The De-Stress Diet
Take the stress out of breakfast
One of the most profound things you can do for your health is to start your day well. Breakfast is the meal that can either set up your good mood, energy and coping capacity for what lies ahead or set you off on a giddy ride of bouncing between craving quick fixes and struggling for motivation. The right meal after the long period without food overnight can have the greatest effect on your food choices throughout the day. Eating well when you wake up reinforces your ability to choose healthier foods because you are not at the whim of disordered biochemistry. Your body is intelligent – feed it incorrectly in the morning and it will play a nasty game of energy ‘catch-up’ with you all day in the form of cravings and mood swings.
Breakfast as a meal
Breakfast has become more about convenience and less about choice, care and mindfulness. Many people feel they are at least eating healthily at this meal, but tea and toast or boxed cereals are more comfort foods than healthy breakfast foods.
Think outside the (cereal) box
Look at habits across the world and you’ll notice that foods we consider breakfast fare in the West come from a fairly small range of choices. People eat grilled fish and vegetables in Korea, dim sum in some Thai provinces and meats, fish and cheeses in Scandinavian countries – choices that are more nutritionally supportive than the glut of processed grain products such as cereals and breads. The De-Stress Diet bottom-line breakfast rule is simple: eat healthy food you enjoy.
For the die-hard ‘don’t eat ’til 11am’ types, start the day with the juice of half a lemon in hot water to wake up your liver and digestion in a clean, healthy way. Drink this about 20 minutes before breakfast – you can also add slices of fresh ginger to warm up or calm the digestion, and/or cinnamon to sweeten and improve blood-sugar balance.
Your stress-free morning
● Drink some lemon juice with hot water and optional cinnamon and ginger.
● Yoga postures or other stretching is best done before food so digestion doesn’t steal energy from your muscles.
● Don’t bolt your food down while standing up or eat it when you’re getting ready; sit at a table and place it in front of you.
● Eat breakfast calmly and take at least 15 minutes, chewing every mouthful and tasting your food. If you eat slowly enough and chew well, you should allow digestion to happen more easily. Include sitting for five minutes after eating as part of your breakfast time.
Problem: You eat at your desk.
Solution: Take 10 deep breaths before eating and chew thoroughly and calmly. Prioritise breakfast before work or pack a smoothie. If you have breakfast at your desk, focus on that with no work at the same time. Keep nut butters to add to crackers, snack bars and nuts for days when you have less time.
Problem: You hit the gym before work and never know what to eat.
Solution: Have a smoothie with coconut milk and berries before, and then a full breakfast straight after. Add whey protein to your smoothie to support blood-sugar levels.
If you’re wondering why so many of us feel exhausted at our desks by 4 o’clock, here’s food for thought: seven out of ten office workers don’t leave their desks at lunchtime, and a staggering seven million skip lunch breaks altogether. During the course of the average high-pressure day, demands are put on our bodies in terms of functioning, maintenance and recovery. That means the essential nutrients we need to cope with the mental stress we’re under - B vitamins, vitamin C, magnesium and zinc, to name a few - are quickly used up by the body’s stress response. Unless we choose meals that replenish these nutrients, we can soon be running on empty and find ourselves turning to stimulants such as coffee, chocolate and crisps to keep us going instead.
Lunchtime pick-me-ups get some light
A 10 minute walk (if it’s not too hot outside) can ensure you get a hit of vitamin D. If the sun is out, this will be enough to optimise vitamin D production.
Make it a meal
Make your own lunch when you can. Even if you only commit to doing this a few days a week, it will help promote the feeling that you are looking after yourself and making the healthiest choices you can.
Pack in the protein
Make about 30 per cent of your lunch protein (this is about a quarter of your plate) in the form of lean meat, eggs, fish, nuts, seeds, pulses or beans - or a mix of these. Protein takes longer to digest and will keep you feeling full for longer. Omelettes or frittatas made with vegetables (and a little feta cheese) and eaten with a side salad make for a great protein-rich lunch.
Your stress-free lunchtime
● About four or five hours after breakfast or when you begin to feel hungry, stop, leave your desk and go and prepare or buy your lunch. Take 10 deep breaths before leaving your desk to help punctuate the end of the morning and calm any leftover stress response that could hinder your digestion.
● Try and resist the urge to nip to the nearest unhealthy takeaway and instead stroll somewhere you know there is better choice. Try to avoid ready meals.
● Plan a walk for an afternoon break, even if it’s just five minutes round your building (depending on the heat).
● If you like coffee, have it after lunch. This helps slow the rate at which coffee releases adrenaline into your system and prevents stress later in the afternoon.
Problem: You get bloated after lunch, whatever you eat.
Solution: Pre-lunch, take 10 long, slow breaths. When we are stressed our digestion suffers, which can leave us bloated or gassy after eating. Add dried spices such as anise, fennel and ginger to your lunch to aid digestion.
Problem: You don’t feel satisfied without something sweet after lunch.
Solution: This is body and mind conditioning that can change. Reduce sugars in your diet and have a herbal tea with licorice and/ or cinnamon to help regulate insulin and tell your brain you’ve received something sweet.
Take the stress out of dinner
Just as what you do and eat in the morning sets the tone for how you will feel throughout the day, your evening routine sets the tone for the next morning. Evening is the time when cortisol levels are lowering to reduce stimulation and preparing the body for rest. In order to function fully when awake, your body relies on the immune-modulation, detoxification, tissue and muscle healing and mental-sorting processes that occur during this time. If you don’t respect this, chances are you will experience fatigue, irritability, poor concentration and recovery from stress, injury and skin complaints.
Dinner guidelines make dinner your smallest meal
Try and eat less in the evenings and go to bed a little hungry so that you have an appetite for breakfast the next morning. It takes around 10 minutes for your stomach to signal fullness to the brain, so give that a chance to happen. Eat between 6.30pm and 8pm.
No starchy carbs
If you choose to include grains, beans and potatoes in your diet, have them at breakfast or lunch. If you’re eating out, avoid the pasta and bread basket and have an extra side order of vegetables instead.
Avoid puddings and sweets
Save these for a very occasional treat. Eating sugar, crisps and chocolate in the evenings promotes an insulin surge and stimulates a blood sugar spike before bed.
Your stress-free dinner time
● If you feel stressed and hungry when you get home, be mindful of what you’re doing (even if it’s chopping vegetables). Monitor how you’re feeling and tune into your breathing - is it rushed? Accept your emotions and observe your breath slowing down.
● Have some coconut water or a mocktail such as a Virgin Mary. These drinks will help rehydrate your body instead of dehydrate it.
● Sit at the table for dinner. Set the table in an appealing way, with a bunch of flowers.
● Truly relax and chew while you eat to aid full digestion and help your body to recognise fullness.
● Wait 10–15 minutes before going for something sweet or for second helpings. If you really want second helpings, ask yourself ‘How will this make me feel in half an hour?’
Problem: You go the gym after work and get home too late for cooking.
Solution: About an hour before you exercise, have a piece of fruit such and some almonds or Brazil nuts to stabilise blood sugar. Afterwards, choose foods that don’t upset body chemistry, like a small portion of new potatoes in their skins.
Problem: You can’t calm down before bed.
Solution: Have a ‘tech amnesty’ at least an hour before bed, as flashing images and light close to the face affects melatonin production, which can make it harder to sleep. Supplement with magnesium and prioritise magnesium-rich foods for dinner when you’re having a wired day: nuts, dark leafy green vegetables, carrots, avocado, fish, tahini, miso soup and tofu.
INFO: Taken from an extract from the de-stress diet: the revolutionary lifestyle plan for a calmer, slimmer you. out now, Dhs75, amazon.com