You know it’s a wide-spread phenomenon when it gets its own name…have you heard of this? Maybe it’s even happening to you….
Self-isolation has caused many folks to gain weight, usually to the tune of 15 pounds (almost 7 kilos). To a lesser extent, others have lost weight. Not surprisingly, there is much research to support the fact that stress changes food intake overall: some over-eat, others under-eat.
We are not alone. According to a Yale University study, even insects (the example used was grasshoppers) alter their diet when under threat – they stop their normal protein feeding in favour of sugary goldenrod plants. This makes sense, as foods that are high in sugar and fat better prepare us for flight-or-fight. As the brain pumps stress hormones into our bloodstream (like cortisol and adrenaline), natural body sugars spike to give us energy, so we’ll be ready for action.
Eating high-fat, high-carbohydrate comfort foods is helpful in the short term, but it sets up an eating cycle that’s hard to break, which, in the long run, adds to stress levels. The effects of external and internal chronic stressors wreak havoc on the waistline (often called “stress belly”) – not only does this this pattern eventually lead to serious physical problems, like heart disease and diabetes, but also to emotional issues, like anxiety and depression.
What can help break this unhealthy cycle? AWARENESS is a good place to start. What are you finding the most stressful? Is it cabin-fever, not being able to socialize freely, not being able to go to your favourite spots, having too much free time on your hands, not being able to exercise as you normally do, or something else? If you can identify the specific stressor, you’re better equipped to find an alternate solution to that “problem.”
Maybe you are grazing more, eating out of packages, drinking out of containers…somehow you’ve gotten away from a more structured approach where you know how much food you’re eating because it’s on a plate or in a bowl. Mindful eating is also more enjoyable – focusing on the yummy food in front of you enables you to appreciate the wonderful aromas and the various textures and flavours. Slowing down this way also allows you to relax and aids your digestion, giving your stomach time to tell your brain when it’s full.
Have you begun replacing healthier, whole foods in your home with more sugary/fatty “instantaneous gratification” foods? These empty calorie items cause you to be hungrier, as your body is not getting the nutrients it needs. Try adding high-fibre foods, the slow digestion process will stabilize blood sugar levels, and remember super greens, like spinach, kale and broccoli, are nutrient dense, while foods containing omega-3 fatty acids, e.g. salmon, sardines, walnuts, flaxseed oil, protect against heart disease AND relieve mild depression.
Come on, give yourself a break and don’t rely on will-power alone – go through your “stash” and get rid of some of those cookies, candies, cakes, etc. At least don’t replace them with similar crappy “food” when they’re gone. Flavoured coffees, energy drinks and soda are insidious, they add all those non-nutritious calories in a very sneaky way – try fresh, clean water with a squeeze of citrus, it’s refreshing and your body will love it.
Obviously it will cut down on temptation if junk food is not so easily accessible. Take a minute and think of foods you like that are satisfying and delicious. If you don’t have allergies or digestive issues, nuts like almonds, cashews, etc. can be a good substitute for processed snack foods. Fruit is sweet, but also provides vitamins (like C), minerals (like potassium) and dietary fibre. How about starchy “sweet” potatoes? They are comforting, nutritious, high in fibre, and very filling…. Maybe now would even be a good time to experiment, it might be fun to see if you like something like quinoa?!
*Remember, a well-nourished body has a stronger resistance to stress!!!!
Here’s my best combo-tip: “Crowding Out meets Weight Watchers™ zero points.” The Institute for Integrative Nutrition™ (IIN®) has many smart approaches regarding eating to thrive (I am biased, of course – this author is a graduate who became a Certified International Health Coach). The idea of “crowding out” is not to eliminate “bad” foods, it’s to increase your intake of whole, healthier foods. Commit to eating those foods first, then have your “guilty pleasures” food after. Most will find their appetite is satisfied with less non-nutritious food (not only will you be less hungry when you “indulge,” your body won’t crave more food because it is getting much-needed nutrients first). Weight Watchers™ was a huge help to me when I quit smoking over 35 years ago and gained almost 14 kilos. I discovered how much I adored vegetables because the non-starchy ones were “free” (now they are considered to have zero points – meaning they do not need to be counted toward your daily total of food/calories). Yup, I am happy to “pig out” on yummy veggies (various seasonings work really well here), and only rarely do I want something else afterwards. Note: this is just a part of a healthy lifestyle and not meant to be the only way to eat.
How much of your day has become knee-jerk reactions? You’re frustrated, stressed, anxious, so you grab a huge bag of chips/crisps and a bottle of wine and plop on the couch in front of the TV. That feels great until it doesn’t, and now you’re depressed. Change your routine. Make a conscious decision that the next time you feel challenged, you will grab an engaging book, listen to a funny podcast, walk the dog, do a goofy dance, soak in a relaxing tub – anything besides binge eating or drinking that makes you feel good. Think about it now, make those things easy to get to, stack the deck in your favour.
Are you struggling with uncertainty? Not surprising. This has been quite the year, the world seems topsy-turvy. Have you tried a Daily Grounding Routine? When you wake up and know exactly what is best for you to do before you start your day, it offers a comforting springboard from which you can handle whatever else is in front of you. This is really a subject for another blog, but leads nicely into the benefits of self-care.
Basically, self-care is taking the time to be attentive to your needs in a positive way. We all need good quality sleep, clean water to drink, nutritious food, movement…and we can all benefit from stress-reducing activities.
What has the power to help bone and muscle health, rehab injuries, affect your mood for the better and assist with weight management? Exercise. Does that word have a bad connotation to you? How about fun physical activity? Sports? Games? Dancing like no one is looking? Think of it in a way that’s inspiring, use the dog as an excuse, put your folded laundry away one piece of clothing at a time, walk with a friend even if you’re just on the phone together. Did you know that because exercise triggers anti-oxidant production, it also gives you healthier, younger-looking skin? With all the benefits to be had, it pays to explore what energetic movement suits you – just remember to check with your healthcare professional if you are just beginning, or have other issues that need to be considered….
TIP: Here’s something that’s relatively easy to do, given Newton’s First Law of Motion: every time I get up to do a task, I do at least one more thing that keeps me moving (actually I like to do 5 things). It has really become a game and I actually look forward to it. [Not everyone’s idea of fun is the same ;)]
Another great stress-reducer is meditation, which Wikipedia explains “is a practice where an individual uses a technique – such as mindfulness, or focusing the mind on a particular object, thought, or activity – to train attention and awareness, and achieve a mentally clear and emotionally calm and stable state.” Kudos to you if this is already a part of your daily activity! If you are one who thinks of meditation as hard, complicated, too timing consuming, etc. this is a great resource to gently check it out (it’s short, all you have to do is listen and follow), with an awesome added benefit: https://www.alleviatepain.com.au/resources/freebies/
If you’re all about “filling two needs with one deed,” try combining exercise and meditation. Here is a link about Walking Meditation (this is one done slowly; however, there is also a “running meditation,” in other words, you can alter the speed according to what suits you): https://jackkornfield.com/walking-meditation-2/
What I find really helpful to get my body moving and expand my awareness at the same time is a Gratitude Walk. It’s exactly what it sounds like, and there is no right or wrong way, no script, no set time – you get the idea. It’s amazing what comes up as you’re walking (especially if you can do it outside in nature); things you may not have thought about in years take on significance and deepen your appreciation for what you may have taken for granted. (My dog loves this one.)
Whatever you call it – inner speech, internal monologue or self-talk – it is the granddaddy of all stress contributors or reducers, depending on what it is you’re telling yourself. If you can Control Your Thoughts you can do anything! This is such an extensive topic, it cannot be adequately summed up as part of this blog. The following is a link to a basic rundown from Reach-Out Australia: https://au.reachout.com/articles/3-ways-to-talk-yourself-up
And a link to a previous blog: https://www.facebook.com/dawncady.mindsetcoach/posts/533560987232749?__tn__=K-R
Since we are in this most interesting of times, why not make lemonade out the many lemons by using COVID-19 / Quarantine 15 as the number of ways  we can be inspired to improve our baseline health?!
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