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TomGransnet (GNHQ) Fri 03-Nov-17 12:30:17

Q&A - How to eat for a brighter, happier wintertime

Jane Clarke will be answering your questions about diet and its correlation with mental health, and any queries you have on how to improve your mindfulness and physical well-being.

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Jane Clarke

Q&A - How to eat for a brighter, happier wintertime

Posted on: Fri 03-Nov-17 12:30:16

(29 comments )

Lead photo

Jane Clarke

Mental health is a topic that’s been much in the news of late, with many people in the public eye acknowledging that fame and fortune are no protection from difficult times. Even if we’re fortunate enough not to live with depression, anxiety or another mental health condition, many of us will admit to finding life a struggle sometimes. This time of the year can be particularly troubling, when the days are shorter, the weather can be dark and gloomy, and the rush of festivities (Bonfire Night, Divali, Christmas and more) can make us feel overwhelmed or, conversely, isolated. At any time, an event such as bereavement, illness (ourselves or that of a loved one) or a break-in can be the tipping point that turns a generally upbeat mood into a time when we struggle to raise our spirits.

Many of my patients see me as a calm swan; an impartial confidante who won’t judge their fears when they are diagnosed with a serious illness such as cancer, or if they or someone close to them has had a stroke or been diagnosed with dementia. But recently a treasured friend suffered a massive brain aneurysm at the young age of 42 and I’ve been struggling to maintain my equilibrium and positivity. As I explain to my patients, we can often cope with many psychological blows but then there comes a final straw and our body sends out a signal that we need to re-balance. For me, the telltale sign was a change in my sleep pattern. I started waking at 2am and struggled to persuade my body to go back to sleep for another couple of hours. I took out my nutritional, food and herbal remedies, re-engaged with my ballet classes, which I love, and started talking to a counsellor, and now I am sleeping much better and know that above the clouds the sun is shining.

Even if we're fortunate enough not to live with depression, anxiety or another mental health condition, many of us will admit to finding life a struggle sometimes.


I hope that if you are feeling low, you can find someone to talk to and an activity you enjoy that can help pull you out of the dip. Do look at what you are eating, too, as this is often one of the first things to suffer when we are finding it hard to cope emotionally. As John Gunther said, ‘All happiness depends on a leisurely breakfast’. And I also love the Jewish proverb that states, ‘Worries go down better with soup’. Below are some quick suggestions and pointers on how to help improve your well-being:

- By changing what we eat, we can influence our moods and improve symptoms such as poor sleep, low energy and disturbed appetite (loss of appetite or a craving for certain foods).

- Nutrition-related factors such as iron-deficiency anaemia and coeliac disease, plus some blood pressure medication, can have mood-lowering effects, so consult your GP to ensure you’re receiving the correct help.

- Lack of B vitamins (found in wholegrains, fish, yoghurt, meat, eggs, fruit and vegetables) and low levels of selenium (Brazil nuts, shellfish, fruits and vegetables) can cause depression.

- It helps to stick to three meals a day plus a couple of snacks, rather than grazing on biscuits and easy-to-grab foods which take away the appetite for a proper meal.

- Think about the flavours you love – my go-to comfort food is a spicy vegetarian curry – so that you look forward to eating. And if you prefer breakfast to dinner, go big on that and have a smaller supper.

- Planning ahead can really help if you’re not in the mood to cook. Writing a menu of meals for the week and shopping for those dishes can save you mental energy.

- Try inviting a friend over. We’ve created the Nourish Afternoon Tea to encourage people to get together over a cup of tea and a slice of cake, or a simple bowl of soup and some bread, as chatting and sharing a meal together is a surefire mood booster.

Do send me your questions and I’ll see if I can share some ideas to help you feel that bit better physically and emotionally. Please go to see your GP if you feel you may be depressed as there are a range of treatments available.

To find out more about Jane's work, visit her website here.

By Jane Clarke

Twitter: @NourishByJane

Grannyknot Fri 03-Nov-17 16:59:57

Hi Jane, I really enjoyed your article. I don't have any questions for you, just a thank you.

annsixty Fri 03-Nov-17 18:06:22

Yes, a very good article with lots of common sense.
We should stick to home cooked fresh meals, leave the take aways alone and finish with fresh fruit.
I will still have my wine though, that does my mood a lot of good.

Pittcity Fri 03-Nov-17 19:03:19

Is the old adage "A little of what you fancy does you good" true?

MawBroon Sat 04-Nov-17 09:04:39

A lot of good sense - and not a goji berry or grain of quinoa in sight!

kittylester Sat 04-Nov-17 11:40:45

Ann, wine is made from grapes - therefore fruit!

Riverwalk Sat 04-Nov-17 11:55:04

I note that Jane is a proper State Registered Dietician which explains all the good sense and wise words.

I'd like to ask her opinion on vitamins and supplements - so many people seem to take them by the handful.

NanKate Sun 05-Nov-17 07:43:03

Thank you Jane for your sensible down to earth advice on self help through stressful times.

'Above the clouds the sun is shining' really is a wonderful saying which I shall pass onto my DS who is going through a very difficult time in his life.

Because I am going through the upset with my DS and also have Polymyalgia I do not want another flare up as I am slowly managing to reduce my steroids.

I am about to have a session of acupuncture and an lucky to have good supportive friends.

I really would benefit from losing a stone. I have been investigating all different types of diets. I am not a big eater but obviously I am eating more than my body needs, I walk every day for about 25 minutes. I should add I also have an under active thyroid.

Can you Jane give me some of your sensible advice on how I can approach weight loss whilst also coping with a very stressful situation.

Many thanks.

JackyB Tue 07-Nov-17 06:47:32

This may be due to my having lived in Germany for over 40 years where people are notoriously obsessed with their bowel movements, but I do find that keeping the digestion active is extremely vital for the general well-being. This would have been the No. 1 priority for me and I am surprised it is not mentioned at all in the opening post.

At the other end of the system, going hungry is also a bad idea - small children are always miserable and difficult when they are hungry, as we all know. This also applies to most men. It may affect women, but I can't think of any examples; perhaps it's because we're the ones who put the food on the table, so we know when it's coming and can be patient.

PS. I once invited my sister-in-law for a meal of "foods that make you happy", which I put together after some light-hearted internet research. It certainly seemed to work. Afterwards, we were all in a good mood, and the main reason seemed to be that it left us feeling less bloated and "full-up" than usual.

Bridgeit Wed 08-Nov-17 20:03:57

Hhhhj

bobbin Tue 14-Nov-17 09:29:30

hello Jane, I suffer from a very underactive thyroid and take a whopping great dose of thyroxine every day. In the summer, I'm fine, but as winter comes around I find the cold really gets to me (the disease means I feel the cold acutely) and can leave me unwilling to get out of bed in the morning. I often turn to comfort food - and too much of it - to keep me going, which just makes me feel worse in turn. Do you have any advice?

Caztown15 Fri 17-Nov-17 10:34:14

My husband was diagnosed with diabetes 2 a year ago, so we have been on a low carb, high fat diet with as little sugar as possible. We’ve both lost weight, his diabetes numbers are now in the normal range, and at the same time, my panic/anxiety attacks have all but disappeared. Best of all we’ve really enjoyed the new way of eating.

creativz Fri 17-Nov-17 10:51:49

Great article with lots of helpful advice, I think frequent exercise or taking brisk walks is number one for me, followed by the instant relief of a cosy hot water bottle, with plenty of fruit/veg and some decent chocolate grin it’s a recipe that does wonders for helping to ease the load and lift the spirit from the gloom, having the radio on is also a really good distraction, as it can often lighten the darkest corners of the mind. sunshine

nellgwin Sat 18-Nov-17 12:59:19

I found your article helpful, but was told this week that I have kidney problems plus kidney stones.
I am a vegetarian but have been told I now need to follow a vegan diet, no animal protein, eggs cheese dairy etc so low protein diet but no treatment for low hemoglobin count as medication can damage kidneys? Also low thyroxin levels, So need advice on diet but also still heart broken by my son's death and feel very low anyway.

deaneke Sun 19-Nov-17 16:32:28

Hello, can you suggest foods to help someone with a hiatus hernia. I'm off many things and just got rid of an ulcer( aspirin) they think was the culprit! I try to eat small meals often and not later than 6. I still get reflux but am anti taking the tablets unless really bad! I'm going on a 12 hour plane journey and am worried about the food and sitting and causing reflux! Many thanks.

granoffour Mon 20-Nov-17 09:16:28

Hi Jane, thanks for coming on again. I find this time of the year particularly bad for sleeping for some reason. I've limited my caffeine to just one coffee and one cup of tea per day and I never have anything after lunchtime. I don't think I'm worrying about anything particularly. Any advice?

billynan Mon 20-Nov-17 14:15:21

Hello Jane I find this time of year difficult - I don't think I am depressed but I am a bit down and sleeping badly and all I want to eat is carbs. I suspect this is not helping and would welcome some easy fixes to my carb addiction that will improve my mood and sleeping

connelly63 Mon 20-Nov-17 15:22:12

Hi Jane,

I work in an office in the middle of a large building, and my room has no windows, and with it being winter I'm getting no sunlight outside of work - I'm worried that this is making me depressed. Can you recommend any foods that would help offset this?

JaneClarke Mon 11-Dec-17 12:10:28

Pittcity

Is the old adage "A little of what you fancy does you good" true?

Absolutely Pittcity! I would never recommend diets that exclude total food groups. I believe a balanced diet that’s rich in nutrients is best for our wellbeing. We should also enjoy what we’re eating – all those fabulous flavours, textures and aromas of food. And a few treats here and there are a part of that.

JaneClarke Mon 11-Dec-17 12:12:14

Riverwalk

I note that Jane is a proper State Registered Dietician which explains all the good sense and wise words.

I'd like to ask her opinion on vitamins and supplements - so many people seem to take them by the handful.

Hi Riverwalk. Generally, I recommend that we get all the vitamins and minerals we need from our diets, as foods contain a balance of micronutrients that work together. However, there are occasions when supplementation is required – if you’ve been poorly, had treatment that effects levels of certain nutrients, etc. There may be lifestyle issues that can be helped with supplements, too. For example, magnesium citrate may help with insomnia (see my answer to billynan, below), while a lack of sunlight (during the winter, or if we tend not to go outside much) can lead to low levels of essential vitamin D, which can be topped up with a supplement, as well as oily fish, eggs and dairy products. It’s always best to see advice about taking supplements as some may interact negatively with medication, or simply not be necessary. Your GP, a dietician or qualified nutritionist can offer advice.

JaneClarke Mon 11-Dec-17 12:13:40

billynan

Hello Jane I find this time of year difficult - I don't think I am depressed but I am a bit down and sleeping badly and all I want to eat is carbs. I suspect this is not helping and would welcome some easy fixes to my carb addiction that will improve my mood and sleeping

Thanks for getting in touch, billynan. I find I have trouble sleeping sometimes, so I do sympathise. Let’s start with those carb cravings, which often occur because our body is tired and is looking for a source of energy. Try to opt for complex carbohydrates (deliciously nutty brown rice, a comforting baked sweet potato) and partner them with protein (a piece of chicken or fish, say) so they release their energy more slowly. If you have a sweet tooth, you could enjoy a fruit-based treat, such as stewed apples and poached blackberries, as they contain fibre that reduces the sugar rush.

At night, follow guidelines for a good sleep routine by avoiding technology for at least an hour before bed, making sure your room is neither too hot nor too cold (experts suggest 16-18°C is ideal), and perhaps having a warm bath before slipping between the sheets (the sleepy response is triggered as our body cools). Lavender is traditionally calming and sleep inducing, and magnesium (which is found in milk, among other foods) is known to help relieve insomnia, so try my recipe for lavender-infused milk. You may also want to take a remedy such as the new Kalms Lavender Capsules or magnesium citrate supplements (check with your GP if you’re taking any medication).

JaneClarke Mon 11-Dec-17 12:14:38

NanKate

Thank you Jane for your sensible down to earth advice on self help through stressful times.

'Above the clouds the sun is shining' really is a wonderful saying which I shall pass onto my DS who is going through a very difficult time in his life.

Because I am going through the upset with my DS and also have Polymyalgia I do not want another flare up as I am slowly managing to reduce my steroids.

I am about to have a session of acupuncture and an lucky to have good supportive friends.

I really would benefit from losing a stone. I have been investigating all different types of diets. I am not a big eater but obviously I am eating more than my body needs, I walk every day for about 25 minutes. I should add I also have an under active thyroid.

Can you Jane give me some of your sensible advice on how I can approach weight loss whilst also coping with a very stressful situation.

Many thanks.

Hi NanKate. I’m glad that you have the support of friends during a stressful time. While a crash diet would pile on more pressure, there are simple steps you can take to adjust your calorie intake and help with weight loss. First, I always recommend keeping a food diary, as it helps you make the connections between what and why you eat (for example, if a difficult conversation is a trigger time for comfort eating, or if you snack more in the evening). Also, take a look at your portion sizes, as it’s easy to overload our plates. Try to make at least half your meal wonderful fresh vegetables, then have a portion of protein around the size of your palm and a portion of fibre-rich carbohydrate such as sweet potato, parsnips or pulses (avoid starchy foods such as bread, pasta and potatoes for the time being). Drinking lots of water will swell the food in your stomach, helping you to feel full, while herbal teas such as dandelion and fennel will reduce fluid retention.

I suggest having a light breakfast such as fresh fruit and live yoghurt with seeds, or scrambled eggs, to set your metabolism on a weight-loss path. For lunch, a hearty vegetable soup is a good option. Steamed or grilled lean meat, oily fish, tofu or pulses, plus lots of vegetables (as above) will make a healthy, satisfying supper. If you crave sweetness, have a couple of Medjool dates or fresh fruit (mango is good), or even sniff some vanilla essence! And steer clear of alcohol, especially on an empty stomach, as it will sharpen your appetite.

Finally, it would be a good idea to ask your GP for a thyroid function test, to check that’s not the reason for your weight gain.

JaneClarke Mon 11-Dec-17 12:23:01

JackyB

This may be due to my having lived in Germany for over 40 years where people are notoriously obsessed with their bowel movements, but I do find that keeping the digestion active is extremely vital for the general well-being. This would have been the No. 1 priority for me and I am surprised it is not mentioned at all in the opening post.

At the other end of the system, going hungry is also a bad idea - small children are always miserable and difficult when they are hungry, as we all know. This also applies to most men. It may affect women, but I can't think of any examples; perhaps it's because we're the ones who put the food on the table, so we know when it's coming and can be patient.

PS. I once invited my sister-in-law for a meal of "foods that make you happy", which I put together after some light-hearted internet research. It certainly seemed to work. Afterwards, we were all in a good mood, and the main reason seemed to be that it left us feeling less bloated and "full-up" than usual.

Hi JackyB. We obviously share a similar approach to eating and enjoying food. It’s something we’re keen to shout about with Nourish, and to build a community to share ideas and inspiration for foods that make us feel great and recipes we love. Do sign up to our newsletter for monthly updates, and follow us on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram for daily tips and inspiration.

JaneClarke Mon 11-Dec-17 12:24:33

bobbin

hello Jane, I suffer from a very underactive thyroid and take a whopping great dose of thyroxine every day. In the summer, I'm fine, but as winter comes around I find the cold really gets to me (the disease means I feel the cold acutely) and can leave me unwilling to get out of bed in the morning. I often turn to comfort food - and too much of it - to keep me going, which just makes me feel worse in turn. Do you have any advice?

Hi bobbin. I also have underactive thyroid and feel the cold very easily, especially at night. You could take a flask of soothing herbal tea to bed with you, so you have a warm drink to wake up to. When we turn to comfort food, it’s often because we crave a sensation of warmth and satiety in our stomach. Soup can hit the spot, so throw convention out of the window and have a small bowl of soup at classic snack times – late morning or when it starts to get dark in the afternoon – as this can stop you overeating later. Soup is also cheap to make and a great way to add extra vegetables to your diet. You might want to invest in a slow cooker so that you can easily make soups and casseroles to freeze, then quickly heat in the microwave when you have the craving for comfort food. (I don’t have a problem with microwaves as they don’t irradiate food; they heat by energising water molecules.) You may also want to keep a food and mood diary, as simply noting the times when you feel tempted to comfort eat can help you to make tweaks to your routine that can help change habits.

JaneClarke Mon 11-Dec-17 12:26:51

Caztown15

My husband was diagnosed with diabetes 2 a year ago, so we have been on a low carb, high fat diet with as little sugar as possible. We’ve both lost weight, his diabetes numbers are now in the normal range, and at the same time, my panic/anxiety attacks have all but disappeared. Best of all we’ve really enjoyed the new way of eating.

That’s fantastic Caztown15. It’s what I see so much – how paying attention to what we eat can impact on not just our physical health but our emotional wellbeing, too. It’s experiences like yours that we’d love to share in our Nourish community. We’d love you to stay in touch on our Facebook page. And if you’d like to keep up to date with our news, nutrition insights and healthy, delicious recipes, do sign up to our monthly newsletter.

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