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Alex Allan Nutrition
By Alex Allan on 14/02/24 | Lifestyle Tips

Is self-compassion the key to unlocking your health goals?

In the pursuit of better health, we often focus on the physical aspects – diet, exercise, and sleep – while neglecting a vital component: our emotional wellbeing. You might already appreciate this conceptually but here’s an important question to ponder: how do you treat yourself when you make a mistake, or you don’t reach your goals?

Do you treat yourself with kindness and understanding like you would a friend or do you beat yourself up for your so-called failings? If, like most people, your tendency is to berate yourself, it’s time to bring a little more self-compassion into your life.

It’s good to be kind to yourselves and it can be your greatest ally in reaching your health goals.

“With self-compassion, we give ourselves the same kindness and care we’d give to a good friend.” Kristin Neff, one of the eminent researchers on self-compassion

What is self-compassion?

At its core, self-compassion is the practice of treating yourself with the same kindness and understanding that you offer to others.

It comprises three key components: self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness.

It’s different from self-esteem (although this is also important for wellbeing). Instead of relying on self-judgment and comparisons, self-compassion is about self-acceptance and self-care.

The connection between self-compassion and your health

Research shows a profound connection between emotional wellbeing and physical health. High levels of stress, self-criticism, and negative self-talk can hinder your progress towards health goals. 

This is where self-compassion steps in. By reducing stress and improving mental health, it lays a strong foundation for positive health behaviours.

Silence your harshest critic - yourself

Imagine the inner critic as a relentless coach who constantly points out your flaws and mistakes. It's time to silence that voice. Recognising self-criticism is the first step. 

Pay attention to those moments when you berate yourself for a slip-up. 

Then, challenge these thoughts with self-compassion. 

Ask yourself: "Would I speak to a friend this way?" Almost always, I suspect the answer will be no. 

Start to learn self-kindness

Self-kindness is the heart of self-compassion. Start your day by acknowledging your achievements, no matter how small they might seem. 

If you already practise gratitude, it’s not that far away. Instead of reminding yourself of the good things in your life, you are reminding yourself of the good things in you. 

Treat yourself with the same warmth you'd offer a loved one. Practice self-care as an act of kindness to your body and mind – eat nourishing foods, get enough rest, and engage in activities that bring you joy.

You’re not in it alone – welcome to ‘common humanity’

You're not alone in your health journey, whatever that is. Common humanity is the understanding that all humans face challenges and imperfections. Connect with others who share similar goals. Share your experiences, both the successes and the setbacks. It's comforting to realise that your struggles are part of the human experience. 

It's worth remembering that people love to help, and we often don’t give them that opportunity to provide support. Think of reaching out as something they can feel good about, too.

Stay in the moment

I am a big fan of mindfulness for all sorts of reasons, and it also happens to be a powerful tool when it comes to self-compassion. Mindfulness brings you into the present moment, allowing you to make conscious choices about your health rather than dwell on what should or could have been, which inevitably ends with self-recriminations. 

Practice mindfulness through meditation, deep breathing, or simply by being fully engaged in your daily activities. It will enhance your decision-making related to your wellbeing. If you’re new to mindfulness, it can be helpful to start with some guided meditation using smartphone apps like Calm or Headspace. 

The point of these guided meditations is not to get really good at doing it, but to make the time to do it daily if you can. It is a ten-minute oasis of calm, and it works best to find a point in  your day that you can regularly commit to (even before bed) when you won’t be disturbed. Your mind is bound to wander off part-way through. This is normal so don’t throw in the towel if this happens!

Get started with self-compassion

Set realistic goals. Start small and build from there. Unrealistic expectations can lead to self-criticism.

Track your progress. Keep a journal to monitor your achievements and setbacks. Celebrate every step forward.

Keep a self-compassion diary. Create a journal where you record your self-compassionate thoughts and moments. Reflect on them regularly.

A little word on setbacks…

Setbacks are part of any journey, including your health journey. Instead of viewing them as failures, see them as opportunities for growth. When you slip up, acknowledge it without self-judgment. Remember that self-compassion allows you to learn from setbacks and move forward with resilience.

Self-compassion is not a luxury; it's a fundamental pillar of good health. By treating yourself with the same kindness and understanding you offer to others, you create a positive environment for your physical and mental well-being. Begin your self-compassion journey today, and watch as it transforms your path towards your health goals.

If you struggle to support yourself, why not get in touch and see how I can help you. Just book a call here.

By Alex Allan on 15/01/24 | Lifestyle Tips

How to Break Through a Plateau

When you have a specific health goal and feel you are putting in the work, it’s tough when you don’t see the changes you feel you deserve. It’s tempting to give up, but here’s what to do instead.

If progress is disappointing, it’s time to check in with how you feel. Progress is not just a number on the scales and, in many cases, the scales can be misleading. If your goal isn’t just weight loss, a temporary stall in progress can be just as frustrating, with symptoms seeming to vanish one week, but reappear the next. Progress is rarely as straightforward as we think. 

In this blog, I’ll be focussing on weight loss plateaus but you can add in your own situation.

What is a weight loss plateau?

A weight loss plateau refers to a phase in your weight loss journey where progress comes to a temporary halt despite your continued efforts. It can be both frustrating and demotivating.

Understanding the dynamics of why this happens is crucial for developing effective strategies to overcome them.

Common causes

Metabolic adaptation: One primary cause of weight loss plateaus is the body's ability to adapt to changes in calorie intake and expenditure. As you lose weight, your metabolic rate may decrease, meaning your body burns fewer calories at rest. This adaptive response can make it challenging to sustain the initial rate of weight loss. 

Psychological factors: Psychological aspects play a significant role in weight management. Stress, emotional eating, and other mental health factors can contribute to plateaus. For instance, heightened stress levels can lead to hormonal imbalances that affect metabolism and appetite, hindering weight loss progress. Don't underestimate the power of stress to impact every aspect of your health. 

Inconsistent action: It’s easy to be keen and compliant when you first start your programme but, over time, bad habits and inconsistencies can creep in, whether that’s more treat foods, more glasses of wine, or irregular workout patterns.

It’s not simply the number on the scales that can show up.

Lack of change in measurements: A plateau often extends beyond weight loss alone, affecting overall body composition and shape. This might mean measurements such as waist circumference, hip circumference, and other body dimensions stall too.

Emotional and psychological indicators: Forget about the tell-tell signs just being physical. You might also experience heightened frustration, demotivation, or a sense of being stuck in your journey. Emotional eating patterns may also emerge as a response to the perceived lack of progress, further complicating the weight loss process.

Plateaus vary from person to person

Weight loss plateaus are not one-size-fits-all – just like your food plan! They manifest differently for everyone. Factors such as age, gender, genetics, and overall health can influence the nature and duration of plateaus. Some people may experience a brief slowdown in weight loss, while others might encounter a more prolonged and stubborn plateau.

Here are some thoughts for those weeks when things don’t go to plan for whatever the reason. 

  • If there were things you didn’t do but wanted to, or things that felt difficult, be curious about why you struggled. Making changes to your health is all about learning, and in some cases identifying triggers and finding solutions.
  • If you keep a food diary or a habit tracker, review it. It’s often (but not always) easy to spot what has happened. While you are practising making changes to what you eat, it’s easy to slip back into old patterns and many people over-estimate their compliance. These will vary from person to person but can include eating more of the foods that cause symptoms to flare up or adding in more snacks, alcohol or treat foods. 
  • How are you sleeping? Lack of sleep plays a big role in your health and can stall your results if you’re regularly not getting enough by placing additional stress on the body. For most people, that means having fewer than seven hours a night most nights.
  • Check your stress levels. Stress can put the brakes on weight loss and any kind of progress at all. If you’re spinning a lot of plates and you’re not taking time for yourself every day to do some kind of stress relief (acts of self-care, meditation, breathwork, time in nature, etc), you should make this a priority. 
  • Are you hydrated? There are many reasons why drinking water works for health and, time and again, I have seen that taking action in this area alone can shift the needle in every respect. For starters, drinking enough water allows your body to get rid of toxic waste you don’t want in your body, and it helps support immunity and liver function too. 

Quick wins

The basic advice is to keep going. Plateaus are very common and often my clients trust the process and soon things start moving in the right direction again. 

In the short term, you can try one of these little boosters:

  • No starchy carbs in the evening for one week
  • Eat evening meal 1 hour earlier than usual
  • Cut out wheat and/or dairy for one week 
  • No alcohol for one week

One of the most important things you can do is to focus on what has gone well. Ask yourself, what am I pleased with that has gone well this week? What other improvements have you noticed?

Keep your eye on the prize. One of the things I’m keen to do as a coach is to help my clients work out why change is important for them. This helps keep focus when a plateau happens. If you’d like to know more about the support I can give you, why not book in a free call here?

 

By Alex Allan on 12/01/24 | Lifestyle Tips

As you gear up for another start to a New Year, you might find yourself in the familiar territory of making resolutions in the hope that they somehow stick. You know the drill – enthusiastic promises to hit the gym regularly, eat more greens, lose that extra weight, get more organised, or maybe cut back on alcohol. 

How often have those January aspirations fizzled out by the time February rolls around? It's a tale as old as time – the grand intentions, the initial burst of motivation, and then... well, life happens. 

It’s not just you. New Year is a time of hope and anticipation, and it genuinely is a really good time to think about how you want your life to be in the coming year. However, the fact that there is already a day set aside each year – it’s called Quitters Day – for the collapse of New Year resolutions, shows that many of us struggle to stick to our good intentions. It’s the second Friday of January – this year it’s the 12th

The fitness app Strava conducted some research back in 2019 that showed 80% of those who made resolutions had given up by the end of the month and that the second Friday in January was when most started their inevitable decline. 

Why can’t we stick to our New Year resolutions?

You can probably imagine the biggest problems and I am sure you will have experienced them for yourself at some stage or another. 

The initial resolution was over-ambitious.

You start off filled with enthusiasm but couldn’t maintain the same level of commitment. 

I’d like to offer a potential solution to both in a moment. To offer a little branch of hope right now, there is also a New Year’s Resolution Recommitment Day, which is perfect for anyone who slipped in January and needs an official day to get back to their goals. 

Do you struggle to stick to your goals?  

If you struggle to stick to goals, you’ll benefit from re-visiting your goal-setting strategy. Knowing what you want is just the first step – knowing how to get there is as – if not more – important. 

So how do you set goals that lead to success? 

You might already have heard about SMART goals but making them SMARTER is even better (and a lot more fun). This means setting goals that are:

Specific

Measurable

Achievable

Realistic

Time-bound

Exciting 

Rewarded

Specific

The goal must be clear and concise. Vague goals, such as “I want to get healthy” don’t tell you, or anyone else, what you are aiming for. This makes it difficult to know when you’ve reached the goal. It might be worth looking at things like being able to fit into a specific pair of trousers or being able to get to the end of that 5k run without stopping – or other specific activities like getting out on a walk or doing some guided meditation. 

Measurable

The goal must contain measurable criteria for tracking progress. If your goal isn’t specific, you can’t measure it. Ensure your goal has a clear measurable component that you can track to see how close you are to the desired end point. If you are thinking about weight loss, the scale and the tape measure will be needed. You might well want to use both – sometimes the number on the scale doesn’t give the full picture. Or you might be measuring how long you can run, how many Zumba classes you attend, how many times you listen to a sleep story. 

Achievable

The goal must be practically possible, yet still challenging. This is something to bear in mind if you tend to have lofty plans. It’s a balance of being able to actually do it and it being sufficiently challenging to motivate you to spend time and energy pursuing it. For example, if you want to run a marathon and find it relatively easy to get outdoors to run but regularly only run 10km, the goal might be achievable and challenging. If you don’t currently run and never have…  

Realistic

The goal must be realistic in the long term. It is important to ask yourself, “can I actually do this?” and “is it realistic given my current circumstances?”. Not in a self-doubting kind of way, but in a rational, carefully thought-through way. Thinking about goals that might relate to losing weight or exercise, there is a sweet spot between setting goals that feel a bit of a stretch and setting those that are over-optimistic or that require time that you just don’t have.

Time-bound

The goal should be grounded within a specific timeframe. When will you do this by? Having a scheduled completion date greatly increases your odds of reaching your goals. When you know your cut-off date, you know how to pace yourself and prioritise your time, energy, and resources. It can really help focus your energies and keep you motivated as you check in with yourself towards the end of the timeframe. A bit like that extra burst athletes get at the end of the race as they sprint towards the finish.

And now come the BEST bits…

Exciting

The goal must be enticing and inspiring. Does the thought of the goal excite you? Many people pursue goals because they feel they ‘must’, ‘should’, or because others want them to, rather than because they truly want to achieve the goal. Make sure your goal energises you and is personally motivating. Focus on what will be possible for you when you reach your goal. How will it really feel when you achieve what you set out to do? I want you to get really fired up by your goal!

Rewarded

The goal must offer a clear reward. This can be an extrinsic reward (something tangible such as money, awards, savings, or prizes), or intrinsic (joy, happiness, mastering a skill, or satisfaction of a job well done). If you aren’t getting some benefit or reward for reaching your goal, your motivation is likely to dip. How will you reward yourself? What will feel like a real win? Remember, since we’re in the world of wellness, I’m not talking about having a big blow-out at the end of a diet but something more nourishing of the soul…

You can complete the following statements/questions to help you set your goals:

My goal is...

It is clear and specific in the following way...

How will I know if I’ve achieved it? I can measure success in the following way...

My goal is realistic because...

What are my time frames? By when will I have achieved this goal?

What is exciting about this goal? What inspires me?

What are the rewards? How will this benefit me and my life when I have achieved it?

Fun fact

Research shows you’re more likely to stick to a goal that is action-oriented rather than an avoidance-oriented goal (58.9% versus 47.1%).

Every goal is easier to achieve with support. Perhaps you see it as a form of motivation if you insist on going it alone. Wouldn’t it be great to prove to others or yourself that you can do it? It certainly would, but why struggle? Why not make your life easier by getting support? 

The Fix: Book a complimentary call with me here

Let’s work together to tackle all aspects of what I’ve been talking about above. I’ll bring the knowledge of what to eat for your goals and support you to create healthy habits that last. I’ll also be your cheerleader if you experience any barriers or setbacks that look like they might stand in the way of you achieving your goals.

Now is exactly the right time for a brand new you: new diet, new attitude and new healthy lifestyle habits. 

By Alex Allan on 04/12/23 | Lifestyle Tips

Are you at the mercy of Christmas FOMO?

Christmas events and entertaining can seem relentless at times. Apparently, we cram 44% more social occasions into December than any other month.  How many social engagements/ parties do you already have in the calendar for the month of December?  

I know how it can go… parties, drinks dos, buffets, secret Santa. You’ll go to everything because you can’t resist. You’ll feast like you’ll never see another meal, and you’ll consume many festive tipples because otherwise you’ll be missing out on all the fun.

FOMO – shorthand for ‘fear of missing out’ – is the acute and often unjustified belief that everyone is having way more fun than you. And it reaches its annual high any day now. FOMO really is not your friend this month (or indeed any month) – especially if you want to maintain your weight or healthy living over the holidays. 

Let’s take a look at how that festive FOMO usually pans out…

You’re committed to healthy eating at Christmas, and you go to buffet parties or events. The food looks delicious, but you have made a decision to not eat unnecessarily, so your mouth can only water. There’s a very subtle fear that you are never going to be able to have any of these delicious treats ever again. The fear of missing out activates your survival instinct to consume everything and anything. And so you may go on a binge, and your healthy eating plans are obliterated. The self-recriminations start. 

Here’s what you need to know about FOMO: We are culturally programmed to over-value losses and under-value gains, so it’s really not your fault. So, we put more importance on the food we may be missing out on, and less on our goals and wellbeing.

The big question, of course, is what are you really missing out on? Nothing. OK, maybe some sweet or high-carb treats, some booze-filled evenings and such. But eating and drinking these have a flipside: blood sugar imbalance and energy crashes, poor sleep, almost certain weight gain (if you consume in excess) – and that’s without mentioning the negative self-talk for having over-indulged. 

There are several things going on when it comes to food. Your fear of ‘missing out’ on that delicious dessert is the first. But also refusing food is mired in emotional meaning both for you and for the host. 

The answer is not to find more and more creative ways to say no. If you have to own up to eating healthily around this time or being gluten- or dairy-free, this seems to compound the original offence of not wanting to eat. 

Your action plan is this:

  1. HAVE A PLAN Before you go to bed each night, plan out your food for the next day. This is never truer than at Christmas, when parties, chocolates, cookies, and “treats” are just about everywhere.
  2. DON’T TRY TO DIET JUST NOW - Set a maintenance goal instead. This is much more realistic, and it is achievable, even at this time of year. It will also give you the freedom to enjoy yourself without feeling deprived, or that you’ve failed, which in turn means you’re more likely to rebel (and this is code for heading straight for the box of chocolates without a second glance).
  3. WATCH YOUR PORTION SIZES - especially when it comes to fast-release carbs like white potatoes, pastry, breaded items, cakes, biscuits, and other sweet things.
  4. DON’T GO TO A PARTY HUNGRY - If you do, you will be fighting a losing battle. Have a low-GL snack before you go – just a little something that includes protein and slow-release carbs (cottage cheese or unsweetened nut butter on an oatcake, for example).
  5. KEEP FAMILY CHOCOLATES OUT OF SIGHT, so you’re not tempted to tuck in just because they’re there. Ever heard of the ‘see food and eat it’ diet?

And don’t forget – you can always get in touch with me, if you’d like to discuss further. Part of my role is to support my clients in their habit changes – I can help you. Just book in a call.

By Alex Allan on 19/11/23 | Lifestyle Tips

Seven Steps to Good Health this Winter

If you're looking to ramp up your immune health over winter, you might be wondering, "How do I gear up my body to tackle those pesky illnesses?" Well, boosting your immunity isn't a walk in the park, but a few tweaks in your lifestyle and diet can give your body's defence system a serious upgrade against those sneaky pathogens.

  1. Get Your Beauty Sleep

There's a real connection between sleep and keeping your immune system in top-notch shape. Skimping on sleep? That's like sending an open invitation to sickness. In a study with 164 healthy adults, the ones catching fewer than 6 hours of Zs were more likely to catch a cold. Adults, aim for 7 hours or more; teens, 8–10 hours; and the little ones, up to 14 hours. Having trouble dozing off? Try ditching screens an hour before bedtime and make your sleep space as dark as Batman's cave.

  1. Plant Power

Load up on the good stuff – fruits, veggies, nuts, seeds, and legumes. They're packed with nutrients and antioxidants that put up a strong front against those nasty pathogens. Think of them as your immune system's cheerleaders, fighting off inflammation and giving those free radicals a run for their money. Plus, they're like a feast for the good bacteria in your gut, making your immunity top-notch.

  1. Fats That Love You Back

Embrace healthy fats like those found in olive oil and salmon. They're like the superheroes that calm down inflammation, preventing it from taking over. Olive oil is not just anti-inflammatory; it's linked to keeping chronic diseases like heart disease and type 2 diabetes at bay. And let's not forget omega-3 fatty acids from salmon and chia seeds—they're inflammation-fighting champs too.

  1. Sugar Watch

Keep an eye on added sugars and refined carbs. Research hints that they might have a hand in the overweight and obesity drama, and that duo could make you more susceptible to falling sick. According to a study, folks with obesity were twice as likely to catch the flu even with a vaccine. Cut down on sugar, dial down inflammation, lose a bit of weight, and decrease your risk of chronic health issues.

  1. Move That Body (Moderately)

Exercise is like a booster shot for your immune system. Not the hardcore, intense stuff, but a moderate, feel-good workout. It can even make vaccines more effective! Regular moderate exercise is the friend your immune cells need to stay in shape and ready for action. Think brisk walks, steady biking, a bit of jogging, or a splash in the pool—aim for at least 150 minutes a week.

  1. Hydration Station

Water, water, water—it's your health's best friend. While it won't shield you from germs, staying hydrated is crucial for overall well-being. Dehydration can mess with your head, focus, mood, and even kidney function, making you more prone to getting sick. Keep that urine pale yellow, and you're on the right track. Watch out for the sugar content in other types of drinks, especially juices and fizzy drinks.

  1. Chill Out, Stress Less

Stress and your immune system? Not best friends. Long-term stress can mess with your immune cell squad and promote inflammation. Kids aren't spared either; their immune response can take a hit. Combat stress with a dose of meditation, a bit of exercise, scribbling in a journal, yoga, or anything that brings zen vibes. Talking to a counsellor or therapist, virtual or in person, might be a game-changer too.

If you’d like to find out more about how you can support your body’s natural immune system over Winter, why not book in a call here.

By Alex Allan on 11/09/23 | Lifestyle Tips

How to regain your sense of calm

Palpitations, a dry mouth, sweating, insomnia are just some of the unmistakable signs of anxiety. Everyone has experienced these symptoms at some point in their life. Who hasn't felt stage fright before a presentation, hyperventilated before an exam or spent a sleepless night before their dental appointment? 

Under normal circumstances, you get through the situation in question unscathed, and life goes on. However, it is very different for people who suffer from anxiety disorders. Patients with this condition experience virtually no relief or respite because their anxiety is unrelated to a specific situation or event and is – objectively – unfounded. There is no single challenge to get through and move on. Their anxiety goes on constantly, from one situation to the next, and the next, and the next ... 

Although anxiety disorders were common even before the Coronavirus pandemic, the stress of lockdowns and worry about our own health and that of loved ones, our jobs and our financial security has sent numbers surging. A team of researchers at the University of Manchester are currently looking into this. Although the work is still ongoing, they predict that mental health problems will continue to be affected by the pandemic for years to come.[1]

So, where does nutrition come into it? At first glance, it may seem preposterous to say that diet influences how we feel; but think about it: In the cold, hard light of science, feelings are chemistry! Of course, in the first instance, it is our environment, our experiences, and to an extent, our personality that makes us feel the way we feel. But our feelings of fear, anger, overwhelm or love and confidence trigger the release of hormones in our body, which is where chemistry kicks in. We need the happy hormone serotonin and the pleasure hormone dopamine to feel good, the sleep hormone melatonin to sleep, the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol for our get-up-and-go and to fight or flee when we’re under threat. Hormones work in unison with each other. Some hormones suppress others; some trigger the release of others. But for these feedback mechanisms to work, for our body to even be able to manufacture the chemicals that we need, we must supply the raw materials they are made of. 

Those raw materials are fatty acids, proteins, vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients – nutrients. What’s more, even our friendly gut bacteria contribute to how we feel by extracting more nutrients from our food for us, manufacturing some, such as short-chain fatty acids, from scratch and even providing some ready-made serotonin! So, if you think of feelings that way, what we eat is bound to have a massive impact on how we feel and how we cope with the challenges life throws at us. 

Don't get me wrong; I’m not saying that diet will cure an anxiety disorder. However, if we try and fuel our body with poor quality food that does not provide the building blocks of the hormones and catalysts our brain chemistry requires, we’ll have a much harder time overcoming mental health issues. 

So, what are these nutrients our body needs, particularly when we are anxious? 

Magnesium is often referred to as ‘nature’s tranquiliser’ – which hints at just how crucial this mineral is for supporting balanced mood, relaxation, and deep sleep. One reason why magnesium helps us cope with anxiety might be that it plays a role in nerve transmission.[2]The mineral is not even hard to find. There’s some in most foods, particularly in green leafy vegetables – think broccoli, spinach, kale, and watercress – but also in grains, such as brown rice, buckwheat and quinoa, nuts and seeds, or fish and seafood. Despite this, deficiency is common, which may have something to do with our penchant for convenience and junk foods that are just not as nutritious as real food. 

A 2019 study found that the amino acid L-theanine might help manage anxiety and support a balanced stress response. L-theanine is found in green tea.[3] It increases the activity of the neurotransmitter GABA, which has calming, anti-anxiety effects. The amino acid also raises dopamine and the creation of alpha waves in the brain. This is because l-theanine can cross the blood-brain barrier, a membrane that protects our brain from unwanted and harmful substances. The high intake of green tea by Buddhist monks may contribute to their famously calm demeanour and intense focus during meditation. If you want to give green tea a try, be sure to choose an organic one to reduce your exposure to pesticides and other toxins, which have been found to disrupt the brain’s stress circuitry.[4]

The authors of a 2020 research review agree that the role of nutrition in the management of mental health disorders is underestimated.[5] They reviewed the existing research into omega-3 fats in connection with anxiety and found that this type of fat is critical for brain health and has been shown to reduce anxiety symptoms. As vegan diets are becoming more popular, it is important to note that omega-3 fats from plant sources, such as flaxseed oil or walnut oil, does not cover our daily requirements, let alone achieve therapeutic levels. The omega-3s these foods contain are inferior to the ones we need: EPA and DHA. Although the body can make those long-chain fatty acids can from plant-source omega-3 (alpha-linoleic acid or ALA), the conversion is sluggish and easily disrupted. Only about 5 per cent get converted. If you are vegan, do not like fish, or are allergic to it, your diet alone will cover your needs. I recommend finding a good-quality supplement with omega-3 from marine sources (i. e., algae), which is the only vegan source of DHA. 

When talking about anxiety and nutrition, we must not neglect the role of the microbiota, the friendly bacteria in our gut. The majority of available research studies in 2019 showed that it is beneficial to give our gut bacteria some TLC. Interestingly, “non-probiotic interventions were more effective than the probiotic” ones.[6]

That suggests that just popping a probiotic capsule may not be enough – and that’s no surprise, really. Don't get me wrong; probiotics are beneficial; there is no doubt about that. However, their contents – live bacteria, e. g. Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium species – are not going to settle in the gut. They are only travelling through, and while doing so, they help create a bacteria-friendly climate and temporarily crowd out undesirable microbes. But really, they are only lending a helping hand to our own, indigenous bacteria. Those are the ones that are at home there, and those are the ones that can protect our gut, feed our brain, improve our mood, and keep us healthy. 

You can look after your friendly bacteria by giving them real food, especially fibre-rich plant foods, including vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds, pulses, whole grains, herbs, and spices. Variety is key here. While probiotics – especially in the form of fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, live yoghurt, kefir and kombucha – are great, prebiotics – fibre – are even better. We still need to learn much more about all the different microbes living in our guts, but what we do know is that the more different species we have, the healthier we are. How do we cultivate a variety of species? By keeping our diets interesting! Different microbes have different preferences. By varying what we eat, we are creating a desirable place for them to live. 

To keep everyone happy, it is also essential to avoid what harms the microbiota. Alcohol acts like a weedkiller on your internal garden. Food additives reduce a protective type of antibody called secretory immunoglobulin A (or sIgA, for short), and emulsifiers are particularly damaging for the gut. Sugar promotes yeast overgrowth, which can overwhelm the beneficial bacteria and make it difficult for them to adhere to the gut wall. 

Of course, although hugely important, diet is not everything. Lifestyle factors, too, play a crucial role in mental health. It will come as no surprise that it is worth reducing stress as much possible if you suffer from anxiety. Interestingly, stress also damages the microbiota and interferes with the conversion of omega-3 fatty acids – among many other things, so just getting on top of stress will do you a whole lot of good. 

I know that that is easier said than done, but there is a shedload of information on stress management on the internet, ranging from relaxation techniques, such as meditation or breathing exercises, to self-care and me-time tips.

So, as you can see, you don’t have to take anxiety attacks lying down. There is a lot that you can do to avoid them or to aid your recovery.  And if you’d like to talk further about this, why not book a free 30 minute health review with me here? 

[1] https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-021-00175-z

 

[2] Kirkland AE, Sarlo GL, Holton KF (2018): The Role of Magnesium in Neurological Disorders. Nutrients. 2018 Jun 6;10(6):730. 

[3] Lopes Sakamoto F, Metzker Pereira Ribeiro R, Amador Bueno A, Oliveira Santos H (2019): Psychotropic effects of L-theanine and its clinical properties: From the management of anxiety and stress to a potential use in schizophrenia. Pharmacol Res. 2019 Sep;147:104395.

[4] Caudle MW (2016): This can't be stressed enough: The contribution of select environmental toxicants to disruption of the stress circuitry and response. Physiol Behav. 2016 Nov 1;166:65-75.

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