The Endless Hunger

woman-praying-silhoutte-168fe02ec159dbda85f31317c4972b91I’m writing this just before lunch at the office. A container of kung pao chicken is waiting in the fridge. I need to take a couple of steps behind me, loosen the lid, and then start the microwave. Or I could step to my right and open the file drawer that holds raisins (including yogurt-covered ones) and a few other morsels of non-perishable goodness. I am hungry.

Or am I? My guess is that when I say, “I am hungry,” I only mean that my body truly needs food about one time in twenty. Instead, I’m really saying, “I want to cram food in my mouth” for a variety of possible reasons. Right now, it’s probably to avoid actual work.

Esther Crain catalogs eleven reasons why you might be hungry. These include factors such as eating the wrong things (as opposed to not enough) as well as matters that have nothing to do with eating. One that caught my eye was eating because of stress.

Who hasn’t dealt with a high-pressure workday or relationship rough spot by giving into cravings for a pint of Rocky Road? But stress has a sneakier way of making you voracious. When you’re tense, your system ramps up production of the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol, says Rumsey. Elevated levels of these hormones trick your system into thinking it’s under attack and needs energy, so your appetite starts raging. Stress also reduces levels of the brain chemical serotonin, and that can make you feel hungry when you aren’t, says Moon. Consider it a case for making it to yoga class more often, or cranking up a soothing playlist on your commute home.

I mention this because as pervasive as stress is in our culture, the Christian has tools at his or her disposal that can greatly diminish the weight that stress places on us. As therapeutic as yoga might be, prayer and meditation in God’s Word can certainly bring more power than twisting yourself into a pretzel and chanting “Om.” The problem is that too often we fail to make use of the spiritual disciplines.

Whether it is to grow closer to God or to eliminate stress from your life–and I’d argue that doing the first will inevitably lead to the second–you should not ignore the power that getting close to the Creator can provide.

Stressing over Exercise?

You know that you should exercise, right? It’s kind of like eating your vegetables or reading “improving books.” Or is it something more? A recent book, Spark: The New Science of Exercise and the Brain, which is reviewed by Shane Parrish, tells us how exercise does more than simply allow us to consume more calories or provide cardiovascular benefits.

Modern life, as we all know, can be full of stress. Neuroscientists can actually point to physiological ways that stress messes you up.

If mild stress becomes chronic, the unrelenting cascade of cortisol triggers genetic actions that begin to sever synaptic connections and cause dendrils to atrophy and cells to die; eventually, the hippocampus can end up physically shriveled, like a raisin.

Think of exercise, this book suggests, as a way to drain stress from your life. But don’t take my word for it. Those same neuroscientists who have been poking around at your cortisol and dendrils have also demonstrated how exercise can keep the dendrils happy. We all want happy dendrils, don’t we?

While all of this might seem like triumphalist science explaining everything and rendering God unnecessary, nothing could be further from the truth. Instead, these discoveries simply confirm what believers have known for centuries. We are wonderfully and fearfully made. With each new discovery science sees more of that.

Now if you’ll pardon me, my dendrils are suffering.  I need to head to the gym.