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Being Kind to Yourself at Xmas – How Nutrition Can Help

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christmas decorationIt is that time of year when we all need a little reminder to look after ourselves. Busy family life can mean every little smidgen of time is spent on the children with very little time left for the adults – exhausting! If we’re not careful we become so stressed in the run up to the big day that that we get ill and end up sneezing our way through the turkey dinner. Not a recipe for a relaxing Xmas.

From a physiological perspective the likelihood of picking up coughs, colds and other infections links very closely with the ‘stress response’, one of our oldest body systems and vital for our survival. This response is sometimes known as ‘fight or flight’.  The body doesn’t care whether the stress is physical, emotional or chemical – it initiates release of the same stress hormones whether we are actually running from a sabre-toothed tiger or simply worrying away in our minds about defrosting the turkey!

During the stress response, hormones like adrenalin and cortisol are released. They raise our blood pressure, release sugar for energy, set our heart racing to send fuel to the muscles quickly, increase our breathing & release factors which help clot the blood in case of injury. As you can imagine, all of the body’s focus is on this ‘emergency’ and consequently other body systems which are considered less urgent are ‘deprioritised’. This includes the digestive system and some parts of the immune system which can lead to digestive symptoms and a vulnerability to opportunistic infections. This is part of the reason many people find they may ‘get the runs’ before giving a presentation or going to Adoption Panel!

So what we can do? Well sadly it’s not possible to get rid of all those awful stressors that come around at this time of year. Whether you celebrate Xmas or not the streets are full of panicking people and manic shoppers. What we actually CAN do is make sure our way of eating doesn’t contribute to our stress AND eat the right kind of foods to help the body manage the stress. Eating refined carbohydrates and having too many stimulant foods like coffee, alcohol and caffeine loaded drinks can contribute to rises in blood sugar and a consequent release of the stress hormones – we don’t need any added food based contributors to our stress!  A useful  way of eating to help minimise and manage the stress response is to follow a nutrient rich diet which balances blood sugar. The brain likes a steady supply of sugar (glucose) throughout the day and  sudden peaks and troughs in blood sugar can themselves lead to the release of stress hormones. This is something we CAN fix.

Here’s some simple rules for eating to manage stress:

  • Switch to complex rather than refined carbohydrates – wholegrain breads and pastas, brown rice (brown basmati is lovely) , traditional oats, quinoa, wild rice
  • Eat small and often – breakfast, a mid morning snack, lunch, a mid afternoon snack and dinner. Healthy snacks include hummus and veg sticks OR a a pear and a palm size portion of mixed nuts
  • Have small amounts of protein with every meal and snack- especially fish ,chicken & vegetable protein ( lentils, beans, nuts, tofu) eg. 2 oatcakes with almond nut butter for protein- gorgeous!
  • Avoid added sugars – sugar is added to lots of processed food so eat fresh foods wherever possible.
  • Eat lots of vegetables and ‘low GI’ fruits such as apples, pears and berries
  • Avoid eating gallons of fruit juices – fruit sugar is also sugar and can contribute to blood sugar rises. Use fruit juice as you would a cordial and dilute it at least 4:1 with water
  • Reduce caffeine containing foods and drinks
  • Keep within health limits for alcohol and only drink with food to reduce the impact of alcohol on blood sugar
  • Drink 1.5 litres of water a day- dehydration sends the body into an ‘alarm state’ – another way of instigating a stress response
  • Get moving-  remember the stress response is preparing us for ‘fight or flight’- a little exercise can help reduce cortisol and calm the stress response. Go for a walk, play football with the kids or have a mad ten minutes dancing at home. It’s all exercise and there’s nothing better than laughter to release that tension!
  • AND finally – RELAX.  Find yourself a little time in every day just for you. Take a bath, read a magazine or just stare out of the window and notice the beautiful things we can always find if we look hard enough.

Xmas can be a wonderful time – if only we remember to stop, take a breath and notice it once in a while. Eat well and have a happy Xmas wherever you are.

Susan Kelly

Nutritional Therapist

Written by adoptresources

December 21, 2010 at 1:24 pm

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  1. […] posts Nutrition tips for the festive season by Susan Kelly, Nutritionist Top tips for the festive […]

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