Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Managing your diet in times of stress

Some of my female clients, who are juggling work and children have been going through a stressful time since school started. They are having less and less time to prepare meals, so they end up either not eating, or eating packaged foods on the go.

For all of you, wonderful ladies, I have a couple of tips to handle this season of change:
And yes, you need to stop eating your children's snacks and your husband's cookies

1. Be easy on yourselves. Seasons change, new responsibilities arise and those are times to adapt, not to give up. If you find after a few days of intermittent eating and sporadic overeating, that your eating plans are completely thrown overboard, it's time to take a deep breath.

T-A-K-E - A- D-E-E-P- B-R-E-A-T-H

Change happens. It has happened before and it will happen again. All you can do is assess the situation and look for a solution. Being hard on yourselves is not going to help. In fact, expecting for your eating plan NOT to change  in a time of change is putting too much pressure on you and making it seem like if you are not perfect, then you are not doing a good job. Throw that thought out the window and repeat after me:

If I didn't eat well, that doesn't mean I am a bad person.

2. Assess the challenge. When we are stressed out, lacking time, lacking finances, lacking patience or lacking knowledge and resources, all we are feeling is '' I cannot do this. I cannot cope!''. We end up reacting to that stress by picking up an easy packaged snack, an extra doughnut at work, skipping meals, drinking extra alcohol to unwind at night - most of those do not go hand in hand with good health. The right question to ask here is: ''What am I dealing with? What can I do to cope?''

If you do not know what your challenge is, how do you expect to overcome it and find a solution? Sit down and really ask yourself what stands in the way of you having a healthy meal? The fridge is empty? Make a shopping list and fill it up. You don't have time to make an omelet in the morning? Make a large fritatta at night, cook it in the oven and you have 3 days' worth of breakfasts in your fridge. You are too tired to cook? Get enough plain yogurt, high quality protein bars, raw nuts, pre-cut veggies, string cheese and rotisserie chicken, so that you can survive when hungry and you do not reach for ''crap in a box.'' Head over to Meal Survivor and see if our tips on picking up easy meals at the grocery store can help you solve this issue! Is your husband buying you chocolates to make you happy every day? Confront him and explain that he can show you love in other ways. I am not kidding - an unnamed challenge is a huge obstacle to your health, but if you call it out, you have won half the battle.

3. Log your food. I cannot repeat this enough. Logging is not for life. You only have to do it at times of change - it will take you 2 minutes a day- use the old pen and paper, or your fancy phone to take a picture of what you have eaten, but do it. This will keep you aware not only of what you have been eating, but also of what you haven't been. You know how we talk about the importance of protein at every meal, healthy fats at every meal and vegetables and fruits at every meal? Well, if you are not logging, how do you know what you are missing? A day from today, you don't even remember what you ate.

My wonderful friend and client Joanne skipped 7 breakfasts this week, had no protein for 2 of her lunches and barely ate any vegetables. I can assure you if she didn't have a log and you asked her how she ate - she would say great! In her mind, she didn't have any chocolate or cake or late night peanut butter feasts, so she did great! In my book she under-ate miserably. She ran on empty. This is a huge change from a few weeks ago when she was eating complete meals a couple of times a day!

Now we know from researchers, that a time of stress will shut down digestion. You may feel less hungry, and as a result you end up skipping meals. The stomach lining can then thin out, because you are no longer digesting the amounts of food you were before the stress hit. In a couple of months, the Christmas holidays will be here, kids won't be in school and my client's stress will go down. She will have time for rich family meals and her stomach, in the words of Robert Sapolsky will be caught with ''its pants down'', with less defense towards the acid producing environment, and as a result my client may experience a return of her stomach ulcer - something she indicated she has had before. So what do you do? Let stress rule you or assess your challenge and fix it right away before it is too late?

4. Include a high quality multi-vitamin and fish oil in your daily plan. Times of change also require you to pay extra attention to whether you are getting enough nutrients from your food. If you were able to cook all your meals, and now some of them are ''compromise'' meals, because you are always on the run, it's logical that you may not be able to obtain all the nutrients you need for health from your diet. Choose a high quality multivitamin and a source of omega 3s such as fish oil and add them to your diet. A lot of people find that at times of stress CoQ10, vitamin C, Zinc and Magnesium also offer a benefit. Is this also the right time to remind you of the importance of hydration? Water is life giving and being stressed depletes you of your water stores faster than anything! Drink up :)

5. Find support. The power of human emotion, understanding and empathy is unparalleled. You can reach out to healthy women you know, strangers on internet forums, Facebook friends, coaches and trainers, or just someone who loves you - like your sister, mother or close neighbor. Times of stress require a lot of what we call soul food - you know, that thing opposite of beating yourself down. You will be amazed how easy it is to overcome stressful times and adapt to new seasons when you know you are not alone. And you are not alone. Hey, you can write me anytime :)

To wrap this short post gone long, please stay aware of how different seasons and responsibilities change your way of eating and be on top of those changes. Be a good manager of your life and your body and mind will be grateful (not to mention your loved ones)!

Other posts you may find useful:
The Red Zone
If your baby was a nutritionist
Some thoughts on immunity
Why log?


  1. Thanks for a lovely post, Gal:) It's really useful, and definitely not only for mums:))) Dessi

  2. I am glad you find it useful, Dessi. Funny you say not just for moms :) Chris said that too, from the guy side :)

  3. Just in time for me. Now expecting the equally important - "Managing your (under)activity in times of stress"...




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