Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Heart Attacks and the Holidays

According to Dr. Oz, more heart attacks occur on December 25th, 26th, and January 1st.  Could there be any relationship between what we put into our bodies, our stress levels and our health?  Hmmm....

While we may have no control over issues with our siblings' spouses or spending the holidays listening to Aunt Suzie's annoying Chihuahua, Francie, barking her head off, we do have control over how we treat ourselves - especially when it comes to what we eat.

Foods we eat can contribute or detract from our health, including our ability to process stressful situations.  Caffeine affects our adrenalin levels and increases our production of cortisol (the "belly fat" hormone).  Sugar is a quick energy booster, as well as an appetite stimulant.  Consuming lots of caffeine and sugar can actually leave us with less and less energy in the long run, causing us to crave more and more of both.  

Conversely, stressful situations can cause us to crave particular foods in an attempt to medicate away those stressful feelings.  When we are under stress, it is not unusual to reach for something creamy and comforting like ice cream or fudge or something with frosting on it.  Cheese contains compounds that stimulate the opiate-receptors in our brains, causing a calming effect.  Cheese is the hardest dairy product for many people to give up, when trying to eliminate diary for various reasons, because of the effect it has on our brain function.  Of course, this is not the conscious reason for eating it - we just know we love cheese.  It is really easy to get stuck in a viscous food-mood cycle during this time of year.

Eating to medicate ourselves, or food's ability to affect our mental/emotional state is something really important to be aware of.  Lately, when I'm tempted to reach for something sweet and creamy, I've been trying to dissect what exactly my body is trying to tell me.  Am I actually tired and simply in need of more sleep?  Do I really need some nutrient-dense foods instead?  Is my craving rooted in feeling a little stressed and in need of comfort?  By stopping and asking myself these questions, I've been able to figure out the times when I really simply wanted a little treat, and those times when I actually needed to take better care of myself.

Don't let the stresses of the holidays consume you.  Eat more REAL food.  Pamper yourself by making sure to get adequate sleep.  Take some time to do some type of physical exercise.  Get together with some friends for a low-stress evening of fun.  In little ways, you can take better charge of your body and your health so that you can better enjoy all the joys of this season.

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