Stress and busy lifestyles: How is it affecting your health?

Your mind is racing, with a long list of things to still do. The calendar is full of social events and commitments. Work is hounding and you can’t remember the last time you had your lunch break. You are sleep deprived exhausted, grumpy and defeated. 

Does it ever stop?

This blog comes inspired by another post I read recently which reflected on the way our lives have become so demanding that we have surrendered our identity to one of perpetual busyness. 

The author proposed that when asked how we are, we often respond with “I am so busy” or “I am exhausted”. He then went on to describe that in Arabic when you want to ask how someone is doing, you ask: Kayf haal-ik?  and this actually translates to “how is your heart”? 

This really connected with me and I will tell you why. These days we are so caught up in doing that we are not being. We tend to measure our success by doings. Often it’s the classic scenario of setting ourselves the goals or outcomes we want to achieve and when get there- wanting more. How much can we push? How much harder can we work? More, more, more! And with this we lose sight and awareness of those human moments and connections in which we can immerse our full attention and joy in being in that moment. We are always thinking, planning, what next?

I am not saying don’t set goals, have dreams or aspirations. I’m just saying, be realistic with these expectations and give your self a break if you take a little longer to get there. We are our worst critics.

In addition to this, we are frequently projecting what we think people or society wants us to be. Take a look at facebook? Doesn’t it seem like everyone has perfectly happy lives and looks stunning in every picture posted? Lets get real. This isn’t all of who we really are. 

And all the while this running around and projecting is making us TIRED and STRESSED. 

I think if we look a little deeper we can evaluate how stress and busy lifestyles affect our health:

Stress: 

Stress is a natural body response.  It can be positive in small doses to avoid danger, but if turned on continually (“distress”) stress can begin to affect the body in quite a negative way. The stress hormones are cortisol and adrenaline, which are both released by the adrenal glands perched on top of the kidneys.

When these hormones are over excited you will most likely experience symptoms such as disturbed sleep, elevated blood pressure, fatigue, an upset stomach, headaches or anxiety. 

How stress impacts upon my clients:

  • Heightened sensitivities to food
  • Triggering of binge or emotional eating
  • Inability to make decisions or organise themselves
  • Overeating
  • The use of food or alcohol as reward to get through hard circumstances
  • Weight gain
  • Poor sleep and consequential increased appetite
  • Heart attacks (I am serious)

Lack of good sleep

I don’t really know where to start. Sleep is so crucial to good health – and we spend a third of our lives doing it (wow!).

During sleep cerebrospinal fluid flow increases 20 fold. The brain also shrinks to leave room for it to surge into the interstitial space between brain structures. This process allows the waste products of metabolism to be eliminated. 

Lack of good sleep can result in the following:

Studies have proven that 7-9 hours sleep is optimal. I’d be advising turn off that technology before bed! Recent studies have shown that blue light from technological devices reduces melatonin in the brain (a hormone which makes you sleepy).

Using and Abusing Food, Caffeine & Alcohol

Food as a reward or celebration, caffeine to bump you through the day or alcohol as a switch off…. go on, you “deserve it”. Too much of the previous isn’t a good thing.

Why?  You are behaviorally depending on these things to deal with stress and in large quantities this can have profound consequences on your health.

Too Much Caffeine:

  • Anxiety, racing thoughts, problems sleeping, fatigue, dependency, withdrawal headaches.

Too Much Food:

  • Weight gain. Too much sugar, salt and fat link back to increased risk of heart disease and diabetes.

Too Much Alcohol:

  • Weight gain and poor food choices. There is also strong evidence that the chronic intake of alcohol (more than 2 drinks/day) is associated with increased risk of many cancers. These include mouth, lung, gastric (stomach), liver, endometrial, pancreatic, colorectal and breast.

Three years ago I spent New Years Eve at a small oasis in the middle of a dessert in Peru. I had been travelling South America with friends for ten weeks and it gave me some fantastic time for reflection. All my life I have been a doer and it always meant I was always on the run. I literally couldn’t sit still! Even if I was at home I needed to be doing something “productive”. My resolution was to slow down and create more “me” or “quiet” time.

Since then this has revolutionized my life. I have learnt to say no to invitations without guilt. I have learnt it’s ok to have a quiet moment - silences don’t have to be filled.  I am also selfish about my wellbeing. I now practice yoga 5-6 times per week and use my Friday’s sometimes as mental health days to keep my mind fresh. I believe this helps run my business to its maximum potential – I love my job.

I now feel more centered and happy. I can give out more motivation, education and inspiration to my beautiful clients. I am less tired and more relaxed. My immunity is improved, I do not get sick often. I recover well from my exercise. I sleep like an absolute log.

So do you want to be one of those people who when asked always says, “Busy”? Or do you want to be one who is a relatively relaxed and with a lot better health?

How is your heart? 

For The Love of Chocolate

CHOCOLATE: A necessary evil, an addiction, a daily ritual?

I will confess. If I have any vice it is for chocolate. Hot chips – don’t care. Natural confectionary – the little dinosaurs don’t do it for me. MacDonald’s – you would probably have to pay me. But chocolate…

One of the things I LOVE about my job as a dietitian is taking something deliciously naughty and turning it into something nice and healthy. That way you feel completely indulgent and at the same time every cell in your body is singing with gratitude.

Chocolate is made from a plant called the cacao tree. The bitter beans of this tree are harvested and then fermented. After this the beans can then be roasted, ready to make chocolate. The problem is what comes next, the addition of FAT SUGAR, SALT and other additives to enhance taste and preserve texture.

Why am I so addicted to chocolate?

Feeling like you are on a high and euphoric after scoffing down some chocolate? Hold onto your chocolate block – there is a scientific reason!! Chocolate triggers chemical pathways in the brain, which release a hormone called dopamine. What does dopamine do? Amongst many other outcomes it stimulates reward and pleasure centers within the brain.

Still holding onto your chocolate block? Good because I have some furthur confronting news. What happens is that over time our body becomes desensitised to this dopamine release. So what happens? YOU NEED MORE CHOCOLATE to feel just as good! 

Cacao vs. cocoa – I’m so confused?

Raw Cacao: Made from crushed unroasted beans

Cocoa: Raw cacao that has been roasted at high temperatures

So… what is the difference? When analysing both products it appears that raw cacao has a higher ORAC (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity). This means a higher antioxidant activity. Antioxidants aid in preventing cell oxidation, a process known to contribute to ageing and chronic disease risk.

Other Health Benefits of Cocoa and Cacao

  • Blood Pressure reduction: A Cochrane Review in 2012 found cocoa to reduce blood    pressure by 2-3mm Hg (small but statistical significance).
  •  Increases HDL (healthy) cholesterol levels: Cacao and cocoa have been seen to suppress LDL (not so healthy) cholesterol oxidation (Baba et al 2007).
  • Good source of dietary fibre to promote healthy digestive system
  •  Contains other minerals and vitamins such as: calcium, iron, sodium, potassium, zinc,

Last week I started experimenting with making my own chocolate, inspired by another blog post (I wont take all the credit here!).

This is the base recipe:

½ a cup of melted coconut oil

2/3 cup of raw cacao powder

5 tbsp. maple syrup

Method:

1.     Slowly melt the oil over a low heat. Add in the other ingredients and combine until silky smooth.

2.     Add something experimental and nutritious:

  • 1 tbsp flaxseed
  • 2 tbsp sultanas
  • 30g roughly chopped almonds
  • 1 cap vanilla extract
  • 2 tbsp desiccated coconut
  • 1/2 cup smashed raspberries
  • A small amount of peppermint oil
  • A combination of the above!

3.     Cover a small container with baking paper (here you can moderate the thickness and shape of your chocolate) and add the chocolate mixture

4.     Freeze for 10 minutes

5.     Enjoy and savour S-L-O-W-L-Y:

  • What does the chocolate smell like - vanilla, nutty, sweet?
  • What flavours can you taste?
  • What kind texture do you feel in your mouth? 
  • How does the chocolate look - crumbly, smooth, sharp, interesting?
  • How does a bite sound - do you take a crisp bite or does it melt silently into your mouth?

Remember that coconut oil still contains high amounts of saturated fat and should be used in moderation (ie. Don’t eat all you chocolate in one go!). My next step will be to trial some macadamia oil in the mix. Wish me luck!

Keep happy and healthy!

Ash xx

Dry July – How to regenerate a healthy liver

You might be familiar with one of the following scenarios below:

1)   You’ve woken up for work with a ringing headache and are feeling about as average as Spain did in the World Cup soccer. How did the end of financial year work drinks cascade into a shower of champagne or a steady flowing abundance of delicious beer?

2)   The weather in Sydney had become so bitingly cold that it justifies a good hearty glass of red by the fire – every night. For every degree colder this fosters furthur justification of a) A cheeky glass of port or desert wine to top the night off or b) Some/a block of chocolate to accompany the red wine

Your lovely liver: An under valued vital organ that regulates many processes in your body. However, at this time of the year it’s starting to complain. Battered and bruised its been fighting a little too hard.

The liver has various functions within the body the main one being DETOXIFICATION. That’s right! The liver helps to purify the blood by removing toxins such as alcohol and drugs from the body. But did you know it also helps regulate hormone levels? Can you imagine what happens when it can perform this duty well? Hormones regulate everything from sleep to mood, metabolism, reproduction and immunity - to mention a few!

The liver also works to DIGEST all your food. Fats are digested by bile in the stomach, which is a product secreted by your happy hepatic (liver) cells and transported to the gall bladder. Carbohydrates and proteins are broken down so that these nutrients can eventually be converted to energy for use within the body. 

Also wondering why when your liver has been under the pump you are more likely to come down with some mysterious flu? Well the liver is also responsible for your IMMUNITY.  It plays an important role in capturing and digesting nasties such as bacteria, parasites, worn out blood cells and fungi.

So lets focus on some liver regeneration.

Number 1: Reduce your alcohol intake. Limit alcohol to weekends only or if you can, commit to a month off. Lets face it, a hot milo in front of the fire is going to be lot more nutritious; alcohol is empty calories anyway (contains basically no nutrients). Focus on average 2L of water daily which can include herbal teas such as chamomile to rehydrate and filter the blood.

Number 2: Reduce highly processed foods particularly ones that are not only high in saturated fat but also salt and sugar. For example: processed and fatty meats (sausages, salami, bacon), deep fried take out and fast foods, cakes and biscuits, pastries and chocolate.

Number 3: Increase your intake of linoleic acid, a polyunsaturated fat. This will aid in reducing liver inflammation. Include nuts, seeds (flaxseed particularly) and oils (e.g extra virgin olive oil) as a part of your daily diet.

Number 4: Be smart with your selection of fruits.  Berries, pomegranate and grapes (I know you are already thinking wine again but the alcohol content outweighs the benefits here!) contain ellagic acid and resveratrol, which can help to regenerate liver cells. The bitter in lemon and limes can also break down stagnant material.

After following this for a good month you liver should start to improve all its functions. Hopefully a lot of what I have recommended also becomes habitual!

Also why not actually sign up for Dry July though and contribute some money towards a good cause like cancer prevention? Think of all the money you are saving not consuming alcohol anyway!

Stay happy, healthy and warm.

Ash xx

Chili Con Carne

Winter is upon us and suddenly we are craving warming and filling foods. Better make them healthy! I made this one the other weekend in my slow cooker. But you can do it just as easily on the stove. If you are vegetarian this one can also be for you! Why not add some extra beans and veggies and omit the lean beef. Feel free to also experiment with your extras. I added some jalapeños to mine and next time I will definitely consider some salsa or avocado.

High in FIBRE with brown rice and many veggies. High in VITAMIN C with tomatoes to maintain a strong immunity. LOW GI to fill you up. And also this more than provides enough leftovers to save you time when things get busy. This recipe also tastes better with every passing day as the flavours mix and mingle more and more. DELICIOUS! :)

Ingredients (serves 8 - Plenty of leftovers!)

3 cloves garlic (minced or finely chopped)

1 brown onion (chopped)

1 red capsicum (chopped into small pieces)

1 tbsp olive oil

1 tbsp cumin powder

1 red chill

Black cracked pepper

750g lean mince

1 can kidney beans

400g tinned tomatoes

1/2 bunch fresh basil (finely chopped)

Brown rice

4xsmall wholemeal pita bread

Light sour cream (small tub)

Reduced fat cheese (25% Bega)

Method:

1. Add olive oil, garlic, onion and capsicum to a large saucepan. Cook over medium heat until brown

2. Add in lean beef mince and cook until brown

3. Add tinned tomatoes, kidney beans, cumin and chili. Keep on a medium heat until completely mixed and food is warm.

4. Leave to simmer and steam with the lid on for 30mins with reduced heat

5. Whilst this is simmering add a cup of brown rice with 2.5 cups of water to a rice cooker or saucepan. Cook until almost all water is gone and then steam with the saucepan of the heat.

5. Add basil and pepper to season to the chill con carne mix

6. Cut up wholemeal pitas into 6 pieces per pita and place in the grill for 5-10 minutes. WATCH THIS CAREFULLY they seem to go from brown to black quite quickly from experience!

7. Serve: A good large spoon of brown rice, a good couple of large spoon of the chill con carne mixture onto a plate. Garnish with sour cream on top and a sprinkle of reduced fat cheese. Add pitas around the plate.

8. Enjoy and feel nourished!! 

Food is a RELATIONSHIP

Are you constantly trying to cut calories or always on a “diet”?

Do you constantly see food as a stress, burden or associated guilt?

Do you announce to your friends restrictions throughout the year – alcohol, chocolate, ice cream?

The reality is that I end up with a lot of people in my clinic that could answer YES to at least one of the questions above. It might be because they are concerned about their health, which is a good thing, however this isn't always the case. And sometimes any psychological drive can become toxic or obsessive.

I see a lot of people who are carrying more weight on their bodies than they need to be. I also see many people with eating disorders. But interestingly I have found the same thing time and time again. THEIR RELATIONSHIP WITH FOOD IS BROKEN.

Many people are using this relationship as a way to de-stress, as a distraction (boredom), to reward, celebrate, punish or deal with their emotion. What happens if you were to do this in a relationship with a PERSON? Do you think they would appreciate you just using them all the time for the above? Do you think you could do all this without any CONSEQUENCE?

My most successful clients work with me to mend this disconnect. We focus on nourishment and strategies to work with food so that it can be appreciated in a positive light. To be inspired with it’s creativity and variety to enhance our experience with how this food can physiologically affect our bodies.

Many of us are in denial about a broken relationship and ignore it, simply haven’t got the knowledge to improve it or believe it’s too hard to make a change when we are so comfortable.

If you are drowning and looking for a rope. I am your rope. Let me change your life.

Ash x