In this three-part series, we give you some easy, practical tips on how to feel more refreshed and energised so you can focus on creating your excellent life.
Part 3: Nourish
Healthy eating becomes vital when we’re under stress. By taking in proper nutrients, we can increase our focus and concentration and stabilise our emotions, even during the toughest of times.
But when we’re stressed out and busy, how often do we reach for a chocolate bar, a packet of chips or make ourselves another coffee? It can be difficult maintaining healthy habits when we’re under pressure. That’s why it’s useful to have healthy habits set up before we need to rely on them. In other words, making it easier for our bodies to work smarter, not harder.
Food trends come and go so often, it can be difficult to know what we should be eating.
One thing is clear, however – eating is a positive, life enhancing act of self-nurturing. That’s why it’s important to focus on the mind, and our beliefs around eating first. Eating should bring joy, not guilt or pressure.
Try to develop awareness in your body by finding what food works for you. When you eat something, does it make you feel alive and energised, or do you get a quick rush of energy and then feel flat and drained soon after?
Ever had a large pasta dish for lunch and not long after, you’re struggling to stay awake? By 3pm you can’t keep your eyes open, and you’re hunting for a coffee and chocolate bar for another pick me up?
Having a large meal focuses your body’s energy on digestion, leaving little energy for focus and concentration. The carbohydrate loading of the pasta itself makes it worse by creating a quick energy increase and then dropping flat. You then repeat again with the caffeine and sugar in the coffee and chocolate bar and wonder why you feel lousy.
What can we do differently?
Let’s start with eating less, more often.
Eating a little bit every hour or two is a great way to keep your metabolism going and your energy stable. This helps to boost your metabolism and keep it running at a higher rate. It can stabilise blood sugar levels, which helps concentration and enables your body to cope better with stress. It can stop the rollercoaster of high and low energy and help maintain or even reduce weight, if that’s a goal you have. So, three small meals a day, with snacks in between, is a good start.
Proteins are the building blocks of our body. They make up our skin, bones, muscles, ligaments, hair and nails. Foods such as dairy, eggs, meat, fish, nuts, legumes and some plants e.g. broccoli, avocado and spinach are good sources of protein.
Proteins are made up of molecules called amino acids. Nine of these are essential, meaning that our body can’t make them, so we need to eat them. Different foods contain different types of amino acids, so eating a wide variety of foods ensures we have the best chance to consume a whole range of them.
Protein is also a natural appetite suppressor as it keeps the levels of Ghrelin, a chemical in our system that makes us feel hungry, lower for longer.
Protein is also great at improving our mood and our resistance to stress. Tryptophan is the amino acid that produces the hormone serotonin. Serotonin can reduce depression, anxiety, headaches, insomnia, memory and learning problems and generally improve our mental processing ability. Research suggests that if we want to remain in a positive, uplifted and stable mood, eat small, regular protein portions through the day. So next time you’re feeling flat, instead of that chocolate bar, grab a handful of nuts such as raw almonds and observe how you feel.
Carbohydrates are found in fruit, vegetables and grains and contain the various vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that are vital for maintaining our general health. They can boost our immune system so that our body can defend itself against bacteria, viruses and free radicals that are in our everyday surroundings, as well as repair and protect us at a cellular level. And of course, they’re important for increasing our energy levels.
This is another reason why small portions more often are so important. If we have a large carbohydrate hit all at once, like with the pasta meal I mentioned earlier, you get an energy boost for a very short time, then fall in a heap and need tooth picks to keep your eyelids open. The more natural and less processed the sugar in the food is, like fruit rather than chocolate, the lower the spike. If you have protein with carbohydrates, such as peanut butter with an apple, that can also lower the energy spike and make it last longer.
Good fats, bad fats
If you remember that motor oil ad – Oils Ain’t Oils, that’s true for our bodies too. Our cell walls are made of fat, so we need fat, but not just any fat.
Many oils change their structure and how they operate in your body when they are heated. These are fats like trans fats or hydrogenated vegetable oils. They’re heated to preserve items such as muffins from the convenience store – they never get old or go off. They just clog our cells.
The safest fats to cook with don’t change much when heated. These include coconut oil, rice bran oil and ghee. Great oils to eat raw in things like homemade salad dressings include olive oil, avocado oil or straight avocados.
Omega 3s, found in deep sea fish and flaxseed oil, have been shown to increase our ability to handle stress, lower depression and anxiety and other mood related conditions, such as autism. They also help us to think faster and clearer. The neurones, or nerve cells in our brains, actually operate better and fire quicker. This is especially beneficial in pregnant women, for the development of their baby’s brain.
And don’t forget to drink water. We are more than 75% water, so drinking 2-3 litres a day helps flush your system and is also important for digestion, especially in processing fats.
Planning is key
Planning what you eat can be simple and empowering. I spoke to a lawyer not so long ago. She was recently married and she and her husband were working very long hours. Out the door early and back around 9pm, too late to start preparing dinner. We talked about the types of food they like to eat and worked out a plan for them to store simple salad basics in the fridge at work for a healthy lunch that they could easily add different things to, like olives or feta cheese. We also worked out a basic weekly dinner plan that they could prepare and cook the night before and keep in the fridge to heat up as soon as they got home.
Once you’ve planned out what you need, create a shopping list then either buy the items online and have it delivered, or, if you go to the shops, make sure you go with a full tummy, rather than being hungry. You’ll be far less tempted to buy things that are not on the list.
Making better choices
Marketers spend thousands of dollars on item placement at the supermarket because it can have enormous impact on what people buy. How could you use that concept to encourage better food choices on a daily basis at home?
What is visible at eye level? These are things we see often, and our unconscious mind will most often be tempted by them, even if it’s not what we went to the fridge for. So, put as much in the way of fresh fruit, vegetables and proteins at eye level.
On harder to see shelves, put breads or grains, and behind them, any treats you might keep in the house. Reducing the number of times our unconscious mind is exposed to seeing them is an easy way to keep them out of sight and out of mind. This means we are less tempted, without restrictions or punishments. Having your mind and body working with you rather than against you, is another way you can work smarter rather than harder.
What are your go to foods that help you feel nourished? Let us know in the comments below.