In The De-Stress Diet, my co-author Anna Magee and I discussed how stress has shown to make us act from our impulsive rather than rational brains – the result; it doesn’t matter how well you’ve been doing on those healthy resolves, when that bad email or rush of work come in you can find yourself pouring the pennies into the office vending machine.
What is really crucial is that you don’t add to this cycle and start giving yourself a (stressful) hard time about what little self-control you have. You really are a slave to your biochemistry at these points and it really helps to remember that.
Some simple changes can help you take back that rational control:
Our brains can use up to 70% of our energy at any moment and if that is low, you’ll get a survival signal to just ‘fuel up now’ on whatever the most immediate source is. Trouble is, that is often sugar as a quick-hit energy surge to the brain and stress sends a strident message that you’ll need your wits about you to deal with the ‘danger’.
The best way back from this state is to optimise levels of our calming and clarity brain chemical GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid), a clever substance that puts on the brain-rushing brakes and soothes our frontal lobes. Too little and we can suffer anxiety, insomnia, depression and yes, cravings - it has shown to be low in those with addictions. Conscious breathing, regular yoga practice and meditation have shown to raise GABA levels and any form of active rest like walking, gardening, day-dreaming can calm a craving brain.
Nuts, coconut chips and whole fruit are the best brain fuelling snacks to keep handy for those tricky times, often 4pm and late at night.
Cravings and binges later in the day can be traced back to whether your breakfast set you up for the day’s activities or your body is playing energy ‘catch-up’. We can crave sugars when our bodies don’t receive adequate protein and quality fats, so a breakfast that supplies these helps satisfy appetite for the day:
If sugar cravings strike hard, bananas and citrus fruit help us produce GABA and figs help raise serotonin levels, making these the best sweet choices to satisfy a quick-fix need and calm an agitated brain. Vitamin B6, magnesium and the green tea extract L-theanine supplements may all help regulate these neurotransmitters and reduce your body’s signals for instant gratification.
Yes you read that right… an extremely popular study a few years ago showed that 40g of dark chocolate a day helps people cope with stress. This is not just helpful for those very effects but also gives you permission to include a treat with benefits; it also contains high levels of immune protective, anti-ageing antioxidants and reportedly the ‘love chemical’ PEA also found in the smell of roses which we pump out in the honeymoon period. There’s still sugar of course and some caffeine (beware past 4pm if you have insomnia) but if it helps you bypass the really bad cheap milk stuff and doughnuts, it’s all relative!
Charlotte Watts is the co-author of The De-Stress Diet (Hay House; £12.99) by Charlotte Watts and Anna Magee available from Amazon.co.uk. To sign up for a free newsletter and podcast support and for de-stressing videos and other help log on to www.de-stressyourlife.com
Nutritional Therapy is about understanding your body and increasing your sense of vitality, energy and ability to enjoy life. As a Nutritional Therapist I work with you to identify the underlying reasons for any health concerns you may have. Looking at how the body functions as a whole allows me to make connections between what you eat, how you live, your family history and the factors that have influenced your health. We can then find practical and realistic diet and lifestyle changes to build on at the right pace for you; at the same time meeting your needs, personal tastes and budget.
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