Quarantine Cravings: Part 2

Eat to beat cravings.

Can we talk about all those pictures of homemade bread popping up all over social media? Everyday I’m seeing posts of crisp crusted sourdough bread, golden loaves of banana bread and mouth-watering homemade biscuits. And in Quarantine Cravings: Part 1, I shared my recent craving for chocolate chip cookies. What’s driving all of these cravings?

Three words: Stress, serotonin, dopamine. Stress depletes serotonin and dopamine, our mood-regulating hormones. And this in turn spurs cravings for sugar, carbs and chocolate. Or sometimes salt and fat. Stress, and its corresponding elevated cortisol, causes other nutrient depletions as well. High cortisol burns through B vitamins, of which B6 is critical in synthesizing serotonin and dopamine.

Your best defense against these cravings – and they are real – is to lower stress. I know how difficult that can be given these uncertain times we are living in. But there are things you can do to reduce stress and they are likely things that are within your control. 

  • Eat something healthy. Grab a piece of fruit and a small handful of nuts instead of that cookie. And make sure you’re eating adequate, quality protein at each meal. Protein helps you feel satisfied longer.
  • Munch on some Mood Boosting Granola. Find the recipe below.
  • Take a walk. Preferably where there are trees and you can still maintain the recommended six-foot distance from others.
  • Take a yoga class. Google “Free Yoga Classes Online” and take your pick. Yoga has been shown to reduce stress.
  • Drink water. Finally, I can’t overstress the importance of hydration. And as mentioned in Quarantine Cravings Part 1, dehydration can mask itself as hunger, especially for sugar, as well as fatigue, irritability and headache. Aim for a minimum of 64 ounces of plain, clean water daily or half your body weight in ounces per day. Unfortunately, coffee doesn’t count here.

Mood-Boosting Granola

This recipe supplies a healthy dose of tryptophan and tyrosine – precursors to serotonin and dopamine, respectively – as well as vitamin B6. Pecans, which are naturally sweet and a small amount of real maple syrup satisfy the sweet craving.

3 cups rolled oats (Gluten-free oats work great, but avoid quick-cooking oats for this recipe)
1 cup unsweetened coconut flakes
1 cup chopped pecans
1 cup raw cacao nibs
1/3 cup pure maple syrup
1/2 cup coconut oil, melted               
1 TBSP vanilla extract
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp sea salt

  1. Preheat the oven to 300°F and line a cookie sheet with parchment paper or a silicone mat.
  2. Combine the oats, coconut, pecans and raw cacao.
  3. Melt the coconut oil in a large glass bowl. Add the maple syrup and vanilla and mix well. Stir in the dry ingredients, coating them well.
  4. Spread in a single layer on the prepared cookie sheet and cook 30-35 minutes and sprinkle with cinnamon and salt. Stir once about half way through the cooking time.
  5. Cool and store in an airtight container.

Perhaps you noticed that I’m pretty specific on a couple of the ingredients in this granola recipe. Here’s why. Pure maple syrup has just as much sugar as its commercial pancake syrup counterpart. And sugar is sugar. However, the pure product delivers a number of minerals, especially manganese, an important immune-supporting mineral. And the raw cacao provides key antioxidants and magnesium, another mineral that’s a critical mood stabilizer and immune system enhancer. Sorry, but your common variety of chocolate chips only brings more inflammation-promoting sugar to the table (pun intended). So, give this immune-supportive and mood-boosting granola a try.

And while it looks like some areas may soon see a reduction in the social distancing requirements, maintaining a robust immune system will be critical to staying healthy in the months and years ahead. A healthy diet, rich in a variety of fruits and vegetables, adequate protein and healthy fats, is a good foundation but sometimes we need extra support. Next week in Quarantine Cravings: Part 3, I’ll discuss some key vitamins, minerals and herbs that you may want to consider boosting via supplementation.

Quarantine Cravings: Part 1

Sugar and chocolate and carbs, oh my!

So we’re approaching 60 days into this new world of the coronavirus and social distancing. When I sat down to write, all sorts of unsettling images – images that weren’t in my mind a month ago – flooded my brain. At first I felt compelled to list them all, but my heart thought better of it. Yes, it’s been a hard couple of months for all of us. Some more than others. And we’ve all been tasked with flexing our creative muscles. I’ll admit, some days – actually quite a few of them – I’ve had to dig pretty deep to stay positive and productive.

Where are the positives, the wins however small among this uncertainty and chaos? Well, I surprised my husband with chocolate chip cookies on a Tuesday afternoon. This was significant since it’s been more than a year since I made cookies. Which is probably a good thing. We’re now working our way through batch number two. And my dogs are appreciating longer walks each day. There’s plenty of time for walking. And it’s good for all of us. And I’ve had more time to plan. And I am most definitely a planner.

But, back to those chocolate chip cookies. I keep them in the freezer so they’re not quite so readily available. But really. How hard is it to take a couple out and microwave them for 30 seconds? And I’m at home with them all day! These cookies are my number one Quarantine Craving. Are you having them, too – Quarantine Cravings?

  • Sugar cravings
  • Irritability
  • Sleep difficulties
  • Headaches

These are all symptoms of excess cortisol, which has a direct correlation to stress. Stress coordinates our cortisol levels. The immediate output of cortisol in response to a stressful situation helps us deal with the strain of an argument with a coworker or the trauma of a near miss collision while driving. But those are temporary. They resolve relatively quickly and cortisol levels return to normal.

When we’re under chronic stress, cortisol levels stay elevated and can cause the symptoms above in addition to brain fog, insulin resistance, high blood pressure, osteoporosis and weight gain. We are most certainly in a time of chronic stress, my friends!

So these Quarantine Cravings aren’t really surprising. The good news is there are some simple things you can do to help deal with these cravings. First, when cravings hit, acknowledge them. Then try one – or a combination – of these tips:

  1. Deep breathing in for a count of five, then exhale to a count of five. Repeat for 10-15 cycles.
  2. Wait 15 minutes. Do something constructive to fill the time like take a short walk outside or a few reps of bicep curls with weights (or jug of laundry soap). This wait-out time actually allows for changes in your brain’s chemistry!
  3. Be present. Try to identify what you are feeling emotionally. Is it frustration, boredom, discouragement or feeling overwhelmed? Or perhaps it’s optimism or feeling empowered or passionate. While we tend to associate cravings with perceived “negative” emotions, we also tend to use foods as a reward for so-called “positive” emotions. Awareness can help you manage cravings.
  4. Journaling. In conjunction with #3, keeping a journal can help you identify your personal emotional triggers. Consider this experiment: Focus on where in your body to you feel this emotion.
  5. Have a glass of water. Dehydration can mask itself as cravings, especially for sugar.

These tips are designed to help you deal with Quarantine Cravings when they hit you. They do require a level of awareness, which is something I work on with all of my nutrition clients. Next week, we’ll look at some long-term dietary strategies to help deal with the effects of chronic stress (aka high cortisol) in Quarantine Cravings: Part 2.

Feel free to give me some feedback on how you’re doing and what your experience is with any of these Quarantine Craving tips!

Eat well. Be well.

My Story: The Teachers & the Lessons

I’m often asked how I came to nutrition as a second career. I’ve spent some time reflecting on that question and am grateful for all the nudges – small and large – that the Universe has presented. Contemplating my journey, I am reminded of my mentors. I’ve had many teachers along this path toward nutrition and wellness. There were the traditional university professors. There was my own, abundantly gifted and patient naturopathic doctor. And there was the most unlikely of teachers, my first dog, Charlie.

Charlie, a German shepherd-husky mix, was an incredible teacher on so many levels. But none more so than her gift of launching my journey into nutrition and wellness – for myself and for helping others. Charlie

Charlie arrived as a not-quite-weaned
puppy. And when I think back to that Sunday afternoon, Providence was clearly at work. My then-husband and I had bought a house the previous winter when the snow in Fairbanks was deep. And now in May, with the snow melted, we took stock of the mess that was our backyard. First to go was a sagging mesh wire fence. This was my job that afternoon, but just before I began to dismantle the fence, two little girls showed up with a puppy. They told a sad story about why they couldn’t keep her and asked if I wanted to buy the puppy for $20. It was the best $20 investment I ever made. But if I had begun my fence dismantling task, I know I would have turned down the offer.

Charlie taught me how awesome
communication between species can be, that brushing is love and that trust is a
wondrous thing. We traveled many miles together around town and throughout
Alaska.

When she was nine, she developed a
condition called EPI – enzymatic pancreatic insufficiency. Pancreas? I knew we had one but I couldn’t tell you quite where it was or what its function was. And enzymes? What are those and what do they do? Although it was absolutely unclear to me at the time, this was the beginning of my nutrition and wellness journey.

Fast forward a couple of years. I had a rather annoying rash on my face. Had it been anywhere else on my body, I probably wouldn’t have sought medical attention. But it was on my face, right? The dermatologist put me on a month-long course of antibiotics. She didn’t mention the need for probiotics and I didn’t yet know of the importance of repopulating the gut with beneficial microbes after the antibiotics swept through destroying all the microbes present. I quickly developed a bacterial infection called Clostridium difficile, that wouldn’t be diagnosed for nearly a year. With treatment, I recovered. Life went on, but I could no longer tolerate glutinous grains (wheat, barley, rye and spelt) and dairy had become problematic, too. These sensitivities remain with me today.

It would still be nearly a decade before I would make a 180° career shift and return to graduate school to earn my Masters in Human Nutrition. There I would learn the mechanisms by which antibiotics predispose the gut to colonization by the C. diff. bacteria (among a host of other digestive ailments) and the subsequent setup for food sensitivities. I will admit that I spent some time (years actually) harboring anger toward that dermatologist.

But in time, I found myself being gently reminded from various people, books and conversations that every experience is
a gift. I began to reframe my story of being “wronged” in my mind. It was not immediately apparent what the “gifts” were though. But I persisted in considering that there were gifts and slowly they came into focus for me.

Being intolerant of wheat presented me with some challenges that I rather reluctantly embraced. It allowed me to learn about alternative flours and experiment with them. My culinary repertoire expanded. I became aware of the nutritional benefits of nut and bean flours vs. traditional wheat flours and I became good at gluten-free baking. I now teach gluten-free baking and cooking classes at the local community college. This is a role I cherish.

The experience of being gluten and dairy intolerant also presented me with the opportunity to ask for what I wanted. This was in contrast to a belief I took away from my childhood – one in which it was not acceptable for me to really ask for what I wanted. I’m not sure whether I intuited this belief as a teaching or I incorporated it on my own. But it became clear that it was an unconscious belief that needed restructuring as it became a necessity for me to ask for what my body needed. This was especially the case when dining out at friends’ homes or in a restaurant. And this aspect of asking for what I wanted began to extend to other aspects of my life as well.

So, my journey into the role of nutritionist and wellness coach was a slow but persistent one. A journey filled
with indelible teachers in the forms of professors, doctors, a canine and some unproductive beliefs. Do I ever wish I could just eat wheat and dairy again? Sure! It can be challenging and rather inconvenient having to adhere to and insist upon these dietary restrictions. But growth is an ongoing process. And I am grateful for the continued opportunities daily life and my clients present.

What special gifts have your life events contributed to your experience?

In wellness,

Dianne