Calm Body – Calm Mind
“By choosing the right foods we can get our bodies back to a place of calm, so that both physically and emotionally we are much better equipped to deal with whatever life has in store.”
Eat Yourself Calm, by Gill Paul (Published by Hamlyn 2014) – page 6
There was a time shortly after my Son started in Reception Class at Primary School when I would return home after dropping him off at school, collapse on the sofa, curl up under a blanket, watch T.V. and “treat” myself to a morning snack (or snacks!!). All the while, telling myself I was having a well deserved rest.
Each day at this time I would feel so wrung out and emotional from the stresses and strains of taking my reluctant, worried and anxious Son to school that I felt I had no energy to do anything else.
Every weekday morning I felt that I just needed to rest my body on the sofa for a while.
I felt that I needed to distract my mind from spiralling into uncontrollable worry about how my Son was coping at school. I wanted to take my mind off the idea that I had left my Son at school feeling alone, unhappy and upset and I believed daytime T.V. and snacks were the answer.
I was often very hungry at this time of day but lacked the enthusiasm or energy to prepare myself any proper food. To ease my hunger and my emotional discomfort, I would grab for quick and easy snacks from the cupboard. I would choose anything that was comforting and suitable for eating on the sofa.
During this period of time I got into the bad habit of “rewarding” myself with sugar and caffeine fuelled drinks and snacks such as cups of tea and coffee, biscuits, milk chocolate and crisps.
I would tell myself that I would just rest and watch T.V. for a little while before starting all the jobs around the house I planned to do. What actually happened was, I would end up camping-out on the sofa for far too long, eating far too many snacks and drinking too much tea and coffee.
However, it didn’t matter how many cups of tea or coffee I drank, or how long I sat on the sofa, I didn’t feel anymore awake or energetic than when I first arrived home after school drop off.
Instead of giving me the boost I needed after my diffcult morning, my T.V. and snacking habit would drain me further and leave me feeling bloated and lethargic. These physical feelings would be accompanied by emotional feelings of guilt, shame and failure. A feeling that I had wasted the day and not achieved the things I wanted to achieve during my precious daytime hours alone at home.
Every day I repeated this habit I sunk deeper and deeper into a sluggish, unmotivated way of thinking and behaving. This habit was not good for me, not good for my family and not good for our home.
One day I finally realised that what was intended to be a moment of self-care and rest for me had, in fact, become a destructive habit creating the absolute opposite effect. It was sapping my energy, making me feel bad about myself and setting me up for failure.
I realised that I was longing to feel more energetic, motivated and productive during my mornings at home and that I therefore needed to change how I was spending my time.
I concluded that a great first step to feeling better each day would be to improve the food I was eating at that time of day. I decided to be more intentional about when and what I would eat and drink during the morning.
I came up with a new snack designed to help my body and mind feel calm, which has now become fondly known as my “snack pot” amongst my family at home.
I also decided to drink different drinks throughout the morning to help boost my energy levels and treat my body better.
Since changing my snacking habits my mood and energy levels are much improved. I, therefore, feel more capable and motivated to do household jobs during the morning.
Once I get started on the jobs, momentum carries me along so that, no matter how tired I might be feeling from lack of sleep or family circumstances, I achieve much more than I ever did before.
This in turn makes me feel less guilty and improves my self-esteem and overall wellbeing. I then feel better still and able to do even more, thus creating a domino effect of improvements to my day.
One simple, intentional change in my snacking habits has led to a long list of beneficial changes to my day. It allows me to have a good day where once I would have had a bad day.
If this habit, described above, of “snacking and sofa-hugging” sounds familiar, you may wish to read on and find out more details about how I intentionally designed my new morning snack and vastly improved my day.
However, before you read on, I should make one disclaimer. I am not an expert in any shape or form and have no medical or dietary qualifications. So, the information I have compiled below is simply an honest account of my own personal experience based on research I carried out for myself at home.
I am not suggesting that everybody should start eating exactly the same “snack pot” as me. On the contrary, I am suggesting that each individual will need to work out the exact foods that will work for them. Everyone will need to take account of their own needs, problems, health issues, allergy profiles and dietary requirements.
By sharing my experience, I only hope to inspire you to make a simple, intentional change and design a morning snack for yourself that will help you to get off the sofa and have a good day too.
How I Designed My Intentionally Calming Morning Snack
When I began to research the kind of foods and drinks that might be more helpful and appropriate for me to eat, my aim was to design an easy-to-prepare snack that would create a feeling of calm within me but also give myself the energy and motivation to have a productive morning around the house.
Choosing Appropriate Drinks to Stay Hydrated
I was already aware that dehydration can have a negative impact on stress, anxiety and energy levels. I was also fully aware that too much caffiene is not good for you especially if you are feeling tense, worried or anxious. So, the first decision I made was to try to drink more water throughout the morning and drink less tea and coffee.
I decided I would start to fetch a pint of water in a glass as soon as I arrived home after school drop-off and would treat myself to a stripey paper straw in the glass, so that I could regularly top up my water levels throughout the morning. Since starting this, a good alternative habit I have created, to keep myself motivated throughout the cold winter months (when I often cannot face drinking lots of cold water!), is to boil a kettle and drink mugs of hot water instead.
I did not plan to cut out caffiene completely. I decided instead to limit myself to 4 cups of tea and 1 cup of coffee per day (preferably all consumed before 5pm in the evening).
I had read that some recent research suggests that drinking a limited amount of black coffee can possibly help to improve your mood. So, I planned to drink my one cup of black coffee each day with my morning snack to try and give me a positive mood boost when I needed it most.
Choosing Appropriate Foods For My Morning Snack
Foods to Exclude From My Snack
When it came to picking foods for my snack, I decided, as a starting point, to make it a snack that did not contain Gluten, Milk or Soya.
When you check food labels and read about food groups and special diets, Gluten, Milk and Soya are all common food groups that some individuals can struggle to digest due to autoimmune disease, allergies or food intolerances.
I am aware that my Dad is Coeliac. Coeliac Disease is defined as an autoimmune disease in which the immune system starts to attack and destroy healthy tissue – the villi of the gut. The trigger for this destruction is eating Gluten. Gluten is found in grains, such as Wheat, Barley and Rye and is also contained in most processed foods. So, those who have Coeliac Disease have to completely avoid these foods (The wording of this definition is borrowed from the book “The Clever Guts Diet, How to Revolutionise your body from the inside out” by Dr Michael Mosley, Short Books 2017 – p39).
Coeliac Disease can run in families. While I am not a diagnosed Coeliac, I have always felt that bread in particular does not always suit me well. So, I felt when designing a snack to calm my body it would be sensibile to avoid Gluten which could potentially be problematic in my family.
There is also evidence that Milk and Soya may not suit our family well either. My Son has seen a dietician and has a suspected intolerance to the proteins contained in Milk and Soya, which means he now avoids these food groups to maintain a healthy digestive system.
There is evidence that those prone to Eczema are more likely to have allergies or intolerances to Milk. At times in my life I have suffered quite badly with Eczema. So with both Eczema and Milk/Soya intolerance in our family, I also thought it would be sensible to avoid these food groups when designing my ideal snack to calm and energise my body.
Please note, I did not cut Gluten, Milk and Soya out of my diet completely and would eat these foods at other times. I just decided to leave it out of my morning snack each day. This time of day was a pivitol time for me. A time of day when I was trying to take particular care of my mind, body and energy levels.
I would not recommend that any individual completely cuts out any entire food group from their diet without first seeking medical advice. When an entire food group is cut out completely, medical practicioners and dieticians will give advice to ensure that the restricted diet still provides all necessary nutrients and they may recommend specific suppliments to help provide nutrients. So a big change of diet of that nature would always require expert advice.
However, when you are designing your own ideal morning snack it may be worth considering any problematic food groups that yourself and other close family members have struggled with. You may then consider avoiding the inclusion of these food groups in your morning snack to see if the exclusion of those items at that time of day helps you feel better.
Foods To Include In My Snack
Having decided what foods to exclude from my snack, I now had to decide upon the foods I should include instead.
It was when researching suitable snacking foods that I came across the book “Eat Yourself Calm”by Gill Paul, Published by Hamlyn, 2014 (Please note, from now on in this post, I will refer to this book as “the book”).
I found the book extremely useful when designing my own morning snack. I would highly recommend it to others who wish to research choosing suitable foods to include in a calming morning snack (As I always say, there are no affilliate links here, this is just a genuinely personal recommendation of a book I have found very helpful).
The book is set out really simply and is easy to read and understand. It is not a time consuming read and you can quickly discover which foods you might like to try eating to help yourself feel calm.
The introduction explains how choosing the right foods can help get our bodies “back to a place of calm“. The author explains how there are lots of foods that “positively support all the body systems during periods of stress and target symptoms that accompany stress”. As the title of the book would suggest, the author believes this means “we can literally eat ourselves calm.”
The next section of the book outlines foods that are considered to be “calm superfoods” and outlines the benefits of eating each of those foods.
There follows a very useful section that is designed to help you identify any particular probelms or symptoms you might be experiencing as a result of ongoing stress. Once you have identified your personal problems the book lists foods that are particularly useful to relieve those problems or symptoms. The book even provides some recipes for meals and snacks that are designed to address each of the listed problems and symptoms.
Having read the book, I was able to identify that I was experiencing the following problems and symptoms:
- Muscle Tension
- Mood Swings
- Sleep Problems
- Low Energy
Someone else reading the book would have had many other categories they could have identified instead. For example, dizziness, digestive problems, breathlessness or frequent colds.
Having identified my own problems and symptoms to address, I was then able to select suitable foods or recipes from the correct category lists to create my own snack which would include very intentionally chosen foods. A reader who had identified different problematic categories would have been offered different foods and recipes to choose from.
Some readers of the book may wish to turn straight to the recipe section and make and eat the recipes suggested for their categories of problems and symptoms. I, however, decided not to select actual snack recipes from the book as all of the recipes required a certain amount of preparation which I did not feel was appropriate to my circumstances.
I wanted the new snack to be as easy to grab from the cupboard as the crisps, biscuits and chocolate that I used to eat had been. I hoped that making the new snack extremely easy to grab and prepare would ensure that my new snacking habit would be easy to implement and sustain. Therefore, I compiled myself a list of possible appropariate foods for my snack as follows: –
- Headaches – Nuts, Apricots, Seeds
- Muscle tension – Almonds
- Irritability – Dark Chocolate, Cashew Nuts
- Anxiety – Brazil Nuts, Almonds, Dark Chocolate
- Mood Swings – Dark Chocolate, Almonds
- Unhappiness – Seeds, Brazil Nuts, Dark Chocolate, Apricots
- Sleep Problems – Grapes, Seeds, Almonds
- Low Energy – Sesame Seeds, Almonds
From that list I came up with the following foods to include in a “snack pot” each morning: –
- Grapes (both red and green)
- Dried Apricots (preferably organic and brown to keep my snack as natural as possible, rather than the bright orange ones which have been treated with the preservative sulphur dioxide)
- Dark Chocolate (85% cocoa, with no soya or milk contained in the ingredients)
- Mixed nuts (to include Almonds, Brazil Nuts and Cashew Nuts)
- Sesame Snaps
As you can see, this “snack pot” is made up entirely of foods I can grab straight from the cupboard and the most preparation required of me is to wash a couple of grapes and place it all together in a small pot or Ramekin. Perfectly simple!
This may seem extremely simple after all the build up!! However, this little pot of food, when accompanied by my morning cup of black coffee, was carefully designed to achieve a large combination of things: –
- My “Snack Pot” was satisfying to eat and still felt like a treat.
- The snack pot contained a mixture of sweet and savoury flavours and a mixture of textures.
- I was still getting to eat some chocolate, so I did not feel I was missing out there!!
- The sesame snaps were a good replacement for biscuits as they were crunchy and sweet. The juicy grapes and the sweet dried apricots also added sweetness to the snack too.
- The nuts were crunchy and savoury which were a good replacement for crisps.
- The snack pot was made up of lots of small mouthfuls which took a reasonable amount of time to eat. So sitting down to eat the snack provided me with a good break and time to relax.
- Also, very importantly, the “snack pot” tasted nice alongside a cup of black coffee which lots of healthy snacks do not.
- The “snack pot” is so simple and so easy to prepare that it can be taken on days out or to work
- I can place all the items in a small tupperware pot with a lid and take it with me in my handbag with a bottle of water. Then all I need to do is buy a black coffee from a cafe while I am out and I am all set to have my calming morning snack while I am out and about.
- My partner takes this “snack pot” to work with him. It is so simple to prepare that I can prepare it for him quickly while I am preparing my son’s school lunchbox as part of my early morning routine. Having this snack pot ready and prepared with him, helps to stop him from snacking on junk food while at work.
- All the items included in my “snack pot” were Gluten, Dairy and Soya free.
- When buying items for my “snack pot”, the only item I had to take care with was the dark chocolate. Some dark chocolates contain both milk and Soya or just Soya, so you have to check the label before you buy. If you look for high quality (often organic) dark chocolate containing at least 70% cocoa solids, the chocolate is less likely to contain Milk or Soya. You always have to check the label when buying a new brand if you want to be sure. I usually buy dark chocolate with at least 85% Cocoa Solids for my snack.
- My “Snack Pot” was an intentionally small and light snack.
- When reading the book it became clear that in order to “eat yourself calm” it was important to eat regular small snacks and meals in order to keep your blood sugar as steady as possible and prevent that sluggish feeling. So my little “snack pot” – A couple of grapes, 1 -2 squares of dark chocolate, a small handful of mixed nuts, a couple of dried apricots and a few broken off bits of sesame snaps – seemed ideal in size.
- My “snack pot” would deliver some antioxidant vitamins (A, C and E) : –
- Antioxidants help to boost the immune system and protect the body from the damaging effects of long-term stress.
- Fruits and vegetables with the brightest colours have the highest antioxidant levels. So, eating two different coloured grapes (red and green), along with Apricots (which add a third brightly coloured fruit to the mix) would hopefully deliver some of this benficial antixoidant goodness.
- My “snack pot” contained a number of the foods identified in the book as “Calm Superfoods”: –
- Dark Chocolate, Brazil Nuts, Apricots, Grapes and Almonds are all listed in the book as Superfoods. The book describes Superfoods as “functional foods” that “support your health on all levels” (p12)
- According to the book, each separate food contained in my “snack pot”, whether described as a Superfood or not, delivered a whole host of benefits. I have summarised the benefits described in the book below: –
- Dark Chocolate – balances blood sugar, reduces stress hormones, lifts mood and boosts energy. It contains Magnesium which eases headaches and fatigue. It is the presence of Iron in the chocolate that evens mood and boosts energy.
- Brazil Nuts – stabalise mood, improve energy levels and prevent anxiety. They also contain magnesium. In addition they contain Selenium, a mineral with a whole host of health benefits. The selenium helps to balance mood and prevent anxiety and depression. They also contain B vitamins which reduce the impact of stress on the mind and body.
- Apricots – Ease muscle tension and headaches, protect against the damage caused by stress and boost energy. They contain high levels of magnesium. Magnesium is described in the book as the “anti-stress” mineral that decreases the release of cortisol. They also contain lots of iron to boost energy levels and fight against fatigue.
- Grapes – Ease depression due to the presence of Manganese and Potassium. They also contain crucial vitamins, minerals and nutrients which can ease the impact of stress and ease headaches. Apparently, they are a traditional remedy for fatigue (the book suggests this is probably because of their high iron content).
- Almonds – Stabilise blood sugar levels, boost energy levels and promote relaxation. Almonds contain more nutrients than any other nut. They contain Vitamin E (an antioxidant) and Zinc preventing the damage caused by stress and fighting the negative effects of stress. They contain B vitamins and Magnesium, both of these help produce serotonin, regulating mood. They also contain Calcium to promote restful sleep. Overall they are said to be an excellent source of Vitamin E, Calcium, Magnesium, Phospherus and Iron which all encourage a sense of calm.
- Cashew Nuts – This third nut is included in my snack as this specific nut is listed in the book as being specifically helpful for feelings of irritability.
- Sesame Snaps – Contain lots of Sesame Seeds. Sesame Seeds are specifically listed as a food that can help with feelings of low energy.
As you can see, while simple, this snack pot had the potential to do me lots of good and help me on my journey towards a calm and productive morning.
The Benefits I Have Found From My New Snack
Since getting in the habit of eating this new snack, I have felt a lot less bloated and more energetic. I do not keep going back to the cupboard to grab more and more snacks; I eat my breakfast and then I have my snack pot with a cup of coffee mid-morning and that is it. I find myself less inclined to sit on the sofa watching T.V. I get up and get on with the household jobs I want to do instead. So that, by the time I go to fetch my son from school, I feel satisfied that I have had a productive morning and therefore feel less guilty.
I feel much calmer because physically I feel better and much more able to function. I do not seem to suffer with headaches as much as I used to. I feel less lethargic and more energetic and, therefore, feel less irritable too.
Also, making the decision to be intentional and taking action to design my new snack and create a new routinefor myself has boosted my self-esteem and made me feel like I have accomplished something which has also added to the calm state of mind I now feel.
Overall, just deciding to switch this one snack of the day and taking the necessary action to make it happen has made me feel like a different person.
As an added bonus, researching what to include in my snack has given me lots of knowledge to draw upon when thinking about what to eat in other situations at other times of the day.
Having tried “eating myself calm” for a substantial period of time, I would recommend others take the time to intentionally think about the foods they are fuelling their bodies with, especially at pivitol times of the day because, from my experience, it can definitely have a real impact and help you feel calm.
I hope the information I have shared here is helpful and inspiring to anyone who feels they need a change or a boost to their day.
I would really like to hear from others whether they feel stressed or drained by certain foods. I would also be very interested to hear other suggestions for snacks or foods to eat to feel better, more calm and more able to have a good day.
I look forward to hearing from you with your experiences and suggestions. Until then, snack well and have a good day.