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How Diet Changes Can Help You Manage Divorce Stress

When contemplating or going through divorce, stress becomes part of your daily life. Did you realize what you eat can help you to manage it? Our Wellness Expert, Gretchen Ferraro, recently wrote a helpful blog that provides information on ways you can help control depression and stress with food and vitamins. After reading that, you may have wondered if you had accidentally stumbled upon some health site or scientific article. Whatever the case, it may have been hard to immediately connect with the topic of divorce. I would have thought so too when I was struggling through the effects of an unhappy marriage and divorce. I wish I knew then what I know now.

I’ve been there…

Depression hits me from time to time, and it has for years. I realize now it is very connected to the stressors in my life. I was in an incredibly dark period the last two years of my marriage. I would go through spurts of taking really good care of myself, but I mostly chose to numb with foods that made me feel good at the moment. I’d also regularly indulge in wine — not to excess, but definitely a glass or two to take the edge off. Plus, I got a prescription for Xanax toward the end for a quick “chill out” when things got really bad. This isn’t something I would take often because I didn’t like how it made me feel, but it sure helped calm my body during tumultuous moments where it all felt like too much to even bear. If you’ve experienced this, you know exactly what I mean.

I have been out of that marriage for two years, and I am so much happier. Life is far from perfect. It can be incredibly difficult, to be perfectly honest. Like everyone, my life is full of stressors. It involves everything from choosing to create my own business, the financial pressures of not having a steady income without another income to rely upon, parenting alone with two small children, acclimating to single life and dealing with the ups and downs of romantic relationships. I am very proud of how I manage this most of the time. But sometimes, it just gets to be too much. When too many things are not flowing in the right direction at one time, I simply shut down.

I do try to take decent care of myself, but admittedly it’s not the best. I especially fall down when I am experiencing significant stress. At those times, I go from eating fairly well and exercising at least semi-regularly to sustaining on carbs and wine. The workout clothes stay tucked in my drawer. This doesn’t happen too often, but it does happen. Unfortunately, the responsibilities of having two kids and a business don’t go away when I find myself overwhelmed, depleted and with nothing more to give to anyone or anything. Out of desperation, I took drastic measures.

The Cleanse Experiment

After an unbelievably stressful month, I realized I had gained 5 pounds due to stress munching and comfort-food numbing with every carb I could get my hands on. I had been trying to just get through each day instead of facing it with clarity and focus. I didn’t even feel like myself and certainly wasn’t the person I aspired to be.

So, I decided to detox body and my life. I started the Conscious Cleanse, designed by Jo Schaalman and Julie Pelaez. It’s a 14-day program that eliminates everything processed, sugar, caffeine, alcohol, dairy, soy, gluten and even many fruits and vegetables. The goal of the program is to remove “triggers” from your diet that can cause inflammation and irritability. It’s a good reset for your body, with the side benefit of dropping some pounds. How could you not when you eliminate just about your entire diet! I have never tried something this drastic. I have a history of not sticking to any diet, but I felt really committed this time because my goal wasn’t to look better in my jeans — it was to actually feel better and feel more in control of my life and mood.

I had chosen a time to start when life would be “manageable”. But life decided to give me some serious “tests”. It was my week where I would have my kids for three days instead of four, and there was nothing major going on — I could focus a bit more on me. Well, Day 1 is when I found myself at Children’s Hospital with my son’s terrible ear infection. Then I was trying to manage taking care of him while working for the next couple of days. Nothing stressful about that!

On Day 3, I woke up to a waterfall in my kitchen due to a malfunctioning toilet upstairs. Water ran all night, flooded the bathroom (which, of course, is carpet), the entire hallway, ran through the ceiling into the kitchen and then into the basement. Are you kidding me?! I took a deep breath and worked the problem. After I got the kids to school that morning, I wanted coffee and a bagel like crazy. I could barely handle the craving, but I staved it off and had my smoothie. Later that day, I had a little misstep that injured my wrist, which made it hard to drive, type and chop those veggies I needed to eat. It was also tough to carry those 150 boxes of Girl Scout cookies I picked up for my daughter to sell. Nothing like having stacks of those irresistible goodies in my garage to test some willpower!

Something clicked for me within a few days. I felt more in control of my life. Instead of allowing stressful situations to drive me into behaviors that aren’t good for me, I took control and made better decisions. I chose to nourish my body instead of indulging in something comforting for the moment that really wasn’t so good for me. After reading Getting Divorced? What to Eat to Beat the Blues and Boost Your Mood, I learned that I was actually incorporating the foods and nutrients that Gretchen had recommended.

I had stepped up my vitamins, folic acid and magnesium. I was having a smoothie for breakfast every morning that contained spinach, kale, blueberries, flax and coconut oil. I was eating a ton of salmon, greens, and munching on pumpkin seeds. I started looking forward to my new favorite snack of half of an avocado. I replaced my Diet Coke and coffee with water and non-caffeinated teas. The wine bottles remained closed and the popcorn maker stayed in the cabinet. I was very proud of myself for how I stuck to this program. It was definitely hard at times, and I must admit that I had a couple of cheat moments.

I also took this time to focus on the quality of my thoughts and taking care of my spiritual self. I was meditating for 15 minutes each morning and writing in my gratitude journal, which always shifts energy to a better place. In her book, “Crazy, Sexy Diet”, Kris Carr said that “…when I dumped the junk and aligned myself with my higher purpose, the pieces of the puzzle fell into place.” I got a glimpse of this. I felt stronger, more focused and started reclaiming my power. I was setting appropriate boundaries with people and in situations that were not in alignment with my values. I found it easier to make better choices in all aspects of my life. I stayed more in control of my emotions in the most trying of circumstances.

I say all of this not to advocate engaging in such a drastic program, but rather to encourage you to take some small steps to nourish your body and your mind. Adding foods that truly feed your body and a few additional vitamins will even out and even elevate your mood. Combine that with a little exercise to magnify the positive effects! I know it’s so hard when you are in the depths of depression and struggling to get through the unwinding of an unhappy marriage. One day at a time. One choice at a time. Focus on nourishing yourself instead of numbing. Doing lots of little things right will make a major impact on how you feel physically, emotionally and simply how you feel about yourself. If you found this helpful, please learn more about Untangle The Knot can further support you through your divorce journey.



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Getting Divorced? What to Eat to Beat the Blues and Boost Your Mood

Let’s face it: If you’re contemplating divorce or going through divorce, it’s going to affect your mood. You may be irritable, stressed, emotional, angry, and, on some level, depressed. But what you eat may be able to help the situation — research has shown that there is a relationship between the food you eat and your mood. And no, I’m not talking about Ben & Jerry’s, chocolate chip cookies or a pile of French fries. While these choices may offer a quick source of comfort, they lead to a fleeting boost of energy, then a crash in blood sugar and unwanted pounds. I’m talking about food that actually makes you feel good because of the specific nutrients it contains or the steady energy it gives you; foods that help you stay focused and balanced, so that you can handle anything that comes your way.

In terms of what foods you should be eating to improve your mood and alleviate depression and stress while you’re going through divorce, it comes down to neurotransmitters, nutrients and macronutrients. Let’s break that down.

Neurotransmitters are chemicals in your brain that communicate information throughout your brain and body. Serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine are all neurotransmitters that are thought to play a role in helping to regulate your mood:

  • Serotonin, which helps boost your mood, is made from tryptophan, an essential amino acid found in fish, eggs, chicken, turkey and other meats.
  • Dopamine is one of the most powerful stimulating neurotransmitters, and it is converted from the amino acid tyrosine, which is found in almonds, avocados, dairy products, pumpkin and sesame seeds.
  • Norepinephrine is another stimulating neurotransmitter, which is also converted from tyrosine.

Here are some important nutrients that may affect your mood:

  • Omega-3 fatty acids help with alleviating depression and other mood disorders. Grass-fed beef, salmon, tuna, mackerel, sardines, flax seeds, nuts and dark green leafy vegetables are all rich in omega-3s.
  • Lycopene is an antioxidant that helps protect your brain and fights inflammation, which may cause depression. Tomatoes are rich in lycopene.
  • Many other antioxidants found in fruits and vegetables have also been associated with decreasing depression. Blueberries have some of the highest levels of an antioxidant known as anthocyanin, and they’ve been linked to all kinds of positive health outcomes, including sharper cognition. But all berries, including strawberries, raspberries, and blackberries, are rich in vitamin C, which has been shown to be helpful in combating stress. Dark chocolate (yay!) is rich in two types of antioxidants called polyphenols and flavonols.
  • Folate, which is a B vitamin found in beans, citrus and dark green vegetables like spinach, affects mood-boosting neurotransmitters. Asparagus is also a good source.
  • Magnesium is a mineral that may help lower your stress level. Spinach is also high in magnesium.
  • Zinc is another mineral that has been shown to have a positive effect on depression and stress and is found in meat, poultry, oysters and nuts.

Picking the right macronutrients is also important:

  • Protein helps moderate your blood sugar, meaning you don’t experience fluctuations in your energy levels or uncontrollable hunger. Focus on lean meats (steak, poultry and seafood), eggs, tofu, beans, nuts and seeds.
  • Carbohydrates like vegetables, fruits and whole grains have fiber that help keep your blood sugar steady. The processed carbohydrates found in sugar, desserts, fried foods and refined grains could make you irritable and cause fluctuations in your blood sugar levels.
  • Fat, as in monounsaturated, polyunsaturated (including those depression-busting omega-3s) and even saturated fats are essential to healthy brain function. In addition to the foods rich in omega-3s, olive oil, canola and coconut oil, avocados and nuts and seeds are all good sources of these fats. Avoid trans fats, which are found in processed and fried food.

And don’t forget — eating small, frequent meals can help keep your blood sugar levels stable and give you a constant source of energy while keeping your appetite in check so you don’t succumb to your cravings for the not-so-comforting comfort foods.

With all that being said, don’t beat yourself up if you have a face to face run-in with a couple pieces of pizza or one too many cookies. Enjoy the moment, go for a walk or do something active (also shown to beat depression and elevate mood) and make sure your next meal is full of good-mood foods. Many more tips are available to you throughout the physical sections of Untangle The Knot.

Learn more about how Untangle The Knot can support you on your journey through divorce.

Gretchen Ferraro, UTK Editor and Wellness Expert



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New Year, New You: 5 Wellness Tips for Coping with Divorce

As you welcome the new year, it’s also a time to reflect upon the past year. If you’re on this site, most likely a lot of your thoughts center on the state of your relationship–the good, the bad, the ugly. You could be thinking about when to divorce or going through it, but now it’s time to look toward the future. Your New Year’s resolutions and goals may involve some very hefty, life-changing decisions. The term “New Year, New You” brings on an entirely different meaning; life as you know it may be evolving into something brand new. But while you’re dealing with all this “stuff”, don’t forget to remember the most important thing: taking care of yourself.

If you’re not getting enough sleep, maybe eating an occasional vegetable or two and moving your body, you are making it that much more difficult to tackle the big decisions in your future. It is so easy for your physical health to decline when the stress level increases, but this is a time of building strength–inner strength and physical strength. As you think about your resolutions and goals for 2015, be sure to include some that will help you stay on track physically to help you in coping with divorce. Here are five ideas:

  1. Sign up for an exercise class–this is a great way to get motivated about exercise in a group setting.
  2. If you’re already working out regularly, challenge yourself. Sign up for an adventure race, 5K, 10K, half-marathon or more.
  3. Cut back on fast food. It’s expensive and adds inches to your waistline.
  4. Get technical. Invest in one of the many fitness trackers available. Many will track your steps, sleeping habits and heart rate–all of these will help you stay motivated and on top of your fitness goals.
  5. Drink up. Water, that is. Try to get eight glasses of water a day. Keep a water bottle with you at all times.

Take a moment to get inspired by these ideas, and brainstorm additional ways you can truly take care of yourself physically during a time when you need to be your strongest. Many more tips and additional helpful information about the importance of physical health during this pivotal time in your life is available with your Untangle The Knot subscription — learn more!

Gretchen Ferraro, UTK Editor and Wellness Expert