Category: Emotions

Holiday Meal Script: When and How to Explain Your Food Choices

Holiday get-togethers can be dicey, even uncomfortable, for those of us who eat a “weird” diet. Everyone has an opinion or a biting remark. As tempting as might be, you can’t just holler, “I’m not weird, YOU’RE weird. I’M eating a SPECIES-APPROPRIATE DIET!” in Aunt Martha’s face when she tries once again to put a biscuit on your plate. You have to say something though, right? Or do you? When do you have to explain your food choices? I’m tempted to say: Never. End of post. By and large, your diet is nobody else’s business. But communication is vital in relationships, and here’s where it gets tricky. On the one hand, you don’t owe anyone an explanation, and it’s disrespectful on their part if they expect you to justify or defend your choices. Often, though, people are just concerned, confused, or simply curious. You don’t owe these folks an explanation, but in the spirit of open communication, you might choose to offer them one. General tips for keeping the peace: Keep it personal. You won’t get as much pushback if you focus on how your diet makes you feel. Don’t launch into a lecture about phytates or how soda is ruining our country’s health. Nobody’s looking for a lesson on leaky gut and inflammation during dinner. Don’t overexplain yourself or get defensive. Keep it short and sweet, then move on. Don’t try to convert them. If you start to proselytize, you’re doing the same thing to them that they’re doing to you. Your simple explanations will plant the seeds for anyone who’s interested in learning more later. Don’t get sucked into an argument. State firmly that you’d rather not discuss your diet. If the other person continues to challenge you, walk away (or, in 2020, leave the Zoom). Beyond that, the best strategy for dealing with diet queries depends on who’s asking and why: Mild Incomprehension This is the “I don’t get it…” and “Wait, so you’re not going eat stuffing?” crowd. There’s no malice. They just can’t grasp why someone would give up bread and pasta. Strategy: Deflect “Haha, I know, I thought it was crazy when I started, too, but I can’t believe how much better I feel. Plus I get to eat all the turkey. Ooh, will you pass me a leg? Hey, how’s work going?” “No stuffing for me, thanks. I’m trying this experiment for a while longer. Did I see on Facebook that you’re writing a book?” “It’s true, I’m eating Primal/paleo/keto/carnivore now, but you don’t want to hear me ramble on about my diet. Let’s go see if Mom needs help setting the table.” Sincere Curiosity You can tell these folks from their tone of voice. They are genuinely interested in hearing what you’re doing (and maybe even trying it for themselves). Strategy: Lightly educate It’s up to you how deep you want to go here. My advice is to stick to basics and offer to talk more later. Avoid launching into a diatribe … Continue reading “Holiday Meal Script: When and How to Explain Your Food Choices”

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Actionable Ways to Avoid Holiday Stress

It’s the most wonderful time of the year again! The time for family gatherings (but not this year), holiday feasts (maybe), and, according to my TV, buying brand new his-and-hers SUVs (not ever).

I’m not being sarcastic, I do enjoy the holiday season, but there’s no question that it’s stressful. The whirlwind of holiday excitement, decorating the homestead, dredging up the same old family fights, last-minute shopping, and love-hating the winter weather can be a lot, even under the best of circumstances. For all the people who relish this time of year, there are others who dread it.

Some stress is unavoidable, especially if the holidays are difficult due to complicated family situations, past losses, or financial hardships. However, a great deal of holiday stress is self-imposed. As much as you might feel like you have to do certain things to make the holidays magical for everyone, very few are truly non-negotiable. Just because you usually put up elaborate decorations, bake 12 types of cookies, and produce homemade gifts doesn’t mean you’re required to this year. It’s possible—though not always easy—to opt out of the things that cause more stress than pleasure.

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12 Ways to Boost Your Serotonin

Serotonin is a funny one. Although the prevailing sentiment is that we want to “increase serotonin,” it’s not that simple. There’s no indication that more serotonin is necessarily better in every situation, or even generally. The link between serotonin and “happiness” or “mood” isn’t so clear-cut as the experts would have you believe, either. So while I am going to tell you how to “boost” serotonin levels because serotonin is a vital neurotransmitter, I plan on sticking to foods, supplements, and behaviors that promote physiological levels of serotonin. Boosting serotonin beyond what the body is designed for may not help you, and it may have unpleasant and unwanted effects. Is Serotonin a Mood Booster? Yes and no. For evidence, I submit two items. The first is clinical research and the second is pure anecdote, albeit personal anecdote. Everyone has heard of SSRIs, or selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors. The most common form of antidepressants, their purported mode of action is to reduce the re-absorption of serotonin by neurons which increases the circulating concentration of serotonin in the brain. They increase brain levels of serotonin so it’s able to act longer. The evidence in favor of SSRIs in treating depression is mixed. Not everyone benefits, and it often takes several months to take effect. But they do help some people. In recent years, depression studies have pitted SSRIs against another drug—tianeptine—that does the opposite: increases the absorption of serotonin by neurons and decreases the concentration of serotonin the brain. If the “serotonin=happy” hypothesis is correct, tianeptine shouldn’t improve depression. It should worsen it. But that’s not what happens. Both tianeptine, which lowers brain serotonin, and SSRIs, which increase it, have been shown to improve depression symptoms in patients with clinical depression. If anything, tianeptine might even be more effective. This doesn’t mean that serotonin has nothing to do with depression, or that it’s bad for depression. It just means that the story is a little more complicated than we thought. Now the anecdote. Back when I was doing some research for a new probiotic supplement, I tried one that had been shown to increase serotonin levels: B. infantis. This is how I do things usually. Most all my products are created to solve a problem in my own life. I figure that if something appeals to me or fixes an issue affecting me, it will help others too. So this time, I added the powder to a smoothie and down the hatch it went. About half an hour later, I got the distinct sense of what I can only describe as emotional numbness. There was just this big blank emptiness in my heart and mind. I felt robotic, except I was a robot who had memories of what it was like to feel. It was a very uncanny, unnerving feeling that I don’t ever want to feel again. Maybe the dosage was too high. Maybe I shouldn’t have been taking a probiotic strain meant for human infants (B. infantis is present in infant guts … Continue reading “12 Ways to Boost Your Serotonin”

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How to Stay Level During Uncertain Times

Humans are hardwired to crave certainty. Psychologists argue that it’s an innate need, programmed into our biology and reinforced through evolution. Understanding our environment allows us to predict, with some degree of accuracy, what will happen in the future. From an ancestral perspective, certainty allows us, theoretically, to avoid danger, reap desired rewards, and ensure survival.

The need for certainty is a central tenet of psychology. Human development is all about testing and forming theories about the environment, from toddlers throwing objects and learning about physics, to young children acquiring theory of mind, to adolescents pushing social boundaries. Even our language reflects this. Consider how many words we have around the concepts of agency, self-determination, personal freedom, and free will, especially in more individualistic societies.

At its crux, the need for certainty reflects a desire to control and master the environment. We assert control through our choices, whether that’s deciding what to eat for breakfast, opting for the highway or surface streets on our commute, or choosing whom to marry. Every decision, from mundane to life-altering, depends on our ability to weigh the odds of getting a favorable outcome. We can only do that if our world is predictable, at least to a degree.

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What it Really Means When You’re Overwhelmed (and 4 Ways to Move Past It)

Raise your hand if you’ve been feeling a little overwhelmed. Aside from the fact that being in the middle of a pandemic makes everything more stressful, you’ve got work obligations and family commitments, then there are food choices to make, at-home workouts you think you should be doing, and non-stretchy pants you’re feeling bad for not fitting into. It’s a lot. I get it, and it’s totally normal to feel overwhelmed. That said, staying in a state of overwhelm is a choice. Yep, you heard me, it’s a choice. And if you’re ready to get out of the seemingly relentless spin cycle of life (and the tight chest and racing mind that come with it), stick around. I’ll be unpacking the real reason you get overwhelmed — spoiler alert, it’s not because your to-do list is too long — plus, four things you can do to change it. Why Do I Get Overwhelmed? I’ll give you an example from my own life. As a health coach, I’ll often hear my clients say that they just can’t do it. They can’t swap out their toast and cereal for breakfast. They can’t make time to get outside. They can’t get to bed earlier. They can’t…fill in the blank. In my opinion, “I can’t” statements reflect limiting beliefs. They aren’t real; they’re just stories we tell ourselves, and identities we accidentally end up identifying with. It’s not that you can’t, it’s that something is holding you back. I find that most of the time, when I dig a little deeper, that thing is fear. Types of Fear That Cause Overwhelm: Fear you won’t be able to handle it Fear of getting it wrong Fear you won’t get it done (on time) Fear that you’ll be judged Fear of the consequences Fear of not being in control Fear of being embarrassed Fear that you don’t really deserve it Whether you’re experiencing worry, stress, or complete overwhelm, fear is usually at the helm, just FYI. But the goal here isn’t to be fearless (there actually are some benefits to fear), it’s to not let it rule your life. Anything that threatens your place in this world, i.e. your self-worth, can elicit a fear-based reaction. I’m sure you’ve heard of the fight-or-flight response, right? When you experience something that feels scary and stressful, the amygdala (the part of your brain that handles emotional processing) releases a rush of chemicals into the body. The stress hormones, adrenaline and cortisol flood your system, preparing you to fight or flee. Not only that, the amygdala instantly shuts down the neural pathway to your prefrontal cortex which temporarily impairs all rational thinking, making you feel disorganized and out of control. So, It’s All in My Mind? Believe it or not, you’re causing this cascade of physiological effects by your thoughts alone, even though there’s no real danger other than the perceived consequences of what would happen if you failed or were embarrassed or weren’t able to keep tabs on all … Continue reading “What it Really Means When You’re Overwhelmed (and 4 Ways to Move Past It)”

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How to Foster Healthy Body Image in Children

I belong to a ladies’ trail running community online. These women are cool, badass humans who perform amazing feats with their bodies. Last month, someone asked the group if they ever struggle with body image. The responses were overwhelmingly affirmative. Hundreds upon hundreds of women responded, “Yes! Me. Every single day.” Only a very few said no.

It was eye-opening and also woefully unsurprising. Most adults I know struggle with body image on some level.

Those of us who are parents would love to spare our children from this emotional baggage, but how do we help our kids develop healthy body image in today’s world? We’re up against massive biological and, especially, social forces. Humans are hardwired to see — and judge — faces and bodies, looking for signs of friendliness, similarity, and fertility. Our early survival as a species depended on it.

The modern diet and beauty industries have taken these natural propensities and exploited them to the nth degree. They bombard us with messaging, both subtle and overt, telling us we must do everything in our power to be as physically attractive as possible. No amount of time or money is too much to invest in the quest for beauty and the “perfect” physique. Oh, and definitely don’t show any signs of aging. The wrinkles, gray hair, and natural softening of the body that comes with growing older? Not allowed! Obviously, if you fail to live up to the ever-changing ideal, it is 100 percent your fault.

Short of moving to the woods and disconnecting from society entirely, we can’t keep our kids from being exposed. Our best hope is to help them develop a healthy body image early. Give them a strong foundation so when they inevitably get caught up in Hurricane Diet Culture, they may waver, but they’ll stay standing.

The strategy is two-fold: First, do your best not to repeat and perpetuate the culture that creates insecurity and negative body image. Second, teach kids to trust, respect, and appreciate their bodies regardless of appearance.

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