Friday, 15 February 2019

Sort your stress: A 5-step stress management plan to change your life - Sara Davenport

This week Sara Davenport of Reboot Health shares her tips for reducing unnecessary stress in your life…

Have you lost track of your own needs somewhere along the line, juggling the ever increasing demands of work, relationships, family, finances and those seemingly never-ending emails? When was the last time you had time by yourself, planning where your life was going rather than being rushed headlong along the river of life, struggling merely to keep yourself afloat and your head above water? You need stress management!
Life nowadays is fast paced and furious, and I doubt there are many of us that are not suffering, to some degree, from stress. Stress has become the excuse for everything and anything, used indiscriminately, and definitely the cause of many a health issue. But is it real? And is it something you should pay more attention to?

The answer to both of those questions is 'Definitely'.

1. Manage your stresses

Exercise, diet, meditation, counselling and sleeping well will all help you cope better day to day. But be aware that they address the symptoms of your stress, not get to the root of whatever the cause. And unless you dig out the roots, it's just not going to go away. You have to do more than just 'manage' it.

2. Write a list of all your stressors

Most of us run so fast in our daily lives that we rarely take time to stop and become aware.
Sit quietly somewhere, close your eyes, and let everything that stresses you come to mind. It could be anything from years ago, to what happened in the office yesterday.
Write them on a list.

Give each a title - 'argument with Mike'. 'Being made redundant'. 'Dropping Aunt Mabel's vase'.

Rate the issue you are dealing with out of 10. Is it an 8/10 problem, or merely a 5? Once you have a list, you know what needs sorting.

3. Work out your life balance

How many hours a week are you working? How many times a month do you visit family? When was the last time you saw and spent time with your close friends? Exercise? Time spent alone thinking, or just resting? Make a commitment to do less of the things that don’t make you happy, and more of the things that do. Few of us on our deathbed wish we had spent more time in the office!

4. Take action

Dedicate 15 minutes a day to clearing each stress on the list. Reserve the same time each day for dealing with a single issue. Within a month you will have sorted the majority of your 'stuff'. Change your habits and your life will change too.

5. Deal with the ‘emotional stuff’ too

It’s much easier to shift the practical, physical things around. Take that Vitamin D daily; book two sessions a week in the gym.

But emotional scars and difficulties tend to be things we find less easy to deal with. Difficult people, difficult events? We all have them and these are the things that are hard to live with. 

Lighten your load: Your doctor can refer you to a counsellor or psychotherapist.
Make the appointment!

Check out Sara’s book here. You can follow more posts from Sara here.

Friday, 8 February 2019

Comfortable food – like comfort food but kinder! - Kirsten Chick

This week nutritional therapist, Kirsten Chick, talks ‘comfortable food’…

“This is proper comfortable food”, said my husband while eating a soup I made recently. “Do you mean comfort food?” I replied. “No, comfortable food.” And that got me pondering on the difference between comfort food and food that makes you feel, well, comfortable.

Comfort food is what you reach for to give you a happy hit. It works briefly. Then you need more straight away. Then you feel rubbish. Emotionally low. Perhaps tummy ache, bloating, indigestion and wind. Maybe headaches, trouble concentrating and energy dips, and sometimes achy joints and more.

Comfortable food is food that makes you feel good not just in the moment, but all the way down your digestive tract and beyond. Food that puts a smile on your face and soothes your digestion. Food that properly nourishes you.

The problem with comfort food

Comfort food is often high in sugar, refined carbohydrates, fat, salt or a combination of all of these. The right level or mixture of these will give you a brief happy hit that will instantly make you want more. Food industry psychologist and marketing expert Howard Moskowitz coined the term “bliss point” for processed foods that give you the greatest dopamine hit, the chemical pathway that lights up your reward centre and makes you feel good. It’s the dopamine hit that makes you want to eat crisps, doughnuts, biscuits, ice cream and junk food – and leaves you wanting more. Most processed foods and snacks are engineered to hit your bliss point.

The emotional and mental stress of messing with your mood in this way is partnered with the physical damage eating too much sugar, refined carbs, salt and usually heavily processed fats can do.

Such foods can really mess with your digestive processes, creating inflammation and messing with the balance of your gut bacteria and other microbes. This can affect how well you digest nutrients generally, and also how well you protect yourself from foods you may be intolerant to and any toxins you ingest.

Your gut and its microbial balance is also an intrinsic part of your immune system, and its condition will affect inflammation and immune responses throughout your body. Added to that the inflammatory effect of highly processed foods and all the ways they can contribute to disease.

An uncomfortable place to be

Knowing all of this can actually make the stress of comfort eating even worse, as we add layers of self-recrimination to the low self-esteem that may have led us to comfort eat in the first place. This can be a deeply uncomfortable place to be.

We are so used to punishing and judging ourselves with food: it’s a pattern most of us learnt young and reinforce with everyday language. We think of certain foods as being bad – like crisps, biscuits, sweets etc. – which may be justifiable. But what we actually say is:

I’ve been bad today – I’ve eaten 3 sausage rolls and half a chocolate gateau.”

Notice how easily we shift the judgement from the food to ourselves.

Then we feel we need to somehow punish ourselves, often with varying amounts of guilt and self-loathing. We may even set up an intention we know deep inside we’ll likely “fail” at, like going on a particularly restrictive diet. All of this sets up the perfect chemistry for craving something that’ll make us feel better: like another sausage roll or piece of cake. It’s a punishing cycle.

Being kind with yourself

We can break this cycle with kindness. Being really kind to ourselves. Hearing the critical inner voice, and blanketing it in love. Understanding that self love will help quieten both the craving for dopamine hits and the self-judgement. This may take some practice, vigilance and support, but it’s valuable work. For your mental, emotional and physical health.

Comfortable food

As part of this, we can start to think about replacing comfort food with comfortable food: food that feels nourishing on all sorts of levels. It will probably – but not necessarily – involve the following criteria:

1.     Hydrating
e.g. casseroles, soups, porridge, well cooked brown rice risottos, sauce-rich bakes etc.
2.     Warming when you’re cold; cooling when you’re hot
e.g. slow-cooked foods and mild spices in winter, salads in summer
3.     Soothing to your digestive tract
i.e. by being hydrating (see 1.);
and/or by containing anti-inflammatory ingredients such as turmeric, ginger, parsley, mint, soaked chia seeds
4.     Free of foods you find problematic
e.g. intolerances, allergies
5.     Prepared from scratch
i.e. made with simple, wholesome ingredients
And it will pretty much always be this:
1.     Delicious
You absolutely have to enjoy comfortable food. Whether it’s because of its depth of flavours, its simplicity, its fresh crispness, its spicy warmth or its natural, earthy sweetness.

Figuring out your comfortable foods

Comfortable food will be a different thing for different people, so to figure out your comfortable food you may need to pay close attention. With a little experimentation, you should be able to put together a list of foods that are delicious and make you feel nourished and contented. Then perhaps batch cook a couple, or make sure you are always well stocked with the right ingredients, so you always have some at hand.

You may have noticed that you find certain foods more difficult to digest, especially when you are stressed. It might be sugar, or wheat, or dairy; it might be onions, or broccoli, or lentils. It may not make much sense to you right now, but still pay attention to this. So while a bowl of lentil daal may be the perfect soothing, hydrating, anti-inflammatory nourishment for one person, for another it might lead to painful bloating and wind.

Knowing how to prepare food can be really helpful. So in the above example, soaking and rinsing the lentils in advance and cooking them with a bay leaf or kombu seaweed usually lessens the impact. For those who struggle with certain vegetables, cooking them really well might help. You may find that chunky soups that you have to chew are more digestible than blended soups – or vice versa. Or that your digestion and energy levels work better with more raw foods right now. Rather than trying to make sense of it, just listen, and keep listening.

Eating comfortably

Finally, how you eat is as important as what you eat. Whether you are eating comfort or comfortable food, savour every mouthful. By doing this, even if it’s just for the first few mouthfuls, you are:

1.     Allowing yourself to fully enjoy and appreciate your food, without judgement or self-recrimination
2.     Bringing your attention to the current moment and your physical sensations, which is essentially a mindfulness practice.
For most, this calms down your nervous system’s stress responses, and creates a sense of ease and contentment.
3.     Preparing your digestive system, giving it a head’s up about what’s coming, so it can deal with it more smoothly and efficiently

In addition, chewing your food well kicks off your digestive processes and triggers movement throughout your GI tract – so even helping with constipation.

Your posture plays an important role, too, especially if you get indigestion or heartburn. Sitting comfortably upright helps your stomach’s entrance and exit points open and close appropriately.
Most importantly, practise whatever helps you feel comfortable with and about yourself while you’re eating. Remind yourself that this food is to nourish your mind and body, so that you can more easily achieve the wonderful act of being you.

You can read more blog posts from Kirsten here.