I recently blu-tacked a note to the kitchen wall as a reminder for my family. It read, “If Mum is getting stressed, encourage her to eat some muesli”. I have learned the hard way that low blood sugar makes me feel agitated and angry. In those moments, sitting down and consuming some nourishing carbs is usually enough to avert a furious explosion. Museli works for me because it is quick to prepare and takes a while to eat. Eating, in the right way, helps me stay calm.
There’s no escaping the fact that food, stress and calm are intimately related. What we eat and drink affects the way we feel – big time! I am no sort of expert on diet, and frankly I feel the subject is a minefield. But I couldn’t leave it out of a series about finding calm, so here goes.
Food is an Emotional Issue
Food is a hugely emotional issue. I feel quite nervous writing about it at all. So many of us struggle with our weight, body image and guilt related to our eating habits. Two of my daughters have been seriously unwell with eating disorders, so I am painfully aware of how bad things can get when our relationship with food goes wrong.
Everyone’s needs are different, and I am not here to tell you what to eat. I am not a qualified dietician, and I know I could eat better myself. The best I can do is to suggest a little self-love and nurture in the way we feed ourselves. I am quite certain that guilt and negative judgement are unhelpful in this area.
When I look at the often bitter debates around the pros and cons of breastfeeding – our first experience with food – I see guilt, anger and fear. We all want feeding our children to be beautiful, natural and easy. How has it become a battlefield?
Overwhelmed by Choice
We are blessed in our society with an abundance of food and choice. Often this choice can overwhelm us. Endless new diet plans vie for our attention, offering to solve all our problems. For people whose relationship with food has got out of control, I suspect the most effective solutions are usually those that offer emotional support and community alongside structure around food itself.
How can we walk the tightrope between problematic comfort eating and failing to nurture ourselves properly with food? I think the solution must be a holistic one. Poor eating habits – whether that is excessive sugar consumption or skipping meals – do not exist in a vacuum. If we lack calm in the way we nourish our bodies, it is probably related to a lack of calm in other areas of our lives. For this reason, I honestly believe that calming practices such as meditation, yoga and gentle holistic therapies can help us eat better. By calming down the nervous system we can diminish our frantic need for the next sugar fix. When I feel kind and loving towards myself, I naturally want to nourish my body with good things.
It is one of those virtuous circles. Eating sensibly and regularly helps us feel steady and well, regulating our hormones and stabilising our moods. Feeling calm and ok about ourselves lifts the anxiety around food and helps us eat better. We can improve matters by positively intervening at any point in that circle. Choosing a delicious and healthy meal improves your blood sugar levels and self-esteem. Having a Reflexology treatment relaxes you so that you don’t need those sweets to cheer yourself up.
I am not here to lecture you about food. In fact I think worrying too much about what you eat is probably worse than not caring. If issues around eating are seriously impacting your health in any way, then of course I encourage you to seek professional help and the support of people who love you. Guilt and self-loathing are part of the problem and never the solution.
Wonderful and Delicious
But if possible, let’s try and think about food as a wonderful and delicious thing. Eating is one of the precious ways we can enjoy nurturing ourselves, body and mind. Gratitude for our food can help us have a positive attitude too. Whether or not you follow any religious faith, taking a moment to be thankful for your food before eating can help you focus meaningfully on what you are about to eat. Nourishment is a joy and a blessing.
Knowing your Pitfalls
We all have our weaknesses around food and drink. I know I do. It is helpful to know your own particular pitfalls, and notice when they are beginning to impact on your wellbeing. Fast-release sugar, caffeine and alcohol can all easily become rewards to pick us up when we are feeling down. Before we know it, we have developed an unhelpful habit which can be tricky to break. Instead of beating yourself up about it, try to find another way to make yourself feel better instead. A short walk outside, spending time with a pet, or sitting down for ten minutes quiet relaxation can all make a big difference.
Don’t forget about hydration too. Drinking enough water, especially in hot weather, can make a huge difference to how you feel. If you have trouble motivating yourself to drink water, try adding a bit of orange squash, or chilling your water in the fridge.
Enjoy Eating – and Chocolate is Good for You!
Food is one of the great pleasures of life. It is supposed to make us feel good. I am always encouraged by the many benefits of chocolate. Dark chocolate is rich in iron, antioxidants and flavanols. Eaten in small quantities, it can help protect against cardiovascular disease, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s as well as reducing your risk of inflammatory disorders. It is also delicious!
Today’s Calming Activity – Mindful Eating
How can you nourish your body with something delicious today? Take a little time to choose something you will really enjoy eating, and which will make you feel good. It might be some ripe strawberries, a cooling ice cream or some tasty dark chocolate. Or you could opt for a refreshing drink. It doesn’t have to be officially healthy – just something your body and senses will love.
Then sit down somewhere peaceful, and take a moment to look at your food or drink, and feel thankful. Think about the natural environment it came from. Consider the farmers, transport workers and others who have made it available for you today. Allow your senses to enjoy the colours, shapes and aroma. Then slowly eat or drink, relishing every mouthful. Enjoy the enormous pleasure of nourishing yourself. It feels good, doesn’t it?
Thanks for reading this blog post. I am writing a series of 31 blogs every day this August. I plan to publish them later in the year as a book entitled, ‘Finding Your Calm Space – 31 Ways to Find Calm in a Crazy World’.
I’m Karen. I am a Yoga teacher, Reflexologist and busy mum of seven. I live with my family in Billericay, Essex, UK. In the past I have worked as a Midwife, Health Visitor, Baby Signing teacher and Tax Inspector. I love getting outdoors, swimming in the sea, walking and writing. Helping people relax is one of the things I do best.
You can learn more about my Yoga classes and Reflexology at my website www.thecalmspace.co.uk
The British Heart Foundation website has lots of great information about healthy diet. You can read more here:
Here is some encouraging information about the health benefits of dark chocolate