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Tara Coleman San Diego Nutritionist sitting on couch
Tara Coleman San Diego Nutritionist specialize in weight loss, healthy eating

Your Stress Reduction Nutrition Guide


Each day I meet with anywhere between 8 and 16 clients from all over the country in my private practice. Although they are all incredibly unique and from different walks of life, it is incredible to me how we are all riding a similar wave of emotions.

Over these past few weeks, the intensity of our stress levels has been consistently rising. Election anxiety, the realization that we are going to be away from our loved ones over the holidays, shorter days and our overall polarization is taking its toll.

When it comes to stress, there are a lot of things that you can’t control – bills, traffic, incessant zooms.  However, your nutrition is one thing that you can control.

If you think of stress as burning embers, your nutrition can either be the gasoline that turns in into an out of control flame or a splash of water that helps keep it contained.

Here are some simple nutrition strategies to help reduce your stress and keep those embers contained.

Eat Earlier

When we go to long without eating (or have a diet too low in calories or protein/fiber) adrenaline is released.  Adrenaline is one of our most powerful stress hormones and where “hangry” comes from!

A common thing I’m seeing in our quarantine world, is skipping breakfast or lunch.  For some this is intentional (intermittent fasting or trying to save calories) and others this is unintentional (suppressing appetite with caffeine or working through meals). This usually leads to overeating later at night and a slow weight gain.  In the context of stress, it means that we are running in a heightened state – in other words, we are on edge.

What to do with this information

This is usually due to a lack of planning or preparation. Make sure you have quick, and ideally premade, options for whichever meal that you are skipping.  Check out 5 Breakfasts in 5 Minutes or Less for ideas and recipes!

Eat Carbs

This is another best intention that has gone wrong. Typically when we want to lose weight or be healthy, we cut out the starchy carbohydrates. However, carbohydrates help increase the brain’s production of the “feel good” neurotransmitter serotonin.  This can help you feel less anxious and have a calmer state of mind.

Women are more sensitive to this, which is one of the reasons that cutting out carbs tends to be even harder for us.

What to do with this information

Choosing carbohydrates that are low glycemic and high fiber helps keep your blood sugar and mood stable.  From a stress standpoint, they are best post-workout or in the evening when our moods tend to drop.  Check out Quick & Easy Sheet Pan Recipes for Winter for some balanced mood boosting recipes.

Get Outside

As the days get shorter and our lives more virtual, getting outside can become less of a priority. This can impact our production of Vitamin D, which can decrease our immune system and stress response pathway.

Perhaps even more important, being out in nature allows us to experience a sense of awe.  Awe is an emotion that is noticeably absent from our adult life yet has shown to increase satisfaction with life more than any other positive emotion. Being in the presence of something that is grater than ourselves can reduce the pressure of having to control it all and leave us with a sense of wonder, curiosity and hope. Sounds pretty incredible to me.

What to do with this information

The good news is, research shows that you don’t have to do extravagant or extraordinary things to experience awe. Simple acts like recognizing the leaves changing, watching your toddler discover grass or catching the sunset can improve your well-being.  Take 15 minutes a day to disconnect, get outside and look around – and be sure to let me know what amazing things you discover!

End Your Day with Magnesium

If I was in charge of Halloween, I would give everyone a Justin’s Chocolate Peanut Butter Cup and a dose of magnesium.  I really think that those two things can change the world!

Magnesium is a relaxer, so low levels of magnesium can be associated with things you associate with tension.  Some examples are trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, muscle twitching, stress, clenching and anxiety.

What to do with this information

Magnesium rich foods include greens, nuts, seeds, beans and whole grains. However, because soil levels of magnesium are decreasing, so are the levels found in our food.  If you are feeling any of the above symptoms, I would recommend supplementing with magnesium at night.  My two favorite forms are:

  • Magnesium Citrate – this can also help with constipation so if you are struggling with that, I would try taking 1tsp of CALM at night.
  • Magnesium Glycinate – this doesn’t have any impact on your bowel movements but will still help you sleep like a baby and have hope for the world. I recommend this brand taken before bed.

And if you want to eat it with a peanut butter cup, you have my permission!

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