Expert advice on how to develop a healthy relationship with food
I grew up on an organic farm, my husband is a classically trained French chef, and both of us are voracious organic advocates. We’re also devotees of the slow food movement (slowfoodusa.org), and, by extension, intuitive eating.
Eating is a sacred act, and anything short of eating with full presence to this life-giving and nourishing process can be stressful and affect our health and well-being. Stressful energy surrounds us in our day-to-day lives, keeping our nervous systems in overdrive, thus impacting our discernment about food choices and mealtime rituals--a.k.a stress eating or emotional eating. Here are some tips on how to keep your relationship with food healthy and stress-free.
Eat delicious, high quality organic food—but slowly, in moderation, and with great pleasure. Like the adage “Eat to live, don’t live to eat,” eat for physical reasons that stoke your mind-body health, not for purely emotional reasons. Learn to rely on your body’s signals of hunger and satisfaction; they determine when and how much to eat.
Don’t get caught up in a diet mentality. This only exacerbates stress, because we feel we’re depriving ourselves. When we’re stressed out, the stress hormone cortisol sends us searching for ice cream or other high-calorie foods to replenish the energy our body believes it spent in handling the stressful event. Have you ever reached for kale when anxious, mad, sad, grieving? No, I didn’t think so!
If chronically stressed, your body keeps churning out cortisol, causing you to continually reach for sugary, starchy and fat-laden foods. This makes blood sugar levels rise dramatically, then come crashing down (along with the resultant fatigue). Insulin is released into the bloodstream to handle the blood sugar—and over time this can create insulin resistance, a precursor to diabetes. Since the energy from this food intake is not spent on an activity, the fat deposits itself in the belly area, amongst other areas.
Make organic, unprocessed whole foods, i.e., whole and sprouted grain bread, legumes, vegetables, fruits, etc. the mainstay of your diet. (They contain fiber and nutrients that keep blood sugar levels stable.)
Get the right balance of healthy proteins, fats and carbs with every meal or snack. High- and refined-carb diets rapidly raise, then lower, blood sugar, wreaking havoc with insulin levels. Protein and fat in our diet help slow down the absorption of carbs, keeping blood sugar levels steady. If we don’t get enough protein, fat and fiber, our body cranks out even more cortisol. This also triggers cravings, and creates guilt—with the resulting elevated cortisol.
Don’t skip meals. This can leave you ravenous and reaching for sugary/high-carb foods. Many nutritional experts claim that grazing at intervals throughout the day on healthful foods is the best way to keep the metabolism humming along at its optimal best.
Physical activity in all its forms not only brightens our mood but reduces cortisol and improves our overall stress resilience. Weight training not only provides cortisol control but also revs up our metabolism, helping us to tone and slim down at the same time.
Supplement wisely with anti-stress nutrients. Naturally, always consult with your physician about adding any of these to your stress management program.
*Magnesium and B vitamins are known for their relaxation and mood-lifting benefits. Your doctor can check your magnesium levels. If, after a couple of weeks, you find you need a further boost in managing stress, try adding the herb holy basil.
*Holy basil reduces cortisol and helps our body adapt to stress. Experts recommend 400 mg two times a day. Also called tulsi, it comes in tea form as well.
*L-theanine is an amino acid in green tea that controls cortisol and helps you to relax within 30 minutes of ingestion. You can take 50 to 150 mg to keep you calm. Again, check with your doctor, especially if you’re on any prescription medicines—although experts say that L-theanine can be taken indefinitely.
Most important, get a handle on the stress, my friends. Create pockets of peace throughout your day. Meditate, practice yogic breathing, use visualization and positive affirmations to elicit the relaxation response. Sidestep stress whenever you can and avoid situations that push your buttons.
MARY BETH JANSSEN is a certified mind-body health educator for the Chopra Center for Wellbeing and author of five books. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. marybethjanssen.com