Tag Archives: health

Life with anxiety.

spring flowers at kew gardens

I’ve written a bit about anxiety on the blog before, but never really told my own story. Since it’s Mental Health Awareness Week, here in the UK, it’s time for me to share.

I recently ‘outed’ myself in a consultation with a friend at nutrition school.

She asked to describe how I felt when I felt anxious.

I described a fist clenching, gut wrenching experience, at its worst. A feeling that makes it necessary to prep myself for everyday situations, such as meeting new people, meeting new friends of friends. A feeling that makes it necessary to give myself pep talks to get through situations I would ordinarily be able to manage. A feeling that makes everyday situations seem insurmountable.

I don’t have anxiety, everyday, all day.  It’s at its worst when I’m not taking care of myself, when I’m drinking too much, not getting enough sleep, indulging in all of my food cravings. It’s during these times, my anxiety gets better of me and I go into crisis mode.

Over the years, I’ve learnt how to manage it. Eating well and getting enough sleep are key. Eating well to me, means eating at least 7 servings a day of vegetables (especially green leafy and cruciferous veg!) and fruit, adding in some nuts and seeds in different forms, getting good quality protein, mainly meat and some fish. It also means not having much sugar and drinking lots of water, some kombucha and lovely, warming  herbal teas.

I’ve discovered recently that alcohol exacerbates my anxiety. Which makes sense, knowing that alcohol depletes vitamin B6, a key vitamin for the production of serotonin, the feel good hormone. I was sad to say goodbye to my evening glass of red wine, but even happier to spend the day on an even keen mentally.

How you manage your anxiety? The more I research, the more I discover. There are so many different tools that folks tend to use, from deep breathing techniques, to CBT, to adding and subtracting food to and from their diet, to taking various supplements.

I supplement with a good women’s multivitamin, an omega-3 fish oil with a good DHA to EPA ratio and magnesium, which helps me relax and ‘unclench’ a little. On the advice of a collegue at school, I’ve recently started supplementing with inositol, a substance produced by plants and animals, that belongs in the B family of vitamins. It helps mood regulation and can reduce anxiety.

Fingers crossed, my cobbled together approach seems to be working well so far. What do you do to manage your anxiety on a day to day basis?

I Tried It: Whole30

springtime at kew gardens

I haven’t felt like writing much about food and nutrition recently. There’s been a lot going on, personally and professionally. New job, a heavier course load at school and loads of political distraction (every morning, I wake up and think, ‘what now?’. Don’t you?). It’s times like these when it’s tempting to throw everything to the wind and drink and eat whatever I want.

After some reflection, it truly feels like an act of subversion to take care of what you put in your body, to nourish yourself with intention. Small acts of subversion matter, more than ever.

To me, it feels subversive now to give a shit about the things I put in my body, to take care not to treat it like a garbage can. To eat organic, to be mindful about the type of meat and fish I buy, to really think about the amount of sugar my family consumes.

There are so many (things) trying to grab me away from eating well; from working long hours, cartoon branded food grabbing my son’s attention while shopping, my own yearnings and desires.

I have been doing the Whole 30 this month, in an attempt to get myself back on the right food path. Not that I was eating particularly badly. I just found that I was eating without thought or intention and letting my cravings drive my nourishment. And I tend to crave things like sourdough pizzas, greasy, salty fries and sharp, cold ice cream. All washed down with lots of red wine and gin and tonics.

So I embarked on a Whole 30 as a bit of a reset. 30 days, lots of vegetables, high quality meat, nuts, seeds, fish and fruit. This is my fifth time and it’s like riding a bike. I’ve internalised the rules and know what works and what doesn’t work for me.

And this time, I’ve really enjoyed it. My cooking has improved, so I’ve enjoyed being creative within the parameters of the regimen. And I’ve enjoyed having to be a bit more intentional with my food. The health benefits are there too: I can think more clearly, I don’t get as tired, my anxiety has improved.  Being alcohol-free has made my mornings easier too.

Have you tried a Whole 30? What was your experience?

Sweet Potato Sliders

sweet potato and pulled pork sliders

This weekend, I really fancied an open-faced sandwich, but had no bread in the house. I shuffled through the cupboards and found a bag of sweet potatoes and decided to see what sweet potato ‘bread’ tasted like. Stay with me… it was pretty good.

I brushed an oven tray with olive oil and grilled them for 20 minutes on each side.

And topped with some mashed avocado, broccoli spouts and pulled pork that I had in the fridge. A simple, yet filling lunch, so these are definitely getting added into my lunch repertoire!

sweet potato and pulled pork sliders 2

What you need:

1-2 large sweet potatoes

2 tbsp olive oil

Any desired toppings – the sky’s limit here! Anything you would normally put on toast, from sweet to savoury, you can put on these sliders!

A large baking tray

Baking brush

How to make it:

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 180C
  2. Slice the sweet potatoes into 1 cm slices
  3. Brush both sides of the sweet potato slices with the olive oil
  4. Put the tray into the oven on the highest shelf and bake for 20 minutes or until they are soft and slightly browning.
  5. Take the tray from the oven and turn the sliders over and bake for another 20 minutes or until they match the texture and colour of the other side.
  6. Remove from the oven and let stand for 5 minutes.
  7. Top with your chosen toppings and enjoy!

I Tried It: Dry January

coffee-and-date-ball

Have you ever done a dry January?

After a heavy November and December, I decided that I needed to give my body a break and get on the wagon for a month. And what better month than January, when everyone’s skint, partied out and needing a bit more time at home.

I also needed to regulate my relationship with alcohol. It’s easy, especially with the UK drinking culture and in a hectic city like London, to use alcohol to relax and let a quick drink after work turn into 3 or 4. Knowing everything I know about the effects alcohol has on the body, it was time to put all of my knowledge into practice for myself.  Alcohol is a tricky one for the body – it depletes your B vitamins, which can lead to anxiety and depression, it puts stress on your liver and diverts it from other, more important functions and it can lead to weight gain, poor sleep, spotty skin and dehydration. I decided it was time to take the advice I give to clients in clinic and get a grip on my alcohol intake.

On New Year’s Eve, I drained my last glass of champagne and rang in the new year, ready to kick booze to the curb for a while.

The first few days were hard. No glass of wine at lunch, no cold and crisp G&T while watching TV on the sofa in the evenings. But this was where the foundations for all the hard work of the next month started – breaking the little habits that I had developed and putting better ones in place.

I replaced my red wine and G&Ts with lots of warming cinnamon tea in the evening and sparkling water at lunchtimes. I asked M not to offer me any drinks (except tea or water) in the evenings. I talked about my dry January with my mates, so they knew what I was doing and changed plans to lunch and coffee dates, rather than evening meals, so I wouldn’t be tempted.

By weeks 2 and 3, I started to get in the groove and was enjoying waking up without a hangover and fuzzy brain. My skin was clearer and my jeans a little looser. And the biggest plus? My anxiety levels rapidly decreased.

Last Tuesday 31st January felt great. 31 days without alcohol, a clearer head, deeper sleep at night, more money in my bank account and less anxiety. I decided to carry on through to the end of February, as I have a big nutrition exam at the beginning of March and need all the focus I can get.

What comes after that? I’m not sure. I’d love to be able to get to a place that where I can have one drink and have that be enough. Any advice?

Anti-Inflammatory Turmeric Tonic

turmeric-tonic-ingredients

For the last four years, I’ve had the weirdest bit of joint inflammation in my right index finger. It gets worse when I’m tired, eating poorly and drinking too much alcohol. I never thought about it too much and just chalked it up to a bit of arthritis, unless it was accidentally pushed or I needed to open a jar.

Last year, I went to see a naturopath at my college for some general coaching. I happened to mention my ‘dicky’ finger to her and she recommended taking two Pukka Wholistic Turmeric capsules in the morning for a few months to see if that made any difference.

And you know what, the capsules made a little difference. I started to wonder if there was more I could do, so started looking into ways of eating and drinking the raw turmeric root. Turmeric root has anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and liver detoxification properties through its active compound curcumin, which is why you might have noticed more chatter about this plant in the last year. Research has shown that curcumin from turmeric in its food form is more bioavailable, especially consumed with a pinch of black pepper.

So I decided to start drinking a turmeric tonic in the morning to see if I could relieve some more of the sore feeling in my ‘dicky’ finger. After many trial runs, here’s the recipe I use every week.

This tonic has made a huge difference to my finger – to the point where I notice when I’ve forgotten to have my shot of tonic in the morning. Try it!

NB: please avoid this drink if you are on blood thinners, as turmeric and blood thinning medication can cause excess bleeding.

What you need

1 grapefruit (exclude this if you are any medication as grapefruit contains naringenin, a phytonutrient that can interfere with CYP450, an important family of enzymes that help break down toxins in phase I liver detoxification. This can cause adverse reactions to medication.)

3 lemons

1 orange, if you need to exclude the grapefruit

2-3 thumbs of fresh turmeric root

1 thumb of fresh ginger

1 tbsp raw organic honey

200mL filtered water

Large blender cup / Nutribullet cup

How to make it 

1. Cut the citrus fruits in half and squeeze the juice into your blender or Nutribullet cup. Take care to remove the seeds, but to keep the pulp.

2. Wash the turmeric and ginger and drop them in with your citrus juice.

3. Add the honey, black pepper and water.

4. Blend for at least 30 seconds and decant into a glass storage jar.

5. Drink a shot’s worth each morning.

6. Keeps in the fridge for 7 days (if it lasts that long!).

Curried Cauliflower Soup

curried-cauliflower-soup

I’ve been a bit fluey the last couple of days. It’s almost like there’s been a dominoes of illness in my house and I was the last one standing. I dislike being ill (does anyone actually like it?) and do everything I can to get back to full health as quickly as possible.

My list of flu remedies always includes: lots of rest (or as much as I can get with a little 3 year old that loves to give Mama rough and tumble cuddles that will “make her feel better”), steaming hot showers, turmeric tonic with added oil of oregano (or this version for a kick!), Pukka lemon and ginger tea and many soups with homemade bone broth.

I tried out a warming cauliflower soup this afternoon, as I was craving soup and I had a massive head of cauliflower I wasn’t exactly sure what to do with. I love food with a little heat, a little kick, so this was exactly what I needed on this cold and rainy day in London.

What you need:

1 small onion, sliced thinly

3 cloves of garlic, sliced thinly

1/2 red pepper, diced

1 tbsp cooking fat (I used ghee)

1 medium / large cauliflower, leaves removed and roughly chopped

2 tbsp garam masala

1 tbsp dried coriander

1 tsp salt

500mL bone broth / stock (or vegetable stock for vegans / vegetarians) – you may need to add less broth, depending on the size of the pot you’re using

1 large cooking pot

Optional: 1 tbsp coconut cream or 1 sprig fresh coriander to garnish (per bowl)

How to make it: 

1. Place the pot on medium-low heat and add your chosen cooking fat. Once the oil is heated (this should take 1 minute max), add the onions, garlic and red pepper. If the onions start to brown too quickly, turn the heat down slightly – you’re sweating the vegetables to bring out the flavours. Sweat for 5 minutes or until the onions and garlic are translucent.

2. Add 1/2 tsp salt, 1 tbsp dried coriander, 1 tbsp garam masala and stir until all the vegetables are coated in the spices. Cook for 1 more minute, stirring so nothing sticks to the bottom of the pot.

3. Add the cauliflower, stirring so it is incorporated with the rest of the mixture. Then add 100mL of the stock. This will help the cauliflower soften, rather than fry. Add the rest of the salt and garam masala. Stir and let it cook for 5 minutes.

4. Add the rest of the stock, stir and bring the soup to a boil. Let it boil for 5 minutes. Taste and if necessary, add additional salt to suit your palate.

5. Stir the soup, reduce the heat and let simmer for 30 minutes.

6. Take the soup off the heat and blend with an immersion blender until it is completely smooth.

7. Enjoy!

Serves 4

How often do you poop?

dino-at-natural-history-museum

Seriously though. I know people get touchy about this subject, but let’s all be grown ups and have some real talk about the importance of regular bowel movements.

A lecturer recently mentioned that the optimum number is three – once after every meal! Ideally, you should poop at least once a day. Yep. Once a day. I know a lot of people say once every few days is fine, but really, for your body to do what it needs to do, you need to poop once a day at the very minimum.

Why once a day, you ask? Well, healthy bowel movements, far from being an irritation, are a sign that your body is getting rid of what it needs to. Bowel movements are connected to proper detoxification function in the body and mean that your body is excreting excess hormones (i.e. oestrogen, testosterone, thyroid hormone, etc), toxins (i.e. nicotine, xenoestrogens, carcinogens, insecticides, etc), pharmaceutical drugs, alcohol, excess fats and sugars.

For women, this is very important as regular bowel movements are linked to proper estrogen clearance. Improper estrogen clearance can lead to estrogen dominance, mood swings, heavier periods, PMS, weight gain around the middle and fatigue, amongst other symptoms.

So what do healthy bowel movements look like? In clinic, we refer to something called the Bristol Stool Chart, with type 3, 4 and 5 stools as the ideal bowel movements.

Type 1 and 2 can indicate constipation and dehydration and type 6 and 7 can indicate diarrhoea and fat malabsorption. NB: please see a doctor if you ever spot blood or mucus in your stool.

bristol_stool_chart_the-poo-nurses

What if you don’t have healthy, regular bowel movements? If you are not suffering from diarrhoea, there are two immediate fixes I would always suggest:

1. Increase your water intake to around 1.5 – 2L per day.

2. Increase your vegetable intake, ideally green leafy veg, consumed in their whole form, not juiced. Try to have at least 5-7 servings of a wide range of vegetables a day. If that’s not possible, try to have a big salad with lots of leafy greens for either lunch or dinner.

I would also recommend increasing the amount of fermented foods in your diets – foods like sauerkraut, kefir, kimchi, natto, miso and kombucha. These foods feed the good bacteria in your gut, support digestion of large carbohydrates and boost your immune system. A happy gut = happy bowels!