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We are officially into Week 3 of this Stress / Wellness Challenge. I hope you have already noticed some things regarding what causes or increases your stress, the ways you cope with that stress and, more importantly, I hope you have had the chance to identify some less healthy ways you cope with stress that you would like to change (and by change I mean replace with healthier coping habits).

Now it’s time to start taking action! This week we are talking all about Food & Nutrition. Yep! My favorite topic :) . This is for all of us “stress eaters” or “stress non-eaters” out there or those that may be eating in ways that increase stress and don’t even realize it! So, here we go, this week’s info on Managing Stress Through Nutrition…


  • Eating foods that specifically contain fat and sugar cause a release of hormones, like dopamine, that promote a feeling of well-being & satisfaction.

  • We turn to these foods because our brains know that they will produce these good feelings and combat the impact that the stress response has on our mood.

  • The release of cortisol can intensify emotions & motivation and, in turn, increase excitement and motivation or desire for these foods.


  • Norepinephrine and cortisol are involved in learning & memory, especially around negative emotional events.

  • When we eat certain “comfort foods” after these hormones are released in stressful events, our memory is set to remember this coupling in future stressful events.

  • We begin to associate feeling stressed & feeling better with eating these particular foods.

  • Stress begins to promote more habitual behaviors at the expense of cognitive, goal - directed actions (aka, we stop thinking about and then deciding to eat the food, we just do it).

  • We no longer consciously think about how to cope with the stressor.


  • Sugar, fat and salt combinations increase the response in the brain.

  • Dopamine may stay elevated the more multisensory a food is.

    • ice cream + hot fudge + crunchy peanuts = GIVE ME MORE, PLEASE!

  • In one study, participants ate more M&M’s if given 10 colors vs 7 colors (which equaled over 100 more calories)


  • Increase in blood sugars (plus decrease in insulin sensitivity that can be found with chronic stress)

  • Increased abdominal fat (visceral fat)

    • Puts us at greater risk for metabolic syndrome and cardiovascular disease

    • Remember, when stressed, our bodies tend to store fat / energy around our middles because this is where important organs are that allow us to convert stored energy to glucose to “fight” or “flight”.


  1. No skipping meals!

    • Skipping meals causes a roller coaster affect on our blood sugars that leaves us lethargic, less mentally sharp and less able to tackle projects and obstacles.

  2. Include salmon & tuna

    • The vitamin D in salmon is part of the serotonin - producing pathway and can help promote feelings of calm & well-being.

    • Both salmon & tuna contain omega 3’s, which promote brain health and help decrease inflammation in the body

  3. Include whole grain carbohydrates

    • The carbohydrates promote serotonin production to help calm you down

    • The protein and fiber in the whole grains help steady the blood sugars (so they don’t spike & drop like in refined cookies, chips and candies, putting further stress on the body)

  4. Include leafy greens, beans, oranges

    • These are all high in folate, which helps the body produce energy!

    • Also, in some studies low folate levels have been found in those with depression

  5. Snack on fresh fruit

    • The natural sugar can help satisfy a sweet tooth plus provide the body with tons of antioxidants, fiber and fluid to keep energy levels up!

    • There have been benefits found in dark chocolate so I’m totally not opposed to a little dark chocolate if you can watch portions. It just depends on the individual.

  6. Crunch on vegetables and whole grain crackers or popcorn

    • Did you know the actual act of crunching has been found to reduce stress? Crunch away stress and tension with these healthier options and also get a dose of vitamins, minerals, fiber and fluid!



  • How do I use food to cope? Do I use food to cope?

  • I could use food to help manage my stress in healthier ways by _____________.

  • Stress - fighting foods I already include or that I would like to start including are ________.

Happy Fueling & Take Care!



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It’s officially Week 2 of this stress management / mindfulness challenge!

How have you been mindful this past week?

What did you learn about how your body responds to stress last week? Did you learn anything new about your sources of stress? Definitely hold on to those discoveries and keep them in mind as we move forward!

Today we are building off of last week by looking at what you intentionally, or unintentionally, do to cope with your stress. For some that could be exercising, not exercising, eating, not eating, smoking, drinking, avoiding, yelling and the list goes on. We are also going to really dive into SLEEP this week. Yep, many of us don’t realize the important role that sleep plays in our stress levels, our ability to manage our stress and in the decisions we make when we’re stressed. I’ll mention again at the end, but this week the focus is:

  1. Determine the ways (positive & negative) that you cope with stress.

  2. Look at your sleep patterns. How many hours do you get, on average, a night? How do you feel when you get less than what you know you need?

  3. Are there any ways you can adjust your schedule to allow for more and / or better sleep?

Ok, diving in!


  • Gives our bodies the time it needs to recharge

  • Allows for optimal memory, alertness, decision making and reaction time. (Important for everyone, especially when driving a car, and the young athletes who are practicing or playing their sports for hours each day AND taking tests and quizzes in school. And, absolutely those recovering from injuries!)

  • Allows our bodies to repair and build muscle (particularly important for my exercisers out there and the young athletes I see)


  • Initially, there is a rise in growth hormone which increases glucose in the blood and decreases insulin so that our blood sugars don’t drop while we are sleeping

  • In the morning, cortisol levels rise and our bodies begin to utilize the glucose


  • How much sleep we get can affect how stressed we are and how stressed we are can affect how much sleep we get!

  • Studies have found greater levels of morning cortisol in those reporting job and life stress. Remember, that some rise in cortisol is natural. It’s when it becomes too much and for too long that we start seeing the negative results (refer to Week 1 post)


  • Our bodies make hunger hormones called LEPTIN & GHRELIN

  • Our sleep cycle helps regulate these hunger and satiety hormones

  • Leptin tells the brain that we are full and to stop eating

    • we have decreased levels of leptin during periods of sleep deprivation

  • Ghrelin is secreted from the GI tract and tells the brain we are hungry

    • we have increased levels of ghrelin during periods of sleep deprivation

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  • Studies have found that when we don’t get inadequate sleep, not only do we tend to eat more, but we also tend to choose carbohydrate foods higher in fat and added sugar. (so I don’t mean grabbing a slice of whole grain bread or pasta. This is not saying carbs are “bad”. This is saying we grab the pie, the cookies, the cake, the bigger portion of fettuccine alfredo. And in moderation, these are not “bad”, it’s when we eat them consistently to cope and in larger portions, not being mindful, that it becomes a concern)

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  • May lead to weight gain (increased appetite + increased craving for higher energy foods that we may not be burning off)

  • May lead to weight loss (a decreased appetite also occurs in some. But eating too little can alter your metabolism so is not healthy either).

  • Can affect whether you lose muscle or fat in your weight loss.

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  1. Determine the ways (positive & negative) that you cope with stress.

  2. Look at your sleep patterns. How many hours do you get, on average a night? How do you feel when you get less than you know you need?

  3. Are there any ways you can adjust your schedule to allow for more and / or better sleep?


Also, a few resources that I thought provided some good information can be found here. Check it out and see what practices work for you!

An article by the National Sleep Foundation:

An article by dietitian Amber Massey from Food & Nutrition Magazine:

As always, comment with questions or let me know if you want my sources (there is a very lengthy list) and I’ll send over.

Take Care!


Making Changes When We're Stressed

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Lately I have really felt the need / desire to implement a good stress-management program at the office.  Some people may not see the benefit here and ask "why?  How is that helpful?  What will your metrics be?  Why don't you do another fitness, nutrition or weight loss challenge?  To which I would reply, "Because how could we not?  How can we not even consider implementing a challenge or program that helps us cope with and be mindful of the very thing that usually makes us need those fitness & weight loss challenges to begin with?  It seems appropriate to me to create a challenge that targets the main reasons that we "stress eat", stop exercising and gain or have trouble losing weight to begin with. On top of that, whatever we are stressing over probably occupies the majority of our thoughts anyway and so why wouldn't we want to take a focused amount of time to tackle that so that we can fully turn and focus on our desired health goals?.

Often we look at weight, high blood pressure, and elevated blood sugars as the root problem.  Thus, we immediately turn to exercise, nutrition or medication to help us "get healthy".  For some, changing diet and adding exercise is easily incorporated and 100% the solution and that is excellent.  However, for many of us, we have to dig a little deeper because the "fix" 'we are searching for actually lies somewhere beneath overeating and under-exercising.  When I see individuals for nutrition coaching, an initial consult goes way beyond food and exercise.  We talk about work life, home life and any stressors associated with both.  We talk about sleep patterns and schedules and what is going on in life before ever diving into nutrition recommendations.  Why do I do this?  I do this because beginning a change during life's more stressful stages is setting yourself up for a frustrating road with higher chances of failure, which then leads to greater stress and self-frustration down the road.

Many times (but certainly not always) I see the root cause of high blood pressure to be stress, often accompanied by limited physical activity, and the root of unintentional and unwanted weight gain, which can incorporate other health concerns like type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, etc., to be stress-eating.  While some people decrease their intake and unintentionally lose weight when stressed, many others may begin to stress-eat and overeat. Not only might we overeat when we are stressed, avoiding our natural hunger and satiety cues, but when we eat out of stress we also choose foods that will calm us down such as those foods high in carbohydrates (but are also typically higher in calories and sometime simple sugar) or foods high in fat and sugar that blunt the "stress feelings" with "happy feelings" for the time-being.  On top of that, the fact that we are stressed causes us to store fat around our abdominal area, which increases our risk of heart disease.  

I'm certainly not trying to cause more stress in anyone reading this.  I'm only trying to call out the importance of managing our stress.  In sessions where I find that the client is under some serious stress...that's the first thing I address.  There may be a food / nutrition component to my recommendations, but nothing drastic in terms of diet, unless medically necessary, is recommended at this initial visit.  In the first weeks we talk about coping and recognizing stress and ways to respond without using food (of course if it's more serious stress or anxiety, I refer out to a certified counselor).  I also never mention food as good / bad.  Food is food - first let's deal with the stressor.  We'll start working on weight loss or other big diet changes and a structured exercise program once we can develop a few stress management practices to help during the stressful time.  Of course exercise is welcomed as a stress reducer, and I encourage it when appropriate.  However, I do not recommend initially if the thought of having to find a way to fit it in the schedule causes more stress in itself.  

So, with all of that to say, what is your stress level right now on a scale of 1 to 10?  Are you trying to make big diet and exercise changes during stressful times?  I encourage you to put those aside just for a short time and focus specifically on your tackling your stressors.  It could be a week, two weeks, or two months - you be the judge.  After that is when bigger diet modifications can come into play.

I know that this isn't easy.  When I'm stressed I still catch myself saying "tough it out", you'll get over it.  However, when I do this and don't stop to take a moment and incorporate some stress-reducing practices, I find it only makes things worse. 

People can show stress in different ways and it's important to know how stress manifests itself in you specifically.  For me I've realized that stress makes itself evident to me through:

  • headaches / migraines

  • stomach aches

  • feeling tired when nothing has changed in my schedule

  • I get short with people (I may not verbally express it, but mentally it's not good)

  • Small requests begin to feel like a burden

  • I have trouble focusing

  • My hunger and satiety cues get way off. For me I typically lose my hunger cues.

Days or weeks that I'm really stressed or anxious, my most helpful stress-management practices are:

  • carving out alone time - to read, to write, to process

  • carving out time to create - to brainstorm recipes, articles, and get-togethers with friends

  • calling a family member or friend who I know will listen and who can make me laugh

  • cooking and eating home-cooked meals

  • inviting close friends over for dinner

  • going on a walk or jog

  • reading my Bible and journaling

  • going to bed on time

  • and sometimes only dark chocolate will do the trick :)

Do you know when you're stressed?  What are your signs and symptoms?  Do you know that your stressed but at the same time you're working on major weight loss, diet, or lifestyle changes?  If you are, or even if you are not,  I encourage you to take a little time this month to take note of your emotions and any actions you find yourself habitually taking in response to those emotions.  Are those actions nurturing and life giving?  Are those actions something that can help reduce your stress and stress response long-term?  Or are they short-term fixes that can be harmful to your long-term health?  

Try making a self-care checklist for stressful times and stick to if for a month or so.  Feel the difference and feel confident in your coping before setting bigger weight-loss, fitness, or wellness goals.

And as always, share in the comments if you have practices that work for you!  We all learn best from each other.

Take Care!