It seems only fitting that with income taxes due April 15th, April has come to be known as Stress Awareness Month. I can't imagine any other time of the year that I'm more troubled by stabbing pains in my neck and back, restless sleep, grogginess in the morning and panic attacks that strike for no apparent reason. Except maybe Thanksgiving through New Year... but that's another story. And then there's the recurrent theme of recession plaguing the media. In a recent survey by the American Psychological Association (APA), 80% of respondents said the economy was a significant cause of stress in their lives. During these difficult times it’s often tempting to turn to comfort foods as a coping mechanism, reaching for the quick fix of candy, baked goods, fried foods and ice cream. But instead of sabotaging your wellbeing with refined sugar and fats, why not choose to take control of the situation by eating healthfully? Practicing these simple healthy eating habits will not only empower you during times of stress, but also provide a sustainable lifestyle to prepare you for smooth sailing ahead.
Take Control of Your Diet During times of stress, B vitamins tend to be depleted from our bodies. Choose foods such as greens, beans and whole grains that are loaded with this nutrient. They’ll fill you up for pennies per serving and leave you feeling satisfied, resilient and calm. To aid in the breakdown of stress hormones, eat plenty of Cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, kale and cabbage. Foods in the Allium family – onion, garlic, leeks and scallions – are rich in sulfur which strengthens the detoxification process.
Cook at Home Preparing meals at home is more affordable than eating out, and can save time, too. Soups, stews and pastas can be prepped in big batches at the beginning of the week, then portioned out into containers which can be heated in minutes after a long day at work. Bags of prewashed salad and other greens can be combined with chopped nuts or seeds, dried fruit and a simple dressing for another fast meal. It’s all quick, easy and economical.
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle Cutting back on meat consumption, desserts and prepared foods will trim your budget as well as your waistline. Try substituting beans, tofu or tempeh in place of meat at least one meal per week. Reuse and recycle leftovers – chili and rice can transform into a burrito filling the next day. Extra veggies that don’t get eaten for dinner are perfect in a pot of minestrone soup for tomorrow’s lunch.
Mindful Eating Try to make eating a joyful ritual. Think about the food, where it comes from, how it looks on your plate and how good your body will feel after eating it. The process of thinking while eating will slow you down and make you aware of the connection you have with food. It’s also a nice way to divert your mind from the worries of the day.
Chew Slowly Take time to savor each bite. Breathe deeply as you chew, slowly counting to 30 as your teeth do their work. Enzymes in the mouth help break down starches and ensure optimal digestion and absorption of nutrients.
Indulge Your Senses A plate of vibrantly colored vegetables is a pleasure to behold.We eat with our eyes first, so always remember to include a rainbow of foods from the full spectrum. Contrasting colors such as red and green (think: tomatoes and zucchini in ratatouille or a sizzling red and green pepper fajita, for example) nearly jump off the plate and into our stomachs. Bright colors also mean the food is loaded with immune boosting antioxidants which help fight free radical damage caused by stress.
Finally, Be Kind Respect your body and pay attention to its needs. Stress is a normal part of life, but high levels of anxiety that result in physical ailments such as migraines, stomach aches, sleeplessness and fatigue are signals to focus inward. Be thankful for these signs. As you nourish yourself from within by eating foods that support a healthy immune system, you strengthen your ability to cope with whatever situation comes your way.