Dealing with Chronic Stress

I am going to assume that most of us cannot change the major circumstances contributing to our stress levels, at least right away. Pressures from jobs, finances, family, etc will never obliterate completely. That said, 45% of our happiness is controlled by our own reaction to stress, and only 10% of our happiness is actually a direct result of tangible circumstances. Luckily, good nutrition can actually lighten the load.

The neurotransmitters responsible for making us feel good are depleted and resistant over time if overstimulated. Creating this affect are things like high glycemic carbohydrates, protein deficiency, heavy metal toxicity, low B vitamins, low omega 3 fatty acids, low estrogen, and stimulant use. The point? Eating right during times of heavy stress can set you up for resiliency, while giving yourself a free pass on sweets can create a biological downward spiral. Sound familiar?

For me, this is all the explanation I need to stay on track and away from self-sabotage. Of course, there are other great coping mechanisms–I thought I’d start with diet as a very important first step.

How Chronic Stress Affects the Body: A Reminder

I would love to say that I am writing this from my yoga mat while deep breathing and inhaling lavender, but, really, this list is to convince all readers AND myself that, indeed, stress is a serious health disruptor.

 

1. The Gut. Everything from secretions, motility, permeability, sensitivity, blood flow, and healthy flora is affected in the gut when we stress. It goes way beyond “butterflies in the stomach,” in other words. 

 

2. Performance. Things like memory function are hugely affected by stress, as well as concentration and focus, but, what’s worse is the actual damage that brain cells incur from it.

 

3. Immunity. I hate being sick and I’m pretty sure I’m not alone on that one, but stress can both weaken the immune system and overstimulate your immune response, resulting in inflammation which is the cause of most modern-day disease and overall sub par health levels.

 

4. Fat deposition. What a bummer. If it isn’t enough that we are freaking out about life already, our body rebels even further by putting fat right where we’d like it the least: around the midsection.

 

5. Addiction. We tend to become stress junkies once the whole process begins. The way in which we respond to stress–eating processed foods, staying late at work, exercising too little (or too much), caffeine-binging, or drinking–creates even more problems and perpetuates the cycle.

 

The take-home point? Stress is serious. We live in a world where, sadly, stress is brushed aside and even revered in the guise of being busy or having a good work ethic. All of us, myself included, need to find ways to cope a little bit better.

Chile Feta Turkey Burgers

Chile Feta Turkey Burgers

  • Turkey burger1.25 lb ground turkey
  • 1 egg
  • ¼ cup coconut flour*
  • 1 tsp chili powder
  • 2 tsp cumin
  • ¼ tsp black pepper
  • 1 tsp onion powder
  • ¼ tsp garlic powder
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • ½ cup roasted green chiles (canned or fresh), minced and drained
  • ½ cup feta cheese, crumbled

First, in a large bowl, combine the turkey, egg, and coconut flour, and mix by hand.

In a separate bowl, mix the chili powder, cumin, pepper, onion powder, garlic powder, and salt. Blend these spices with a fork, then add them to the turkey combination. Add the green chiles, add the feta crumbles, and mix this all together until well incorporated, but not over-mixed.

Take baseball-sized portions, form into 1” thick discs, and be sure to make the center thinner than the edges, as the burgers will puff while cooking.

Place on an oiled grill, or under a broiler, for 4-5 minutes each side. Makes 6 4” burgers.

*Most turkey burgers use breadcrumbs as a binder. I’ve discovered that coconut flour is an awesome alternative, and it caters to the growing number of gluten-free eaters!

How to go Primal/Paleo: Do’s and Don’ts

When I first started eating like a caveman, about a year ago, I crashed and burned in many ways. It tore up my digestive system, my body was way too acidic, I was never hungry yet never satisfied, I had a lack of energy, etc. I eventually gave up and went back to my vegan ways, but I definitely knew that wasn’t the answer.

And then I went back. I started eating Primally again, but did it totally differently. It was as if something “clicked” into place, and my body functioned wonderfully. So, now, I share some of those big mistakes that lead to failure the first time around, along with some of those things done right.

1. Don’t Become a Chicken-a-vore.
One of the most difficult things to swallow when you’re eating pretty much meat-and-vegetables-only is the expense. I can deal with the extra cooking, but the extra-high grocery bill–no way. So, we tried to really concoct ways to save money on the Paleo diet, and, pound-for-pound, your best bet for meat is probably chicken. So, we would have chicken 5 nights a week. The problem? The Polyunsaturated Fatty acid (PUFA) count on chicken is way high; 3 times higher than even conventional beef. You want to limit those.

2. Don’t Go Nuts
When you’re Primal, and you don’t have time to make a meal, but you need something in your stomach, what do you reach for? Nuts! But a few morsels can turn into fists full of the things. The high phytic acid content of virtually all nuts makes then rough on our digestive tract, though. Watch your intake.

3. Don’t Be Dirty
There’s a subset of Primal/Paleo eaters that I would call “dirty.” They think that eating fast food burgers without the bun is perfectly fine. They complain about the expense of grassfed and go for conventional meats most of the time. But quality does make a huge difference. For us, it took a lot of work to figure out the most budget-friendly options. Its about research; you’ve got to invest some time into finding affordable food in your area. Just know that it IS possible. My husband and I are able to do Primal for less than what it cost for us to be vegan.

4. Don’t Become a Meat Freak
Just because it may be the most central and enjoyable part of our Paleo diet, meat can still wreak havoc. Its hard stuff to digest, and, I would make sure your quantities are not excessive. If you are still hungry, add greens, not more meat.

5. Do Green Up
This brings me to my next point, simply put: greens, greens, greens. I serve all my protein on a bed of greens. This means hefty doses of kale with my eggs in the a.m., a huge romaine-based salad for lunch, and broccoli with my meat for dinner. This cuts down on the high acid content of our Paleo food; things just move along better in the digestive tract, and you’ll feel more energy.

6. Do Enlist the help of digestive aids
Whether you are in support of it in the Primal diet or not, this doesn’t just apply to dairy; in general, its a good idea to look at what can be done to improve your digestion. Enzymes before a heavier meal can work wonders. A little diluted apple cider vinegar after a meal can be really soothing. I recommend that everyone, no matter their overall dietary choices, eat fermented foods at least once a day. Buy some probiotic capsules, find kimchi, make sauerkraut, down some kefir–whatever your preferred method–make it a habit.

7. Do Consider fish oil
Taking a high-quality fish oil adjusts your omega-3/6 ratio to be more optimal. This is essential for a healthy inflammation response, which affects everything from joints to skin. Even hormonal imbalances can be corrected by taking fish oil. You could eat a ton of fish, but, between the cost, the overfishing problem, and the mercury scares, you might want to give the supplement a try.

 

“No Goo” Part One: Deoderant

You may have caught wind of the “poo-free,” “poo-less,” or “no poo” movements. I first heard about it over on Pinterest, and dismissed it as a crunchy granola thing. There’s no way it would work–right? Baking soda and water as shampoo? Maybe for those who don’t mind greasy-tangly-gross locks in the name of being green.

But, recently, I’ve warmed up to the concept and decided that, instead of going “no poo,” I am going “no goo.”

The difference? C’mon, people, open up your bathroom cabinets and have a look. Bottle after bottle of goo (gels, creams, soaps, lotions, serums, etc), amounting to a small fortune. And I know from my day job (managing a natural living retail department) that even the “natural” stuff has really, really terrible ingredients. Thus began my “no goo” journey.

I started with deodorant. This was, to me, probably the most important product to conquer. The conventional stuff has aluminum, which has shown up in the bloodstream after applied to freshly shaven pits. The lymph nodes around that area of the body could easily accumulate toxic levels of the metal. Not good.

But, the “natural” stuff has simply never worked for me. Either I still would stink 5 hours later, or the texture was all wrong. In almost ten years of working in the natural health industry, I hadn’t found a winner.

So, I mixed up a concoction and lovingly named it:

“Underarm Charm” (because “Pit Paste” was already taken)

1/4 cup baking soda
1/4 cup arrowroot powder
4 Tablespoons unrefined coconut oil
12 drops essential oil (I mixed lavender and tea tree oil)
A small jar or tin

Stir together dry ingredients, then add the oils slowly, mixing it all with a fork.
This should yield a good, thick paste. Dump it into your desired container.

To apply, just rub a bit of this into your underarm skin, and, I swear, it has worked amazingly well. I am so, so happy with it.

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Make your own Bragg’s Apple Cider Vinegar Drink

I adore the tangy kick that apple cider vinegar gives to recipes (and its cure-all benefits), but we recently suffered a two-month shortage of the Bragg’s brand in stores, so the moment someone told me that the pre-made drinks were good, I went for it and bought a bottle. The person who recommended them had said they were great for settling the stomach. With all the healing qualities of apple cider vinegar, I didn’t doubt it.

The bottle itself goes on to boast the drink’s energy-boosting properties. After being horrified to hear the devastating effects of conventional energy drinks, I was eager to see one of the health food industry’s versions.

Needless to say, they are fantastic. They became my go-to drink when in need of a pick-me-up, and they indeed calmed down any tummy troubles. I bought one for a picky friend (whose first sip was over the sink for fear of uncontrollable urges to gag) and she actually loved it. She thought it was delicious, it killed her bloat, and, strangely enough, she said it seemed to lift her mood.

But, they are something like 2.99 each. So, I decided to make my own, which yielded surprisingly awesome results. Its ridiculously easy. And, if you’ve never done the super simple ginger “juicing” technique, have I got a time saver for you. Any time you need some of this warm spice in your food and drink, this will become a handy way to add it.

This drink will keep several days in the fridge–enjoy!

You will need:

A knob of fresh ginger root
Stevia, in liquid form (I used the Kal brand)
Apple Cider Vinegar (pretty sure Bragg’s is the best)
filtered water

Grate one tablespoon of ginger, gather all the shavings into your hand, and squeeze the juice into a mason jar (or pitcher). Pour in two tablespoons of apple cider vinegar, and add ten drops of stevia. Then, add your water to fill, lid it, and shake to mix. Adjust the flavors to your taste. It should yield about 32 ounces.

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Letting Go of the “Magic” in Foods

Yes, there is incredible healing power in the right foods for your body. I agree—we have yet to discover all of the phytochemicals that contribute to the most healthful of foods. However, let’s be real: acai berry does not contain a magical cure-all in its dark purple juice. Green Coffee bean does not melt fat off of your hips. White Kidney bean cannot magically block the loaf of bread you just splurged on.

I hear it all day on the floor of my vitamin department. People casually ask me why this stuff works. I tell them which studies have lead to the claims on the bottle and exactly what we know of the science behind it, but then they put it back on the shelf. They are not interested anymore, because they were driven by some magical result that they have now realized may or may not occur, because (admittedly) most of the evidence is weak, and has not even been performed on humans. Their “miracle fix” has been de-bunked.

What’s my point? Should you go back your days of muffins and coffee, sandwiches, and pasta with chicken? Absolutely not—fill your plates with piles of greens, eat plentiful non-starchy vegetables, and stay away from oils and white stuff (flour, sugar, etc)—please. Just know that it is not magic. The good stuff isn’t good for you because of some healthy eating god up there that will grant you flat abs by eating almonds. Its good for you (in part) because of vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, antioxidants, fatty acids, and enzymes—good old nutrients that your body needs to function. And really, what it is lacking—in manmade industrial food-like substances—makes it even better.