Just being alive in America today is a stressful endeavor. With high levels of unemployment, the competition for jobs is intense. Young professionals have trouble leaving home. Retirement funds are being raided to cover living expenses. The stock market is a roller coaster. Expenses are on the rise and salaries are stagnant... if you have a job. Our roads are congested with high-density living… Just reading that makes me anxious. Pass me a cookie!
What is your comfort "go-to"? French fries? Ice Cream? Fried Chicken? Mashed potatoes smothered in gravy? Who doesn't need a little gentle care and feeding in our "always on" environment? Every now and then, you have got to give yourself some love and care. Right?
In our current environment, a large portion of society remains on continual high alert, both in terms of mind and body. One outcome of chronic stress is that our bodies produce excess levels of cortisol. Cortisol, the stress hormone, is one factor that leads us to consume comfort foods high in sugar, fat and fat. The more we eat of those types of foods, the more we want. Fat is then deposited around your torso and around your organs, increasing your risk of cardio-vascular diseases, obesity, diabetes and others.
Chronic stress can also lead to mindless munching: disconnect brain, EAT. Emotional eaters also often choose foods high in fat, sugar or salt and tend to eat, regardless of whether they're hungry. When acting mindlessly, the ability to recognize fullness and remain in charge of your choices is essential to managing weight. Managing a healthy weight protects you from a host of health issues including joint degeneration, diabetes, insulin resistance, stroke, heart attack and more.
So how can you work toward better health and more mindful eating? Here are 5 steps to a healthier approach to food:
1. Keep a Gratitude Journal
Either first thing or last thing each day, take a moment to write down what you are grateful for in your life. Keeping those things close to our hearts and minds helps to maintain a more positive and optimistic attitude. Optimistic people on average are happier, maintain solid relationships, and make more money. A gratitude journal is an easy, tangible way to increase your level of optimism.
2. Eat Breakfast Daily
I've heard it and I've said it myself. 'I'm just not hungry in the morning." However, an empty stomach cannot maintain stable blood sugar levels. Without stable blood sugar we tend to gain weight as grab for pastries, donuts and other less healthy choices. How nurturing is it to expect yourself to put forth your best effort without any nutrition? (Hint: not very). You'll be riding up and down as your blood sugar spikes and plummets. You are what you eat, so what does it say about you if you eat nothing?
Whatever your rationale for not eating — no time, not hungry, etc. — it is impossible to be your best, most productive self if you're not doing it. A breakfast that stabilizes blood sugar contains a combination of healthy sources of protein, fat and whole grain, fiber-rich carbohydrates. Try yogurt, oatmeal or eggs.
3. Mindful Practices
Be aware of what you are feeling, both inside and out. It is crucial to be mindful when taking care of yourself. Mindful eating notices that you are grabbing and gobbling. That might stop you from reaching for the first available "comfort" food and give you time to be in charge of your choices. What can you do to become more mindful? Try meditation, yoga, listening to music or creating a personal ritual such as preparing and drinking tea.
When you notice that your shoulders are rising so high they become your earrings, you feel bodily tension and your elevated heart rate is pounding in your ears. This is the time to help yourself choose to change your reaction and stop the fight or flight response. A simple way to release tension is to breathe slowly in through the nose and out through the mouth. Try counting to five as you inhale and count back down to exhale. Fill your lungs as completely as possible with fresh air. Then exhale deeply and slowly, pushing all of the old air out. Notice how each breathe releases the tension a little at a time. After your eighth breath, your heart rate and stress level should be noticeably reduced.
5. Comfort Food Reframed
Now that you are beginning your day with gratitude in your heart, food in your belly, and are fully aware and mindful of goings-on inside and out with a reduced stress level, you are prepared to create change in your life. So when things get crazy and you are pulled in many directions, you can, at this instant turn off auto-pilot. Imagine healthier mindsets before grabbing for the sugary or salty or fatty food that you previously considered "comfort" food. Then just do it!
You are now empowered to rethink what is comfort for you. Is it something that will ultimately start the chatter of your inner critic? Instead, make a healthier choice and select something nourishing such as one piece of 73 percent or higher dark chocolate, dried mango or fresh fruit. You savor every delicious, nutritious bite. You feel great about yourself. As you become more empowered in your choices, you'll find yourself trying new recipes and even eating a variety of colorful, nutritious foods you previously didn't crave.
Congratulations: you are now caring for yourself! Your new behavior supports your new way of thinking... and your new thoughts support new habits. What a delicious achievement!
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