stress management

Let’s Show Our Hearts Some Love


Hello friends! Welcome to February, also known as American Heart Month. This month in my wellness world we are talking about and focusing on heart health and I so I thought I would share a bit about it here with you in case this is something you’re focused on or interested in as well.

Not that we don’t already know it by now, but it’s so important to take care of our heart. Did you know that heart disease is the number one killer of women? Or that 1 in 3 Americans has high blood pressure? Or that having high blood pressure increases our risk of stroke and heart attacks or heart disease? OR, that most people who have hypertension or pre-hypertension don’t even know that they have it?!? And we might think, “Oh well, my blood pressure is fine. This doesn’t concern me”. BUT, things like high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes and smoking can increase our risks of hypertension. SO, if you have or do any of these things, then, my friend, this DOES apply to you! Unfortunately there are some things we can’t control, those things that are part of our genetics and family history. On a positive note, however, there are a myriad of things that we can control and that’s what I’ll be talking about today. There are so many things we can do to take care of ourselves but this month I’m focusing on the heart. So let’s try to show our hearts some love this month!

I know that many people focus on food and nutrition as a means to looking “good”. While, yes, that can be a benefit, for me good food and nutrition is about caring for our bodies and giving it what it needs to feel good, stay well, prevent injury, perform at it’s best, etc. The great thing is that by making taking caring of our bodies and listening to what it needs or doesn’t need the focus of and reason behind our food choices, we often see aesthetic improvements as well. I try to focus on listening to and caring for my body first and I try to help those I work with in my wellness space get to a point where they can make that a focus as well. The fun thing for me is that, when they do get there, when they start to focus on nutrition and fitness as a means to caring for their body instead of solely looking a certain way or being a certain number on the scale, then they begin to see at least a small fraction of the results they had wanted in the first place, and they feel better in the process! I love to see the joy on their faces and hear the excitement in their voices when they come back and talk to me.

Now, as I said initially, this month, American Heart Month, in my wellness world we are focusing on heart health. We are looking at what we can do in three specific areas of our lives- nutrition, physical activity, and stress management- to promote a healthy heart. I’ve challenged everyone to pick one thing they can do in each category and write down specifically what that thing or action is, when and how many times a week they will do it, being as specific as possible. My hope is that by the end of this month we will see or feel some positive differences. Below I’ll list some ideas of actions in each category. And I’ll share mine as well, because, of course, I’m participating along with everyone else! What are you doing to take care of your heart!? Comment to share with others or send me a message. I would love to know!

Take Care!




  • Pack your own lunch for work.

  • Cook some meals at home (you control the ingredients)

  • Don’t add salt to food at the table (remember, those at risk for Hypertension want to limit sodium intake to < 1500 mg / day!)

  • Increase the potassium you eat (not just in bananas. Think cantaloupe, avocados, grapefruit, oranges, baked potatoes, canned white beans, swiss chard, lima beans, acorn squash, cooked spinach, dried apricots, and cooked kidney beans, navy beans and lentils.

  • Increase your intake of calcium & magnesium. Think low-fat dairy, almonds, chia seeds, bok choy and collard greens, broccoli, almond butter, peanut butter, other nuts and seeds and throw a little dark chocolate in there :)

  • Increase your fiber with more fruits, veggies and whole grains.

  • Limit saturated and trans fats as much as possible.

  • Include the healthy omega-3 fats from foods like salmon, tuna, and flaxseed.

  • Reduce added sugars.


  • choose a type of exercise you love

  • take stretch breaks at work

  • take the stairs vs. the elevator

  • park further away

  • If you have a fitness center at work, utilize it!

  • Walk during your lunch break or just take a five-minute walking break in the afternoon.

  • Play outside with your kids, nieces, nephews, grandkids, etc.


  • read a book for fun

  • go on walks

  • try a yoga or pilates class

  • listen to soothing or inspiring music

  • chat with a good friend

  • do something that makes you laugh

  • meditate for a moment

  • For more stress-managing tips, see my previous posts from this stress management program we did back in the fall! (nutrition, exercise, meditation, social networks)


  1. Nutrition: Include at least 1 cup of vegetables at lunch each day of the work-week.

  2. Activity: Complete at least 2 fitness classes a week (I am LOVING The Barre Code!)

  3. Stress: Go on 1 walk a week + take 15 minutes 3 days a week to read my Bible.

A favorite heart healthy recipe in our house? This  Chili Lime Shrimp, Mango and Avocado Salad . So good!

A favorite heart healthy recipe in our house? This Chili Lime Shrimp, Mango and Avocado Salad. So good!


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Hi friends! We have finally made it to week 6 of this stress management program. This week is really short and simple. I basically want to call our attention to the importance of a social support system, whether that is with friends, family, you and your spouse, or at work. This may be obvious, but I have to admit that I probably tend to overlook it at times. I love being around my friends and family but, maybe it’s the only child in me, I can also often be totally content on my own (any other only children out there who can relate??). However, I know that I always feel better when I get out and about with friends and when I surround myself with a group of people (big or small, family or friends) that I care about, that encourage me, that inspire me and that I can be 100% myself around. Putting together this program and reading up on the information for this week really made it all a little clearer. We need people!


  1. Social support provides emotional support which is instrumental in managing stress.

  2. People with emotional support reported lower stress levels, less depression and sadness and more lifestyle changes compared to individuals without emotional support.

  3. Benefits of having a strong network of social support include both psychological and physiological benefits, such as improved ability to cope with stressful situations and lowered cardiovascular risk.

And, here’s a quick little read from the Mayo Clinic on the ability of relationships to help us manage stress.


And this wraps up our six week program. I have a couple of questions for you guys and would REALLY LOVE to hear your thoughts in the comments below to any or all of them!

  1. What is something interesting you learned during this six weeks?

  2. Did you pick up any new healthy / stress-fighting habits during this six weeks? If so, what is one that you think will be the most sustainable?

  3. Have you noticed any positive changes in your health since starting to follow along this program?

  4. What is one thing you appreciated the most about this program?

  5. What is something you still have questions about??

Thank you for following along with me these 6 weeks. I’ve loved walking through this program with you and I hope you found some peace and joy in it as well!

Oh, and even though the program is over, I’m absolutely still trying to carry out some of the practices I started during the program. For me, specifically, this includes getting in a long walk once or twice a week and taking two to ten minutes each day to write in my Fitbook Goal Getter journal that I wrote about last week. (I love this book and this is absolutely not sponsored. I just really think it’s perfect for this program!).

Take Care!



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I hope you guys are learning a few new pieces of info or picking up a few new practices from this six-week program! I have been following along and working on my own habits and can say it has been nice to dedicate some time, even if it’s only like 5 minutes on one day of the week, to this topic.

I also hope that you are continuing to include at least one practice you picked up around nutrition and exercise from the past two weeks as we enter into this new week. For me, the 2 practices I have picked up on include: (1) making one or two long walks a part of my week and (2) stopping to assess what’s going on around me when my hunger & satiety gets off.

As we enter into Week Five of our Stress Challenge we are focusing on meditation and mindfulness. Today I want to touch on what it is, how it can help us, and some tools and resources that can help us become more mindful and start taking moments to decompress.

However, before I dive in, I just want to give a shoutout to one of the Nutrition Practice Groups that I’m a part of, the Nutrition Entrepreneurs group. One of their last newsletters was about stress. Their corporate wellness section that is always written by fellow wellness dietitian, Caroline Susie, was all about stress in the workplace, how we can help better manage stress in this space and it gave some resources for wellness dietitians and professionals. I got a lot of great ideas from this section and so I had to give both Caroline and NE a shoutout. Thank you for always providing such informative and useful content! If you are an RD in wellness or any type of business I highly recommend being a part of this group!

Anyway, back to this weeks challenge! Managing stress with meditation….

“Meditation trains the brain to achieve sustained focus, and to return to the focus when negative thinking, emotions, and physical sensations intrude - which happens a lot when you feel stressed and anxious”

- Dr. John W. Denninger,

(director of research at the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital)


  • Focusing your attention and thoughts to promote calmness, focus and well-being



    • Decreased arousal of the sympathetic nervous system

    • Reduction in cortisol levels


    • Enhanced coping mechanisms

    • Better emotional regulation - process that influences which emotions you have, when you have them and how they are experiences & expressed

    • Better psychological flexibility - makes you better able to balance and shift your attention to all that is happening in and around you


  • Focused attention

  • Relaxed breathing

  • Quiet setting

  • Comfortable position

  • Open attitude



    • new perspective on stressful situations

    • stress management skills

    • self - awareness

    • self - acceptance

    • ability to focus on the present

    • sustained attention

    • attentional switching

    • selective attention


    • improved immune responses

    • reduced blood pressure

    • improvement in chronic pain


  • Repeat a mantra

  • Sitting meditation

  • Walk and meditate

  • Engage in prayer

  • Read / listen and reflect

  • Focus love and gratitude

  • Scan you body

  • Guided meditation

  • Mantra mediation

  • Mindfulness meditation

  • Qi Gong

  • Tai Chi

  • Yoga

  • Breathe deeply

A Book I am loving that teaches all about the principles of mindfulness & meditation for stress reduction…

The Mayo Clinic Guide to Stress-Free Living by Dr. Amit Sood


Lot’s of references on this one. Please email me if you would like the list!

Take Care!



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We are officially into Week 4 of our stress & mindfulness challenge. I hope you are continuing to make new discoveries, that you feel encouraged and inspired and that you are finding new practices that you can implement to feel better and and cope with life’s stressful events each day.

Were you able to implement any changes in your regular food and nutrition routine this past week? What new practices, related to nutrition, were you able to substitute for less-healthy food-related coping habits? My hope is that you found at least one thing that you enjoy that you can make a part of your lifestyle moving forward.

Before I dive into this week’s focus I want to remind everyone that we can’t simply stop or “get rid of'" our less healthy habits. We have to replace them with a new habit and this new habit needs to meet THREE main criteria:

  1. It is something we enjoy & look forward to.

  2. It is something that gives us a similar feedback to the less healthy habit we are replacing.

  3. It needs to fit into our schedule.

Remember that as you continue to implement any food and nutrition changes these next few weeks.

And this brings us to today’s focus of managing stress with EXERCISE. This criteria above absolutely applies to our exercise as well!


We all know that exercise is important to our health and well being. What I have found interesting in a handful of studies that I recently came across is the type of exercise that has been found to be more beneficial for stress management in some individuals. I’m currently doing research on the most effective type of exercise for weight loss; however, I’m noting that my findings there are not quite the same as my findings for stress management.

Everyone is different, so, of course, stick with the exercise(s) that work best for you, but I’m going to share with you a few studies that support low to moderate intensity exercise as effective tools for managing stress. This may be a reason to consider adding some yoga, walking and other low-intensity exercise into your typical cardio routine. Or, if you’re not an exerciser at all, this may be a good reason to start slow and steady vs jumping in to running or intense cardio classes. I know I will certainly be giving it a try!

Please note, this is independent of cardiovascular outcomes, fitness outcomes, etc. I am only referring to stress in this post.


Exercise reduces depression & inflammation but intensity matters

(from the Biological Psychology Journal, 2014)

  • Study looked at moderate continuous training (MCT) & high intensity interval training (HIIT)

  • MCT decreased symptoms of depression and decreased perceived stress

  • HIIT decreased symptoms of depression but increased perceived stress

  • Concluded in this study that moderate - intensity exercise is optimal when looking at mental health


a 12-month exercise intervention decreased stress symptoms & increased mental resources among working adults - results perceived after a 12-month follow-up

(International Journal of Occupational Medicine & Environmental Health, 2008)

  • Study looked at stress symptoms (SS) and mental resources (MR). Mental Resources are the tools that we use to cope

  • Heart rate at moderate level (60 - 80% max heart rate) in 3 to 5 exercise sessions per week. Sessions consisted of walking, biking and skiing

  • During the intervention: SS decreased 16%, MR increased 8%

  • Those with highest SS at baseline had the biggest SS decrease (26%)

  • At 12-month follow-up: SS still decreased 13%, MR still increased 5%

  • The control group (had no supervised exercise program), had no significant changes


exercise and circulating cortisol levels: the intensity threshold effect

(Journal of Endocrinology Investigation, 2008)

  • Study looked at the percent change in cortisol circulation from pre and post workouts at varying intensities

    • Resting control: -6.6%

    • Low intensity (40% VO2 max): 5.7%

    • Moderate intensity (60% VO2 max): 39.9%

    • High intensity (80% VO2 max): 83.1%

  • Moderate to high intensity exercise will significantly increase amount of cortisol circulating in the body

  • Low intensity does not significantly increase cortisol and actually results in a reduction in cortisol circulation after taking into account plasma volume reduction & circadian factors.


(with the help of my fabulous intern who researched & tested all of these!)

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Happy Fueling & Take Care!



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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!


A Six-Week Stress Management Program: Let's Go!


Hi!  If you’re reading this post then I’m guessing you’re interested in taking a more focused look at this idea of “stress management”.  If you follow along with me over these next six weeks, you will be taking some time to identify your stressors, figure out what your coping patterns are and start replacing any negative patterns with healthier ones.  As we go I’ll also be sharing science based information to help you understand the science behind stress and how it affects things like sleep, appetite and health goals AND give you any tools I (and my intern) have found to help out!

I know this is a little different from my usual recipe and sports nutrition posts, but I think this topic and practice is SO IMPORTANT no matter who you are or what you are trying to accomplish (I’ve done lots of research because this topic fascinates me!).  In my last seven years in Wellness not only have I read and researched the role stress plays in our health, but I have also seen the toll that stress can have on ones food choices, weight, drive to exercise, and overall health and well being.   I think it’s so important that I have started a program at the organization where I work.  Because I feel it’s so important, I also wanted to give you guys some of the science-based information and resources that I will be sharing.  

I don’t think everyone realizes what stress can really do to us.  It affects our cardiovascular health, our ability to maintain or build lean muscle, our ability to lose or maintain weight, our overall mood and so much more.  Therefore, this topic applies to athletes, young and older alike, exercise enthusiasts, moms, dads, aunts, uncles and those working away in the corporate world.

I’m going to give you one mini challenge each week but I’ll also be sharing my information, tools and resources with you to help out.  And, I’ll be doing it along with you!  So stay tuned in to my Instagram and Blog!  

SO, What Are the Details?

WHAT: A six-week challenge devoted to being mindful of your stressors, examining how you cope and building healthier coping habits to keep you on track with your health and fitness goals.

WHEN: I’ll be sharing a new post with new info and a new mini challenge each week. And I’ll point you to some resources that may be helpful!

WHY: To learn a bit about stress and how it affects our health AND to start building healthier stress coping habits

WHO: Anyone who is motivated and ready to make a few lifestyle changes. It’s up to you to make the changes. I’m just here to give you guidance, a structured program, and some resources along the way.

Happy fueling & 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!