Note to Editors: The following nutrition column was written by Shirley Perryman, a Colorado State University Extension specialist in the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition, College of Applied Human Sciences. Perryman is a registered dietitian.
You can bet that Barack Obama is gearing up for a very big week in Colorado right now. And like many of us, he’s probably following a routine that he believes will optimize his ability to feel at his best and have energy for the Democratic National Convention. That routine may include getting plenty of sleep and eating well.
Do you have any big days coming up in your life? Maybe you’re getting ready to leave for college or you’re a busy parent getting your kids ready for the new school year. A job interview is a big day for some. As much as we look forward to these special days, we don’t always anticipate the effect of the stress that comes along with these events-especially as it relates to our food choices.
Here are some ideas to help you fuel your body to be at the top of your game, whether your hoping to land a big job like Barak, or are embarking on an adventure like your first day of college:
-Start your day out with breakfast. Some interesting research has shown a high-carb, high-protein big breakfast can actually help with weight management along with helping us be our best from the start. Over and over studies have shown that children who eat breakfast are more likely to have better concentration and problem-solving skills along with increased alertness.
Instead of grabbing a high-fat, high sugar pastry to go along with that cup of coffee, get up a few minutes earlier to eat a big breakfast and plan on several mini-meals later in the day. When you don’t eat breakfast your blood sugar drops. If you suddenly eat foods with highly refined ‘white’ sugar, for example, your insulin levels will quickly peak and then fall. The result is a sugar rush, followed by a fast fall, often called ‘crashing’. These frequent variations in blood sugar levels have been associated with negative effects on short-term memory and mental acuity.
-When you’re in charge of a big event, you may deal with stress through your own set of coping strategies, such as mindless munching or rewarding yourself with food for all your hard effort. If you’re prone to this behavior take along some healthy nuts to snack on. Nuts are a more sensible choice than other snack options when considering strategies to avoid gaining weight. Interestingly, recent research has shown that frequent nut consumption is associated with a reduced risk of weight gain. As an added bonus nuts likely are a heart healthy choice, too. Just remember to limit them to a handful. Food rewards are enjoyable but need to be used only occasionally. Who wants to feel deprived all the time?
– It’s often better to eat smaller amounts but more often throughout the day. Be flexible and tune into your hunger cues. Don’t avoid eating until you are famished. That can set you up to overeat. Overeating can fuel stress and the cycle can start all over again.
-Choose the best of what there is. Whether you forgot to go to the grocery store and don’t have much on hand to pack the kids a healthy lunch, or the choices at the concessions all seem to be some combination of high fat and sugar, make the best choices you can. Avoid beating yourself up but resolve to be better prepared next time.
– Often in a social setting food is used as a way to make us feel a part of what’s going on. Whether you’re young or older, peer pressure to eat and drink can drive what goes into our mouths. Even when time is limited, it pays to plan ahead for these social situations. When the options are to consume plentiful quantities of food or alcohol, don’t arrive hungry and alternate high calorie options with lower calorie choices. For example, drink water in between higher calorie beverages and alternate snacking on fresh veggies with those fancy appetizers.
Although it may not be as big of a job as vying for the job of President of the United States, if you’ve ever been involved in planning a wedding, you know that it certainly qualifies as a big event and comes packed with stress. As the mother of the bride I’m planning menus and cooking ahead. When the food options come from other sources and may not be the best, I’ll make the best choices possible. I don’t want to add to the "good stress" of the wedding events with "bad stress" over what I’m eating.