7 Ways to Defeat Stress with Good Eating Habits

When we're busy, there isn't time to think about lunch or eating well. Busy people habitually skip meals, or eat on the run to save a few minutes. Fact of life, right? What you may not know is, a few minutes saved can cost you in terms of mental sharpness. Also, when we have too much on the mind, we tend to make hasty and poor nutritional decisions. If you want to perform at a consistently high level, read on.

Food is something we cannot neglect, especially when the mind is working hard. It is important to maintain peak performance when you're in an all day meeting, or have to make an important presentation. The following outlines seven ways to reverse stress with good nutrition.

1. Drop foods that are made with white flour and sugar. Delete pastries, white breads and pastas from your meals; forget white potatoes and even white rice. Replace these with whole grains and colourful vegetables! The more colours, the better. Why? It's not just the visual attraction, but that brain-smart nutrients are abundant in leafy greens, red tomatoes, orange yams, purple eggplants, yellow peppers and the lot. When we feel on top of things, it's easier to stay calm and serene.

2. Do not skip breakfast. You've heard that one before but the habit of rushing around with a latte in hand is too hard to break. Instant oatmeal or a boiled egg is easy to make and is a great source of protein. Wash that down with your favorite fresh juice, and you're much better prepared for that conference.

3. Ditch the coffee. Caffeine is one of the most consumed substance in the world today, but it's something that our body has absolutely no use for. "Moderate caffeine consumption makes a person react like he/she is having a very stressful day. If you combine the effects of real stress with the artificial boost in stress hormones that comes from caffeine, then you have compounded the effects considerably," says James Lane, professor at Duke University Medical Center. Consider having green tea instead. It'll give you a good boost for short-term benefit and anti-oxidants for long-term maintenance.

Since habits only take 21 days to change, you can initiate the change while on holidays, for example.

At this point, imagine this is your lunch hour. Here's a bonus tip: ALWAYS eat the protein portion of your lunch first. Research shows that if you have at least 100 grams of protein before you let the carbs hit your stomach, you can effectively avoid the 2 o'clock blahs and stay alert for the afternoon.

4. However, if you've had a bit too much pasta at lunch for lack of options, cold sparkling water can give an instant, refreshing jolt. Any mineral water or carbonated juice will also bring you back to the boardroom without the side-effects of caffeine. Again, when you feel on top of things, stress is less likely to result.

5. Hydrate your body in general. Stress can cause dehydration, and dehydration can cause stress. When we are stressed or busy, we may not notice our thirst readily. Most doctors agree that when we get the thirst signal, we are already dehydrated.

“Studies have shown that being just half a litre dehydrated can increase your cortisol levels,” says Amanda Carlson, RD, director of performance nutrition at Athletes’ Performance, a trainer of world-class athletes. “Cortisol is one of those stress hormones. Staying in a good hydrated status can keep your stress levels down. When you don’t give your body the fluids it needs, you’re putting stress on it.....”

6. Don't underestimate snacks - they play a role in fighting stress as well. Even though snacks are just little bits of food we consume to tide us over, junky snacks displaces the useful snacks AND burden us with fatty substances which the body has to get rid of.

7. Eat mindfully. The best meal can fail to nourish you if it's eaten in an anxious mindset. World renowned Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh says, "...peace is already here, it is within you, in front of you, you only need to be in touch with it." Having a meal mindfully means your body is welcoming the food that you ingest. Take a moment to quiet down, if possible, before sitting down to a meal. If you would like to explore mindful eating, have a look at the book "Savor" which Thich Nhat Hanh co-wrote with Harvard nutritionist Dr. Lilian Cheung.


Evelyn Chau is a Mental Training and Motivation Coach. Her clients include high-performance athletes as well as fitness-minded people from all walks of life. She has helped clients get into the "zone" consistently and enable them to replicate their winning strokes. This is especially appealing to golfers who all understand the importance of mental training.

She loves the high of sharing victories with clients who are extremely motivated individuals, be they swimmers, ...

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