5 Steps to Manage Your Diet

Tired of being a slave to your cravings? Tired of using food to manage your stress? Want to tune up your physique and mental health? Follow these 5 steps to manage your diet (with your MDs permission of course):

1. Understand your brain: The best way to understand why your brain is pushes you to eat things you want to is to look at at adults with ADHD. People with ADHD have an underproduction of dopamine in their brains, making it hard to control impulses. Food, especially carbohydrates, provide a rush of dopamine making binging immediately gratifying. You may not have ADHD, but when you are stressed, tired, or down,  your brain is craving dopamine and a slough of other neurotransmitters.

2. Don’t skip meals: It’s simple, if food provides a release of dopamine, skipping meals will certainly create a deficiency and subsequent craving.

3. Eat multiple small meals: Eating small meals every 3 hours helps regulate blood sugar, neurotransmitters, and stimulates the metabolism.

4. Exercise: Exercise increases the baseline level of dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain. If your baseline production of dopamine is higher, you are less likely to crave the rush of dopamine following a plate of carbs. This is especially important for adults with ADHD.

5. Stay motivated: Staying motivated is a bit more complex. There are many variables that go into the reasons why we start and maintain changes to our diet. For some it is cosmetic, for some it is mental, for some it is physical, whatever the reason, the motivation lies in our thoughts and feelings. By becoming aware of our thoughts and their relation to our feelings, we can ultimately change our behaviors. This is the basis of the powerful therapeutic approach Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). Sometimes our thoughts don’t serve us well and prevent us from making the changes in our lives we want.

Stress, Your Brain, and Exercise

At the center of the crossroads of stress, your brain, and exercise, lies something very important. What is it? What could it be? In a word, CHOICE. Why choice you ask? Well, every choice we make causes stress. What do I eat for dinner? What business school do I go to? How many ice cubes in my water? Yes, all choices cause stress. Stress is our response to demands and changes and it is inevitable. However, there is also an important choice we make around how we manage or fight stress. Choosing to use exercise to combat stress vs using food or alcohol, may be the difference between living a long life and living a short one. The actual decision to exercise or not can be VERY stressful for many people. The reason it is so stressful, is that people are choosing between a perceived short-cut that they know is bad for them (food, booze, etc.) and the longer road which they know is good for them (exercise). Exercise is natures way of putting our mind and body into repair mode. We need to enter into this repair mode often. Why? Because, stress happens often. It happens daily to varying degrees. Exercise too can vary from day to day, but should never be passed up for drink or a snack. When we are stressed our bodies are flooded with destructive hormones that break down our bodies over time. When we exercise, we not only rid the body of these hormones, we also turn on other processes that rebuild us at a cellular level.

Additionally, the effect of exercise lasts. Think about it, people often go back for a second cookie or second cocktail. You rarely, if ever, see someone going back for a second run or second trip to the gym. This isn’t a coincidence. Exercise puts us on a path of resiliency that builds us up. Short-cuts like food and substances, only mask issue and in fact layer on new stressors to the body.

Don’t put yourself in this anxious trap of decisions. Develop a plan that works for you to get regular exercise and thrive in the face of stress, don’t sink into the cookie isle or the corner store. If you are feeling stuck around developing a plan, try reaching out to a friend or a family member for support. It’s a lot easier to exercise with others than alone. Find the support you need to change your relationship to stress and exercise for better.

3 Reasons Exercise Helps Treat Anxiety

Anxiety by itself is not a disorder, but too much anxiety often is. Here are 3 reasons exercise helps treat anxiety:

1. Exercise boosts anxiety fighting neurotransmitters. Exercise naturally raises levels of serotonin and norepinephrine. This boost happens immediately and lasts over time, making exercise the natural “anti-anxiety prescription.” Additionally, exercise increases GABA which calms the brain making it easier to take advantage of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) or other thought changing techniques.

2. Exercise reduces anxiety based tension in the muscles. When we are stressed or anxious our muscles react by holding tension. Exercise reduces that tension in the same way that the popular drug class beta-blockers do.

3. Exercise treats anxiety by breaking the chains or fear. When people are anxious, they typically get stuck in a loop of worry, fear, and apprehension that breeds more and more anxiety. By breaking this cycle with exercise, the brain is freed up to learn new thought patterns that can be strengthened with practices like CBT.

Exercise does not need to be overly strenuous or complex to have these powerful benefits in treating anxiety. Put on  your sneakers, go for a walk, and break the cycle of anxiety.