Beat the stress at Christmas

It’s meant to be ‘the most wonderful time of the year’ but the pressure of the holidays can often mean a stress overload. Trying to get everything ready in time can be incredibly stressful, and throw in some money worries, inevitable family tensions, the pressure to socialise, and over-excited children on a sugar high, you’re hardly looking at a recipe for success.  Fear not!  For it’s not just Santa who has a helper… now you do too. Here are a few tried-and-tested ways to beat the stress as the festive season approaches.  Harness these new habits now, and you’ll breeze through to see in the New Year calm and collected.

Managing stress levels is important for your health in the long term because stress is implicated in so many different chronic diseases, including heart disease, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, depression, gastrointestinal problems and asthma.  If you’re thinking you don’t fall into the ‘I’m stressed enough to be making myself ill’ category, don’t be fooled. The drip-drip-drip of everyday stress can be as damaging as major life incident-related stress (such as death and divorce), so don’t wait to take action.  Instead,  TIP 1, the 10-MINUTE MIND TRICK: Set aside 10 minutes a day for meditation. Simply sit down in a quiet room with your back supported and eyes closed. Try to clear your mind of all worries. Don’t worry if thoughts bubble to the surface, as this is completely normal! The more you resist the more it will persist. Simply bring your attention back to your breath and continue until the time is up. If you’re new to meditation or need more support, find a guided meditation app or CD to lead you through the process.

If you struggle to stay at your happy weight throughout the year, or often turn to food as a way of coping or rewarding yourself, being surrounded by treats and snacks over the holidays rarely has a happy ending.   Whereas eating your body weight in honey roasted cashew nuts might seems like a good idea at the time, it’s worth considering that stress makes it very hard to lose weight, and you’re much more likely to store it around the middle. Yikes!  This is because the human body hasn’t evolved much since caveman times, when the extra energy was stored where it was most easily accessed, so it could be used to run away from, say, a sabre-toothed tiger. Or in the case of the forthcoming holidays, an unbearable relative. This brings me to TIP 2…. EAT REGULARLY: Erratic eating times and skipping meals can lead to a dip in blood sugar levels, which leads to the release of the stress hormone cortisol. It’s difficult when routines go out the window, but try to stick to three meals (with two optional healthy snacks) a day and your digestion will thank you for it. Base all your meals and snacks on protein (meat, poultry, fish, eggs, nuts, beans and seeds), fruit and vegetables and smaller amounts of complex carbs (brown rice, wholemeal bread or pasta).

TIP 3… Cut back on alcohol and caffeine.  WHAAAAAAT??! I know it’s hard, especially over the holidays when most days revolve around drinking, but try at least to reduce your alcohol and caffeine intake. Why? Well caffeine causes a release of stress hormones from the adrenal glands – the last thing you want if you are already stressed!  And whereas at first, alcohol might help to relax you when you’re stressed out (by promoting the release of GABA, the calming neurotransmitter), it’s quickly metabolised to sugar that can lead to a restless sleep, which leads me onto my next tip…

TIP 4… Prioritise sleep: Yay!  Get into a sleep routine that includes relaxing practices such as taking a warm bath with Epsom salts, light reading or stretching. Introduce a digital detox at least an hour before bed (that means no phones, TV, laptop or tablet), so as not to disrupt melatonin production (the sleepy hormone). A light snack such as an oatcake with almond butter or a banana may help to support undisturbed sleep.

TIP 5… Eat magnesium-rich meals: Magnesium relaxes the nervous system and muscles so eating foods rich in this mineral, such as leafy greens, avocados, sesame seeds and spinach can help reduce stress.  Magic!

TIP 6… Get to the cause: Look at the root cause to any stress in your life, and think about how you respond to it. If the effect of stress or just general busyness gets in the way of your efforts to stay healthy and you’d like to do something about it, I warmly invite you to book a free 20-minute consultation here

Kitchen gadget Christmas wish list

Are your cupboards full of cooking gadgets you never use?  Hands up if you have a pasta maker getting dusty in the back of the shed?  Clients in clinic often ask me what they really need to make healthy eating a breeze, so here are my favourite must-have kitchen gadgets that you’ll actually use!  And just in time to ask Santa…

THE STICK BLENDER

Makes light work of chopping, pureeing, blitzing and whisking.  These usually come with a range of versatile accessories, like mini chopping bowls and whisks. Just the job for blending soup or chopping up nuts.  My favourite is the Braun MultiQuick 3 Hand blender.  It features an anti-splash design to ensure a spotless kitchen and an extra milling blade which blends whole foods in seconds, meaning you save time pre-cutting.   

SLOW JUICER

If you are a fan of juicing (a great way to get your 7-a-day in one hit!) you really need a slow juicer – sometimes called a masticating juicer – because it creates less friction/ heat as it deals with the fruit and veg, therefore retaining more of the nutrients. Prices for this type of juicer vary enormously, but many come out of the same factory in Korea, so you’ll still get something that more than adequately does the job for a fraction of the price of the top dollar ones. This one from Aicok is currently on sale, has a quiet motor, and comes with a juice jug and cleaning brush.

NUTRIBULLET

There are a number of these compact, counter-top appliances that will whizz you up a decent smoothie and, if you’re the kind of person who struggles to get the recommended 7-10 portions in each day, you should definitely consider one.  Regardless of which one you choose, you want to pick one with a 600+Watt motor to ensure that nuts and seeds are efficiently blended. This one is still my favourite and best of all, it’s really easy to use and to keep clean.

 

SPIRALIZER

This thing will enable you to make courgetti (courgette spaghetti) and boodles (butternut squash noodles) effortlessly.  This is good news as if you’re trying to keep the weight off, these foods will make it easy to cut out the starchy carb content in your meals which turn to sugars all too easily. This one has 5 blades so it can turn its hand to pretty much any cutting task.

 

SLOW COOKER

Slow cooks meats, makes one pot wonders, curries and winter-warming stews. It makes meals quick, easy and healthy.  This one is great value and for you meat eaters out there, it comes with a separate inner pot that comes out so you can sear the meat in to start you off, then pop into the slow cooker to do the rest. The cooking pot is also dishwasher safe.

 

SPROUTER

Sprouts are the real stars of the vegetable world. Sprouted beans and seeds contain many more nutrients and enzymes than non-sprouted varieties. The vitamin content of some seeds, grains, beans or nuts increases by up to 20 times the original value within only a few days of sprouting! Research shows that during sprouting, beansprouts increase in vitamin B1 by up to 285%, vitamin B2 by 515% and niacin (for heart, brain and skin health) by up to 256%.  This one is a great introductory product if you’re new to sprouting….

….or for the more accomplished sprouter, you can’t go wrong with the 3-tier Germinator…

 

COFFEE GRINDER

There are many health benefits to drinking coffee but that’s not the only reason to get yourself a coffee grinder – it’s perfect for grinding seeds and spices for sprinkling on salads, porridge, soups, yoghurt, and so on.  This one from Chef’s Inspirations is a good value electrical grinder that will whizz up your nuts, seeds and spices in a flash plus it’s easy to clean.

 

 

 

If you’d like any further advice on how any of these gadgets can help with your wellbeing, please get in touch via the contact page, and I look forward to hearing from you soon.

 

It’s Vitamin D Day!

Vitamin D deficiency is a worldwide problem.  Given that our greatest source is our exposure to sunlight, as a population we are now, more than ever, living an indoor lifestyle, avoiding the sun daily. As we head into winter, it becomes even more important to keep your levels in check.

Since we’ve lost the daylight saving hour, leaving home in the dark to go to work, only to return home later, also in the dark, shows to highlight how little sunshine we let ourselves soak up during this time of year.

So what can we do during the long winter months to correct this imbalance?  Well food sources of Vitamin D are few and far between.  At the top of the list are oily fish, in particular sardines, salmon and tuna (preferably the wild varieties).  What’s more, food sources of vitamin D need to be absorbed with the help of healthy fats, so make sure you include nuts, seeds, and avocados on your shopping list.  In addition, reach for a good quality supplemental dose of the D3 variety.

If you think your Vitamin D levels may be low, go to your GP for a simple test, and in the meantime, get out there and absorb as much sunshine as the cold will allow!

Roasted Pumpkin Soup

If, like me, you don’t have children but feel the need to do something with a pumpkin around this time of year, why not make yourself a pot of really tasty roasted pumpkin soup.  It’s easier than it sounds and no animal will be harmed in the making of it.

Ingredients
Edible pumpkin – 1.5kg
Olive oil
Dried chilli – 1 teaspoon
Coriander seeds – 1 tablespoon
Onion – 1 large
Garlic – 3 cloves
Carrot – 1
Celery – 1 stick
Hot vegetable stock – 1 litre

Method
1. Preheat the oven to 170°C/340°F.
2. Half the pumpkin and remove the seeds (you can keep these for roasting), then chop into wedges.
3. Place the pumpkin on two large baking trays and drizzle over a little olive oil.
4. In a pestle and mortar, grind the chilli and coriander seeds with a pinch of salt until finely ground. Sprinkle the spices over the pumpkin with some black pepper.
5. Roast the pumpkin for 1 hour, or until soft and slightly caramalised at the edges.
6. Meanwhile, roughly chop the onion, garlic, carrot and celery.
7. Heat a lug of olive oil over a medium heat in a large saucepan, add the vegetables to it, and cook for 15 minutes, or until soft and sweet but not coloured.
8. When the squash is ready, add to the pan with the hot stock.
9. Blend with a stick blender, adding a little more water if you like a thinner consistency.

Brown rice salad

This easy salad is both filling and refreshing, and there’s no need for a separate dressing.
Brown rice (often called whole grain rice) is less processed than white rice. The rice grains have had the outer hull removed, but the underlying bran and germ layers are left on the grain, and it’s the bran layers that make the rice brown. Brown rice is more nutritious than white rice because the bran contains vitamins, minerals and oils, as well as more fibre than white rice, keeping you both fuller for longer, and your blood sugar levels balanced. Enjoy!

Makes: 8 cups
Takes: 90 mins

Ingredients
Brown rice: 1 cup uncooked
Courgette: 1 finely chopped
Cucumber: 1 x medium sized, finely chopped
Tomatoes: 2 x large, finely chopped
Spring onions: 1/2 cup, finely chopped
Fresh coriander leaves: 1 x cup, finely chopped
Fresh lemon juice: from 2 lemons
Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Method
1. Rinse the rice and cook as instructed on the packet.
2. Meanwhile, finely chop the courgette, cucumber, tomatoes, spring onions and coriander. Mix together in a large bowl with 3 tablespoons of lemon juice.
3. Once the rice has cooked, let it cool for about 10 minutes until it’s stopped steaming.
4. Add the rice to the large bowl and stir through the other ingredients.
5. Let is stand for 30 minutes for the flavour to infuse. Can be covered and placed in fridge to chill.

We are not alone

We all need a helping hand at various stages in life, and often just accepting that help can be a hurdle in itself.  It represents a vulnerability in each of us that we’d rather not reveal.

Teamwork at its best is performed subconsciously – a seamless dance between two or more of us where needs are fulfilled and outcomes are met.  Mutually satisfying it can make us stronger, and leave us empowered as individuals, ideally rendering us capable of sharing our wisdom with the wider world.

When we’re young we have no problem believing ourselves to be invincible.  Yet to encounter the life experience that will teach us otherwise, anything seems possible.  But not being able to ‘do it all’ is OK.   More than OK, it’s a great relief if we choose to see it as such.

Ironically our networks of contacts have never been bigger.  Between our various social media accounts, we are virtually in touch with more people we ever thought possible.  But these virtual connections are just that – they lack the realism of face to face interaction where the real work is done, together, and not alone, at home, behind a blue screen.

I’ve recently ended a three-year diploma course in Nutritional Therapy during which time I connected frequently with like-minded people – a mixed bag ranging from working mums to single students, we were all together in our dedication to enhance ours and other lives with the study and clinical practice of nutritional therapy.  Now qualified and free of the lectures and clinic assessments, I’m missing those connections and friends I’ve made along the way, and fully realise the value they’ve added to my life experience.

I’ve started this site not just to stay connected to those on a similar path, but also to share information, education, support and the tools to enhance our wellbeing no matter which life stage we’re at.