Conquering Your Stress

December 11, 2017

Stress is a part of everyday life. How do you manage it? Learn how good nutrition, sleep, and self-care habits can help you conquer your stress.

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CASSIE: Welcome to Dishing Up Nutrition. I'm Cassie Weness, registered and licensed dietitian and today we're going to talk about stress. We're going to talk about how, believe it or not, some stress can be good for you and we're going to talk about how too much stress can lead to addiction, anxiety, depression, and even obesity.

KARA: And I also want Kara Carper. I'm a licensed nutritionist and I personally have learned how to manage my stress so that it doesn't turn into panic and an anxiety attack. And we'll be sharing more about that as the show goes on. But today's Dishing Up Nutrition is called Conquering Your Stress and it's brought to you by Nutritional Weight & Wellness. We're a company that provides life changing nutrition education and individual nutrition therapy.

CASSIE:  Here at Nutritional Weight & Wellness we truly believe food makes a difference. Food makes a difference in many aspects of our life and certainly it makes a difference in how we manage our stress. One thing that I've learned in my 40 plus years of life is that stress is an inevitable part of our life. However, the way that you deal with stress may not necessarily be normal. I think a lot of people think of stress as being bad, but, and I know this is new information for some of the listeners, stress can actually be good. It can either be good or bad and a lot of that has to do with how you choose to deal with your stress.

KARA:  That is so true, Cassie. Stress can often be good because it causes us to pay attention to what's going on around us. Just as an example, think about traffic. The more traffic that's out there, the more you're going to pay attention. And think about your bank account, your relationships. Of we think of something as stressful, it usually means that we are paying more attention to it, whether it be our bank account or relationship or rush hour.

CASSIE: Right, right. And many times stress can be good because it motivates us. I think back to when I was in college, it was hard to get into the dietetics program. You needed a pretty high GPA to be accepted, so that motivated me to study hard for my exams. That stress motivated me. Fast forward a couple of decades now, stress motivates me to pay my bills on time because having those late fees is pretty stressful. My kids’ health motivates me to get in the kitchen and cook and to cook gluten free and dairy free meals because honestly, heartburn, skin rashes and sick kids are just too stressful. So, it motivates me to get in the kitchen. So, I guess what I'm saying is I take advantage of stress to motivate me to do the things that I need to do to live my best life and to provide the best environment for my family.

KARA: And I think there is a balance too. If you have too much stress, especially chronic long-term stress that you are not managing that can actually turn into a chronic health condition. We hear about this all the time. I mean people have anxiety, depression, obesity, Alzheimer's disease, heart disease, cancer and autoimmune diseases are all chronic health conditions. And if you do have chronic stress in your life, it really needs to have a stress management plan. So kind of think to yourself, do you have chronic stress? And if so, do you have some sort of a stress management plan in place?

CASSIE:  Yes. Having a plan is key and hearing you say that it, it makes me remember a conversation I overheard recently. There were two older gentlemen kind of talking about how they viewed stress and the one man had just recently retired and he was saying he was so happy to be in retirement because he has no stress now. No kid stress, no work stress, no house stress. He basically wiped his slate clean of any and all commitments and no longer has any stress and anxiety and then it was interesting to hear the other older gentleman's response and this gentleman was about the same age. He could be retired, but he chooses to continue to work and he said, “I love to go to work and I love helping out my kids and I love volunteering several times a week because the stress of being involved helps me to be more alert and more engaged,” and basically that leads to his happiness. He was saying that he enjoys being an active participant in life and he also made the comment that he has learned, and I think this is key, he has learned how much he can do and when he needs to back down a bit. So basically, it sounded like he had developed his own stress management plan. And that's what we want our listeners to start to think about today. Your own stress management plan.

KARA: Those are wise words. I've learned how much I can do and I need to back down a bit. We can all learn from that. When I sat down and started to develop my own personal stress management plan, I realized there's a brain/body connection. So, when my brain perceives stress, things happen like my heart might start to race, my palms might start to get a little sweaty. So, there's definitely that brain/body connection. There's an old saying, I'm sure everyone's heard this. If Mama ain't happy, nobody's happy. You can kind of take that same phrase and apply that to your brain. If your brain isn't happy, your body isn't happy.

And then it's very difficult to manage stress. So if your brain is not happy, your body will probably suffer. And so that is where stress management has to come into place. Just like that gentleman saying, “I really know when it's time to back down.” Also, Cassie, we're going to talk more today about how we give our brain the nutrients that it needs and the support that it needs so that we can manage all this stress better.

CASSIE:That is so key and I want everybody out there listening to think about the fact that what you get out of your brain is determined by what you put into it. At Nutritional Weight & Wellness, we always say food matters and so we will be talking more about what do you need to put into your brain in the area of food and nutrients to get the most out of it. But first, I firmly believe that sleep matters just as much, maybe even more, when we talk about managing our stress. And we have said it so many times on Dishing Up Nutrition, that for good brain function, we need at least seven and a half hours of sleep most nights of the week. If you can get eight to nine hours of sleep a night, that's even better.

KARA: A healthy brain habit that I have written into my own stress management plan is really to get adequate sleep. It's just a top priority for me these days. It actually always has been, but even as I get older, I find that it's more important to get that seven and a half, maybe eight and a half hours. Since we spend about a third of our life sleeping, we really need to understand that sleep is critical to maintaining optimal health. So, when I get eight to nine hours of sleep, first of all, my concentration's better, I can focus more, I can make better decisions and I'm able to manage both the good and the bad stress better, so sufficient sleep has been found to play a key role in helping to get rid of toxins, keep things like neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's at bay. Isn't that interesting? And intellectually, I always understood the importance of sleep, but I did struggle in the past. Part of it was maybe not making it a priority paired with some insomnia, but when I wasn't sleeping enough, those stressful events that are inevitable, like you said, would cause me a lot of anxiety, so I knew that I had to make sleep a priority in order to just avoid having that constant anxiety.

CASSIE: Absolutely, and we've talked about sleep on several of our past Dishing Up Nutrition shows and probably some of our long-time listeners have heard several of those shows, so today our topic isn't sleep, but yet we're going to highlight how to get a good night's sleep because it is so key in managing your stress. And all of us at Nutritional Weight & Wellness call Kara, who's here on the air with me today, the sleep expert. What was it a couple of months ago I kind of ran into a roadblock and so right away thought, “Oh, I need to email Kara.”

KARA:  Well, I do what I can because I've experienced a lot and I've had a lot of trial and error.

CASSIE:   So, you truly from experience know a lot about helping people to cure that insomnia and get a good night's sleep. What is your biggest recommendation when you hear somebody say, “I'm not sleeping well?”

KARA:  Well I think first we look at are they not able to fall asleep or are they not able to stay asleep? I would love to share more about that when we come back.

CASSIE: That's perfect. If you're just joining us, you're listening to Dishing Up Nutrition, brought to you by Nutritional Weight & Wellness. And before we go to break, I do want to share some stress management eating habits that both I and Kara have found helpful. Habit number one, drink eight to 10 glasses of water a day and limit anything that dehydrates you, like the coffee, the pop, the alcohol. Dehydration can impair your thinking, your judgment, and how you handle stress. And then habit number two, before we go to break, eat good quality protein throughout the day. Protein provides the necessary building blocks for your brain health and it supports your ability to manage stress. We’ll be right back.


KARA:   Welcome back to Dishing Up Nutrition. Have you said to yourself, I really want to know more about nutrition? Or maybe you want to know what is the best way to feed yourself or your family? Perhaps you have a health problem and you want to see how nutrition can help. If any of these ring true to you, I suggest that you sign up for the upcoming Weekend Weight & Wellness Seminar. You can let six very passionate nutrition educators inspire you to utilize the power of nutrition and learn how eating real food can be life changing. So, take our Weekend Weight & Wellness Seminar with a friend or family member and you can continue the conversation long after the weekend seminar is over. If you are a nurse or a social worker, you can get continuing ed credits and just call 651-699-3438 to sign up or you can go to our website.

CASSIE:  That's such a great seminar and it's wonderful that we can offer it in a short period of time because we often have people flying in from out of state.

KARA: And even if you're local in the Minneapolis area or suburb and you just are not able to commit to the six one-hour weeks in a row, this is a great option. You can get it all done.

CASSIE: So, before we went to break, we were talking about sleeping and how Kara, you always have some great tips to share on sleeping. That's one of your areas of expertise. So, what's a baseline recommendation that you think everybody should follow in order to get good sleep?

KARA: Sure. Well, and I should preface this by saying that not 100 percent of people need to follow this, but if you are someone that wakes up at two in the morning, three in the morning, you just wake up too early. You can't get back to sleep. I would suggest eating a bedtime snack before you go to bed. And I do this consistently. Otherwise, I tend to wake up at about 3:00 AM and my brain just kinda goes into full gear worrying or thinking about what do I need to do tomorrow, what did I not get done the day before?

CASSIE: I'm the same way and to give the listeners a little biochemistry, it's because for those of us that have to focus on doing the right things to get a good night's sleep, when you don't have that bedtime snack, your blood sugar falls too low by about 2 or 3 am. So, your brain knows it needs fuel and it wakes up. Now you're not sitting there with a stomach that's growling, so you might not connect those dots, but it's a low blood sugar. And then being awake can let you mind go crazy. That's exactly what's going on. Your brain is starving for glucose fuel. But if we fuel in advance and the really important piece of that bedtime snack is the healthy fat. Because we know that healthy fat is so stabilizing for our blood sugars and it's so delicious. That would prevent the 3:00 AM wake up. So, an example might be I would have a small apple or half of a large apple with a tablespoon of peanut butter or almond butter, so that peanut butter or almond butter would count as the healthy fat. Another option might be half cup of leftover sweet potato with a couple of teaspoons of butter.

CASSIE:  I've done that one many times. That's like a treat at bedtime.

KARA: It really is. Or a couple of teaspoons of coconut oil and that sweet potato and it's, again, that good fat to keep the blood sugar balanced. But the carbohydrate, like the apple in the sweet potato, that helps to keep enough glucose supporting the brain. So, it's kind of that combination of the carbohydrate and the healthy fat.

CASSIE:  It's the magic combination. Right? So, before I found Nutritional Weight & Wellness, so we're talking well over a decade ago, I was eating a low fat diet because that's the diet I was taught in college. That's what I thought I was supposed to be following for good health. And guess what? I had a lot of trouble sleeping at that time in my life. And I know that for, I don't know, maybe the past 30 years or so, the so-called experts have been giving out the advice that to lose weight, you don't ever want to eat after 6:00 PM. Well, at Nutritional Weight & Wellness, we have found that when we ourselves as well as our clients eat a bedtime snack consisting of a small amount of carbs like Kara mentioned, the half of the apple, could be a half of a cup of berries, something like that, and of course don't forget your healthy fat, whether it's the nut butter or the butter or the heavy cream. When you have this balanced bedtime snack, you sleep better and you lose weight. And in fact the research supports this. Research has found that we need sufficient sleep in order to maintain a healthy metabolism and lose that unwanted weight.

KARA: So true. So if people are concerned about, oh gosh, I better not have an extra couple hundred calories because if weight loss is a goal for them, they might be afraid to eat before bed, but if you don't eat and you wake up and you're laying there all night, we'll talk more about the hormone shift that can happen in your body and you actually ended up storing more fat. It works against you. You're better off to have the bedtime snack and lose weight because you're sleeping soundly. For my own stress management plan, I just really make sure my blood sugar is balanced all throughout the day. That's important because if we don't balance our blood sugar throughout the day, that can inhibit a good night's sleep.

CASSIE: And that can just lead to anxiety and irritability and more stress.

KARA: In addition to the bedtime snack, I take 400 to 600 milligrams of magnesium glycinate at bedtime. I personally also take one to two tablets of something called Gaba. It's an amino acid that produces more calming neurotransmitters and it helps me to sleep great.

CASSIE: Right. And I also take the magnesium glycinate at bed time in order to get a good night's sleep. And what I'm currently doing in addition is not the Gaba but I'm doing the L-Theanine. And that's more recent for me because I was going along really good with my bedtime stack and my magnesium and then all of a sudden that wasn't quite doing it. And I forget if it was a conversation with you or one of the other girls at the office and L-Theanine was suggested, which is very calming as well. I guess it stops my brain from running like a chipmunk during the night.

KARA:   And that’s just another amino acid. And I've read about L-Theanine providing a deeper REM.

CASSIE: So, you get that more restful sleep. That really is working. But magnesium, I think a lot of people out there could benefit from because the research shows that something like more than 60 percent of us, well over 60 percent of us, are deficient in that mineral and it does help with a good night's sleep.

We are already up against our second break. You're listening to Dishing Up Nutrition. If you're just joining us, this show is brought to you by Nutritional Weight & Wellness. But before we go to our next break, I want to add some more stress management eating habits. I gave you habit number one and habit number two as we went to our first break. Now I have habit number three for managing your stress. Choose vegetables and fruits as your main carbohydrates and avoid or at least greatly limit the processed carbs and the high sugar foods. So, things like cold breakfast cereal and popcorn and granola bars. Avoid those things. They've been shown to increase inflammation and they can put you on a blood sugar rollercoaster ride. And I'll tell you sugar is not part of a stress management plan. And then habit number four, before we go to commercial break, focus your eating plan on healthy fats. Eat foods with plenty of healthy fats like wild caught salmon, tuna, Avocados, olives, nuts, coconut oil. These are all healthy fats that will help to balance your blood sugar and avoid refined oils. Things like soybean oil, cottonseed oil, corn oil, and canola oil.


CASSIE: So, when we went to break, I think we were talking about magnesium glycinate being really helpful for many, many people to take at bedtime to get a good night's sleep. Kara mentioned the Gaba that she takes. I want to talk a little bit about chronic stress. We haven't really delved into that piece of the puzzle yet. If you are somebody that's under chronic stress, you really need to have a proven stress management plan in place and if you don't, today's the day to start thinking about what is that proven stress management plan. At Nutritional Weight & Wellness, we have a lot of clients come to us that are caregivers and if you're out there and you are a caregiver for your full time job, oftentimes you can be under chronic stress. Caregivers. Think about how they have to make sure somebody else is 100 percent cared for, but then they're usually the first to let their own health slide. A lot of caregivers are sleep deprived and then what happens? When they're sleep deprived, they often find themselves gaining weight around that middle, sort of the spare tire area, and it's not because they're eating more, but it's because of their lack of sleep and that always needing to be on top of their game. Because listen to this, what happens is one way that our bodies deal with stress overload is by producing too much cortisol. Now, to give you just a little bit of the biology or biochemistry on that, cortisol is a steroid hormone that's produced in our kidneys and if we have continual exposure to cortisol, it usually makes us gain weight around the middle.

So, I'm sure some of you are now thinking, well, how do I manage the stressful job of being a caregiver and not overproduce cortisol?

KARA: There've been a lot of books written on how to manage stress. A common theme would be to develop a real relaxation technique. Something like deep breathing, meditation, self-hypnosis or exercise. I always think of yoga as well. These techniques can work for some, but I have found for my stress management plan, the foundation has to be nutrition. So, I actually do meditation myself and Yoga on a regular basis and I love exercise for part of my stress management plan. But what I have found over the years is that if I don't make nutrition the number one priority, I'm still gonna end up with that kind of high cortisol, anxiety, stress at the end of the day.

So, when I say focus on nutrition, I'm talking about eating real food in balance five to six times per day. I understand that I need to keep my blood sugar balanced because one of the most stressful events I can expose my body and my brain to is having that low blood sugar. So, when our brains are deficient in glucose and that's basically low blood sugar, I'm going to feel more stress and anxiety and I think a lot of listeners can relate to that.

CASSIE: I can relate to that and I'm sure a lot of listeners can relate to that and hearing you talk about all of that reminds me that when I'm going through stressful times, that's probably when I eat my most perfectly because I know that I need to in order to survive.

KARA:So, you really have to make that a priority even in your busy-ness.

CASSIE: Exactly. Because it does pay off in the end and I bet linking the stress response to low blood sugar is a new way of thinking about stress and anxiety for many of you. But for just a minute, I want you to pretend that you're a caregiver and you always are making sure that the person you're caring for eats on schedule. You're making sure they get their meds on schedule, but you yourself are missing your lunch because you're so busy attending to that person you're caregiving for, and then you might miss your afternoon snack as well, and then what happens? By 3:30 in the afternoon, you're probably feeling shaky. Everybody around you is irritating you. You're feeling stressed out. You're feeling that anxiety level start to rise. It's because you missed your meal and your snack and now you have a cortisol response that is way too high and even though you ate fewer calories than you do on a normal day, you're gaining weight around your middle.

KARA: Right. So, it's not food that is making the person gain weight around the middle. It's the stress and the cortisol. So, maybe you're not a caregiver and that example doesn't resonate with you, but perhaps you're in charge of a large department at your company and you skipped lunch and you didn't have a snack. So then around 3:30 PM, your blood sugar takes a dip and again, you're probably feeling shaky, irritable, anxious, stressed out. You get the picture. I've personally come to realize that to manage stress and anxiety in my life, I need to eat every two to three and a half hours. And it consists of protein, vegetable, carbohydrates, and a beneficial, healthy fat. Now, on top of that, like I shared, I also exercise, I mean I probably do something five days a week including cardio, strength, Yoga. I also do the meditation, but I get my five to six meals and snacks in first. Like I would choose that over a yoga class for stress management. And sleep.

CASSIE: I would choose sleep. I do the same. I eat well. I like to get my exercise, that's a stress reliever, but I would choose the eating and the sleep over the exercise, wouldn’t you?

KARA: I didn’t use to, but I was also experiencing more anxiety. And so, these days, I wouldn't set my alarm for six in the morning just to get that workout in, if it meant that I was missing sleep, or I didn't have time to prep my food. I would get that extra hour of sleep because in the long-term it's going to help metabolism and it's going to help with chronic stress more than that workout.

CASSIE: And that's great. That's part of your stress management plan and you're being very intentional about what are your priorities to manage your stress well.

KARA: And that's going to be different for everybody. But in general, sleep is so important, and nutrition is so important. That's the point that we're trying to get across.

CASSIE: Absolutely. I just have a quick little story. I remember back when Marissa was in preschool and she always liked to pick out her own clothes, of course still does and we're looking through her closet and whatever she was trying to find wasn't in there. I don't know if it was in the laundry or what, and she was searching. I'm looking at my clock thinking, oh my goodness, I need to get her to preschool and I still need to get to work on time.

And I could feel my anxiety started to rise and my temper start to rise and I was about to blow a gasket. And then I remembered, oh my goodness, I didn't eat breakfast yet. The morning got away from me and I said, Marissa, you keep looking in your closet. I'm gonna go grab a quick bite to eat. I went and grabbed, I don't know what it was. Probably a couple of hard boiled eggs, some grapes, and a handful of almonds. Protein, carb, healthy fat. I went back upstairs and I could handle the situation with calmness. So food really does matter and we'll be talking more about that when we come back from break. You're listening to Dishing Up Nutrition brought to you by Nutritional Weight & Wellness. We'll be right back.


KARA:  Welcome back to Dishing Up Nutrition. In 2012, about half of all adults had one or more chronic health conditions such as heart disease, stroke, cancer, type two diabetes, obesity or arthritis. At Nutritional Weight & Wellness, we believe it's time for people to give up the old, outdated American diet and learn a new way of eating with real food. Is it time for you to learn to eat real protein, real carbohydrates, and real fat for your health? We really believe that food matters when it comes to your health, so let us teach you the real food way and you can check out our variety of classes. You can go to or call 651-699-3438. And you can chat with our knowledgeable front desk staff. You can share your concerns, tell them what you're looking for. They can get you situated with the right appointment or a class or series. They're wonderful to work with.

CASSIE: They certainly are. So, I have some research I would like to share, but first I want to pose this question because it'll be a really good lead in. Are you somebody that thinks stress has a negative effect on your health or are you somebody who thinks that you can use your stress to your advantage? A 2012 study from the University of Madison, Wisconsin found that a third of the 200 million people that they studied, so that's quite a chunk of people. A third of the 200 million people believed that stress damages their health. They also found that those who believed stress had a damaging effect on their health were sicker than those who did not believe this. Now, based upon that study, it would seem that the way you think about your stress could actually make you sicker than the actual stress itself. The mind is such a powerful thing.

KARA: Now, hopefully I'm not going off on too much of a tangent, but there is a ted talk by Kelly McGonigal and it's about that. I would encourage people to check that out. It’s like 15 minutes long. It's all about how perceived stress can cause more heart disease and cancer than the actual stress itself. On the other hand, people who can see the positive effects of stress prepared their bodies to deal with the challenges and were overall healthier. So, that's what we try to do at Nutritional Weight & Wellness because we know this because we do this every day. But because of my brain and body's response to stress, I feel like I can more rise to the occasion. And, I'm preparing my meals and my snacks. So I'm eating healthy food five to six times per day. So I have balanced blood sugar. My heart is not going to be as stressed, my digestive tract is not going to be as stressed. I have better energy, a better sense of well-being, and that probably wouldn't happen if I were not eating regularly. I might perceive that stress is more negative.

CASSIE:Right, and hearing you say all of that reminds me of that great article that you wrote a while back on stress. The title is simply stress and just like Kara is saying now, this article says it too. You can't avoid stress. It's inevitable. It's going to be a part of our life, but what you can do is have a stress management plan basically and handle things in a way that will allow you and your body to deal with the stress more easily and let it motivate you rather than make you sick. Now, if you were listening from the start of the show, you heard me say early on, have you ever thought about the fact that what you get out of your brain is determined by what you put into it? So now I want to focus on that question a little bit and talk about what nutrients we need to put into our brains so that we can think of stress as a positive and handle it in the right way.

KARA: And I already mentioned several times that to do this, I need to maintain a proper amount of glucose in my brain at all times. Morning, noon, and throughout the entire night. So the proper amount of glucose is key. We don't want too much. We also don't want too little, so carbohydrates like pasta, toast, pancakes, bagels, breads, chips, all the Christmas treats and sweets, that's going to give our bodies and our brains too much glucose. That'll put you on the blood sugar rollercoaster ride. Then we're going to have the spikes and the huge crashes that make us feel more stressed out. Now, vegetables on the flip side are a great source of carbohydrates because they give us just the exactly right amount of glucose in the bloodstream. And also fruits like berries, cantaloupe, peaches, those are all lower sugar fruits and those are going to give us the proper amount of glucose, so we won't have the spike and crash.

CASSIE: And don't forget to add the healthy fat.

KARA:  Especially that healthy fat and the protein.

CASSIE: I know you're familiar, Kara with the book called Unchain Your Brain by Dr. Daniel Amen. There is a chapter title in there that I just love. It's called Eat Right to Think Right. So, here's a question for all of you. Have you ever thought as you're eating your breakfast or even your lunch, “Is this food good for my brain or is it bad for my brain?” I would think that if you're concerned about your memory and not getting Alzheimer's, if you're concerned about your mood, if you're concerned about your stress response, it's time to take your brain health personally. Now, if you're a person who has that bad habit of pulling through the fast food lane every morning for an egg and cheese breakfast sandwich, I think you must know by now that fast food egg sandwiches are bad for the brain. Now, on the off chance that this is new information for any of you, let me tell you what makes these egg sandwiches so bad. Mostly it's that the egg is cooked in refined, damaged oils like soybean oil, corn oil or canola oil. And these bad fats have been found to damage the cell membrane.

KARA: So true. So it's not the egg part that's bad. It's what the egg is cooked in. The oils are a lot of what is unhealthy about fast food.

CASSIE:  And our brain is 60 to 70 percent fat. So, if you're eating those bad fats, you're going to have a bad working brain.

KARA:We now know that a key factor in having a successful life is your ability to deal with stress and, like we said earlier in the show, those who use stress in a way to motivate themselves and look at things in a positive aspect with stress can accomplish many good things versus experiencing the anxiety that we have from chronic stress.

CASSIE: Right, so let that stress motivate you, but have that stress management plan in place so that you can deal with it.

And as our show draws to a close, I just want to remind listeners that our goal at Nutritional Weight & Wellness is to help each and every person experience better health through eating real food. We know it's a simple message, but it's a powerful message. Eating real food is life changing. Thank you for listening and have a healthy day.

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