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Burnout

With the ever increasing demands and pressures of life, it is so easy to get caught up in it all and become overwhelmed.  We so often feel like we have a to do list that never gets ticked off, and spend all weekend trying to catch up on everything. All too soon it is Monday again and the cycle continues.

This cycle may not have consequences at first, but after months or even years it can really take its toll.  Nutritional status plays a HUGE role in the physiological stress response that occurs in the body.

The Stress Response

The stress response is controlled by a part of your nervous system which you have no control over.  By this I mean that there is a system in the body which is responsible for keeping the heart beating, healing a cut or growing your hair - things that happen without you having to tell them to.  When you get stressed, whether this is physical or emotional stress, this part of your nervous system releases hormones and neurotransmitters to prepare your body to either 'fight or flight'.  The body believes that you are in danger at this point, and is doing its best to keep you alive.  These are some of the things that happen:

  • Adrenaline and cortisol are released, and production of other hormones (such as your reproductive hormones) is shut down, as these are not important to keep you alive

  • Your digestion shuts down as all the blood is drawn away from the digestive tract to your arms and legs so that you can run

  • Your heart rate and blood pressure increase

  • Concentration and short-term memory is impaired

  • Sleep is disrupted as your body will not allow you to fall into a deep sleep in case you are attacked

  • The body chooses to burn sugar over fat because it wants a quick energy source

Your nervous system doesn't realise that you might just be feeling anxious because you have a big meeting, had too much coffee, have to make a difficult phone call, or have a tight deadline.  It thinks that you are in danger, and prepares your body accordingly.  Being in this state long-term can cause IBS type issues, hormonal imbalances and burn out.

How to Fix It

The right nutrients can really improve how your body responds to stress.  It is really important to make sure that you are getting enough protein. Protein is not just for muscle growth - it is also needed to make neurotransmitters (like serotonin which makes you feel happy), to make digestive enzymes to break down your food, to be able to absorb carbohydrates and fats properly, and to make hormones. We are literally made of proteins.

The right kinds of fat also need to be included in the diet. Our cells are made up of fatty acids, and these are what protects us from irritants that out skin comes into contact with. The types of fats found in avocado, olive oil, fish, nuts and seeds are highly beneficial for the brain and have been shown to improve depression.

However, when you are stressed you will likely reach for something sugary. This might make you feel good for a moment, but it will not help in the long term. High sugar diets in fact cause inflammation in the brain and can cause memory problems due to the hormonal changes that occur with high sugar intake. They also mess with your blood sugar levels, and once these come crashing down after the sugar hit you will be left feeling even worse.

So really, meals and snacks should always include a good amount of protein and healthy fats. For breakfast perhaps you could have an omelette filled with vegetables, lunch could be a quinoa salad with chicken and avocado, dinner could be roast pumpkin, salmon and greens. To make these vegan try scrambled tofu, chickpeas at lunch and a lentil stew with vegetables and whole grains for dinner. Protein must be included!

The factors in your life which are contributing to the stress also need to be addressed.  You won't necessarily be able to change all of the things causing you to worry, but identifying them is the first step.  Then strategies such as a daily meditation practice, keeping a grateful diary, or going to a restorative yoga class can be really helpful.  You are probably wondering when you would have the time to do any of that.  Start small! Just taking 10 deep belly breaths before you get out of bed in the morning will help to calm the nervous system.

Mindset plays a huge part in all of this.  There will always be things to do, but your approach  can change how you feel about it.  You deserve to live a life that you enjoy, and time spent making that a reality is never wasted.  So let go of the guilt and tend to yourself - your body, family and friends will thank you for it!

The Take Home Message

Feeling tired and moody is not simply a part of getting older, or having more responsibilities.  These factors can contribute, but they do not mean that you have to feel this way.  There are so many things that can be done, through both diet and lifestyle, to help you to feel good again!

The Complicated Nature of Weight Loss

Are you struggling with weight gain or fluctuations?  Burning hours in the gym and eating well but still not seeing results?

We are often told that to lose weight, it is simply a matter of calories in versus calories out.  Eat less and move more, and the weight will fall off.  Why then, are many people doing hours of exercise each day and living in a calorie deficit and still not losing weight?

Of course, eating a healthy diet of nutrient dense foods, avoiding sugar, processed and refined foods combined with regular exercise is definitely the first step and will usually be enough.  Bear in mind too that it does take hours to burn off fat!  But if you have been doing all these things for months and are still having trouble shifting the weight, then it is time to investigate further.

Weight loss is just not always that simple.  It can be hard to shift those last few kilos for a number of reasons – your thyroid might be under-functioning, you might be really stressed, your gut bacteria might be imbalanced, you might have oestrogen dominance, your liver could be under pressure or it could be another metabolic problem such as insulin resistance.

Without getting too specific on how this all works, it basically comes back to how well metabolic processes in the body are functioning.  These can be suboptimal for many reasons.  If your thyroid is underactive (such as in hypothyroidism), it basically slows your metabolism down.  If your nervous system is in overdrive because you are under a lot of pressure or feeling stressed and/or anxious, the body will choose to burn glucose (sugar) over fat.   This is because glucose is a quick burning fuel, and when your nervous system is in this state your body interprets this as danger and believes you need quick energy to run or fight (the ‘flight or fight’ response).   You are then left craving sugar to give you that quick energy.

Your liver is responsible for detoxifying every substance that comes into your body – everything you breath, eat, drink and all other substances.  One of the ways that liver function can impact weight loss is that when the toxic load is too high (for example, from too much alcohol or chemical exposure), the liver can’t keep up with all the toxins coming through. The body quickly stores these toxins in fat cells to prevent them from harming you.  The trouble is, when you want to lose that fat, the body does not want to release these fat cells.  The liver is also involved in fat metabolism so when it can't do it's job properly, this is impaired.

Gut bacteria is an interesting one – studies have been done where faecal transplants were taken from obese rats and given to rats which were a healthy weight, and these rats became obese (Turnbaugh et. al., 2006).  The same studies have been done in relation to depression (Kelly et. al., 2016).  The bugs in your gut play a huge role in how you think and feel, but this is a whole different topic.

The good news is that you can address these problems.  I am sharing this because I don’t want you to feel like you are doing something wrong if you can’t reach your goal weight.  Sometimes you need to look a little deeper and try something different – and this is not always well understood.  

A nutritionist can help you to look at other factors and try and work out what the underlying problem is.  Feel free to get in touch if this is resonating with you!

 

  • Kelly, J. R., Borre, Y., C., O. B., Patterson, E., El Aidy, S., Deane, J.,…Dinan, T.G. (2016).  Transferring the blues: Depression-associated gut microbiota induces neurobehavioural changes in the rat.  J. Psychiatr Res, 82, 109-118. doi: 10.1016/j.jpsychires.2016.07.019
  • Turnbaugh, P. J., Ley, R. E., Mahowald, M. A., Magrini, V., Mardis, E. R. & Gordon, J. I. (2006).  An obesity-associated gut microbiome with increased capacity for energy harvest.  Nature, 21;444(7122), 1027-31. doi: 10.1038/nature05414

Food Intolerances

A food intolerance is different to a food allergy.  A food intolerance is an inability to digest a particular food, which results in an adverse reaction occurring in the body.  A food allergy is a response to a food which involves the immune system and is potentially life threatening - an example of this is anaphylaxis. 

Food intolerances should not be taken lightly.  Although the effects are not always immediate, undigested foods will cause damage to the cell wall lining in the gut which can result in leaky gut.  Once this occurs, undigested proteins can leak into the blood stream. The immune system sees these proteins in the blood stream as invaders and will produce antibodies to attack them, to protect itself.  This response causes systemic inflammation which leads to multiple problems, and it can end up turning these intolerances into allergies.  Not to mention there is the discomfort you feel such as bloating, gas, diarrhoea or constipation.  Food intolerances can also be responsible for headaches, mood disturbances, skin issues, poor energy, behavioural problems in children and many other problems.

The good news is that food intolerances are not necessarily forever.  Often it is only one or two foods that are the problem, but these problems are leading to other food intolerances.  The best way to work this out is to eliminate certain foods or food groups for 2-3 weeks, work on healing the gut and then reintroduce them one by one to find out which is the problem food.  Symptoms are monitored using a diet diary.  We have many tests available to determine which foods are the most problematic and I think in this day and age, it is a good idea to make use of these tests rather than attempt the traditional elimination diet.  Either way, the idea is to eliminate the problem foods to heal the gut and calm the immune system, and then reintroduce them slowly.

I do know how difficult this is!  I have gone through this process and I know what it is like.  It does make eating out challenging, and you do have to cook for yourself mostly during the elimination phase.  Learning to eat differently to the way you have been your whole life is not easy.  Think of it as a chance to nourish yourself, expand your knowledge and give your body what it loves.  Also, once you are through the other side and have eliminated the symptoms, it ultimately leads to you being able to eat more foods without problems. 

This is also important as restrictive diets can lead to nutrient deficiencies and they impact the diversity of the gut microbiome.  Your gut needs lots of different kinds of bacteria to flourish, and if it is not getting the right foods to feed these bacteria, they will die off and these imbalances can continue to give you the same problems.  So it really is worth investigating (with the assistance of a professional who understands this process!).

What is a healthy diet anyway?

This can be such a difficult question.  Information is constantly changing as new research develops, and there are so many different diets – CSIRO, paleo, gluten free, vegan, vegetarian, flexitarian, ketogenic, Atkins, Mediterranean… the list goes on. 

Healthy eating needs to be a lifestyle, not a short-term goal.  The basics of healthy eating really comes back to eating food in as fresh and whole a form as possible.  This means a focus on fruit, vegetables and wholegrains, lean, good quality proteins and healthy fats (nuts, seeds, olive oil, avocado etc) while avoiding packaged, processed and fast foods.  Foods such as pre-baked cakes and muffins, chocolate bars, chips, Maccas etc are not going to give you any health benefits.  But most people already know that!

My personal opinion is that there is not one specific diet to suit everyone, and that as individuals our diet should be tailored to best suit our unique selves. Of course sometimes there are conditions which require a certain type of diet, but in general, I believe that we should experiment a bit and take parts of different ways of eating to find what works best.  We also need to find a way to eat that we enjoy and feel good (not good for 5 seconds after a sugar rush, but good as in feeling energetic and motivated all day).

The one thing I would recommend to everyone - and that all experts agree on - is to eat more vegetables!  Vegetables are packed with a full range of nutrients including Vitamins A, the Bs, C, K, magnesium, iron, potassium, calcium and antioxidants and phytonutrients which are crucial for the health of our DNA, organs, skin and detoxification.  Leafy green vegetables also contain folate which is required for healthy growth and DNA replication – particularly important in pregnancy.  There are reasons we are always told to eat more vegetables!

I also think that balance is important - there is no point restricting yourself as this just sets you up to feel like a failure when you do eat something 'bad'.  Food is a part of socialising and there is nothing worse than being anxious about eating out because it may put you over your allocated calories (I don't agree with calorie counting).  It just needs to be done in moderation.  I think it is important to allow yourself a little indulgence to keep you on track for a life of healthy eating.

A great way to go a bit deeper is to do a diet diary over a week, recording what you eat and any symptoms.  You might notice that you felt fatigued or had a headache one or two days after eating bread, or maybe you had sugar cravings and were hungry all day when breakfast was a piece of raisin toast and a coffee.  Whatever your symptoms are, once you notice a pattern this can help you to work out what foods or practices might be causing it.  You can then try eliminating different foods or adjusting your macros to see if it helps.  For example, boosting up the fat content of breakfast by having an omelette filled with vegetables and topped with avocado might help set you up better for the day.

If you are interested in changing your diet or you need help with working out the foods that are best for you, get in touch as this is what I love to help with!  The more restrictive a diet is, the harder it is to make sure you are getting all your required nutrients so it is well worth doing some investigations to be safe.

Immune Boosting Foods

We are at that time of year where the dreaded colds and flus are circulating.  It seems like everyone in the school or workplace is sick, and often it can feel like we have a head cold that we just can't shake.  Here are some of the top nutrients that will help keep your immunity strong and protect you!

Vitamin C

 Vitamin C is well known for its ability to boost the immune system.  When the body is stressed (which can be physical or emotional), it gets depleted of Vitamin C, so it is important to get plenty of it in the diet.  It is high in berries, citrus fruits, red vegetables (tomato, red capsicum) and green vegetables such as Brussels sprouts and broccoli.  Think stir-fries, soups and salads for meals, snack on berries or vege sticks and add fresh lemon to water.

Zinc

Zinc strengthens the immune system by increasing the activity of white blood cells (your cells which fight off nasty viral and bacterial microbes) and thymus gland (promotes the development of certain white blood cells).  It is needed for many biochemical reactions in the body to happen, and is involved in taste perception.  Often, you are not able to taste food when you are sick and this can be due to zinc deficiency.  Zinc is found in red meat, shellfish and whole grains.

Vitamin D

The sunshine vitamin!  It is actually considered a hormone due to the way it behaves in the body.  Vitamin D is important for regulation of the immune system, and recent studies have shown that daily or weekly supplementation of Vitamin D was protective against acute respiratory infections, such as colds and flu (Martineau, Jolliffe, Hooper et al., 2017).  Vitamin D is mainly synthesized by sunlight which is difficult in winter - and perhaps one of the reasons people tend to get sick in winter months.  It is also found in some foods - cod liver oil, oily fish such as salmon, liver, egg yolk and mushrooms.  It can be a good idea to check your Vitamin D levels in winter (through your GP) as deficiency is common at that time of year.

Vitamin E

 Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant and helps fight off infections as it increases immune function.  It also protects white blood cells so that they can continue fighting for you.  As an added bonus, due to its protective role in the body it reduces inflammation and is often used topically to decrease scar tissue.  Vitamin E is found in olive oil, avocado, nuts and seeds and green leafy vegetables.

B Group Vitamins

 These are absolutely essential for energy production.  Without B Vitamins, the biochemical processes that have to occur to produce energy, can't happen.  Not only do you then feel tired, but your cells don't have the energy to fight off infections.  B Vitamins are found in meats and organ meat, fish, soybeans, shellfish, cabbage, spinach, watercress, nuts, sunflower seeds and yeast spreads.

 Garlic

 I'm just giving garlic a special mention.  Garlic was traditionally used in herbal medicine to relieve the symptoms of upper respiratory tract infections.   It contains allicin, which has been widely studied due to its antiviral and antibacterial activity. It is best to eat in its raw form immediately after cutting if possible (just don't do this before going out!).  Otherwise, add as much of it into everything you can - depending on how much you like it.  I love garlic and add it to pretty much everything. 

If you are already sick

 Lots of warming foods will help you - soups, stews, broths and hot teas.  Dairy increases mucous production, so might be best avoided if you are quite congested until you feel better.  Increase the foods I have mentioned above, get lots of rest and try and get some sunshine.  Society does not let us rest.  But when it comes down to it, resting is actually the only thing that is going to really get you back to 100%.

 

Gut Health

Knowledge around gut health is ever increasing.  On average, the human gastrointestinal (GI) tract is home to over 10 trillion bacteria – this is more than we have cells!  Our microbiome (the bacteria which make up our gut) really is its own intelligent system in itself.  It is incredibly complex, and we still don’t completely understand it but we certainly have learned a lot.

The bacteria in our gut can impact our mood, weight, immune system, hormones, detoxification ability and can be a large risk factor in the development of chronic disease such as inflammatory bowel disease, Alzheimer’s, autism, asthma, depression and obesity.  This connection has been well researched and established.  If you think about it, given we are more bacteria than we are cells, it does make sense.  Our whole body is connected and in fact, most of our neurotransmitters including serotonin (the happy, feel good hormone) are made in our gut.  So, if our gut is unhappy, we will be unhappy.

The gut bacteria also perform other metabolic functions such as salvaging energy, production of vitamins including K and B12 and absorption of minerals including calcium, magnesium and iron.  It also has a role in the production of cells in the intestine and in balancing the immune system.  It provides a barrier against pathogens which may cause infection.

The composition of a person’s gut flora be thrown out of balance due to poor diet, stress, infections, food intolerances, alcohol, medications and antibiotics.  This can lead to an imbalance known as dysbiosis, which can go on to cause intestinal permeability (leaky gut) which can cause other conditions including those above.

Probiotics are well known and largely marketed.  However, what is becoming clear is that it is the particular strain of probiotic that is important.  It is like vitamins – if someone takes a vitamin they don’t need more of, they will not necessarily see a benefit.  If someone takes a probiotic for a particular strain which they already have enough of, or which is not specific to their condition, they will not necessarily see a benefit.  If you are going to invest the money, it is worth seeing a practitioner who can help you identify the particular strains that you need.

That being said, prebiotics are just as, if not more, important in rebuilding healthy colonies of bacteria.  Taking a probiotic is not necessarily going to repopulate the bacteria you need – the bacteria needs the right environment to thrive, and this is where prebiotics come in.  The probiotics that you take will only survive in the right environment.  Prebiotics are fibres which are indigestible to humans but are fermented by the gut bacteria and used as food. They are found in fruits and vegetables, specifically foods such as garlic, onions, leeks, asparagus, berries and legumes.  Resistant starch is a particularly beneficial type of fibre which is in cooked and cooled potatoes and under-ripe bananas.

Like everything, diversity is important!

The more I read about this, the more I understand and appreciate our ‘gut brain’ and the philosophy of healing the gut.  Everything seems to come back to the gut!

Introduction – My Food Journey

Hi there! I’m Sarah, and it’s great to meet you.

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I thought I would start by telling you a bit about me, and why I do what I do.

My journey with food really began when I was around 18.  Growing up, I was not really interested in my diet and was more interested in eating what tasted good!  However, as I got into my late teens and early twenties I started to become more unwell. I was underweight, often sick, had stomach issues all the time and was always fatigued. I was going home from work all the time and anxious about eating. Everything seemed to be a problem.

After many many doctors’ visits, testing, and trialling different diets, I was eventually diagnosed with coeliac disease.

After I was diagnosed I had a new challenge of learning how I could eat.  I thought I had been eating healthy, but these foods were not healthy for me.  It certainly is not easy to have to change your diet from what you have been eating your whole life!

It probably took about 3 months of following a strict gluten free diet before I began to feel better.  Suddenly I had energy again, my stomach wasn’t always bloating and cramping and I was able to do so much more.  

But even though things were better, I was still having lots of gut issues.

When you have a digestive disorder or there is something wrong with your gut, there is also a lot of damage done. It is not enough just to eliminate food that you know is an issue - more work is required to bring down the inflammation and heal the gut. Unfortunately, this is not something that we are usually told. I only realised this while I was studying.

The other factor which is not often talked about is the emotional connection. Stress impacts the ability of your gut to break down and digest food, which is a major cause of gut symptoms. The gut and brain are so closely connected, and thankfully this knowledge is becoming much more common.

It wasn’t until I also healed my gut and addressed the stress I was under that things finally changed for me.

It took about 8 years from start to finish (maybe even longer) for me to work all of this out, and I don’t want this to be the case for you. I want to shortcut the process and help you get to the bottom of what is going on and how to fix it in the shortest amount of time possible.

This is why I started studying, and this is the difference I want to make with my business.

Thanks for reading my story!