Sleep and Life Expectancy

When you think of how long you’re going to live – what age comes to mind: 75, 80, 85, 90, 95?

Let me ask you a simple question, when thinking about your own life expectancy, do you take into account how much sleep you get every night? And, do you believe the two are intricately connected?

Harvard Medical School experts recently revealed that people who get less than 5 hours of sleep are 15 percent more likely to die at an earlier age and from a host of things. In the “Whitehall II Study,” British researchers discovered that less than five hours of sleep also doubled the risk of death from cardiovascular disease – which is the number one cause of death in America according to the CDC. A lack of sleep doubles the risk of death…let that sink in for a moment.

Drowsy Driving vs Drunk Driving

Sleep and alcohol may not seem like they have a lot in common when it comes to driving. However, going 24 hours without sleep is equal to having a blood alcohol content of .10. That’s .02 BAC above the legal driving limit.

Both lack of sleep and alcohol slows your reaction time, affects your ability to process information and impairs your memory. One of these things alone can lead to an accident even in the best of conditions, but all three together is a recipe for disaster. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), more than 100,000 accidents can be directly attributed to drowsy driving each year. When 1 in 4 drivers admit to driving drowsy in the last month, it’s easy to see why this can be so dangerous.

And how about this shocking article Drivers Beware, Crash Rate Spikes with Every Hour of Lost Sleep

Just another reason to give your body the Zzzzzs it needs. And, until tomorrow when I offer you even more reasons to get your beauty rest, sweet dreams.

 

Sleep your way to good health!

If you’re like many Americans, you’re in constant motion. Does this typical day sound familiar?

Drive the kids to school, go to work, pick up groceries on the way home, make sure your daughter gets to soccer practice on time and your son does his homework. Cook dinner, throw in a load of laundry, respond to unanswered work emails, call your Mom to say hi out of sheer guilt because it’s been days, weeks even, and run a vacuum before collapsing into a chair to drink a much awaited glass of wine. And your day isn’t over yet. Your son blasts into your bedroom at 9:30pm in a panic because his band concert is tomorrow evening and his white shirt needs ironing. Your daughter comes in upset because there’s no Kombucha in the fridge – OMG!! The President of the PTA calls to ask you to volunteer for the fundraiser next Tuesday and “oh, can you bake a batch of brownies for the meeting?” Your husband comes home cranky from work and you still have to finish that report that your boss asked you to do as you were walking out of the office today – with a deadline, of course, of tomorrow at 8am. I know what you’re thinking – Linda just nailed my life and/or you mean I’m not alone?!?

We live in a prevailing culture of striving and achieving and an “I’ll sleep when I’m dead” attitude. Men are actually the worst culprits of this and almost boast about their lack of sleep. Walk into any office across the country and you’ll probably hear Joe say, “I don’t require much sleep, as a matter of fact, I only got 4 hours last night.” We’re walking around like zombies and our bodies are in constant fight or flight mode. Our lackadaisical attitude toward sleep is just plain wrong, and this ‘constant on the go’ lifestyle is NOT sustainable!

Over the course of the next few days I’m going to outline some of the health benefits researchers have discovered about a good night’s sleep. Sure, sleep makes you feel better, but its importance goes far beyond just boosting your mood or banishing under-eye circles. Adequate sleep is a key part of a healthy lifestyle, and can benefit your heart, weight, mind, and lifespan.

“Sleep used to be ignored, like parking our car in a garage and picking it up in the morning,” says David Rapoport, M.D., director of the NYU Sleep Disorders Program. Not anymore.

Here’s just one of the many health benefits researchers have discovered about a good night’s sleep.

Improved Memory

Your mind is surprisingly busy while you sleep. During sleep you can strengthen memories or “practice” skills learned while you were awake (it’s a process called consolidation). “If you are trying to learn something, whether it’s physical or mental, you learn it to a certain point with practice,” says Dr. Rapoport, who is an associate professor at NYU Langone Medical Center. “But something happens while you sleep that makes you learn it better.” In other words if you’re trying to learn something new — whether it’s Spanish or a new tennis swing — you’ll perform better after sleeping. And, getting a good night’s sleep has been scientifically proven to improve your memory. This article from Science Daily is fascinating and a quick read. Study on how Sleep Improves Memory

Over the course of the next few days, I’ll do my best to convince you that sleep is THE BEST healthy gift you can give yourself…but in the meantime – get some rest!

Be Gentle with Yourself

Every year around this time, I begin my year in review by taking inventory on what worked and what didn’t. The most interesting find is, when I analyze what did work and why, there’s a common theme: simplification!

Small steps, consistently taken, add up to big changes. For instance, I gave up on carbs – not completely but over time, drastically decreased the number of grams I consume daily. But I started very slowly so I wouldn’t feel deprived. The end result of this small step taken every day? I’ve lost 14 lbs, lost the ‘brain fog’ and feel great! So if you’re itching for a wellness breakthrough, I encourage you to test drive a few simple shifts to your self-care routine, rather than sweeping changes that overwhelm you and you probably won’t stick to.

Change doesn’t have to be intense to be effective. Your life is already pretty packed — a little too packed if you’re like the rest of us — so instead of loading up your to do list with goals, deadlines and self-inflicted pressure, get a jump start on your New Year’s resolutions, intentions or whatever you like to call them, by trying some of the ideas below instead.

And listen up well-meaning perfectionists (I resemble that remark), stop getting in your own way and relax. Your new mantra is progress, not perfection. You don’t have to do these things 100% to see the benefit. In truth, perfectionism is really a desperate attempt at creating complete control and certainty, which doesn’t exist. It drains our life force, pisses off our soul and sucks the collagen out of our faces (or does that just happen to me?!). For the majority of us, when we start from an extreme place and seek extreme results, we set ourselves up for extreme disappointment.

Simplicity. Ease. Grace. Let the turtle be your spirit animal. Slow and steady, my glorious friend. From a spiritual perspective there is no race, there is only growing.

 

 

6 Gentle Self-Care Tips

With the holidays around the corner, this is a perfect time to ease into healthy practices that nurture your body and feed your spirit. I was coaching a client yesterday and reminded her that this time of year, she needs to be extra kind and gentle with herself and ready to whip out the “no” more readily. Pick one or two points to focus on for this month. Keep in mind that these suggestions aren’t about “never” doing something ever again. If you slip, congratulations! You fall into the human category. Ask yourself why you slipped and just listen for the answers. DO NOT judge yourself – please! And if these tips work for you, keep practicing them one glorious day at a time!

Start your day with introspection

Here’s how I greet each morning: I wake up when it’s still dark, say a prayer of gratitude and meditate for 5 minutes. Then I make a cup of hot lemon water, read something inspiring and uplifting or write in my journal if I feel the need. That’s it. The world is pretty chaotic and frightening right about now. It’s easy to turn on the news and feel the positive energy sucked right out of your body. Make a vow to start your day peacefully and introspectively instead of grabbing your phone and checking the news or reading emails. If you have to get up 15 minutes earlier, do it – you’re worth it. Choose a time when your home is quiet and you’re the only soul awake. Or ask the waking souls to “shhhhhh” so you can have your space.

Nourish your body first

You are what you eat. Personally, I have no desire to be a pop tart. By choosing to nourish your body first thing in the morning, you’re setting the tone for the rest of the day. Water, a green veggie smoothie and avocado toast will give you a boost of sustainable, nutrient-packed energy. If you love coffee like I do, guess what? You don’t have to give it up. Instead, try cutting back to one cup and have your green juice first. Give your body a healthy burst of nutrients, alkalinity and antioxidants, and then sip the mug-o-joe.

What to do with cravings

As your day unfolds, notice if you find yourself battling cravings. Cookies the well-meaning co-worker brought in, those mostly sugar in a cup Starbuck’s seasonal offerings, chips, a smoke? But remember, your cravings aren’t always about the sugar, caffeine or whatever it is you’re jonesin’ for. Sometimes they’re a plea from your higher self. Instead of mindlessly acquiescing to the donut, ask yourself what the urge is really about. Do you need more sweetness in your life? A time out from stress? (taking a few deep breathes eases the craving) Some love? An apology? What’s the craving attempting to fill for you? And what could you do to satisfy that itch (and your soul) instead?
My cravings are usually a clear reminder to listen to my inner wisdom rather than my outer, soft-lived comfort. Compulsions to drown our pain in gummy bears (or cocktails) are a sure sign that we have something deeper going on. And, believe it or not, when these cravings hit – try drinking a big glass of water. Sometimes, all your body wanted was WATER!

Practice The Daily Ten

You know you feel better when you move your body. There’s no denying it. So while you may not have time for a full-blown gym workout, you do have 10 minutes to shake it up a bit. Take a well-deserved break and run the stairs at your office. Grab your coat and take a quick walk around the building. There are also online videos of chair yoga you can incorporate right at your desk and are a click away. Ten minute bursts during the day help get the blood pumping to the brain, energize your body and stimulate your creativity. These short, 10 minute bursts are ideal for the dreaded 3:00 drag. And, better still? Grab a co-worker and do it together…soon you’ll have the entire office feeling energized without eating the left over bagel and cream cheese!

Cultivate what nourishes you BEYOND food

Your plate doesn’t contain all the answers. Your job won’t always fulfill you. Your kids and/or husband aren’t always around (or pleasant!). And yet we all need soul nourishment. Without it, we wither. So what’s one thing you could do that would bring you some smiles this week?

Here’s what I do this time of year: I go to https://www.stjude.org/ and donate. Their mission strikes such a chord with me – and it nourishes my soul more than broccoli. The mission of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital is to advance cures, and means of prevention, for pediatric catastrophic diseases through research and treatment. Consistent with the vision of their founder Danny Thomas, no child is denied treatment based on race, religion or a family’s ability to pay.

So, how about you? What nourishes your soul? What makes you feel more connected, happy or of service? Whatever it is, do more of it, especially this time of year!

Practice self-compassion

Unfortunately, suffering is a natural part of life. And try as we may we can’t avoid it. The trick is to acknowledge your suffering and then bear-hug it with compassion. Compassion is key. Once you apply compassion you’ll be able to take the lessons and move through the discomfort. We all have scars, they give us character. I have old wounds and scars on my hands from kitchen accidents (hey, I’m not a trained chef). And then there are the cancer scars, the divorce scars… All of which are a part of me now, neither pretty nor ugly, just there—longing for compassion. Here’s a tip, when you’re feeling the need for some self-compassion, draw a nice, warm bath, put out your Do Not Disturb sign, lock the bathroom door and sink into ahhhhhh.

Breathe Deep. Smile Often and Love Yourself Fully

Images by: Anthony Tran and Samantha Gades

Stop Buying Grocery Store Mayo!

After I thoroughly depressed you a few days ago with the knowledge that there’s sugar hiding in your mayo and sauces, I promised my homemade mayo recipe.

Healthy store-bought mayonnaise is not something that exists at the moment; all of them are prepared with oils that are very high in polyunsaturated fat. I’m sure you can go on Amazon.com and find a healthier option but why do that when you can make your own?

Making mayonnaise doesn’t have to turn into an endurance test of your whisking abilities, thanks to the help of common kitchen tools. Making mayonnaise by hand with only your arm, a bowl and a whisk can certainly empress a few and makes for less cleaning, but it can frankly be exhausting and very frustrating if the mayonnaise ends up breaking. Using either a blender, food processor or handheld immersion blender (my fav) is the easiest way to whip up a perfect mayonnaise every time. I use an immersion blender with the whisk attachment, but any tool you have that’ll let you blend all the ingredients while you slowly pour in the oil works just fine.

Choosing the oil right

Mayonnaise is made primarily of oil, so choosing the right oil is very important. You can use either light olive oil or a combination of light olive oil with macadamia oil, avocado oil, melted lard or melted ghee. Personally, I prefer avocado oil. Mayonnaise is probably the only occasion where I’ll use light olive oil instead of a higher quality extra-virgin olive oil, which would taste too strong for mayonnaise. It’s also important to use a greater amount of oil that stays liquid even when placed in the refrigerator, to prevent your mayonnaise from becoming as hard as a rock. So for example, if using lard or ghee, a good proportion would be to use ¼ of the lard or ghee to ¾ of olive oil. This is too complex for me – that’s why I prefer using avocado oil. I’m all about simplicity!

immersion blender

Fixing a broken mayonnaise

A mayonnaise becomes broken if the oil is incorporated too fast with the mixture of eggs and becomes liquid and lumpy. Don’t panic if this happens, fixing a broken mayonnaise is not as complicated as it may seem. Simply take out a new glass bowl, add in an egg yolk and 1 tsp of fresh lemon juice and then slowly whisk or blend in your broken mayonnaise. Viola!

Flavor ideas

Mayonnaise can be augmented with quite an array of flavors to become an aioli, tartar sauce, Caesar dressing, ranch dressing or pretty much whatever you’d like. Here are a few ingredients you can play around with to create an almost unlimited variation of mayonnaise flavors: black pepper, sun-dried tomatoes, roasted red peppers, horseradish, garlic, dill, chili pepper flakes, chives, basil – you get the idea.

Mayonnaise Recipe from Paleo

Yields: 1 ¼ cups Prep: 15 min

 

Ingredients

  • 2 egg yolks;
  • 1 cup of your chosen oil (e.g. 1 cup of light olive oil);
  • 1 tsp Dijon – read the label and make sure there’s no added sugar
  • 4 tsp fresh lemon juice;
  • 1 pinch of salt;

 

Preparation

  1. Place the egg yolks, 1 tsp of the lemon juice, the mustard and the pinch of salt in a bowl or in the bowl of your food processor or blender.
  2. Start whisking/blending everything together and then start slowly drizzling the oil in. If I can do this, you can do this 😉
  3. Continue pouring in the oil slowly, but steadily. An emulsion will eventually start to form and you’ll be able to pour in the oil more quickly.
  4. Using a blender, immersion blender or food processor makes it very easy, but if you decide to whisk it by hand you’ll have to whisk quite vigorously for the whole process to prevent the mayonnaise from separating.
  5. Your mayonnaise should be quite thick when all the oil is incorporated and you can then add the remaining lemon juice and blend it in with the mayonnaise for a smoother texture.
  6. Refrigerate and enjoy! And, share your favorite mayo recipes with us and I’ll post them on the blog for all to try.

ABC & K Slaw!

Are you in constant ‘go’ mode? Most of us are and lunch can prove to be quite the challenge when trying to eat a healthier diet.

It’s SO ridiculously easy and convenient to run through one of the numerous, fast food drive-thrus and then have buyers remorse later. It’s the “OMG, I can’t believe I just ate a double bacon cheeseburger and a large fry” guilt that runs through our minds and persecutes us.

If you did just do that and you’re already starting to beat yourself up – stop! It’s ok, it’s not the end of the world and one fast-food meal is not going to ruin what you’ve accomplished this far. But…for tomorrow’s lunch, I found a quick, inexpensive and healthier choice. Trader Joe’s to the rescue!

ABC & K Slaw – it’s fantastic! Apples, Beets, Carrots and Kale and it comes with a Poppyseed dressing. You can buy it, grab a plastic fork and enjoy it in your car or at your desk. And it’s a much healthier choice then the ‘golden arches’ choices 😉

Let me know if you’ve tried it or once you do, what you think!

Sugar in my mayo – say it isn’t so!

“I’m sugar-free!” you say as you dollop sweet chili sauce all over your chicken breast.

 

Believe it or not, sauces are one of the sneakiest hiding places for sugar. And, to top it off, some of the recommended serving sizes are just 5g per serving – so when you look at the nutritional panel they might not seem too bad… at first.

But in reality, a 5g serving of any sauce is around the size of a 10 cent coin. Seriously?? Who among us would just have a teeny tiny little squeeze of tomato sauce or mayo on anything?? If we’re going to be honest, the average ‘dollop’ of sauce is around 30g, so let’s take a look at how much sugar is actually in your dollop of sauce, shall we? 

 

How much sugar in sauce

Bear in mind, that the recommended daily limit of sugar is 6–9 teaspoons, so a blob of some of these sauces could nearly max that.

And a word of caution; while sauces like mayo and aioli are low in sugar, they’re packed with polyunsaturated fats which are NOT good for you. I recommend making your own mayo – and if I can do it, you can do it. I’ll post my simple mayo recipe in a few days. But in the meantime, read your labels and be conscientious when blobbing sauce all over your steak. And I use the term blobbing in a very warm, caring, I know what you’re going through, sort of way.

What is Paleo?

There are millions of Paleo fans out there today who have embraced this way of eating. If you’ve got a friend who ‘does Paleo’ and is loving it, remember, every diet is bio-individual. It may be perfect for you and it may not be perfect for you. If you’re interested in giving the Paleo Diet a try, there are blogs committed to writing about nothing but Paleo to find recipe after recipe.

Here’s a quick, down and dirty view of what the Paleo diet looks like –

A Paleo diet should be high in fat, moderate in animal protein and low to moderate in carbohydrates. Calorie counting is not encouraged, neither is portion control.

Eat generous amounts of saturated fats like coconut oil and butter or clarified butter. Beef tallow (animal fat), lard and duck fat are also good, but only if they come from healthy and well-treated animals; no hormones, no antibiotics. Know where your meat comes from!

Olive, avocado and macadamia oil are also good fats to use in salads and to drizzle over food.

red meat

Eat good amounts of animal protein. This includes red meat, poultry, pork, eggs, organs (liver, kidney, heart…) and if you’re wondering, no…I can’t bring myself to eat organs! Wild caught fish is more my speed. Don’t be afraid to eat the fatty cuts. Learn to cook with bones and save and use the stock/broth. There are some days for lunch, when all I do is heat up some stock and sip it like tea.

fresh veggies

Eat generous amounts of fresh or frozen vegetables either cooked or raw and served with fat (butter or ghee). Starchy vegetables like sweet potatoes and yams are also great as a source of nontoxic carbohydrates.

Eat low to moderate amounts of fruits and nuts. Try to eat mostly fruits low in sugar and high in antioxidants like berries as well as nuts high in omega-3, low in omega-6 and low in total polyunsaturated fat like macadamia nuts, my personal favorites. Consider cutting off fruits and nuts altogether if you have an autoimmune disease, digestive problems or are trying to lose weight faster as nuts can be high in calories.

Cut out all cereal grains and legumes from your diet. This includes, but is not limited to, wheat, rye, barley, oats, corn, brown rice, soy, peanuts, kidney beans, pinto beans, navy beans and black eyed peas. For me, cutting out all cereals and grains has been a welcome difference. I’m no longer bloated and my system seems to digest much better without it. Cut out all vegetable, hydrogenated and partly hydrogenated oils including, but not limited to, margarine, soybean oil, corn oil, peanut oil, canola oil, safflower oil and sunflower oil. Olive oil and avocado oil are fine, and you can use them in salad dressings and to drizzle over food.

say no to soda.jpg

Eliminate added sugar, soft drinks, all packaged sweets and juices (including fruit juices). I know some of you LOVE your orange juice in the mornings but if you look at the amount of sugar in it – it’s NOT GOOD! As a rule of thumb, if it’s in a box, don’t eat it.

At the grocery store, visit primarily the meat, fish and produce sections. Eliminate dairy products other than butter and maybe heavy cream. You don’t need dairy, but if you can’t live without it, consider raw, full fat and/or fermented dairy.

Eat when you’re hungry and don’t stress if you skip a meal or even two. I’m a huge fan of intermittent fasting. You don’t have to eat three square meals a day, do what feels most natural.

Eliminate external stressors in your life as much as possible and sleep at least 8 hours per night. I highly suggest meditating for at least 5-10 min every morning. I’ll blog about meditation another day. Try to wake up without an alarm and to go to bed when it gets dark. It’s what the cavemen did! Living in the Midwest, this doesn’t work very well as it starts to get dark at 4pm in the winter months.

Don’t over-exercise, keep your training sessions short and intense and do them only a few times per week. Take some extra time off if you feel tired. Consider short and intense sprinting sessions instead of very long cardio sessions. Believe it or not, I’m now living in a space on the 2nd floor and all I do is run up the stairs when I get home and run down the stairs when I leave. That, along with lifting some weights and I’m set.

That’s Paleo! I’d love to hear from all of you who may follow a Paleo diet. Let us know what’s been easiest for you, and what you struggle to omit. And share your favorite recipe with us. We’d love to learn from you!!

Maca Root Side Effects, a follow-up from Stress S*cks

Last week in my post titled Stress S*cks – I talked about the benefits of maca and gave you a drink recipe. Many of you asked for more information around Maca so I’ve done some research that I hope you feel is beneficial in making your own nutritional choices.

Maca is a Peruvian root that is used both in cooking and medicine. Its fans cite benefits such as increased energy and libido. While it can help you feel more energetic, you need to consider the possible side effects of taking this herb. As with any herb, always check with your health care provider before adding maca root to your diet.

What Is Maca Root?

Maca root is an herbal supplement that comes from the Peruvian maca plant. It has been hailed in Peru for years as a ‘superfood’ that can help improve health and vitality.

The latest in a long line of superfoods making their way to North America and Europe from other continents, maca is believed to be an adaptogen, or an herb that helps the body resist stress, trauma, and fatigue. It is believed to enhance immunity and increase energy. Maca may also elevate energy levels, improve immune function and provide vital nutrients to malnourished bodies.

There are many other promoted benefits of maca root, including hormone balancing, healing skin conditions, preventing migraines and many more. Please remember that these benefits are very personal to each individual.

Maca Root Side Effects

If you believe the press, maca root is all benefits with no side effects but we all know better. Before trying maca root yourself, consider the following caveats, side effects and cautions and then choose for yourself.

High in Iodine

Maca root is extremely high in iodine. While some iodine is necessary for thyroid function, too much can worsen the symptoms of thyroid disease. It also has a chemical in it called Glucosinolate, which may lead to the growth of goiters. Those with thyroid disorders should proceed with extreme caution and check with their endocrinologist before consuming maca root. I experienced this firsthand. I was taking maca powder daily prior to getting married. On the day after our wedding – yep, the very next day, I woke with an enlarged thyroid. Enlarged enough so that I had to have it drained. I believe it was caused by stress and daily doses of maca powder. I have since found that, for me, once or twice a week gives me maximum benefits. Too much of a good thing is, well, too much.

Allergies

Like any herb, there may be those who are allergic to maca root. If you have plant based allergies you may want to check with your allergist before consuming maca.

Testosterone Function

Some studies show maca is to increase the production of testosterone in the body for both men and women. While men may benefit from this, too much testosterone can cause problematic hormonal changes in women including:

  • Growth of facial hair
  • Deepening of voice
  • Changes in body shape
  • Male pattern baldness
  • Insulin resistance
  • Breast and uterine cancers

There may also be mood swings, anxiety and excessive anger in both sexes; most likely attributable to the increased testosterone. It is interesting to note that the very prestigious New York University’s Langone Medical Center reports that there does not appear to be any increase in testosterone levels for people taking maca. Again, you know your own body – you be the judge.

Skin Problems

Because maca increases hormonal activity, it can cause adolescent type breakouts and acne.

Altered Hormone Levels

Changes in hormone levels can also lead to menstrual problems, decreased sex drive and weight gain or even hot flashes.

Upset Stomach

One of the side effects of maca can be nausea and stomach upset.

Increased Heart Rate

The root is a stimulant, and can caused increased heart rate. If you have a history of heart disease or disorder, check with your cardiac care physician before taking maca root. Again, my own personal journey with maca. Some days I can actually feel the stimulant and some days, a warm maca drink actually calms me.

Heartburn

Some people taking maca root have reported increased incidence of heart burn.

Headaches

Some people taking maca root report headaches that are increased in frequency and severity and some say maca helps curb migraine headaches.

Sleeplessness

The stimulant properties of maca root may make it difficult to sleep.

maca

Take Maca Root Cautiously

There are no known drug interactions with maca and, with the exception of the increased incidence of goiter, there are no scientifically based negative side effects, either. Every person handles substances differently, however, so be cautious when taking maca or any herb. Don’t ignore any symptoms that you may have.

Always check with your health care provider before taking any herb, but especially before adding maca root to your health care regimen. If you do decide to take maca root, it is best to slowly build up your dosage to the recommended amount to reduce incidents of side effects. If you do experience any of the above side effects or any other changes you should stop taking maca root immediately and talk with your personal health care provider.

I hope this helps and doesn’t confuse more. Best advice I can offer; know your body and listen to it. If you start incorporating maca into your diet and experience any adverse side effects, stop taking it.

Want to Feel Good? Fruity Chocolate Almond Bark

According to dietitian Jane Jakubczak at the University of Maryland, negative emotions cause 75% of overeating. 75%! I used to tell my husband, “you don’t have an eating problem, you have a stress problem!”

Some reasons for ’emotional eating’ include past trauma, chronic or short-term stress like an angry co-worker, crazy traffic, mood disorders like anxiety and depression, and/or low self esteem. We’ve all been there before and it goes something like this; we have a bad day at work, we come home and the first thing we do is grab something that we know isn’t good for us. For me, it used to be a pint of Ben & Jerry’s Coffee Toffee Bar Crunch – oh my god. A survey of 9,125 U.S. adults conducted by Dr. Gregory E. Simon, MD, MPH, at Seattle’s Group Health Cooperative showed that people who are obese are 25% more likely to have mood and anxiety disorders. People who overeat for these reasons may find themselves caught in a vicious cycle. They overeat because they feel bad, and they feel bad because they overeat. Behavior change is the only way to get past this but it takes time, patience with yourself and the willingness to change.

Our brains are hardwired for rewards. Taken to the extreme, it can cause addiction. People can become addicted to a variety of substances and behaviors such as watching TV, using the internet, and even healthy behaviors like exercise. Sugar and fat trigger similar pathways and feelings as drugs. Some people get a more intense feeling after eating fat and sugar than others, more so when they are under stress or dealing with emotional trauma. Interestingly, Dr. Simon’s survey reported obese people are 25% less likely to abuse other substances, such as alcohol and illegal drugs, than non-obese people. This enforces the likelihood that some people use food to cope.

Dark chocolate is high in antioxidants and can be lower in sugar than other snacks. Add in a handful of nuts and this will satisfy any snacking cravings you may have. But remember, eat in moderation. When you come home from that ‘bad day’, go to the fridge, grab a small piece of this bark, and walk away from the fridge before eating it. Savor it slowly…I know, I know – it’s not easy but really try to enjoy the smell, the texture, the taste. Eating chocolate releases serotonin. However, chocolate has an additional benefit. It promotes relaxation through the release of endorphins. Endorphins are “feel good” chemicals also produced after hard, aerobic exercise. And chocolate may improve blood flow to the heart and brain, thus improving concentration, due to the antioxidants it contains.

If you are a “stress eater,” then try this delicious and satisfying snack to help improve your mood.

INGREDIENTS

1 cup toasted almonds or pecans, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup dried cherries or chopped dried fruit, coarsely chopped
6 oz dark chocolate (60%-70%, or higher), finely chopped
¼ tsp cinnamon
½ tsp espresso powder, optional

DIRECTIONS

  1. In a medium bowl, toss together the almonds and the dried fruit. Line a baking sheet with waxed or parchment paper.
  2. Melt the chocolate in the microwave on low power or until melted, but not thick. It may take from 1-2 minutes depending on the power of the microwave. Or use a double boiler to melt the chocolate. Stir in the fruit, nuts and cinnamon. Add espresso powder if desired – this makes it extra yummy.
  3. Drop by teaspoonful for clusters, or pour onto parchment paper lined baking pan and spread evenly. (You can sprinkle sea salt on top if you’d like). Refrigerate until firm and store in air tight container in refrigerator.