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November Blues

November 19, 2010

November Blues – Living with Anxiety or Depression in Winter

With the reduced daylight hours and the sun setting by mid-
afternoon, November can be a mellow month.

It’s tempting to want to warm ourselves up and boost our spirits by reaching for traditional comfort foods.  Unfortunately these tend to be stodgy, high-fat foods that do little for boosting our mood and actually make us feel worse in the long run.  If this sounds familiar and you suffer from the winter blues or Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), it’s all the more important to eat well to ensure that you’re getting enough mood-boosting nutrients.  Try following our top mood food tips to keep you feel merry in the run-up to Christmas:

  1. Aim to include oily fish, such as salmon, sardines and mackerel into your diet two to three times per week, and have a handful of seeds or nuts (walnuts and hemp seeds are ideal) per day.  These foods are rich in omega 3 fats which help build receptor sites for ‘the happy hormone’, serotonin.
  2. Include foods that are rich in the amino acid tryptophan in the diet, such as fish, chicken, turkey, oats, eggs, cheese and beans.  This is because tryptophan is needed to produce serotonin.
  3. Eat complex carbohydrates such as oats, brown rice, rye bread, pulses and vegetables.  These help to stabilise blood sugar level fluctuations which can cause mood swings and depression.  They are also rich in brain boosting nutrients such as B vitamins, zinc and magnesium.
  4. Always start the day with a good breakfast.  Ideal options include eggs on rye toast, sugar-free muesli with seeds and berries, porridge or sourdough toast with nut butter.
  5. Eat three meals a day and a mid-morning and mid-afternoon snack.  Eating little and often helps prevent large dips in blood sugar levels and can leave you feeling low.  Ideal snacks included a Satsuma with a palm of walnuts, a handful of cranberries and almonds and vegetable crudités with bean dip.
  6. Aim to eat some protein with every meal, such as eggs, fish, chicken, pulses, nuts, seeds and red meat but in moderation.  Protein is vital for good brain health and for maintaining blood sugar levels.
  7. Avoid artificial stimulants including sugar, refined carbohydrates and caffeine as these play havoc with blood sugar levels and lead to low mood.  This includes white bread, pasta, cakes, many breakfast cereals, chocolate, coffee, alcohol and fizzy drinks.  Diets based on refined foods can reduce your levels of nutrients such as zinc, magnesium and the B vitamins which are vital for good brain health.
  8. Avoid food additives, such as artificial sweeteners, preservatives, flavourings and eat organic food where possible.  Artificial additives and heavy metals can act as brain toxins and affect brain health.
  9. Food intolerances can play a part in depression and therefore it may be worth seeking advice from a nutritional therapist to identify the culprit foods.
  10. Get outside in the natural daylight as much as possible, aiming to spend at least 30 minutes outside daily.  It may is also worth investing in some ‘full spectrum’ lighting.  These light bulbs have the same quality of light as the sun and have been shown to be helpful in overcoming SAD.

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Sleep More – Lose Weight

November 17, 2010

In case you’ve picked up The Metro last Monday, you might have read it, in black on white, on a Monday morning: Britain is the fattest nation in Europe. Not the kind of motivation you want or need on a rainy Monday morning, when you are slightly depressed anyway (X Factor, rugby, winter blues). Next time, why not stay in bed and catch up on your sleep? It’s an absolutely essential nutrient for our well being, and it’s important for this nation to slim down.

If you think about it, our ancestors slept an average of nine to ten hours per night. What a luxury, some of you think. But to others, a huge waste of invaluable time you could spend catching up on your favourite TV show, reading emails or checking out your 300+ online friends.

Nowadays you are probably happy when get six hours of sleep (followed by two skinny lattes to wake you up). The problem is that sleep deprivation causes imbalances in your hormones, which cause you to crave more (junk) food to get through the day. And that causes you to pile on the pounds. Thinking about this, our ancestors didn’t seem to have the same issues with rising obesity or type 2 diabetes, either.

There are two hormones mainly involved in regulating your food intake: ghrelin and leptin, and they influence eating in different ways. Ghrelin is an appetite-stimulating hormone released mostly by the stomach, whereas leptin is a satiety or fullness hormone, released by your fat cells. When ghrelin levels are up, you feel hungry. When leptin levels are high, that sends a message to the brain that the body has enough food, and the person feels full. Low levels indicate starvation and increase appetite.

Research studies indicate that sleep-deprived people produce higher levels of ghrelin, which have been shown to ‘reduce energy expenditure, stimulate hunger and food intake, and promote retention of fat.’ Meaning: too little sleep can make you fat!

If you have trouble getting to sleep and can’t switch off, there are a range of vitamins, minerals and herbs to support your nervous system and a good night’s sleep, such as B vitamins, calcium, magnesium and valerian. Switching off electrical stimulants at least an hour before you go to bed will help you to calm down as well.

Now that you know the influence of your sleeping pattern on your eating schedule, I challenge you to increase your sleep and try to get at least 7.5 hours undisturbed sleep per night.

Sweet dreams!


Satisfying mind hunger

November 14, 2010

Mind hunger is based upon thoughts and is influenced by information we take in from our senses – particularly our eyes and ears.  Typical mind hunger thoughts include:

‘I should eat more protein’

‘I deserve some chocolate today’

‘I should drink 1.5 litres of water a day’

Mind hunger is often based upon absolutes and opposites i.e. good food versus bad food and what you should eat versus what you should not eat.  However, becoming caught up in extremes can become a dangerous pattern, as you end up clinging on to certain foods and hating others.  It is of course very true that some foods are more nutritious that other foods, but what really matters most is the quantity and frequency that certain foods are eaten.  Blueberries, for example, are a nutrient dense fruit but if you were to eat tonnes of them every day for breakfast, lunch and dinner, you would set yourself up deficiencies in the nutrients that not found in blueberries and your body would soon be longing for more variety.  Similarly, chocolate eaten daily in large amounts isn’t nutritionally advisable, but a small amount of chocolate on occasions is certainly fine, and not something that needs to be avoided for life in order to achieve good health.  It is therefore often the middle way that emerges as the more sensible way to eat. 

Many people have learned to choose food by numbers, such as by how many calories, carbs, protein, fats, RDAs or the price of food, rather than relying on their sense of taste and smell.  When taken to the extreme, this sets the scene for a society of anxious eaters.  When the mind is fretting about what you ‘should eat’ and ‘should not eat’ your enjoyment of what is actually being eaten evaporates.   There are a number of great studies showing the power the mind has over our eating habits, and how easily people can be convinced to like or dislike certain foods based upon false information. 

The ideal to eating the ‘middle way’ is to eat a nutritious diet, but to be mindful of your individual needs and to have a relaxed attitude towards food.  For example, whilst most people might do best with 1.5 litres of water per day, if you go to the gym and sauna every day then your requirements will be higher.  Similarly your needs might vary in the winter and summer months.  Likewise, your mind might say ‘It’s 7pm, I need to have dinner’, but if your body isn’t hunger then why not wait until 8pm or later when it is hungry for dinner?  

As with the other types of hunger already discussed in this blog, in order to reduce mind hunger and re-engaged in real body  you first need to become  aware of what your mind is tell you about your food.  Before you eat, pause and look at your food and hear what your mind is saying about the foods.  If you are hungry for the food, identify where in your body the hunger lies. 

The difficulty with the mind is that it’s constantly changing.  For example, one day it might decide that you need to diet, and the next day it convinces you that you need some chocolate cake. The mind also contains the inner critic, so can often end up criticising you no matter what you eat or drink.  The mind is only truly content when it is quiet, when the many voices around eating are still and you can become fully present as you eat.  When you are filled with awareness, you become filled with satisfaction.  So take time to be still before and after eating to taste you food and how it makes you feel, rather that how you think it should make you feel.

Mind hunger affects everyone, but can be a particular problem in cases of binge eating and other disordered eating patterns.  If you have a question about disordered eating then please do give us a call to see if we can help you, or to book a consultation at one of our London nutrition clinics.


Winter Blues anyone?

November 9, 2010

Seriously. How depressing is this? You’re sitting in the office while it’s pitch black outside, realising you still have to work three more hours, when all you want to do is cuddle up on your couch with a duvet and a big bowl of comfort food (usually found in forms of simple carbohydrates).
Know that feeling? Congratulations. You’re likely to suffer from the winter blues.

Research suggests that 10% of the population of Northern Europe suffers from some mild symptoms of seasonal affective disorder (SAD), also referred to as winter or seasonal depression. I wouldn’t be surprised if most of these 10% are living in London.

SAD is widely identified as being linked to a lack of exposure to sufficient sunlight during the winter months, causing feelings of low energy, fatigue, cravings for junk food (and weight gain), and feeling of cold and sleeping disorders. Can’t stop pressing the snooze button in the morning? That’s sad or SAD!

But what’s going on in your body with the lack of sunlight?

The lack of bright light causes hormonal changes within your body associated with the disorder. With less sunlight, the brain does not produce enough serotonin, the soothing neurotransmitter in the brain – often referred to as the ‘happy hormone’ as it greatly influences an overall sense of well-being. Serotonin helps to keep our mood under control by helping with sleep, calming anxiety and relieving depression.

On the other hand, there’s melatonin, the hormone responsible for regulating our sleep/wake cycle. Normally melatonin levels begin to rise mid-to-late evening, remaining high for the night and dropping in the morning. Light affects how much melatonin our body produces, and with less light, our bodies are likely to produce more melatonin, causing drowsiness. Melatonin is also responsible for regulating female hormones; this explains why SAD is also recognised to affect women more frequently than men. Melatonin is also linked to a drop in one’s body temperature in the winter months, and this may then result in lowered energy levels and contribute to the feelings of winter blues. Furthermore, research studies have linked high levels of the hormone to an increased craving for food containing carbohydrates, which explains our love for comfort food in the winter months.

To avoid the winter blues, the junk food cravings AND the muffin top, it is important that you follow a mood-boosting diet and keep eating regular meals following the circadian rhythm. The main two food groups that stimulate serotonin production are protein and carbohydrates (complex not-simple carbs). Protein helps you to stabilize your blood sugar levels and provides you with the essential amino acid tryptophan, which is used by the brain to make serotonin. Carbohydrates help tryptophan pass into the blood stream so that it can actually reach the brain. A balance of complex carbohydrates and lean protein at each meal, therefore, is best to avoid the symptoms of SAD. Boost your tryptophan levels by eating turkey, chicken, red meat (once a week), fish, oats, brown rice and nuts.

You may also consider light therapy treatment to help keep your circadian rhythm on track. There are some great light boxes and body clock dawn simulators that wake you with a sunrise, naturally re-setting your sleep/wake cycle, to help you feel refreshed, alert and energised all day, reducing the production of melatonin.

Now you just need to cancel your snooze alarm for the morning! And if that still doesn’t work, give us a ring, we can help you enjoy the winter!


Satisfying cellular hunger

November 7, 2010

Having a healthy relationship with food and eating mindfully, means being able to turn our awareness inwards to listen to what our body is telling us it needs.  Listening to our instinctive needs is the basis of tuning into cellular hunger.

As babies, we have an instinctive awareness about what we need to eat, but as we grow older this inner connection gets lost as we are bombarded with advice on what food to have and when to have it.  Let’s take salt as an example.  Most of us have lost our ability to know whether our body has too much or too little salt.  For example, people are prone to heat stoke if they spend a long time in the heat and sweat excessively, due to the loss of mineral salts, whilst others suffer with high blood pressure due to excessive salt consumption.  Our dietary habits tend to reflect what we think we should eat, based on what we’ve been advised, rather than listening to our unique individual needs.

You may notice seasonal aspects to cellular hunger.  In the winter, for example, as the temperature drops your body is likely to call for more food to keep you warm, whereas in the summer you’re likely to want less food.  This is natural, as we need more calories to keep the inner furnace going in the winter and shivering burns extra calories. 

Through mindfulness we can become more sensitive to cellular hunger and learn to separate what the body actually needs from what our mind is demanding.  If we listen carefully enough we can step in the right direction of being able to do what animals do – that is to taste a food and know it is what we need.  In this way we would eat a banana when our cells called for more potassium, sea vegetables when we needed more iodine or peppers if we needed more vitamin C.

The essential elements that satisfy cellular hunger are water, salt, protein, fat, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals.  Being deficient is any one of these will therefore result in cell hunger.  Normally we aren’t very good at identifying which one our body needs, but when we are ill and our attention is focused in on ourselves we often get a clearer message about what we need to eat. 

To satisfy cellular hunger we therefore need to get in tune with our body and to ask it what it needs.  Take time to stop and pause both before and during a meal to gauge what it is that your system wants.  What is it hungry for? Solid or liquid? Vegetables?  Root or leafy? Citrus? Salty?  Taking time to focus your awareness on your body will allow you to tune in and give it what it needs, rather than what you planned to feed it when you drew up your meal plan last weekend.

Cellular hunger affects everyone, but can be a particular problem in cases of binge eating and other disordered eating patterns.  If you have a question about disordered eating then please do give us a call to see if we can help you, or to book a consultation at one of our London nutrition clinics.


IBS case history

November 5, 2010

Sarah came to see me last April complaining of constipation, stomach pains and tiredness.

The first thing we did was improve her diet – she had got into the habit of grabbing a muffin and a coffee on the way into work, and sometimes not eating again until 4.00pm!  I get her to eat breakfast!  I do this a lot with patients and in over 10 years of practice – I think I have seen just a handful of patients having a really proper start to the day.

She told me a bit about her life – she had recently been made redundant but had found another job quickly but had gone through a period of real worry and stress – she was trying to compensate in her new job by being extra diligent and putting in loads of extra hours of hard work.

I got her to do 2 biochemical tests – An adrenal stress index (which tells us how her stress hormones are affecting her gut) and a gut test to see what the function of her gut was like.

When she came back after a month – her IBS (irritable bowel) was a lot better but still giving her problems – but as we had her test results back I was really expecting to find what the problems was from them.  We found that the gut test showed that she had a very common parasite called Blastocystis hominis, and a bacterial infection called Klebsiella, very low gut immunity and an inherent problem with gluten.  Her friendly bacteria were also very low. Her adrenal profile showed that her stress hormones were very low (exhausted) and she was unable to cope with the amount of stress in her life.

The test we use showed that gluten was a problem and so before dealing with the parasite or bacterial infections – I got her to slowly change her diet.  I gave her a course of probiotics too.  Then we dealt with the infections with herbal intervention.  We only have about a 60% chance of getting rid of the Blasto but luckily she responded well to the herbs and when we retested it showed that this tricky customer had gone.

More importantly Sarah is feeling a lot better – no pain and better energy.  As the Blasto can cause constipation, getting rid of it has made her whole digestion function better.

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