Peace on Your Plate

A reminder to ditch the diet mentality, savor the celebration and experience food freedom this holiday (and every day!)

While the holiday season symbolizes warmth, togetherness, and family; it can also evoke feelings of anxiety, especially around food. Preoccupation with weight and calories fosters unhealthy, guilt-ridden feelings about eating that harm relationships with our food and bodies. 

It doesn’t have to be this way. Food is an important part of our culture and traditions, especially during times of celebration. Eating is one of the many ways that friends and family come together during the holidays, making it an experience that should be pleasurable and satisfying. 

If you find yourself hyper-focusing on your holiday plate ("fear of blowing your diet", counting calories, restricting, etc.) you may feel better by simply letting go. Choose foods that you want to eat and stop stressful thoughts before they begin. 

  • Fuel up. If you’re going to an all-you-can-eat buffet, is the answer to “save up” all day by restricting? No. The same goes for holidays. Don’t skip meals or snacks as this will leave you over-hungry, deprived, and unable to truly enjoy the food when it finally comes around.
  • Eat intuitively. Tune in, how are you feeling before and after eating? Are you ravenous, hungry, satiated, overfull? Do not restrict or stuff yourself to a point of discomfort. Eat when you’re hungry, stop when you’re satiated. 
  • Shut down diet talk. Create a safe space for yourself and others by eliminating negative food and body talk. Statements about weight and the latest fad diet do not contribute to healthy relationships in any arena – or celebration for that matter! By leaving “fat talk” and the latest so-called weight-loss-wonder out of conversations you give everyone - including yourself - a chance to relax and eat freely, without judgment.
  • Practice mindfulness. Are you eating in front of the TV? Computer? Looking at your phone? While driving? Turn off the screens and engage your senses by allowing the digestive process to fully take place. Put your fork down between bites and engage with those around you. The holidays are the perfect time to really savor and appreciate foods, especially your favorites!
  • Find joy in movement. Do you enjoy dancing? Walking? Being outside? Yoga? Lifting weights? Make exercise less of a task and more of a self-care routine. Rest is equally important, so don’t be afraid to take a hot bath or read a book instead. Treat your body with kindness while moving and resting intuitively.
  • Consider your relationship with food. Cease labeling foods as good or bad, clean or unclean, as all have a place in nourishing your body. All foods fit; no piece(s) of pie or rich casserole will make you "unhealthy". Restriction can lead to binging, shame, and various other poor outcomes. Don’t overthink your meal; instead, focus on being mindful and feeling good.
  • Savor the foods that you desire and, remember, they can come again soon! Your favorite dish should not be limited to the holidays as this can sometimes cause anxiety and over-indulgence to a point of discomfort when the food is temporarily available.  After all, life is for living not restricting!

However you plan on spending the holidays, take the opportunity to care for yourself rather than putting yourself down with feelings of guilt or shame. Now is a time for family, festivities, peace, and joy - embrace it! 

Don’t let food rules steal your joy and connection. 2018 will thank you.

 

*Contributed to by CVwellbeing Intern Stephanie Zahares

Brain Food: The Connection Between Nutrition and Mental Health

On the topic of wellness, we often think about eating healthy foods, being active, and getting enough rest. But being well encompasses more than just our physical bodies. Mental health is trending in the primary healthcare setting, and for good reason. It has been estimated that 1 in 5 adults experiences mental illness in a given year.(1)  Each year, 18% of the U.S. population suffers from an anxiety disorder, such as generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).(2)  Meanwhile, 16 million adults (6.7% of the population) experienced a major depressive episode in the past year.(3)

But how does food affect mood?

The studies have it: Our food and mood are connected in many ways. On a molecular level, even our neurotransmitters (the “feel good” chemicals in the brain) are affected by the food we eat. Glucose, the building-block of carbohydrate-rich foods like potatoes and grains, is responsible for the production of serotonin in the brain.(5) Serotonin is a well-studied neurotransmitter responsible for balancing mood and anxiety. To keep a steady blood glucose level, it is best to eat whole-grain carbohydrates, like whole wheat bread and pasta, brown rice, and oatmeal.

How else does nutrition affect brain chemistry? Healthy fats have been shown to have significant mental health benefits. In particular, the consumption of polyunsaturated fat sources like flaxseed, fish, and olive oil are beneficial in the prevention and treatment of depression.(6) Other studies have suggested that dietary flavonoids—tiny nutrients in fruits and veggies known for their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects—have an important role in learning and memory.(7) An overall healthy eating pattern, including high levels of fruits, veggies, nuts, legumes, and fish was protective against depression, while a high intake of fast food and processed pastries was associated with increased depression risk.(6)

It’s not only what we eat, but how we eat that affects the way we feel. Intuitive eating practices, such as being mindful at mealtimes, respecting one’s body, and listening to internal hunger signals, have been shown to positively affect symptoms of depression, anxiety, disordered eating, and poor self-esteem.(8)

Although nutrition is an important component of a healthy life, remember not to let food take up too much of your “mental real estate.” Worrying about what and when to eat is not ideal; instead, listen to your body, and a healthy relationship with eating will begin to blossom.

The role of the RDN

Registered Dietitian Nutritionists (RDNs) have a special place in the care team when it comes to mental illness. Because food and the brain are connected on both a chemical and psychological level, medical nutrition therapy is a necessary component for maintaining mental health. Apart from depression and anxiety, other mental conditions that benefit from nutrition guidance include:

  • Addiction/alcoholism

  • Disordered eating

  • Negative body image

Keep in mind—our brain and body are connected in many ways that we often don’t realize. Having a whole-body approach to health and wellness honors both our physical and psychological selves while helping us feel our best.

 

Resources:

1. https://www.nami.org/Learn-More/Mental-Health-By-the-Numbers

2. https://adaa.org/about-adaa/press-room/facts-statistics

3. https://adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/depression

4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4461054/

5. http://bit.ly/2aXX3MF

6. http://bit.ly/2z8s779

7. http://bit.ly/2hUHKe7

8. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24631111

*Contributed to by CVwellbeing Intern Stephanie Zahares

Make Room for Mushrooms

There’s a fungus among us!

Did you know one portobello mushroom cap has about the same amount of potassium as a banana? Although technically a fungus, mushrooms are categorized by the USDA as a vegetable. These little powerhouses are nutrient-dense and super versatile.

Phytonutrient Power

Apart from being rich in B-vitamins, fiber, and key minerals like potassium and copper, mushrooms also contain tiny phytochemicals that promote health. Although shiitake and oyster have the highest amounts, many types mushrooms contain ergothioneine - a compound that neutralizes free radicals in the body, plus has been shown to decrease inflammation (1). To add to the growing list of benefits, some research has suggested mushrooms may be helpful in inhibiting cancer cells and protecting healthy ones (2).

A Flavorful Assortment

While you can find the classic button mushroom at any grocery store, foodies can rejoice at the variety of mushrooms on the market today. Portobellos are large, flat, and have a slightly sweet taste, especially when sauteed. Portobellos are the perfect size to add flavor and nutrition to sandwiches. Alternatively, the lion’s mane mushroom looks like a fluffy white pom-pom and has been shown to improve cognitive function in clinical trials (3). When cooked, the shiitake mushroom has a smoky, meaty flavor. Mushrooms can be fabulous additions to omelets, pizza, stir-fries, salads, and more. We encourage you to come up with your own ideas for how to incorporate mushrooms - and we’d love to read about it in the comments section!

Savoring the Taste

The distinct taste of mushrooms is a wonderful reminder to savor and relish all the wonderful flavors and aromas that food offers us. Eating should be a relaxing, nourishing experience that makes you feel good. Don’t be afraid to try unfamiliar foods, even if you predict you won’t like them. Having an open mind about what’s on our plates brings us closer improving our relationships with food.

We’ll  leave you with this - next time you’re thinking of how to meet your 5-10-a-day fruits and veggies, consider giving mushrooms a try!

Resources:

  1. http://plantpath.psu.edu/mushroom-industry-conference/52-mushroom-industry-conference/Bob%20Beelman.pdf
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22582152
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18844328

*Contributed to by CVwellbeing Intern Stephanie Zahares

Food First

Food First

In honor of completing my first clinical rotation at Maine Medical Center's Weight & Wellness Program

Perhaps you're thinking "I take a multivitamin, I don't need to get vitamins and minerals from food sources" or "I already struggle with my weight, restricting food intake is the only way to keep the pounds off".  This is where the challenges begin. 

Read More