, “busy,” when people ask how you’re doing. The worst part? You don’t feel like you have the power to take control of your time.

Whether you joined voluntarily or not, you’re a card-carrying member of the cult of busyness—the ever-growing group of people whose anxiety is rising because they don’t feel like they have enough time to get everything done. You’re among the hordes of multitaskers who scramble to squeeze the most out of every minute, rolling through life as a ball of stress, only to collapse into an exhausted heap at the end of every day.

How Busyness Took Over and Why it Keeps Getting Worse

It’s not your fault. You weren’t born to be a slave to your schedule. You just got swept up in an unhealthy cultural trend.

But how did so many people become obsessed with time and productivity?

When the world was filled with agrarian (or farming) societies, the passing of time was indicated by the sun and the seasons. Leisure time was a marker of wealth. But with the rise of the Industrial Revolution, the measurement of time became inextricably connected with productivity. Time was money. And the more a person worked, the more valuable he or she was perceived as being.

The technological era has again reshaped people’s relationship with time, creating a driving need to optimize as much of your life as possible. There are the same 24 hours to work with in every day as our agrarian and industrial ancestors had. So, society had to get smart about maximizing people’s skill sets to accomplish more moment-to-moment. With productivity reigning supreme, moments of leisure, rest, and relaxation are often looked at as wasteful or lost opportunities to accumulate wealth.

The result? Many people are held captive by their schedules. You might feel compelled to be seen as productive and, by extension, valuable. Put simply, your lack of time has become a primary marker of your worth. Signaling to others how busy you are implies you’re highly in-demand.

With most people having a digital device at their fingertips around the clock, it’s easy to feel like (and perpetuate the feeling) that everyone else is being productive around the clock. So, you need to compete. Ever had a coworker send emails at midnight? Do you receive group texts from your friends at 5 a.m.? Previous rules of decorum around personal time have been obliterated by both a compulsive need to be seen as hard workers and the variety of ways to communicate instantaneously.

Scientific Evidence for the Cult of Busyness

When someone messages you at odd hours, it triggers a feeling that you need to respond—out of good manners and to show that you, too, are available and productive around the clock. When you’re stuck in a cycle of responding to various stimuli, you don’t feel in control of your time. It’s dictated by others.

Experts studying the evolving relationship with time refer to this feeling as “time poverty.” But contrary to how time-starved many people feel, in reality, we have more free time than any previous generation.

“There is a distinction between objective time, which you can measure, and subjective time, which is experiential,” explains philosopher Nils F. Schott, the James M. Motley Postdoctoral Fellow in the Humanities at Johns Hopkins University.

When you’re preoccupied with the tug of war between what you want to do and what you should be doing, you’re missing opportunities and the ability to enjoy the moment. And you’re likely spending too much time on tasks you feel are urgent—regardless of their importance—and too little time on tasks that are important in the long run, but lack in-your-face urgency. For example, you might respond immediately to an email that pops into your inbox, but put off exercising for weeks (or months, or years).

Some studies show that busy people make better health choices (the thought being that having limited time forces better planning). But it’s no coincidence that as schedules become more hectic, the number of people who say they feel stressed and anxious has increased.

Feeling time-starved, like you’re always behind and will never catch up with life’s demands, can lead to stress, increased feelings of anxiety, and mental distress. Anxiousness can negatively impact sleep quality, which leads to poor planning and decision-making. Thus the cycle continues.

Reclaim Your Time with These 5 Tips

Finally, it’s time for some good news: Experts say there are ways to reverse the harmful effects of time poverty.

Simply put: do less.

Yes, that’s easier said than done because it requires understanding and protecting your priorities. Time is a precious resource, one worth fighting for. Recognizing that you have the power to control how you spend your time is the first step to reclaiming it.

Here are five practical tips to escape the cult of busyness:

  1. Track your time. It may seem counterintuitive to pay more attention to your time in order to free yourself of its suffocating restraints. But it’s only by knowing where you’re devoting your minutes and hours that you can begin to reclaim them. After listing all of your activities in a diary, you’ll likely find that you have more free time than you think you do. That big-picture look can also help you prioritize what’s important, so you can focus more time on that. Time tracking can also help you pinpoint the time-sucking activities you need to eliminate.
  2. Stop multitasking. It’s bad for your brain in the short term—and possibly lowers your IQ in the long-term. You may feel like you’re accomplishing more, but studies show multitasking is less productive than devoting your focus to one task or project at a time. And it will negatively affect the quality of your work and could diminish your cognitive function to that of an 8-year-old. To kick the multitasking habit, look to the results from your time diary to identify the window of time you’re most productive. Schedule your most mentally challenging tasks for this period of time. Remind yourself that a majority of the time, what doesn’t get done today can wait until tomorrow.
  3. Ditch the guilt. Give yourself permission to opt out of the rat race. Set boundaries for your time and don’t feel bad for enforcing them. Feeling like you’re failing as a parent because you aren’t spending enough time with your kids? It’s time to let yourself off the hook. Parents today spend more time with their children than parents did 40 years ago. Instead of feeling guilty about the time you aren’t spending with your family, focus on making the time you do spend with them as high-quality as possible. Leave work at the office as much as possible and use your paid vacation time to make memories. You’ll set a great example to your children of what it looks like to honor your priorities and live mindfully.
  4. Choose the right kind of rest. It may be tempting after a hard week to spend the weekend on the couch binging your favorite shows. But your mind won’t register that passive activity as rest. Instead, choose a more mindful form of rejuvenation: read a book, take a walk, meditate, do yoga, practice hygge, call a friend or family member. As is typical with any form of self-care, however, if it’s not scheduled and prioritized, it can become the first thing cut when your schedule gets extra unruly. Remember to book time to refill your tank. It’s also a good idea to have the occasional “device detox,” where you put the phones, laptops, and tablets away and enjoy the company of others. The texts and emails will be there when you return.
  5. Take baby steps. Choose one time-reclaiming activity to implement. Use your time-tracking journal to help you identify areas in your life that consistently encroach upon your personal time and start there by creating realistic boundaries. Maybe you’ll decide to turn email notifications off or not to check texts after 8 p.m. After you’ve successfully incorporated that habit into your daily routine, choose another area to tackle. Keep going until you feel like you control your time instead of the other way around.

The Time is Now

The tornado of tasks sweeping you up—and your anxiety about dealing with all of them right now—isn’t all your fault. You’ve been sucked into the cult of busyness like so many people today.

Unlike others, you now understand how people end up paralyzed by productivity, and how technology has accelerated the perception (and reality) of busyness. And you have time-management tips to help you reclaim your time.

Don’t wait to take control over your schedule. Step off the non-stop treadmill of emails and projects and other people’s needs. Your time is invaluable and finite. So, reclaim your time and wrestle back dominion over your days.

Describing mindfulness can be hard. So, let’s do a little thought experiment and try some mindful living for a minute.

Imagine you’re walking through a city, enjoying the fresh air, and delighting in the bustle and energy of the streets. You take a seat on a bench near a busy intersection, safely tucked away from traffic. You’re happy to rest for a moment and take in the sights and sounds. What goes through your mind as you witness the traffic?

You might notice the make, model, and color of each car that passes. Perhaps you take note of how fast a particular car whooshes by. Maybe you see another car run a red light. You allow yourself to observe these visual cues and understand them as information, without the need to interpret them as good, bad, wrong, or right.

This basic analogy is what many practitioners use to describe mindfulness. Let’s unpack it to dig deeper into this important, but elusive concept.

What is Mindfulness?

If you imagine the busy street as your brain, then the different cars represent your thoughts. They could be about your worries, fears, or stressors. They might represent your hopes, wishes, and desires. People in your life may populate your thoughts. All those thoughts are cars traveling on the street of your brain.

Mindfulness is immersing yourself in that moment-to-moment awareness, free of judgment. It allows for these thoughts to enter your mind, move through, and disappear without wreaking havoc. That means as you think of a worry, hope, or person, you do so without judging yourself for thinking about it.

An example of mindful living might help clarify things. You feel worried about missing an impending deadline. Mindfulness would suggest that you acknowledge the deadline and your body’s reaction to it with a bit of emotional distance.

Most people don’t practice this detachment. That allows negative thoughts to loop. If the loop continues uninterrupted, the result can be anxiety, stress, worry, and preoccupation. But, if you aim to witness your thoughts in the same way you would a harmless car driving safely by you, you’re likely to avoid those negative pitfalls. Additionally, allowing a bit of space from emotions provides clarity of mind and mental focus.

Mindfulness is about staying in the present. So, returning to the car metaphor, mindfulness is not craning your neck to see if the car that passed will turn off the road up ahead. It is also not turning to see how far traffic has backed up. When you’re simply observing each car as it enters and exits your field of view, you’re practicing mindfulness.

The Benefits of Mindfulness

As the modern world continues to blaze by, many are turning to mindfulness to slow life down. The recent growth in the popularity of mindfulness has created a call for research to investigate the benefits of more mindful living.

Practitioners have long claimed many benefits for mindfulness. Among them are stress reduction, less emotional reactivity, freedom from rumination, mental focus, and relationship satisfaction.

Researchers have started to test these hypotheses. They do it by assigning study participants to a mindfulness-based intervention or a control group. Then researchers take various measurements to determine the effects of each intervention.

In one investigation, researchers looked at nearly 40 studies that include mindfulness-based interventions. They found mindfulness programs helped reduce stress, anxiety, and depression in patients with psychiatric disorders. In certain studies, they also concluded that mindfulness practice, paired with traditional therapy, is effective in preventing relapse into depression for certain patients.

Another study has shown promising results for regular practice of mindfulness through meditation. In this particular case, participants learned how to meditate over a two-month period. Researchers took images of participants’ brains before and after the program and found changes in the amygdala, an area of the brain responsible for emotional processing. The scan showed that the amygdala was less active after meditation. Then participants were shown emotionally charged images and the same brain scan was repeated. Comparing pre-meditation scans to those taken after viewing emotional images revealed something interesting.

Researchers saw that the decrease in activity of the amygdala held, even when the participants weren’t actively meditating. This finding is promising, as it shows that the benefits—in this case, less emotional reactivity—are long-lasting, even when meditation or mindfulness is not being actively employed.

Another group of researchers studied attendees of an intensive mindfulness retreat. After the 10-day retreat, the participants, experienced less rumination—when compared to a control group who didn’t attend the retreat. The retreat group also exhibited better attention and focus when assigned to a performance task.

It’s not uncommon to hear about a new trend from a friend and be skeptical. Even if your friend shares a personal, compelling anecdote, it may feel too good to be true. But when the trend in question is mindfulness or mindful meditation, the jury’s no longer out. Science shows that health benefits of mindfulness do exist. So, hesitate no longer and hop on the bandwagon.

Tips for Mindful Living Every Day

  • Slow down. It’s easy to move through life on autopilot, going through the motions without consciously connecting with each action, decision, or person you encounter. One trick is to think about the transitions throughout your day and how you can move through them more slowly and intentionally. This could be the moment after you wake up and before you get out of bed. Maybe it’s the moment after you finish one work task and start the next. When these transitions are rushed, it divorces your mind from your body, turning autopilot back on. In these transitional moments, pause to breathe and check in with your mind and body. This will give you a chance to collect your thoughts and ready yourself for whatever comes next.
  • Use all of your senses. Mindfulness doesn’t just have to be turned on when life gets stressful. Tuning into your body and all of its sensations can help you stay engaged in mindfulness. Listening, seeing, tasting, touching, and hearing fully can help you stay grounded in each moment. With this mindset, an ordinary task can turn into a sensory experience. For example, take gardening. What does the soil feel like? Does this new sprout have a smell? Consider the vibrancy of the colors throughout the plant. If it bears fruit, what does it taste like? What sounds do you hear as you’re outside tending to the garden? When you stay in the moment and ask yourself these questions, it’s nearly impossible to ruminate on the past or worry about the future.
  • Keep a gratitude journal. Start by jotting down three things you were grateful for each day. This practice will encourage you to slow down and reflect on your day. Consider why you’re grateful for each list item, how they make you feel, and how they add to your life. Journaling can help you curate a more positive outlook and perspective. If this resonates with you, create longer lists or expand each entry.
  • Focus on brain health. Mindfulness is all in your head—focusing your brain on the present and striving for non-judgment. So, it’s also a time to think about supporting your brain. That means eating foods rich in B-vitamins, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin D, antioxidants, and vitamin E. And your brain also has to be exercised to keep it in tip-top shape. Practice being mindful about using your brain each day. You can do that by playing a musical instrument, taking classes (anything from cooking to math), learning a new language, memory games, playing a new sport, and more.
  • Practice self-compassion. Non-judgment is the key to mindfulness. But requiring your mind to be present and non-judgmental can feel like a tall order. You may not do it successfully every time. And that’s OK. Be forgiving and kind to yourself. It’s the best way to ensure you’ll come back to the present and continue forward.

Another Taste: Eating Mindfully

In the modern world of busy schedules, traffic, and technology, it’s hard to find time to focus on eating well. When time is short, meals are often the first thing to take a hit. It means a meal might start in a drive-through lane and finish while you’re driving. Or perhaps it’s a plate of leftovers quickly reheated in the microwave and eaten standing up.

Not giving yourself moments to slow down and eat in peace will only add to the rushed pace of the day. And unsurprisingly, the result might leave you feeling stressed, anxious, and with an upset stomach.

When you take the alternative approach and choose to eat with dedicated intention, you unlock more opportunities to practice mindfulness. It doesn’t matter whether you make a meal from scratch or you pick up one that’s prepared. Eating mindfully calls on all of your senses, bringing you into the present.

What does it smell like? Does the aroma transport you to another place or memory? If you’re eating with your fingers, what does it feel like? Is it soft, crumbly, or flaky? What does it feel like once you put a morsel in your mouth? Does it melt, dissolve, or bubble? What does the food taste like? Does it make your mouth pucker or hit your sweet tooth?

Engaging all of your senses requires that you take your time and tune into each sensation. This behavior makes for a more enjoyable, relaxed meal. An added benefit is that eating slowly will allow you to sense when you’re full more quickly. This means you’re less likely to overeat unintentionally. That’s a bonus whether you’re trying to lose, gain, or maintain your weight.

Paying attention to the general feel and feedback from your whole body will help you remain in touch with what your body needs and when. When did you last eat? How does your body feel? What cues is it giving you and what are they saying? Remember that your body knows best. It only asks you to listen to its cues.

Make Mindfulness Your Mantra

Mindfulness requires a subtle shift in how you move throughout your day. While the change is seemingly small, the impact can be large. Being mindful allows your body and mind to let go of stress, negative thought patterns, and associated behaviors.

When you toss aside those patterns and distractions, you liberate yourself. You’re likely to find more creativity, productivity, and energy. By committing even a few moments a day to mindfulness, you start a habit that sets you up for a healthier day and overall lifestyle.

About the Author

Jenna Templeton is a health educator and freelance science writer living in Salt Lake City, Utah. After receiving a bachelor of science degree in chemistry from Virginia Tech, Jenna spent five years as a research scientist in the nutritional industry. This work fueled her interest in personal wellness, leading her to pursue a graduate degree in Health Promotion & Education from the University of Utah. Outside of work, Jenna enjoys live music, gardening, all things food, and playing in the Wasatch mountains.

Close-up Of A Hungry Woman Eating Sandwich Near Refrigerator

Close-up Of A Hungry Woman Eating Sandwich Near Refrigerator

You walk into a restaurant. You’re famished. It’s in your eyes and growling loudly from your stomach. Once hunger hits, it can’t be reversed until you eat. The beast must be satisfied. And the server knows it from how quickly your eyes devour the menu and lock in on an order.

It’s easy for objectivity, rationality, and patience to go out the window as your body takes over. Your stomach—and brain, for that matter—kick start several processes that motivate you to fill your face with food as quickly as possible.

You know what’s to blame for the hunger. But what else is going on behind the scenes, deep within your body’s appetite control center? It’s time to find out.

Blame Your Hunger Hormones

Hunger can seem to strike out of nowhere. But it really starts with the flip of a switch that fires up the neuronal network in your brain—mainly within the hypothalamus. These nerve cells within the hypothalamus are gatekeepers for your brain. They’re the key to allowing the body to communicate and interpret hunger cues.

Depending on whether you’re hungry or full, these nerve cells either receive or block signals from various hormones. The two main hunger hormones are ghrelin and leptin—and insulin plays a role a little later on in the process.

When your stomach is empty, it sends ghrelin onto a pathway from gut to brain. Ghrelin is the message handed from your gut to brain saying, “It’s time to eat.” So, allowing signals from ghrelin released from the stomach to communicate with the hypothalamus increases appetite. Once you start to eat, ghrelin production begins to back off.

Leptin is ghrelin’s opposing force—hunger’s off switch. This hormone, which originates in fat cells, decreases hunger when it’s allowed to talk to the brain. It’s the signal your fat cells send when they have enough energy stocked up from a meal. And it tells your brain it’s time to stop shoving food in your mouth.

The decisions to block or allow entry happen at the opening of the blood-brain barrier of the hypothalamus. This area is an entry point where hormones released by the gut, pancreas, and fat cells (also called adipose tissue) can pass through to communicate with the brain.

It’s not a one-way street, though. Hormones secreted from the hypothalamus use this portal as an exit, traveling in the opposite direction, out into the body. This dance between hunger hormones—and those signals originating in your brain—is what balances your hunger and impacts your body’s energy reserves, your weight, and body composition.

As you digest, your hunger steadily decreases. That’s because leptin—and its appetite-diminishing effects—gains prominence. Insulin (another important hormone that helps carry energy to cells) decreases rapidly. This also helps suppress appetite. So after you eat, insulin and leptin team up to inhibit hunger and help bring about a feeling of satiety.

And there you have the hunger cycle—from stomach grumbles and salivation, to blissful fullness. Enjoying a satisfying meal when you’re hungry is one of life’s pleasures. But what about those times when you aren’t able to feed yourself right when hunger sets in?

Save the Day, Keep Hanger at Bay

A busy day, congested traffic, an overflowing email inbox. There are so many reasons you find yourself at the intersection of Hungry and Angry—better known as Hangry.

It’s not a place you choose to visit. And as soon as you arrive at hangry, you’re desperate to leave. That’s because hunger and the accompanying irritability is intensely unpleasant, uncomfortable, and unwelcome for you and anyone in your immediate vicinity.

While “hangry” is a newer word, coined to lend humor to an otherwise annoying situation, the hanger can be very real. Scientists agree there is biological and psychological validity to the state of hanger. One nutritionist, Sophie Medlin, even claims it as a bona fide emotion.

But what’s really going on? Hunger isn’t always accompanied by an emotional meltdown, so what brings about this extra reaction? Researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill found two factors determine hanger: context and self-awareness. The researchers conducted two studies to demonstrate this.

In the first experiment, participants were primed for a specific mood by viewing curated images associated with positive, neutral, or negative emotions. The images were shown to induce the corresponding mood. Immediately after priming, the participants were shown an ambiguous image and asked to rate it. The participants were also asked to evaluate how hungry they felt.

Results showed that after viewing negative images, hungrier participants were more likely to rate the ambiguous image as negative. The participants projected their negative feeling of hunger onto their subjective assessment of the image. Having a somewhat negative experience while hungry can skew your perceptions, making you report the image as more intensely negative. So, context matters.

The second experiment explored the other influential factor of hanger: self-awareness. Researchers required half of the participants to fast beforehand. The other half could eat as they normally would. Some participants were then asked to complete an assignment, in which they reflected on and wrote about their emotions.

Then all participants were given a tiresome computer task. During the activity, the program underwent a planned crash to evoke frustration. Study coordinators blamed the crash on the participants to further rile them up. Lastly, all participants were asked to fill out a survey to evaluate their experience and identify their emotions.

Researchers found that fasted participants who did not reflect on and write about their emotions prior to the computer task reported more negative feelings. They even reported feeling hateful toward the coordinators who blamed them for the computer crash. The results demonstrated that emotional self-awareness plays a part in being hangry.

So, if you’re aware of your intense hunger as it builds, you’re less likely to view it as a negative emotional experience. Alternatively, if you neglect to check-in with your emotions and you become hungry, you’re more likely to lash out in hanger at a frustrating situation.

Get Ahead of Hunger, Ride Out Satiety

Just because being hangry is a real possibility, doesn’t mean you need to experience it. Arm yourself with tools and plan to avoid excessive hunger—and potential hanger—altogether. There are three important steps you can take today.

  1. Understand the Glycemic Index

Glycemic index is a value assigned to a food based on how quickly your body can convert the food into usable energy, or glucose. Simple carbohydrates (think refined sugar or white bread) will fall on the high-end of the glycemic index. That’s because the energy within them is readily available for use by the body. More complex carbohydrates like whole grains and vegetables release glucose slow and steady so they fall on the low end of the index. It’s because they have more fiber to slow down the digestion process.

Those are the basics. You can dive deeper if you want, but you should be familiar enough with this concept to use it to your advantage! Here are some ideas.

  • Reach for foods on the low end of the glycemic index. These foods take longer to breakdown, meaning you avoid a quick spike of energy followed by a crash. That’s because low-glycemic foods provide you more sustained energy over time.
  • Pair high-glycemic foods with something on the lower end. For example, if you’re having a carb-heavy meal, add a colorful side salad. Skip the hearts of romaine and go for deeper greens. Spruce up the salad with other colorful veggies like bell peppers, carrots, or beets. The veggie boost will provide a healthy dose of fiber to help slow down the digestion of the simpler carbs. Or add some healthy fats or protein to further delay carb digestion.
  1. Start Your Day Right

As you’ve probably heard, breakfast is very important. When you skip breakfast, you’re almost asking for a one-way ticket to Hangry-town. Keep your belly full and your mind sharp by having a balanced meal to start the day. If your mornings are busy, consider packing a healthy snack the night before. Then if hunger creeps up before lunchtime, you have a go-to hanger stopper within reach.

  1. Protein is Anti-Hangry

Protein helps keep you feeling fuller for longer. So, it’s a great idea to examine what kind of meals and snacks you normally eat. If you find your meals are short on, or completely devoid of, protein, get creative.

  • Don’t assume that protein means meat. There are many meat-alternatives on the market. Whether it’s tofu, seitan, tempeh, or a mix of veggie proteins, the options are plentiful. If these alternative proteins are new to you, read up and consider adding one or two to your diet for some variety.
  • If you are a meat eater, vary your sources. Consider a new type of meat or fish. If you already eat a variety, switch up how it’s prepared. For example, if you enjoy turkey, ask your butcher to grind it and make your own burger patties. Your market should be staffed by butchers well-versed in different cuts, preparation styles, and even recipe ideas. If not, there are ways to accomplish these tasks at home.
  • Pair a healthy midday snack, like carrots, apples, or celery, with a nut butter. It can give you the perfect mix of savory and sweet while also providing you with a serving of protein.

If these tips are new to you, start slow. If you’re overzealous, you may find that the new habits are harder to adopt. Instead, pick out one that feels doable and start there. Once you’ve incorporated a new habit successfully, try adding another into the mix.

Not Today, Hanger

Pretty Chinese woman relaxing at home on the sofa.

“I’m sorry for what I said when I was hungry.” If you’ve never said this phrase, surely you’ve thought it. Moments of discomfort brought on by hunger, or even hanger, are common. But you can avoid them. With an understanding of your body’s hormones, some self-awareness, and meal planning, you can take on each day feeling well-fed and well-mannered.

About the Author

Jenna Templeton is a health educator and freelance science writer living in Salt Lake City, Utah. After receiving a bachelor of science degree in chemistry from Virginia Tech, Jenna spent five years as a research scientist in the nutritional industry. This work fueled her interest in personal wellness, leading her to pursue a graduate degree in Health Promotion & Education from the University of Utah. Outside of work, Jenna enjoys live music, gardening, all things food, and playing in the Wasatch mountains.

A shining smile shows off your teeth and brings your oral health to the center of attention. Practicing good oral hygiene keeps teeth and gums sparkling and strong so you can flash your smile with confidence.

But that’s not all. Your oral health can be a sign of your overall health, too.

The ties between oral health and the rest of your body run deep. There are links between your teeth and your cardiovascular system. A healthy weight can be shaped by good oral hygiene. And the health of your joints can be manifested in your mouth, too.

Examining the connections between your body and your pearly whites can help you see why the health of your teeth and gums are so important. Crack a smile, because your oral health just got a lot more interesting.

Say “Ah”—The Mouth is the Doorway to the Rest of the Body

Healthy Eating. Closeup Of Woman Mouth With Beautiful Pink Lips Makeup Holding Fresh Asparagus Between White Teeth. Smiling Female Face With Vegetable In Mouth. Diet Food Concept. High Resolution

You use your mouth to tell others how you feel. But without saying a word, your mouth can give clues to your overall health.

Think of your mouth as a door to your body. It opens and shuts for important visitors like food and drink. And it keeps out harmful germs and bacteria. A lot of things enter through this gate. So, it’s necessary to keep it healthy.

You can see how your body is doing from this doorway. When teeth are shiny and breath is fresh, all is more likely to be well. But when teeth are missing or decaying away, that can signal trouble inside.

By knocking on this door and seeing what’s inside, you can catch a glimpse of your body’s overall health. Take a look at how the following factors are connected to your oral health.

Maintain a Healthy Weight by Taking Care of Your Oral Health

weight scale on wooden floor

The connection between oral health and weight might be the strongest link the mouth has with the body. That’s because the health of your teeth and gums has a close relationship with the food you put in your body.

You know what can increase your weight. Sugary foods like candy and soda chip away at your healthy weight and wear down your teeth. The sugars in these foods feed bacteria that can erode the protective layer of your teeth and cause tooth decay.

When teeth are compromised, eating becomes uncomfortable. Try crunching on something healthy like carrots or apples when your teeth are aching. That’s why it is so important to choose healthy foods for meals and snacks. They protect your teeth and make it easier to keep eating well.

Think of healthy teeth as another benefit of eating wholesome foods. Your waistline will thank you and so will your smile. You might be surprised to know that other healthy habits like exercise can keep your teeth and gums in good shape, too.

Adding regular physical fitness to your schedule can also boost your oral health, according to a Japanese study. Increasing your activity level has been shown to lower the likelihood of developing issues in the teeth and gums.

This is because regular exercise can influence other health-conscious behaviors. Choosing to exercise daily means you’re more likely to make other choices that positively impact your oral health. Examples include abstaining from drugs and alcohol, eating healthier meals, and brushing and flossing more often.

But diet remains as the biggest link in the chain between weight and oral health. So, do your teeth and your waistline a favor and trim away the junk food from your diet.

Help Your Heart Health with Good Oral Hygiene

The surprising tie between your heart and mouth may make you think twice before you skip brushing your teeth. Unhealthy teeth and gums may be a precursor to more serious heart issues.

Protecting your heart from harm is essential to staying healthy. That’s why it is important to keep the bacteria in your mouth under control with regular brushing and flossing.

Taking good care of your teeth and gums is an important way to support your heart health. By keeping your mouth clean and free from contaminants, you can support heart health. And all while you’re flashing a beautiful smile.

4 More Interesting Overall Health Connections to Teeth and Gums

Discomfort in the teeth and gums can also be symptoms of problems elsewhere in the body. You know poor oral hygiene can lead to decay and tooth loss. But there’s more ways your teeth and gums connect to your body.

  1. Tooth loss may adversely affect joint health. Researchers noted the remarkable link between oral health and joint health in a 2012 study.

The study showed that having all 32 teeth made participants eight times more likely to have healthy joints than subjects with fewer than 20 teeth. These results led the researchers to establish a correlation between oral health and joint health. So, the more teeth a study participant had, the healthier their joints were likely to be.

  1. When you eat for oral health, you’re also helping out your bones and joints. That’s because some of the same nutrients that support joint and bone health also help maintain the health of your teeth.

And it makes sense, because while teeth aren’t bones, they have a lot in common. One of the main similarities is calcium. Bones and teeth both have a lot of this mega mineral. But calcium isn’t the only nutrient you need in your diet for oral, bone, and joint health. Also make sure you’re getting magnesium, vitamin C, and vitamin D.

  1. Oral and joint tissues act a lot alike. The cell-signaling molecules that initiate normal, healthy immune responses are the same for joints as they are for teeth and gums.

There’s also a genetic component to the link between your mouth and joints. Certain gene markers are prevalent in people with joint conditions. These same genetic sequences can be spotted in the DNA of those with poor oral health, too.

  1. Your gums share several surprising things with your skin. To start out with, they’re both pretty effective barriers. Gums keep foreign objects (even the food you eat) from getting into the other tissues of your mouth. And your skin is your body’s barrier against the outside world.

Both barriers also require collagen for good health. This structural protein is the most abundant in your body, but is very important to skin and gums. And when you talk about collagen, vitamin C frequently follows. That’s because the essential vitamin and antioxidant helps support healthy collagen synthesis. So, you need to get enough vitamin C to help maintain both skin and gum health.

Your skin is always replacing itself. The same is happening in your gums. But the cellular turnover of your gums happens even faster than your skin. About twice as fast, actually.

And one more thing that explains the color of your gums: Both your skin and gums get their coloration from melanin.

Since your body has so many connections to your teeth and gums, it’s important to keep an eye out for changes in your oral health. Be vigilant in your care for your bones, joints, skin, and your mouth. That way your teeth, skin, and skeletal system will work for you long into the future.

Smile and Show Off Your Healthy Body

Portrait of a young couple brushing teeth in the bathroom.

The mouth-body connection demonstrates how intertwined the systems of your body are. The wellbeing of your heart, joints, bones, and even your weight are all linked to your oral health. Taking care of your teeth and gums can help support your overall health. That way a strong, beaming smile will be an outward display of just how healthy your body is inside.

About the Author

Sydney Sprouse is a freelance science writer based out of Forest Grove, Oregon. She holds a bachelor of science in human biology from Utah State University, where she worked as an undergraduate researcher and writing fellow. Sydney is a lifelong student of science and makes it her goal to translate current scientific research as effectively as possible. She writes with particular interest in human biology, health, and nutrition.

Your life experiences make you an expert at handling change. Starting a new job, moving to a different city, the birth of a child. All events that transform your life and shape you are about change. For women and men, healthy aging is the next challenge to conquer.

But everyone ages differently. Women go through a specific aging process called menopause. And while every woman will experience it, not everyone is aware of what to expect.

Men go through hormonal changes with age, too. It’s not the same as what women deal with, though. (You can read the facts about male menopause below.)

No matter what’s ahead, when you understand how your body changes as you age, you will feel ready to march into each new year and decade with confidence. And preparing for healthy aging now can help ease your body into each subsequent phase of life. Whatever your age, there are steps you can take now to get on track for healthy aging.

To tackle what’s coming with age, let’s break up adulthood into some of the key concerns during different decades of life. This is by no means a comprehensive list—a whole book would be needed for that. But you’ll read about what to expect in terms of hormonal changes with age and some of the other physical changes you might encounter. Learn tips about how to handle what might be coming your way.

You’re never too old to learn about your body. And you can never start paying attention to healthy habits too early. So, no matter your age, now is the time to start down the road to healthy aging. The choices you make throughout your life are the key to enjoying every minute of it.

Get Active to Prepare Properly in Your Twenties and Thirties

Your twenties, and thirties are a great time to develop healthy habits that’ll last throughout your life. Start exercising on a regular basis as soon as possible. Partner up with a family member or friend and get fit for the future together.

One concern for women and men is loss of strength and bone density later in life. That’s why your younger years are a great time to strengthen your muscles and bones, armoring your body through regular physical activity.

Getting in shape now might seem premature, but it’s never too early to start. As you age, some activities will become more challenging. So, start working out now to help maintain your independence when you are older.

Think about activities like shopping, gardening, and hiking. Muscle and bone loss could make these difficult. Lifting groceries, pushing a wheelbarrow, and climbing stairs are all things you will want the freedom to do in the future. That’s why you need to stay active in your twenties and thirties—so you can keep doing the things you want to with the people you love.

Exercises like walking, swimming, hiking, yoga, and dancing are great ways to get in or stay in shape. Adding weight-bearing exercises is also important to preserve muscle and bone.

All you need is 30 minutes of activity each day. And many of these suggestions can be done with a partner. Build up your stamina and set your body up for comfortable aging by keeping physically fit.

Fortifying Health in Your Forties

Working out during the week is a good start on the road to healthy aging. And a diet of healthful foods can make the trip even smoother. These habits set you up for wellness in your next decade of life. That way when your forties roll around you can meet any aging challenge head on.

Aging skin will be the one of the first symptoms you tackle.

By your forties, the skin that has served you so well can start to show signs of wear. All the fun in the sun, smiling, and laughing you’ve done shows up in the form of wrinkles. Both women and men can expect to get wrinkles. Here’s why they show up and how you can minimize their appearance.

The wrinkles around your eyes and mouth come as the result of intrinsic and extrinsic aging. Intrinsic aging is what happens when your body naturally starts to produce less and less of the proteins that keep skin bouncy and firm—collagen and elastin. This intrinsic aging process actually starts before your forties. In fact, after age 20, your skin produces one percent less collagen each year. So, by your forties you’ve probably noticed a difference in your skin’s appearance.

Extrinsic aging also changes the look of your skin. This form of aging accounts for the damage that comes from outside your body. That can include things like tobacco and pollution.

You’ll notice extrinsic aging when your skin looks splotchy and uneven in texture. Radiation from the sun is one of the biggest contributors to extrinsic aging. Responsible sun exposure is healthy (15-30 minutes per day). But excess sunlight damages your skin and is the source of most of your wrinkles.

To prepare yourself for the age-associated changes in your skin, sunscreen and sun-obscuring clothing (long shirts, pants, and hat) is your primary defense. Sunscreen protects your skin from damage and should be used every day. For maximum skin protection, try to use sunscreen with an SPF (sun protection factor) of at least 30-35.

If you want to avoid the appearance of wrinkles, try adding an antioxidant-rich serum and moisturizer to your skincare regimen. Antioxidants are great at reducing the appearance of redness. They can help even out your skin tone and give your skin a healthy glow. While moisturizers help give a more youthful appearance by helping retain moisture in the top layers of the skin and protecting from outside elements that can contribute to skin dryness.

A lot of revitalizing skincare products are formulated with vitamin A, collagen, peptides, and a variety of antioxidants. All these ingredients work to maintain your skin’s healthy appearance and slow the development of fine lines and wrinkles. You might find that using an advanced skincare line like USANA Celavive helps your skin look and feel its best.

Add antioxidants to your diet, too. Your aging skin will thank you. So will your brain. Your forties are for fortifying your body for healthy aging. And it’s smart to look ahead and consider the health of your brain. A diet rich in antioxidants is great for your mind and can help keep you sharp. (More on that later.)

Don’t sweat your changing skin. Everyone experiences wrinkles. But you can help your skin retain its healthy look and elasticity with sun protection and proper skincare.

Healthy Aging in Your Fifties: Hormonal Changes and You

For women, the most noticeable changes of aging come about in your fifties. Menopause begins around age 50 in most women. This final shift in estrogen hormone production can happen quickly, so be on the lookout for some of the symptoms. Estrogen is the hormone that controls a woman’s menstrual cycles.

Menopause signals the end of a woman’s reproductive years. This is the point in life when the ovaries have stopped releasing eggs and estrogen production declines significantly. When menopause begins, monthly periods become irregular and eventually stop. These hormonal changes eventually cause a loss of fertility.

Changes in regular menstrual cycles might be the first symptom of the start of menopause. But your body will also experience other changes when menopause begins. Symptoms include hot flashes, mood changes, dry skin, and poor sleep to name a few. Becoming aware of these future changes can help you plan to keep yourself comfortable.

Consuming foods rich in phytoestrogens (like soy), daytime physical activity, and breathing exercises at night can help improve your sleep if it’s interrupted by menopause. Another good idea is limiting caffeine intake to the beginning of the day. That way you won’t be wide-eyed and jittery when it is time for bed.

Investing in a good skincare regimen can help with dryness caused by menopause. Moisturizers and creams formulated for mature skin can help your body preserve moisture and brighten your complexion’s appearance.

And remember, while many of these hormonal changes might seem dramatic, they side effects won’t last forever. Always keep in mind that menopause is a normal part of aging. Most women transition out of menopause within about five years and see a reduction in most menopausal symptoms over time.

A Word About Male Menopause

You might be wondering if there is an equivalent hormonal aging process for men. While there is no distinct man-opause (male menopause), men do experience hormonal changes as they age.

All men will see a reduction in testosterone with age. But this change is gradual and not as marked as estrogen’s changes in women.

Symptoms of reduced testosterone include a loss of muscle mass and decreased energy. Some men may experience mood changes, decreases in strength, and sex drive to name a few. The physical symptoms can be alleviated with regular exercise. And changes in mood can be addressed with mindfulness, emotional support, and help from a trusted healthcare provider.

Mentally and More—Staying Fit in Your Sixties and Beyond

The previous decades have been preparing you for healthy aging with habits like regular exercise, a healthy diet, and proper skincare. In your sixties, you have the chance to work on perhaps your most important organ of all—your brain. And keeping your brain in good shape will make aging a more enjoyable process.

Stimulating your mind can help you stay sharp as the years go on. As you settle into your sixties and beyond, forgetfulness might be on your brain. A small amount of cognitive decline is expected as you age. Luckily, there is a lot you can do to keep your wits about you well into the future.

Engaging in activities that challenge your mind and memory are great ways to stay in mental shape. Studies have shown that adults who practiced cognitive stimulation through active learning saw less cognitive decline later in life. These include: playing musical instruments, taking classes (cooking to math), learning a new language, writing/journaling, memory games, talking with friends, actively working on hand-eye coordination, and practicing a new sport.

What kinds of things can you work on to keep your mind sharp? Learn. Learn. Learn! Reading, writing, and studying a new language are all excellent ways to keep your brain learning. You might even find that these activities are fun.

Playing card and board games are great for your brain, as well. Try to play with others as much as possible. This is a great time for being with family and friends. What’s more fun than playing games and making memories with those you love?

Another way to protect your memory is by eating a diet rich in antioxidants. Current research suggests that cognitive decline and brain aging is caused by oxidative damage. Free radicals gnaw away at neurons. Antioxidants target free radicals and help protect your brain cells.

You can find a lot of antioxidants in berries. Strawberries, blueberries, and blackberries are great sources. Put them on your breakfast cereal. Eat them as a snack. However you do it, incorporating antioxidants into your diet can support your aging brain.

Also add other brain-supporting nutrients to your diet. That includes B vitamins, fish oil, vitamin D, and, vitamin E.

Don’t spend your sixties and beyond worrying about your memory. Activate your brain by learning new things and engaging with your favorite people. Talk, read, write, and learn as often as you can. Keep up a healthy diet with lots of antioxidants and other brain nutrients.

A Healthy Life, No Matter The Age

Living well doesn’t stop just because you get older. At any age you can have a healthy and happy lifestyle. By preparing for healthy aging in your youth, these transitions can become more comfortable and manageable.

Start healthy habits like a good diet and regular exercise today to keep your body strong for when you get older. Take time to care for your skin and get ready for some of the hormonal changes coming your way. And keep your mind sharp by continuing to learn all the time.

You might think that age is just a number. And you would be right. You can embrace that number (no matter how high) knowing you are prepared for healthy aging.

About the Author

Sydney Sprouse is a freelance science writer based out of Forest Grove, Oregon. She holds a bachelor of science in human biology from Utah State University, where she worked as an undergraduate researcher and writing fellow. Sydney is a lifelong student of science and makes it her goal to translate current scientific research as effectively as possible. She writes with particular interest in human biology, health, and nutrition.

You can’t just snap your fingers and turn your food into energy. The production of cellular energy from your food is so efficient and effective, though, it might seem that easy. But one of the most significant molecules in your body is actually working hard at producing cellular energy. And you may never have heard of this crucial molecule before—ATP or adenosine triphosphate.

So, let’s give awesome ATP some much-deserved spotlight.

After all, ATP is the reason the energy from your food can be used to complete all the tasks performed by your cells. This energy carrier is in every cell of your body—muscles, skin, brain, you name it. Basically, ATP is what makes cellular energy happen.

But cellular energy production is a complex process. Luckily, you don’t need to be a scientist to grasp this tricky concept. After you go through the 10 questions below, you’ll have simple answers to build your base of knowledge. Start learning about the basics and move all the way to the nitty-gritty of the chemistry involved.

1. What is ATP?

ATP is the most abundant energy-carrying molecule in your body. It harnesses the chemical energy found in food molecules and then releases it to fuel the work in the cell.

Think of ATP as a common currency for the cells in your body. The food you eat is digested into small subunits of macronutrients. The carbohydrates in your diet are all converted to a simple sugar called glucose.

This simple sugar has the power to “buy” a lot of cellular energy. But your cells don’t accept glucose as a method of payment. You need to convert your glucose into currency that will work in the cell.

ATP is that accepted currency. Through an intricate chain of chemical reactions—your body’s currency exchange—glucose is converted into ATP. This conversion process is called cellular respiration or metabolism.

Like the exchange of money from one currency to the next, the energy from glucose takes the form of temporary chemical compounds at the end of each reaction. Glucose is changed into several other compounds before its energy settles in ATP. Don’t worry. You’ll see some of these compounds in the energy exchange chain spelled out in question 4.

2. What Kind of Molecule is ATP?

The initials ATP stand for adenosine tri-phosphate. This long name translates to a nucleic acid (protein) attached to a sugar and phosphate chain. Phosphate chains are groups of phosphorous and oxygen atoms linked together. One cool fact: ATP closely resembles the proteins found in genetic material.

3. How Does ATP Carry Energy?

The phosphate chain is the energy-carrying portion of the ATP molecule. There is major chemistry going on along the chain.

To understand what’s happening, let’s go over some simple rules of chemistry. When bonds are formed between atoms and molecules, energy is stored. This energy is held in the chemical bond until it is forced to break.

When chemical bonds break, energy is released. And in the case of ATP, it’s a lot of energy. This energy helps the cell perform work. Any excess energy leaves the body as heat.

The chemical bonds in ATP are so strong because the atoms that form the phosphate chain are especially negatively charged. This means they’re always on the lookout for a positively charged molecule to pair off with. By leaving the phosphate chain, these molecules can balance their negative charge—creating the longed-for balance.

So, a lot of energy is needed to keep the negatively charged phosphate chain intact. All that pull comes in handy. Because when the chain is broken by a positively charged force, that big store of energy is released inside the cell.

4. Where Does ATP Come From?

In order for ATP to power your cells, glucose has to begin the energy currency exchange.

The first chemical reaction to create ATP is called glycolysis. Its name literally means “to break apart glucose” (glyco = glucose, lysis = break). Glycolysis relies on proteins to split glucose molecules and create a smaller compound called pyruvate.

Think back to the temporary forms energy currency takes in between glucose and ATP.

Pyruvate is the next major compound in energy-exchange reactions. Once pyruvate is produced, it travels to a specialized area in the cell that deals solely in energy production. This place is called the mitochondria.

In the mitochondria, pyruvate is converted into carbon dioxide and a compound called acetyl Coenzyme A (or CoA, for short). The carbon dioxide produced at this step is released when you exhale. Acetyl CoA moves forward in the process to create ATP.

The next chemical reaction uses acetyl CoA to create additional carbon dioxide and an energy-carrying molecule called Nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NADH). NADH is a special compound. Remember how opposites attract and negatively charged compounds want to balance their energy with a positive charge? NADH is one of those negatively charged molecules looking for a positive partner.

NADH plays a role in the final step in the creation of ATP. Before it becomes adenosine tri-phosphate, it starts out as adenosine di-phosphate (ADP). NADH helps ADP create power-packed ATP.

The NADH’s negative charge turns on a special protein that creates ATP. This protein acts like a very powerful magnet that brings ADP and a single phosphate molecule together—forming ATP. Think back to how strong this chemical bond is. Now that’s a lot of power ready to be unleashed!

It might also help to think about ATP as a rechargeable battery. It goes through cycles of high energy and low energy. ATP is like a battery with full power, and the energy gets drained when its bonds are broken. To charge the battery up again, you need to make a new bond.

Since NADH powers the protein that brings ADP and phosphate together, it’s like a gear that keeps the energy cycle churning. NADH constantly recharges the ATP battery so it’s ready to be used again.

These bonds are constantly being made and broken. Energy from food is converted into energy stored in ATP. And that’s how your cells have the power to continue working to maintain your health.

5. Where Does Cellular Energy Production Take Place?

The creation of ATP takes place throughout the body’s cells. The process begins when glucose is digested in the intestines. Next, it’s taken up by cells and converted to pyruvate. It then travels to the cells’ mitochondria. That’s ultimately where ATP is produced.

6. What are Mitochondria?

Known as the powerhouse of the cell, the mitochondria are where ATP is formed from ADP and phosphate. Special proteins—the ones energized by NADH—are embedded in the membrane of mitochondria. They are continuously producing ATP to power the cell.

7. How Much ATP Does a Cell Produce?

The number of cells in your body is staggering—37.2 trillion, to be specific. And the amount of ATP produced by a typical cell is just as mindboggling.

At any point in time, approximately one billion molecules of ATP are available in a single cell. Your cells also use up all that ATP at an alarming rate. A cell can completely turnover its store of ATP in just two minutes!

8. Do All Cells Use ATP?

Not only do all your cells use it, all living organisms use ATP as their energy currency. ATP is found in the cytoplasm of all cells. The cytoplasm is the space at the center of the cell. It is filled with a substance called cytosol.

All the different pieces of cellular equipment (organelles) are housed in the cytoplasm, including the mitochondria. After it’s produced, ATP leaves the mitochondria to travel throughout the cell to perform its assigned tasks.

9. Are All Foods Converted Into ATP?

Eventually fats, protein, and carbohydrates can all become cellular energy. The process is not the same for each macronutrient, but the end results does yield power for the cell. It just isn’t as straightforward and direct for fats and proteins to turn into ATP.

Sugars and simple carbohydrates are easy. Chemical bonds are pulled apart to reduce all sugars from your diet into glucose. And you already know that glucose kicks off ATP production.

Fats and proteins need to be broken down into simpler subunits before they can participate in cellular energy production. Fats are chemically converted into fatty acids and glycerol. Proteins are slimmed down to amino acids—their building blocks.

Amino acids, fatty acids, and glycerol join up with glucose on the road to ATP production. They help supply the cell with other intermediate chemical compounds along the way.

There are nutrients you eat that don’t get digested or used for ATP production, like fiber. Your body isn’t equipped with the right enzymes to fully break down fiber. So, that material passes through the digestive system and leaves the body as waste.

But don’t worry. Even without digesting fiber, your body is brimming with energy as the food you eat is converted to ATP.

10. What Nutrients Help Support Cellular Energy Production?

Since maintaining cellular energy is such a critical part of health, many nutrients play a supporting role. Some are even categorized as essential nutrients. And many of these nutrients will be familiar parts of your healthy diet.

Here’s the major nutrients you should seek out to help support healthy cellular energy production:

  • Vitamin B1 (Thiamin)
  • Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin)
  • Vitamin B3 (Niacin)
  • Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic Acid)
  • Vitamin B7 (Biotin)
  • Vitamin B12 (Cobalamin)
  • Vitamin C (participates in its antioxidant activities)
  • Vitamin E (participates in its antioxidant activities)
  • Coenzyme Q10
  • Alpha lipoic acid
  • Copper
  • Magnesium
  • Manganese
  • Phosphorus

The Power of ATP

Without the pathway to ATP production, your body would be full of energy it couldn’t use. That’s not good for your body or your to-do list. ATP is the universal energy carrier and currency. It stores all the power each cell needs to perform its tasks. And like a rechargeable battery, once ATP is produced, it can be used over and over again.

Next time you eat, think about all the work your body does to utilize that energy. Then get on your feet and use this cellular energy to exercise or conquer your day. And if you fuel up with healthy foods, you don’t have to worry about running out of ATP halfway through your busy day.

About the Author

Sydney Sprouse is a freelance science writer based out of Forest Grove, Oregon. She holds a bachelor of science in human biology from Utah State University, where she worked as an undergraduate researcher and writing fellow. Sydney is a lifelong student of science and makes it her goal to translate current scientific research as effectively as possible. She writes with particular interest in human biology, health, and nutrition.

There’s nothing worse than turning to a comfort food only to be plagued with a bellyache. Bloating and discomfort are hallmarks of indigestion. And poor choices of foods that weigh you down can turn lunchtime excitement into an afternoon of feeling heavy and tired.

That icky, uncomfortable feeling you get after overindulging in unhealthy foods goes by many names. Indigestion is an umbrella term that encompasses the bloated, gassy, sluggish, and heavy sensations that follow a meal that’s gone too far.

It’s not just overeating that leads to indigestion, though. Certain foods can trigger stomach upset more than others—you’ll read about some soon. A well-balanced meal with appropriate portions is easily digested. But when simple carbs or saturated fats dominate your plate, you can almost count on needing to loosen your belt.

An unhealthy diet can leave your body feeling worn out and weary. But positive changes and healthy choices can put the spring back in your step. Lots of foods can stall your digestion. Good thing there are just as many options that fill you up without weighing you down.

First, let’s highlight some of the common sources of bellyache and the foods that weigh you down. You’ll start with some of the obvious bad actors. And then follow up with hidden sources of feeling “ugh” after eating. Remember, too much of any food can lead to gastrointestinal upset that sinks your day and leaves you feeling heavy.

The Heft of High-Fat Foods

This might be a no-brainer. But foods with a high fat content definitely weigh you down.

Foods with lots of saturated fat tend to be very rich and can leave you feeling uncomfortably full. Fat (saturated and trans) is often added to foods to boost taste. But all that flavor comes at a price.

Fatty foods are usually low in fiber. This is a problem because fiber is great for digestion. It adds bulk to stool and pushes it through the digestive system. High-fat diets are often accompanied by constipation. Without fiber to aid in digestion, fatty foods leave your gut feeling heavy.

Fried foods are especially hard on your body. They lack fiber and they are low in the essential nutrients, vitamins, and minerals that help you maintain your energy. It’s hard to fight off sluggishness and sloth when using fried, often heavily fatty, foods for fuel.

Alternative: Unsaturated, Healthy Fats

It’s impossible to practice healthy eating without having fat in your diet. It’s an essential macronutrient. But not all fats are created equal. Watch out for too much saturated fat in your diet and do your best to avoid trans fats. Instead, focus on healthy unsaturated fats (mono and poly) as part of a balanced diet.

Examples of foods high in unsaturated fats include: avocado, olive oil, nuts, and fish. These foods are nutrient-rich and contain fats that support healthy brain function. Swap out some of your high-saturated-fat foods with a healthy fat instead.

Processed Grains

When lunch rolls around, the last thing you want to fill up on are processed grains. You’ll find them hiding in white bread, white rice, and pasta. These carbs are notorious for dumping sugar into the bloodstream and creating crashes shortly after.

Refined grains are missing key components like bran and germ. Bran supplies fiber, which stabilizes energy for hours after a meal. With bran missing from the equation, an energy slump is bound to follow a meal of processed grains.

Foods like white bread are also lacking in germ. This part of the grain is rich in B vitamins. Your body utilizes B vitamins to harness energy from the food you eat.

If you eat too much processed grain, so much for lunch fueling a productive afternoon. You might need a nap instead.

Alternative: Whole Grains

A simple solution to fatigue brought on by processed grains is to switch them out for their whole grain counterparts. Whole grains are a much healthier option when building a meal.

That’s because whole grains are high in fiber. So, they steadily release energy and help you avoid sugar highs and crashes. Fiber also helps the waste products from digestion travel through your gut. With reliable energy and a happy tummy, whole grains are an important part of a healthy meal and diet.

Don’t settle for the sleepiness and stomach discomfort brought on by processed, refined grains. Put whole grains on the menu instead. Look for whole-wheat bread, cereal, brown rice, and whole-grain pasta to round out your diet.

Low-Calorie Foods Can Lead to Feeling Heavy

It’s hard to believe that low-calorie foods aren’t always the best choice when you need a snack. Calories are your body’s energy currency. And you need to keep calories moving in to have the energy you need to accomplish tasks.

The problem arises when too many of these low-calorie options are used throughout the day. Insufficient calorie intake will leave your body feeling sapped of energy. It’s difficult to get work done when your fuel tank is on empty. And, often these snacks are prepackaged, processed foods with little nutritional value. So, it’s a double whammy for your body.

Restricted calorie consumption can also backfire. And it can drive you to eat more than you should at your next meal. Then the cycle of feeling bad continues because overeating brings on sluggishness and bloat. And the extra food can literally weigh you down. That’s because quieting excessive hunger with an extra-large meal may also lead to weight gain.

Changes to metabolism and hormonal balance may also occur if calorie restriction becomes a habit. These metabolic changes make it hard to maintain a healthy weight. And hormonal shifts may trigger lowered mood and decreased sense of well-being.

Alternative: Healthy Snacks in Proper Portions

Overindulgence in any food has the potential to lead to weight gain. But opting for low-calorie foods over a healthy snack can produce the same result. When choosing something to tide you over ‘til the next meal, avoid labels like: low-cal, lite, and zero calorie.

Choose naturally low-calorie snacks like berries, melon, and cucumber. These will fill you up and provide your body with much needed vitamins and minerals.

If you’re worried about calorie intake, look for hidden sources of calories. Carbonated beverages, alcohol, and juice are all loaded with calories. These drinks don’t satisfy hunger. Drink water instead, and eat wholesome, healthy foods to fill your daily calorie requirements.

Carbonated Beverages Don’t Always Lift You

If you’re feeling gassy and bloated after eating, your choice of beverage might be to blame. Carbonated beverages like soda are popular. But these fizzy drinks don’t stop bubbling after the first sip. They create gas long after you swallow. And while they don’t leave you feeling heavy, they don’t have a desirable after-effect either.

First, let’s go over what gives carbonated beverages their characteristic bubbles. Fizzy drinks contain large amounts of carbon dioxide, a gas. These gas bubbles pop in your digestive tract. So, the fun fizz in your drink translates to gas and bloat in your belly.

Another source of gas from carbonated beverages is the sweetener. Diet drinks have sugar substitutes that taste sweet like the real thing. But your body knows the difference and these substitute sweeteners can be tough to digest.

Limit food and drinks containing sugar alcohols like sorbitol, xylitol, and mannitol. These sugar substitutes travel all the way to the large intestine before breakdown begins. Gas can be a result of this fermentation and digestion. So, you don’t have to totally avoid these sugar alcohols. But reach for them in moderation.

Bloating and gas are sure-fire ways to feel off your game. It’s hard to get comfortable when you feel puffy and heavy.

Alternative: Water, Water, Water!

Eliminate extra gas from your diet by drinking water. Water is your body’s beverage of choice and is free of bubbles and sweeteners that upset your stomach later.

If flavor is what you’re looking for in a bubbly drink, try infusing your water with natural ingredients. You can achieve the desired taste with sliced lemon, lime, berries, and cucumber. Get creative and add herbs, too. Basil, rosemary, and mint are popular options. Herbal tea can also be a good, non-caffeinated option.

Skip carbonated water, too. Even without the added sugar, this fizzy drink can cause intestinal discomfort. Instead, drink water in its purest form. Straight up, on the rocks, or with a squeeze of lemon—you’re making the healthy choice by sticking to H2O.

Dairy Can Do Your Day In

Occasionally, a trip down the dairy aisle will sink your day, or—worse yet—send you running for the bathroom. That’s because lactose (a sugar found in most dairy products) can be difficult for your gut to digest.

The main offender is usually milk. Cow’s milk is high in lactose and can cause painful gas and diarrhea in people who lack the digestive enzyme lactase. If your body struggles to digest lactose, you probably already know about it. As much as 65 percent of the global population struggles to digest lactose.

Bloat and fatigue usually follow a bout with lactose. And this reaction to lactose makes it hard for your body to absorb the nutrition that milk has to offer. Remember, milk is high in bone-strengthening calcium. How can you get the good stuff from dairy and avoid stomach upset and feeling heavy?

Alternative: Yogurt, Cheese, and Other Fermented Dairy Products

Cue fermented dairy. Some of your favorite dairy products have already begun the breakdown of lactose. Yogurt and kefir are made with enzymes that tackle the lactose in milk before it gets to your gut. These alternatives are great sources of calcium and probiotics that further aid in digestion.

If you’re looking for a milk substitute, try almond milk. This and other nut milks may be easier on your digestive system. They are packed with good stuff like calcium and vitamin D. And they taste great, too.

Should your sensitivity to lactose be especially strong, consult with a healthcare provider. They will know the best ways for you to get the calcium you need without compromising your comfort.

Swap It Out

Now you know the foods that weigh you down (and beverages, too), so be proactive and switch them out of your diet. Substitute heavy foods for a fiber-filled option. Balance your plate with whole grains and a variety of food groups. Challenge yourself to drink more water. (And when you think you’ve drunk enough H2O, pour yourself another glass.)

Look for alternatives to the foods that leave you feeling heavy and keep you from being at your best. Limit or skip the items in the left column and snack on the healthier options from the right:

Weigh You Down

Fried food

Pre-packaged pastries

Trans fats

Red meat

White bread

Pasta

Low-cal ____

Diet ____

Soda

Ice cream

Lift You Up

Avocado

Olive oil

Fatty fish

Roasted veggies

Lean protein

Whole wheat bread

Brown rice

Nuts

Berries

Melon

Cucumber

Infused water

Greek yogurt

About the Author

Sydney Sprouse is a freelance science writer based out of Forest Grove, Oregon. She holds a bachelor of science in human biology from Utah State University, where she worked as an undergraduate researcher and writing fellow. Sydney is a lifelong student of science and makes it her goal to translate current scientific research as effectively as possible. She writes with particular interest in human biology, health, and nutrition.