The Importance of Eating Well During a Life Emergency

September 25, 2017

In the midst of a stressful life event, healthy eating often goes right out the window. However, that often makes an already hard situation much, much worse. We’re sharing today what foods can help you handle the stress of the situation, give you the energy to be as involved as you want to be and get through it in one piece.

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KATE: Welcome to Dishing Up Nutrition. I am Kate Crosby, nutrition educator, nutrition counselor and co-host of Dishing Up Nutrition today.

BRENNA: I am Brenna Thompson, licensed and registered dietician and also co-host of today’s show, which is brought to you by Nutritional Weight & Wellness, a company specializing in life-changing nutrition education and life-changing nutrition counseling.

KATE: We’ve got a great topic today, you and I are really passionate about this one. We’re going to talk about The Importance of Eating Well during a Life Emergency. We’ll share how it will help you handle the stress of the situation, give you the energy to be as involved as you want to be and get through it in one piece.

BRENNA: What might be one of those life emergencies or a big life change that we are thinking about? Perhaps, Kate recently for you, the birth of a baby – not yours, that would be amazing – but a grandchild. Kate you just recently had that exciting life change. Your daughter Lucy delivered a healthy, big 10 ½ pound baby boy! Please share with us how you handled your eating, while waiting for the birth of your new grandson.   

KATE: And she had a very, very long labor. 30+ hours of labor, so it was a lot of wait.

BRENNA: That is a lot of waiting, you’ve got to eat a few times during that.

KATE: Yes, so when I could see that she was going to head to the hospital or in the hospital, I was cooking hamburgers, so I just cooked a whole lot more, I made three extra hamburger patties that I brought to the hospital. Yes I did! I threw them in my handy dandy insulated lunch box, about the size of a six-pack or so, and I threw in apples, a little container of peanut butter, I threw in a baggy of snap peas. Sometimes I throw in chicken breasts, I like those because they cook evenly and quickly and you’re done. So those were my foods I brought with me.

BRENNA: Smart, very smart. I can just picture you handing them out to the nurses.

KATE: Well my son-in-law! We also had to eat out once, so I had to kind of think about where am I going to go that’s going to give me food that’s going to support me? It’s actually not that hard for me to figure that out, because I’ve done several times.

BRENNA: So what did you eat when you ordered out at a restaurant?

KATE: I had some salmon and they had broccoli and little potatoes, I put the butter all over the potatoes and I was in a good spot. I just asked them if they had any whipping cream and I knew they had fruit, so I just said I’ll have some fruit and whipping cream for dessert. That was easy, really easy!

BRENNA: Many of my clients will ask “How do I eat out? When I’m eating these real foods, can I eat out?” The answer is yes, and you did it beautifully because there’s always going to be stress when we are waiting at a hospital or waiting for an operation to be over. And I think all of those situations are going to be stressful.

KATE: I’m sorry Brenna, I am lost. Oh there we go! The other thing I want to explain is when I went to the hospital, I put things in my purse. One thing I usually carry are protein bars. One of my favorites are the RX bars, I like those simply because they are just food. Egg whites, dried fruit and some nuts. But I also carry what my kids have called “purse wieners.” So you might be wondering what the heck are purse wieners. They are simply a cooked up hot dog, or bratwurst or chicken sausage that I cut up and throw in my purse. Brought a big water bottle, my son-in-law brought protein shakes and beef jerky and that was his way of supporting himself. So a lot of times if you’re planning on eating out like you had mentioned, you need to get your head around, how are you going to do this, what is the food that is going to support you?  

BRENNA: Exactly. Early this year my grandparents died very unexpectedly and my Mom was here in Minnesota when we got the news. And we had eaten breakfast, maybe at 7:30 in the morning and then with everything going on, and trying to pack up and leave, we finally stopped in Owatonna on our way back to Iowa at 4 in the afternoon. So, you know, typically I would have had at least another meal in there. So, we’re at Perkins, which when you go to Perkins you think of pie and giant muffins. But instead I chose to eat, some salmon or some kind of fish and veggies and my mom got some chicken with some rice pilaf. It worked.

KATE: And so often many of us believe that we need the pizza or the ice cream or that large chocolate chip cookie when we’re under high stress. Maybe as a reward for suffering those tough times.

BRENNA: Or just because our cravings take over. But that’s a misconception. People might think that those foods will get them through a stressful time, but biochemically it’s just not true. Personal pan pizza, all of that crust will break down and turn into about 27 teaspoons of sugar in your body. 27 teaspoons of sugar. Or, if we sit down with a pint of vanilla ice cream, that’s going to turn into 16 teaspoons of sugar, maybe even more depending on if it’s got cookies in it or not. Or perhaps we stop at the coffee house as we are driving to said emergency and we get a large chocolate chip cookie, that again it’s going to turn into 17 teaspoons of sugar.

KATE: And what’s all that sugar going to do?

BRENNA: Exactly. What is that sugar doing to our body?

KATE: It raises blood sugar, it raises cortisol, then it drops and we’re under more stress. So Brenna why do we seem to crave sugar whenever we’re under stress? And why does eating sugar or foods loaded with sugar make these emergency situations even more stressful on our bodies?

BRENNA: Those are two great questions. The reason why we crave sugar whenever we’re under stress goes back to biochemistry. When we get hit with stress our blood sugar initially goes up, I liken it to if you’re out in the woods and you’re getting charged by a moose then you need a lot of sugar in your bloodstream to get going. To run away. But then after you have dodged the moose and you’re up in the tree, that blood sugar is going to quickly take a nosedive. So all of a sudden our brain is going “Wait, where did all my sugar go?” and so we might start to crave it. 

KATE: So, essentially, it’s like my body is saying, “I’m stressed! I need energy, give me sugar!” I’m sure a lot of our listeners have felt that way. There was an interesting survey done by the American Psychological Association’s, the survey was called Stress in America Survey and it found that 40% of Americans either overeat or eat unhealthy high sugar foods when they are under stress. So during my daughter’s long 30+ hours of labor, she didn’t eat much that was normal, but I know what my body needs when I am under stress. I know I need my protein…I need my salmon; I need my steak; I need my eggs, so I can handle the stress.

BRENNA: And it’s time for us to take a break! You are listening to Dishing up Nutrition brought to you by Nutritional Weight & Wellness. Have you ever said to yourself, “I’m addicted to sugar!” Well I know I sure felt that way after the death of my grandparents. The shock and stress of their death had me craving chocolate. Today Kate and I will share how I calmed down that short-lived sugar addiction and went back to my Weight and Wellness way of eating.


KATE:  Welcome back to Dishing Up Nutrition. Okay, now let’s talk about how you stop a sugar addiction. At Nutritional Weight & Wellness, we believe you first need to make a commitment to yourself to quit eating sugar. The next step to stopping a sugar addiction is to eat breakfast with sufficient protein. That’s really important for me. You can eat 2 to 3 eggs for breakfast, or a turkey sausage, a beef patty or leftover dinner or purse wiener, also known as a cold hot dog. You need 3-4 ounces of protein. When we eat protein, we produce a brain chemical called dopamine. Brenna, how does having low dopamine levels relate to a sugar addiction?

BRENNA: When we don’t eat enough protein, we become deficient in the neurotransmitter, dopamine. We can then experience low motivation, low energy, poor impulse control and addictive behavior. When we have low dopamine, we can easily become addicted to alcohol, cocaine, sugar or even shopping, really any addiction is related to low dopamine. When I’m at home and not under extreme stress, I eat a lot of protein, and I know, just like you Kate, that I really need that protein at breakfast. But with my grandparent’s deaths, my dopamine levels just kind of dropped. So I started looking for cookies, chocolate and of course the more you eat, the more you want. Fortunately, because I’m a dietician and working at Nutritional Weight & Wellness for five years, I knew exactly what to do to stop it or calm it down a bit. So for breakfasts I had a salad, and then I basically ate the same salad for lunch and I did that three days in a row and on the third day my sister looks at me and said “Good God, can’t we get this girl something else to eat?”

KATE: What was in your salad?

BRENNA: It was just, we had a vegetable tray that someone had brought over for us, so I threw that in and then my parents had some deli meat and put some dressing on it and it held me. It was one of those where I don’t have to think about it and I kind of enjoy it. It was just food at that point.

KATE: And you kind of need to shovel it in at that point.

BRENNA: Before break, Kate you were telling us what your body needs when you’re under stress for your daughter’s 30 hour plus labor, being at the hospital.

KATE: I need a lot of protein. And then as I was saying, I needed the salmon or the steak, eggs, any kind of solid meat protein is great for me. To be clear, I wasn’t worried about gaining weight, if I ate pizza or a large chocolate chip cookie. What I was worried was my brain wouldn’t work effectively and I wanted to be alert, headache-free and I wanted to be happy when my grandson was born, so that’s why I chose salmon, broccoli, and a few baby red potatoes with butter. I wanted my body and brain to be fully engaged, so I could enjoy the moment… and at the end of that long labor, I felt great! What a joyful experience! Even though I love pizza or ice cream and chocolate chip cookies, I wanted to feel the emotions of seeing my newborn grandson for the very first time not with a foggy brain, but with a clear mind. It worked!

BRENNA: Kate, I wonder how many people stop and think about the consequences of their food choices especially during high stress times, will actually make them feel.

KATE: Remember, earlier I asked, “Why does loading up on high sugar foods make stressful situations even more stressful on our bodies and brains?” Can you explain that one?

BRENNA: Biochemically, sugar leads to inflammation and chronic inflammation can lead to nerve damage, cardio vascular disease, joint pain, weight gain, anxiety, depression and just any chronic disease you can think of. Furthermore, for many of our clients, sugar is very addictive, we talked about that low dopamine just a little bit ago. Once some clients start eating high sugar foods, they can’t stop. Also, did you know that sugar blocks how well our cell receptors accept serotonin? Another neurotransmitter. Low serotonin leads to anxiety and often depression … and feeling more stressed. You certainly don’t want more anxiety when you are going through stressful times, so I believe it is best to try and avoid sugary treats and focus on eating those good, nourishing whole foods.

KATE: Let’s talk about another life emergency – when you have a family member or special friend in the hospital in critical condition. This past year at Nutritional Weight & Wellness, we’ve had at least four or five staff members who have gone through that type of stress at the hospital. Sometimes these loved ones are in the hospital for days, sometimes even weeks, so what do you do about food choices? My first response when I’m under stress is…I’m not hungry and I don’t want to eat especially hospital food.

BRENNA: If you can, this doesn’t always happen, but maybe that hospital stay is planned. Then maybe you can think ahead, you don’t want to go to the hospital and keep eating that food over and over. 

KATE: Here is an idea you may not have thought about– it only takes a few minutes to make a protein shake. Sometime I make up a couple of extra protein shakes and freeze them for backup. So during a life emergency, I often don’t feel like eating an entire meal of meat, vegetables and good fats, but I can certainly drink a delicious tasting protein shake that I know will keep my energy stable.

BRENNA: Earlier this summer we had a neighbor who was diagnosed with cancer. And knew that he was going to be having surgery and going to be in the hospital for a while. I wondering what I could do to help them out and so the night before his surgery I made up a huge batch of raspberry protein shakes. And I poured them into some pint jars, I brought them down to their house, along with some extra protein powder, and I gave them the pre-made protein shakes, told them they could freeze them or keep them in the fridge, for him or his wife and his daughter. They were so thankful and I guess he absolutely loved them. 

KATE: The point about the protein shake is that it’s not overfilling and it’s just enough to keep you going and keep your blood sugar stable. It really helps.

BRENNA: And I always have oatmeal almond balls in our freezer. I’ll sit down and make a double or triple batch on a Friday night while watching a movie and then keep them in the freezer. That’s a good one where oh my gosh, something has happened and we have to leave the house now.

KATE: Pile them in a baggie and throw them in your purse.

BRENNA: Exactly, or you get home and you’re exhausted and you just need a little something, it’s perfect.

KATE: If I have time I’ll make a batch of deviled eggs, these to me are the best of the best, and take them with me to the hospital with fruit or raw veggies. In these situations, I’m always looking for something light to eat, because I can’t eat much.

You are listening to Dishing up Nutrition and Brenna and I are discussing how you can support your brain and body with nutrition, during life emergencies. After our first break, Brenna talked about how she ate salads for breakfast to support her dopamine levels to reduce her sugar cravings, which finally stopped her short-lived sugar addiction during a recent stressful life emergency. When we come back, Brenna will share additional high protein breakfast ideas and a vitamin supplement that actually supports your dopamine production.


BRENNA: Welcome back to Dishing Up Nutrition. If you are driving or working out and miss the name of a supplement or recipe, we are now transcribing the show for you. Go to, click on Blog + Podcast + Recipes where you’ll find all of the transcripts of our Dishing Up Nutrition shows. The transcript for this show should be ready by Monday or maybe Tuesday, sometime in there. Kate mentioned before break that sometimes we use a vitamin supplement to boost dopamine levels to help make it easier for clients to give up sugar. We often recommend taking the amino acid called, N-Acetyl L-Tyrosine. Take 1 or 2 before breakfast and 1 or 2 again before lunch and maybe 1 before dinner, but that also might be a little activating. Having that Tyrosine will help boost your levels of dopamine should help reduce your cravings for sugar.

Before break, you said I’d give another high protein breakfast idea. One that comes to mind for me is what I had for breakfast this morning. I had made some whipped coconut milk, and you can actually find a little demo on your Facebook page on how to do that, so this morning I just mixed that with some protein powder and put half of a chopped apple on top, it’s light, I don’t feel weighed down, but my blood sugar is stable and I feel good.

KATE: Before we went to break we were talking about if someone is in the hospital, or you’ve got an emergency with someone in the hospital, you may not want to eat. But eating just a little something might sound kind of appealing. For me it’s deviled eggs and blueberries. That’s enough. I’m looking for something light to eat but that will give me more long lasting energy. Better than the bag of chips or candy bar that might be in the vending machine. I would rather have real food. That candy bar is just going to give me a lift of sugar, quick, short-term and then my blood sugar is going to crash. It’s going to cause more anxiety and stress for us. Something I really don’t want to have happen during that stressful time.

BRENNA: No, you don’t want to stack stress on stress. Unfortunately sometimes we don’t always know that we’re going to end up at the hospital for hours or days and then maybe we are getting hungry and our only option is to eat at the hospital cafeteria or go across the street to a restaurant. So making a healthy choice has now become possibly a little bit trickier. So if I’m stuck at a cafeteria I look around and think “What can I have?” well maybe there’s some plain meat, some roast beef, broiled or steamed fish, a plain chicken breast or maybe a hamburger patty. So I got my protein. I then look for my real carbohydrates. Ok, are there some either a salad bar or fresh fruit? Check, check! If I can find a little bit of butter or some real heavy cream, I have a healthy fat. Done. That’s pretty easy. I look for food with the least amount of sugar and chemicals. Sometimes if it’s winter time you might want some soup, but sometimes soups that we don’t make at home can have MSG in it and I find that that’s problematic for some clients. Gives them a headache and they have to be very careful with that. So if you are wanting the soup and know you’re sensitive to MSG you might want to ask one of the servers or if you can find the chef and ask if it has MSG in it. Because you certainly don’t want to end up with a migraine or stomach ache as you’re waiting.

KATE: And be out of commission for whoever you are in the hospital for. If I’m going to be at the hospital for several hours, I stop at a food co-op or a Whole Foods type of grocery store and pick up several servings of chicken salad or a tuna salad, those are my go-tos along with a broccoli salad or another fresh vegetable salad. When I eat those kind of foods I am going to feel calmer and can handle stress much better. Otherwise I’m up and down, all over the place.

BRENNA: Just to recap, if you experience what we call a life emergency or life change, we know your natural instinct is to grab a cookie, a brownie, the chips or pretzels. Because we know that stress is affecting your blood sugar, affecting your dopamine and your serotonin levels but it’s just not helpful really to grab those high sugar foods and as we previously mentioned at first, that sugar will push your blood sugar up, then you will have a blood sugar crash, which will often cause you to experience anxiety and poor moods.

KATE: It is much better to choose real food, such as a hardboiled egg with ½ of a banana and peanut butter or cottage cheese topped with blueberries and almonds. My favorite is a small dish of Sonoma Chicken with grapes, pecans and real mayo. These are easy foods to eat, even when you aren’t hungry. When my mother passed away, I just wasn’t hungry, but I forced myself to eat real food periodically – some protein, some good fat and some vegetables or fruit. It was really an intellectual decision here. I knew these foods would keep me sane and well-grounded.

BRENNA: I think that’s an important point to make. That I had a client recently who told me about multiple deaths within the course of the year. She said after the second or third one, my heart hurt too much, I couldn’t eat. I would go to bed hungry but I couldn’t eat. Someone who works at Nutritional Weight & Wellness told me after her mother died she experienced something similar as well. She told me that “All I could manage was putting peanut butter on a piece of toast.” And if that’s all you can manage, that’s what you do. She just knew she had to eat a little something.

Oh and we have a caller. Becky, are you on the line?

CALLER: Good morning! Couple questions, you guys were speaking of protein shakes, and if I don’t see myself as a person who would make them up, then what should I be looking for if I’m going to buy them in the store, ingredient wise or nutritional values. An already made one? But also then, what are your thoughts of meal replacement shakes as a whole.

BRENNA: I think the ingredients in them are terrible.

KATE: Yeah, I think you’re going to find that they are artificial sweeteners and possibly just other ingredients that aren’t going to be helpful. Is there a resistance to making the protein shake, just because you don’t know how?

CALLER: Probably and typically don’t have the ingredients.

BRENNA: Even if all you have is some yogurt and some fruit and maybe some milk or water, you can throw that in a blender and call it a day.

KATE: You could also look on our website or go to one of our Nutritional Weight & Wellness offices and we sell protein powders that don’t have any of the strange artificial inflammatory ingredients and they are low in sugar.

BRENNA: That’s what I find to be the problem with the store-bought ones, maybe the ingredients look ok but they are really high in sugar because they put a lot of juice or too much fruit and it’s not going to be balancing the way that having one that you’ve made is going to be.

KATE: Our protein powders that we sell are different whey proteins, chocolate, vanilla, unflavored, a beef protein powder, chocolate, vanilla, unflavored, pea protein, egg white protein. None of them have artificial sweeteners in them and if they are sweetened they are sweetened with Stevia. And they are very easy to use and I would encourage you to give it a try when you’ve got a few minutes. Our whey protein has a recipe on the package so you’ll know, otherwise you can ask at our front desk for recipes for using the protein powders.

CALLER: Ok, ok. Alright!

KATE: Thanks for your call!

BRENNA: Kate, we’ve kind of been talking about a slightly sad topic here. How do most of us handle a death in the family? I hate to say it, but when my grandparents passed earlier this year –well I think we have to go to break, I’ll talk about that when we come back.

KATE: You are listening to Dishing Up Nutrition brought to you by Nutritional Weight & Wellness.We invite you to tune in next week to hear Dar and Lea discuss how the lack of self-care may be sabotaging your weight loss. Also for all of our out-of-town listeners, we want to remind you of our 12-week Nutrition 4 Weight Loss series, which you can now take online. We also include 2 -1 hr individual nutrition appointments with one of our Weight and Wellness nutritionists, because we understand each client has unique needs and we want you to be successful with your weight loss. Give us a call at 651.699.3438. We’ll be happy to answer all of your personal questions.


BRENNA: Welcome back to Dishing up Nutrition, brought to you by Nutritional Weight and Wellness. I want to tell you about the wonderful seminars we are offering this fall. I encourage you to jot down the dates, so you can put them on your calendar. First, the weekend of October 6th through the 8th we are offering our Weekend Weight and Wellness Seminar. This is three days of learning, laughter and great food. On November 4th, the Menopause Survival Seminar returns. Currently half of the seats are spoken for, so I would encourage you to sign up soon and not wait until the last minute. Then on November 18th, we are offering our The Food Connection to ADHD Seminar. The information in this seminar will be helpful for both parents of children with ADHD and for adults with ADHD. As we always say, Food Matters!

Before break we were discussing how to eat during a crisis. This past year my grandparents passed away unexpectedly and during the week that I spent at my parents’ house, I started eating more sugar than I normally would. When I did it I did it very consciously. I knew exactly what was going on, and I still chose to eat more chocolate than I normally would. I knew my body was trying to deal with the stress that was affecting my blood sugar and my dopamine levels. And as an early riser I added a cookie to my coffee. Sitting on the kitchen counter and I ate it. In the afternoon instead of having a balanced snack I knew there were chocolate covered cherries in the pantry, I think I’ll eat those. So some of those choices just happened because I was at my parents’ house, they were there. It’s not something I typically keep at my house. The thing was, some of those habits followed me home. I was thinking to myself, when this week is over, when I’m back home I won’t have these things, but the cookie with the coffee in the morning? I still had Christmas cookies leftover in my freezer, whoops! But then it ended and I made a decision that I don’t need to eat cookies every morning.

KATE: It just goes to show you that under extreme stress, sugar has a way of sneaking in, even when we know better! Let’s face it, when there is an unexpected death in the family, we’re usually too busy to cook, because we are taking care of so many other details. It really is wonderful that the age-old tradition of thoughtful neighbors and loving friends bringing food to the grieving family is still part of our culture. But here is a question that should be addressed – what kind of food do grieving families need? By now, you should know that chocolate-covered cherries, cookies, brownies, and cupcake. Eating foods loaded with sugar creates more stress and anxiety as we’ve been saying. We have known for many years that eating sugary foods can increase anxiety symptoms and impair the body’s ability to cope with stress.

BRENNA: In a perfect world we might not experience this emotional eating as people will call it. But this isn’t a perfect world and as a society we really seem to believe that soothing our emotions with treats is helpful. And in moderation, maybe for some people it is and maybe that just works. I ate the cookies and then I was done. But for many people, choosing or somehow falling into the habit of eating those treats, creates more stress and more cravings.

We had a family friend that asked if they could bring over a lasagna for our family. My sister is very lactose intolerant and we said you know, not the best idea, but instead she brought over a beef roast with some carrots, potatoes and vegetable tray with dip and it was perfect. It was just what we needed.  

KATE: That sounds great. What a balance to all of those cookies and chocolate-covered cherries.

BRENNA: It was so nice to sit down finally as a family and have that meal. Another thing that kind of comes to mind that people could make is our Chicken Wild Rice Soup recipe, which is on our website at You can add a good cup of heavy cream to it to make it even more satisfying.  

KATE: Another meal I think of for a grieving family is a simple meatloaf with roasted vegetables and a bowl of cut up cantaloupe or fresh berries and a pint or so of heavy whipping cream. To me, that would be the respite. That would be the “Oh, I can get my protein. My veggie and my fat.” We also have a really good turkey meatloaf that would be good, it uses wild rice in place of oatmeal and crackers. So if there is someone in the family who is gluten sensitive that would be an easy recipe to use in that situation.

BRENNA: Exactly and I think the nice thing about the meatloaf or meatballs is that you can freeze them and pull them out, so if the family already has a lot of food they can put that in the freezer and save it for later. Another enjoyable meal is making a pot of chili. It’s satisfying, hearty and it can be frozen.

KATE: What are some other things we can come up with?

BRENNA: This just made me laugh because we had multiple people offering us lasagna and that’s a common meal, or some kind of a hotdish and I was talking with a friend recently and she’s gone through a lot of stress this year, lost someone very close to her. And she and I were joking because she and her husband ended up with four lasagnas.

KATE: Oh dear! She’s kind of dairy sensitive and her husband is very lactose intolerant and he just kept eating it and dealt with the consequences because she was too tired, too stressed to do any cooking. And she’s actually first generation Chinese and she has some coworkers from other Asian countries and they called her up and asked if she wanted some Asian comfort food. And she said yes! Apparently it was stir-fried bok choy and something lighter that really spoke to her.

KATE: That’s a wonderful example of how you really have to think about who your person is.

BRENNA: Who the person is and I think it’s wonderful when people want to bring food.

KATE: Absolutely, yeah. It saves most of us who are in a stressful situation. But again, my emphasis would be, please think about bringing some protein.

BRENNA: I also think of, what are some other things instead of food that you can do. Our neighbor Tim unfortunately did pass away so as a neighborhood we did come together to support his wife and daughter and we’re mowing their lawn every week. So it was instead of bringing them food, we thought what can we do to help you get through this first year.

KATE: Exactly. Take out the garbage, come in and shovel the walks when it’s winter. Absolutely. Well I’m hoping each of you will support yourself nutritionally through your next life emergency, by eating some protein, healthy fat and veggies like we’ve talked about today.

Our goal at Nutritional Weight & Wellness is to help each and every person experience better health through eating real food. It’s a simple, yet powerful message. Eating real food is life-changing.

Thank you for tuning in today!

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