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Slim Down with These Stress Busting Treats

by Jude Buglewicz
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Jude BuglewiczGetting fit isn't easy. Finding the time and energy to exercise while juggling the daily demands of work or school and family takes a strong commitment—and most likely, a toll on your nervous system. But instead of reaching for a pint of ice cream or bag of chips when you're feeling frazzled, opt for stress-busting foods that not only help you chill out, but slim down at the same time.

Crave ice creamAs a holdover from uncivilized times, your brain reacts to stress the same way it reacts to danger: it activates your "fight or flight" response. This response releases hormones into your body mobilizing it for swift action, then signals your body to eat and replenish its fuel reserves. This was great back in the caveman days, but not in today's civilized society. These hormones make us crave ice cream, greasy fries, donuts, and other sugary, fatty foods to replenish our fuel reserves. No matter that the fuel is not used up and so no reserves are necessary—your brain doesn't know that. It's just doing its job trying to handle the stress.

These sugary, fatty foods would provide quick fuel if you really were in danger and needed a burst of energy, but you're not in danger, not the "fight or flight" kind anyway. How to stop the madness?

You need to restore your body's stress responses to normal. Eating high-carb, low-protein foods that are also high in fiber promotes the production of serotonin that will keep your emotions on an even keel and give you that feeling of fullness after eating. Including lots of these high-fiber carbohydrates in your diet (40 to 60 percent of your daily calories, for most people) will help smooth the edges of your frayed nerves and trim the inches from your pudgy tummy:

  • Colorful vegetablesFresh fruits and vegetables. High in carbs and fiber, low in fat, and full of essential vitamins and minerals, fresh produce also has many beneficial phytochemicals ("plant chemicals") whose antioxidant properties boost immune responses, helping the body fight ailments like cancer, high blood pressure, and heart disease. Choosing fruits and vegetables of different colors ensures you get the benefits of each of the natural plant pigments.
  • Whole grain cerealsWhole grains. Also high in fiber and disease-fighting nutrients, whole grains are complex carbohydrates that include wheat, oatmeal, brown rice, quinoa, popcorn, corn, and some corn meals. Couscous and bulgar may or may not be whole grain. If the label says cracked, crushed, rolled, pearled, and/or cooked, it's not whole grain. For faster cooking times, presoak grains for a few hours before cooking. Otherwise, choose breakfast cereals like Cheerios, Grape-Nuts, Nutri-Grain, Shredded Wheat, and Total, or whole grain breads or crackers. Just be sure that the first grain ingredient on the label has the word "whole" in front of it.
  • Low fat dairy productsLow-fat or nonfat dairy products. If you body digests these well, dairy products are loaded with nutrients, including calcium and magnesium, which help relax muscles. They have nearly the same nutritional benefits as whole dairy foods, without the extra fat, cholesterol, and calories.

Top 10 easy treats
Try combining mood-enhancing high-fiber carbohydrates into snacks or small meals you can enjoy throughout the day. No more nutritional meltdowns!

  1. Fruit smoothie made with nonfat milk and blueberries, strawberries, or raspberries

  2. Veggies and humusWhole wheat pita stuffed with shredded carrots, sliced cucumbers, and chopped tomatoes

  3. Granny Smith apple wedges with low-fat cheddar cheese

  4. Whole grain crackers with low-fat cream cheese and slices of red pepper or pears

  5. Broccoli florets, carrots, celery, sliced peppers, and cherry tomatoes dipped in hummus or fat-free ranch dressing

  6. Cherries and raisins with low-fat cottage cheese

  7. Whole wheat English muffin topped with low-fat cheddar cheese, tomato, and arugula

  8. Whole grain cereal with banana and nonfat milk

  9. Air popped popcornAir-popped popcorn with low-fat grated Parmesan cheese

  10. Nonfat plain yogurt with chunks of papaya and mango, and a sprinkling of low-fat granola

For stress-reducing techniques, check out the article "Exercising to Relax" by Beachbody Fitness Advisor Steve Edwards.

The mission of Team Beachbody is to motivate you and to educate you about health, fitness and nutrition and the benefits of maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
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