5 Ways to Help Your Body Deal with Stress

Last week we talked about positive ways you can deal with stressful situations.  Today let’s get into how we can help our bodies respond more effectively to stress.  Remember, our bodies respond with the “Fight or Flight” response to all stressors, whether they are real or imagined, physical or psychological.  So let’s get to it!


Be sure to get at least 7-8 hours of sleep a night.  We all can “get by” on less, but we don’t function as well.  After two consecutive nights of less than 7 hours of sleep, we start to experience some of the effects of sleep deprivation including (but certainly not limited to) impaired vision, low energy, poor judgement, and a shorter temper to name a few.  And get this!  When we sleep less, we tend to eat more, thinking that food will help with our low energy.  So make an effort to get more sleep.  It’s the ultimate “me time”!

Not sure exactly how much sleep you really need?  Try setting an alarm to wake you 8 hours after you go to bed.  If you wake rested and ready for the day before the alarm goes off, then you’ve had enough sleep.

Do you have trouble getting to sleep at night?  Try slowing things down a little earlier in the evening, drink some herbal tea (no caffeine) or do a little stretching. If you have a “monkey mind” that won’t let you relax, write down what is on your mind.  Physically transferring those thoughts from your brain to the paper can help tremendously.  And don’t forget to turn off those electronic devices at least 30-60 minutes before bedtime.  Studies show that exposure to these backlit screens can keep our brains stimulated and “awake” for up to 2-3 hours after exposure.

2. Love and Laughter

Get those endorphins flowing, baby!  Two great ways to do that are with laughter and sex.  Both release endorphins that make us feel good, release tension and get our minds off of other stressors for the time being.  So surround yourself with people who make you happy, laugh and feel good.  Watch a comedy you enjoy or go to a live comedy show.  And, if you have a willing partner who wants to help you release your tension and stress (or not), you can have a little fun between the sheets!

3. Breath/Meditation

Breathing exercises and meditation practice both train us be become more present.  They help us slow down our minds, connect with the present moment, and become more mindful and aware.  When we are more connected, we make more conscious decisions and respond more effectively to stressful situations versus unconsciously reacting from a place of defensiveness.

Here’s an easy breathing exercise to get started with.  First, make sure you are sitting comfortably with both feet flat on the floor and your hands relaxed in your lap.  Take a slow, deep breathe in through your nose, hold the top of the breath for a moment or two, then slowly release a controlled exhale out through your mouth.  Pause again at the bottom of the breath and then repeat again with the inhale.  Try doing this about 10 times and see how you feel.  If you lose count, just start back over at one.  When you finish, you may notice that your heart rate and blood pressure have decreased, your awareness and mental acuity have increased.  Hopefully you will also experience a feeling of relaxation and peace.  Ahhhhh…..  

If you are intimidated by the thought of meditation, have no fear.  There are several great meditation apps out there that provide guided meditations for everyone from beginners to advanced meditators.  Some of them include Omvana, Insight Timer, and Gaiam Meditation.  Those are just a few that I have used. But there are a whole lot more out there.  FYI: Omvana has many more in-app purchases than the other two mentioned.

4. Move it!

Exercise is key to getting your stress hormones back in check.  As I mentioned earlier, our bodies respond with the “Fight or Flight” response regardless of what type of stressor we are experiencing.  If you are being chased by a bear, your “Fight or Flight” response kicks in.  The stress hormones (adrenaline, cortisol and oxytocin) are released into the blood stream causing heart rate, breathing rate and blood pressure to increase. Gastrointestinal function slows down and the senses are heightened.  Then blood sugar and clotting factors are released into the bloodstream.  If being chased by a bear, we would run!  The physical action of running would help us to metabolize those stress hormones and bring their levels back down to their pre-stressor levels.  However, when our stressors are more psychological and have more to do with life’s demands not being in line with the resources we have to meet those demands (like time and money), we can’t physically run away from our problems (at least not usually with much success).  But we can trick our bodies into thinking that we are with regular physical activity.  Exercise simulates running from the bear, thus bringing those stress hormone levels back down to baseline.

5. What you eat makes a difference.

“Let food be thy medicine, and medicine be thy food.” Hippocrates.  What we eat has a tremendous impact on our health, as well as our ability to effectively combat stress.  Focus on eating foods that nourish, and avoid foods that deplete you.  Since your blood sugar is already elevated during the stress response, don’t try to manage it by running to sugary comfort foods.  This will only increase your blood sugar that much more.  Besides, that dessert or sweet treat may make you feel better while you’re eating it, but once that last forkful or spoonful is gone, your problems are still there.  Instead, try eating more whole grains, beans, fruits and vegetables.  These foods are all high in fiber, low in fat and loaded with vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients that our bodies need to perform optimally.

Try to avoid caffeine.  Your nervous system is already stimulated.  Caffeine will only exacerbate the problem.  If chocolate is your go-to stress food, you’re in for a double whammy (sugar and caffeine).  Sorry.

So what should you eat?  Here are a few healthy snack ideas.  How about fresh veggies or whole grain crackers with hummus or yogurt with fresh berries? Celery or apples with a handful of nuts or 1-2 tablespoons of nut butter is another good choice that has a balance of nutrients to make you feel satisfied without exacerbating the stress response.

I hope these few tips are helpful to you.  If you have anything to add, please share and leave a comment below.


Mercy Me Asian Salad

Here’s a recipe that will nourish rather than deplete your body and feed your soul & taste buds some tasty, crunchy slaw!


As you may or may not know, I’m a pretty steadfast from-scratch kind of cook/baker.  However we all have our favorite quick go-tos to help us whip up something delicious and nutritious in a pinch. Here I used two of them.  Usually when I make a Costco run (which is about weekly), I pick up a bag or two of the Taylor Farms Asian Cashew Chopped Salad.  It’s super yummy and easy to dress up a little, if you so desire.  So this salad mix makes up the base of the salad.  The other pre-made item was the tofu.  I often marinate and bake my own, but seriously sometimes there just isn’t time.  So I usually have a package or two of baked, seasoned tofu in the fridge.  In this case, I happen to have a sesame ginger flavored one on hand.  Can we say “Perfect for Asian Salad!”?

Here are the two packaged foods used in this recipe:


Some of the other ingredients are very seasonal for spring.  In fact, the scallions and red cabbage grew in my backyard garden and the Cara Cara oranges and asparagus were both locally grown and arrived in my CSA box.  If you haven’t heard of, or participated in, Community Supported Agriculture, I encourage you to look into it.  You get a regularly scheduled box of fresh, local produce each week and an opportunity to help support your local farmers.  Because let’s face it, sometimes we just can’t get to a Farmer’s Market (or we forget to stop at an ATM for cash ahead of time).  Now, for what you’ve been waiting for.  Here’s the recipe!


  • 1 Package Taylor Farms Asian Cashew Chopped Salad (Costco 19 oz size)
  • 1 package Nasoya “tofubaked”, Sesame Ginger, cut into 1″ cubes
  • 1 bunch fresh asparagus, cleaned and trimmed
  • 2-3 scallions (aka green onions) thinly sliced, green parts only
  • 1/4 medium red cabbage, thinly sliced
  • 1 Cara Cara orange, diced
  • seasoning and dressing of choice


  1. Grab a large mixing bowl.  Cut open the salad bag and dump in the veggies (wait to add the packaged toppings).
  2. Heat a medium skillet over medium high heat.  Wipe with a very thin coat of olive oil.  When the pan is hot, add the asparagus.  Season with salt and pepper.  Toss occasionally for even cooking.  You may want to cover with a lid for a couple of minutes to allow the asparagus to cook through, if needed.  When done, transfer to a cutting board and chop into 2 inch pieces.  Add the asparagus to the salad bowl.
  3. OPTIONAL STEP: If you skip searing the tofu, then just toss the tofu cubes into the salad and move on to step 4.  Otherwise, wipe your pan clean.  Add 2 teaspoons oil and when hot, toss in the tofu cubes.  Let sear until golden (1-2 minutes).  Then toss for even browning.
  4. While searing the tofu, slice the scallions and cabbage and throw ’em into the bowl.  Once the tofu is browned it can join the party too!
  5. Now chop up your orange and toss it in, along with the salad toppings that came with the packaged salad.
  6. Dressing Time!  If you prefer to use the dressing that came with the salad, go right ahead.  Personally, I like something fresh, less oily and minimally processed.  Shake on some vinegar (seasoned rice wine vinegar, apple cider vinegar or my favorite pineapple balsamic vinegar) and a tiny drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, if desired.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  7. Toss it all up and enjoy!  This makes a BIG salad!  Fortunately, it also makes great leftovers to wrap up in a tortilla or stuff a pita.

Think You’re Addicted to Certain Foods? You May be Right!

Yes, certain foods have actually been found to have ‘addictive’ qualities.  Some call them “triggers” or “pleasure traps”.  Now much research is being conducted to help determine some of the causes of the current obesity epidemic and to learn what is causing us to overeat. 

According to Dr. David Kessler, author of The End of Overeating, a loss of control over eating is common, and can be attributed to triggers.  There are a wide variety of categories of such triggers, including foods, emotions and environments.  So what is a “trigger”?  It is something that initiates a course of events, like overeating.  The most common triggers found in foods are sugar, fat, and salt.  Is it any wonder that these things are in so many of the processed, convenience foods that we like to eat the most?  Therefore, the foods that are most convenient and most readily available, are most often the ones that are the least healthy and most addictive. 

Cheese is another food that can be very addictive to some.  Cheese actually contains “casomorphines”, which have a pleasurable, almost opiate, effect.  No wonder Americans LOVE their cheese!  Cheese also contains a very high concentration of casein, which is a protein found in dairy that is a know carcinogen.  For more information on this, I highly recommend reading The China Study by T. Colin Campbell. 

For thousands of years, the human diet consisted predominantly of fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, nuts and seeds.  Nowadays, the foods we eat are much, much higher in fat, sugar, and salt, and devoid of whole plant foods.  This change in the human (particularly Western) diet is thought to cause our internal calorie counting machinery (i.e. metabolism) to malfunction and cause errors.  We are tricking our bodies with these foods into thinking that we need to eat more.  Think about how much Kettle Corn or how many chips you could eat in one sitting vs. watermelon or raw vegetables.  100 calories of French fries looks a lot different than 100 calories of Romaine Lettuce!  Excessive fat and refined carbohydrates both work to cause this metabolic malfunction.  Eliminating these foods is the first step to correcting the problem. 

Not only do these high fat/sugar/sodium foods mess with our bodies’ ability to regulate our caloric needs, but remember these same foods are linked to an increased risk of diabetes, heart disease, depressed immune system and many cancers. 

In their book, The Pleasure Trap, Drs. Douglas Lisle and Alan Goldhammer suggest these “5 Keys to a Healthy Path” which works to eliminate these triggers and traps and help increase your odds of success at improving your health and reaching a healthy weight.  I’ve used them as a guide here and of course had to add my own suggestions and experiences too!  

Strategy #1:  No Junk Food in the House! 

People often ask me how I get my kids to eat healthy foods.  Honestly, that’s what they are offered, and we don’t have any of the junk foods in the house.  So it isn’t really an option for them.  Same goes for you.  If it’s not in the house to begin with, it can’t tempt you and isn’t as readily available when you do feel like you want that bowl of ice cream at 9:30 at night.  If someone wants to quit drinking or smoking, chances are, it’s a good idea to get the booze or cigarettes out of the house to help one to be more successful.  Same goes for food addictions.

Strategy #2:  The Weekly Menu

Healthy eating requires planning.  How often have you eaten something you’ve regretted later, but did so only because you were hungry and that was what was most readily available?  Follow the Boy Scout motto and “Be Prepared”.  Planning helps us out a lot.  Try sitting down for a few minutes one night a week and decide on 3-4 healthy, low fat, low sodium meals you’d like to prepare for the week and make my grocery list accordingly.   If you make enough, you’ll have leftovers to carry over into the next day’s lunch or dinner.  Taking those few minutes out of one evening a week, saves so much anguish later in the week when you may otherwise find yourself staring into the fridge, wondering “What the heck are we going to eat tonight?” 

It can also save you quite a bit of money.  When you stick to your list, and don’t shop hungry, you tend to do less “impulse buying” in the market.  And often times eating out less, and eating in more, can save a lot of money.  Not only on meals, but also think about the effect on your long term health costs!

Strategy #3:  Cook in Quantity

As mentioned in Strategy #2, when you decide what you are making for the week, try making enough to stretch it out into the next day for leftovers.  Many leftovers including soups and many casseroles freeze well too.  You can eat them as is, wrapped in a tortilla or collard leaf (see http://yournutritionista.blogspot.com for recipes and more info on green wraps).  One thing we do in our home is make a large batch of brown rice and some type of beans for the week.  It keeps great in the fridge and is so versatile.  You can add them to just about anything for more complex carbohydrates, fiber and plant-based protein.  We add them to wraps using leftovers, salads, you name it!  One of our favorite last minute meals is left over rice and beans with avocado and salsa, and a side of some type of cooked green veggies (green beans, broccoli, kale, etc.).  If it’s already made, it’s super quick and easy.  If you don’t want to cook a big batch of beans, just stock up on the canned variety.  They are just as convenient. 

Strategy #4:  Create a Car Pack

OK, I know this sounds a bit extreme, but if you are a parent, just think about how much stuff you’ve had to schlep around for one little person and all of their needs.  As they get older, they don’t need the carry-on luggage-sized diaper bag anymore, but it isn’t a bad idea to throw a bag of healthy goodies in the car for emergencies and for family outings.  It may even save you from a trip to the drive thru!  A car pack that you keep in the car at all times should include shelf stable, non-perishables items for obvious reasons.  Try things like Lara Bars (granola-type bars made from dried fruit, nuts and seeds), trail mix, water, etc. 

If you are planning on a day trip or long drive, try packing a snack bag for the day with items such as water, whole fruit, carrot/veggie sticks, whole grain crackers, pretzels, healthy sandwiches, etc.  If you can, try to put them in an insulated bag or lunchbox with some sort of cold pack to keep things fresh.

I have now gotten into the habit of bringing food with me just about everywhere we go.  Our kids seem to be hungry ALL the time, so having a healthy snack on hand makes things much easier all around.  Now we’ve swapped the luggage-sized diaper bag for the insulated cooler, and it works out just fine. 

Strategy #5:  Getting Help

Change is never easy…it’s just plain hard.  That’s why support groups are so successful for people trying to deal with change.  Look at how successful Weight Watchers is, and that is largely due to the social support connected with it.  The easiest thing for us was to make the change to a healthier lifestyle, as a family, and involve everyone.  Trying to make changes for yourself, while everyone else around you continues the same habits can be very difficult and often defeating.  If you know other people who are trying to make the same changes, get together, share ideas, have a potluck! 

If you need help in the kitchen, and your financial situation allows for it, consider hiring someone to help out with the cooking, or at least the prep work.  You may find a neighboring teen who’d be willing to come over and help prep and chop ingredients for you for a reasonable wage.  Get creative! 

If you would like to learn more about the topic of food triggers and food addictions, please consider reading one of the following resources:

  • The Pleasure Trap, Douglas J. Lisle, M.D. & Alan Goldhammer, D.C.
  • The End of Overeating, David Kessler, M.D.
  • The China Study. T. Colin Campbell and  Thomas M. Campbell II
  • Breaking the Food Seduction, Neal Barnard
  • Eat to Live, Joel Fuhrman, M.D.