Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Treat Yourself !

Kathi mentioned in her comment yesterday that one of her goals for 2010 is to lose some extra weight. I am trying to hone my diet and exercise regimen, as well. As I age, I need to be more conscientious about caring for my body.

This can be tricky when we have our kids around us all day. Not only are there a lot of distractions and demands, but we are near the kitchen and around food much of the day. Our kids aren't on diets. They have a different set of needs than we do.

Different Needs in the Same Family

During the teenage years, my sons played soccer, football, and baseball. During the sports seasons, they consumed about 5000 calories a day. But they were also growing rapidly and needed good nutrition. I cooked dense, high calorie foods for them. But those weren't the foods that were best for me.

I need foods that are high in nutrients and fiber, but low in fat and moderate in calories. I need foods that don't send my blood sugar soaring. Finding a way to meet everyone's dietary requirements -- while keeping up with a busy schedule -- was an ongoing challenge.

Happily, we did find a balance. I cooked all our vegetables and whole grains without any added fats. Everyone enjoyed those, especially as I emphasized fresh produce. For my sons, I created hearty meat dishes and dense baked breads and casseroles. I ate vegetarian fare most of the time, using simple sources of protein like canned beans, tofu, and soy milk. This automatically controlled my cholesterol, blood pressure, blood sugar, asthma, and weight. After school was over each day, I went for a walk, weather permitting. For three seasons of the year, I did a lot of gardening.

Even so, I had periods where I didn't do as well as I'd hoped.

My Weak Spot

One place that really tripped me up was dessert. There are times when I simply crave a treat. There are biological reasons for this. Serotonin is an important chemical that our brains need to function properly. When we experience a lot of stress, our levels of serotonin dip low.
Carbohydrates, especially the quickly digested ones, set into motion a series of responses that push more serotonin into the brain. That's why I crave a treat of the baked kind at the end of a hard day.

40 grams of any carbohydrate will raise serotonin levels in the brain in 30 minutes. The result? The craving disappears. Mental alertness returns. How much is 40 grams? A cup of brown rice, a cup of pasta, a bagel, a bowl of oatmeal. Just read the labels on your foods and you'll quickly get a sense of how much carbohydrate is needed for a brain boost.

If I eat 40 grams of carbohydrate which is low in fat and protein -- between 160 and 210 calories total -- that will cure my craving in thirty minutes. While I wait, I can have a cup of coffee or tea and relax with a book, a puzzle, or a video. This does wonders for me.

The greatest part about my discovery? Healthy carbohydrates work just as well. My body doesn't know the difference! And if I get hungry an hour later, I can have a small amount of protein or fresh fruit and be content until the next meal.

Find Your Best Time for a Brain Boost

During especially stressful days, I might need two brain boosts. I've learned that it's not selfish or self-indulgent to answer my cravings. It's smart management! After my treat and break, I can return to my work recharged, refreshed, and with new stores of creativity and patience. I work more efficiently and solve problems more quickly.

To find the best time for your brain boost, think about your typical day. when do you hit a slump? When do you crave something sweet or feel tired and washed out? Have your brain boost 30-60 minutes before then.

You can read about a recent healthy treat that I enjoyed with my husband here. It's easy to do and the results are heavenly. I'll be posting more ideas for healthy treats in the coming weeks.

Do you have a favorite idea or recipe for a healthy treat?


  1. This would be a tremendous help, Cassandra. I always enjoy (and frequently benefit) from your recipes. Brain overload is always a problem for me whenever it comes to switching gears and coming up with nutritious food plans. Keeping copious amounts of fresh fruit on hand is a help, and keeping canned beans, pastas, rice, etc., on hand are helpful, too, but creativity escapes me too often when I am tired.

    I would be interested in knowing which resources have been most helpful and instructive to you personally over the years, as well. Knowing key bits of information about the body's response to nutrition (40 grams of carbohydrates raises seratonin levels in 30 minutes, e.g.)is very valuable indeed.

    The answers reside in such details. Where to find them?

  2. Julie,

    Thanks for your kind comments. I've read a lot of books on food and nutrition over the years. None of them are perfect. Nearly every book I've read has flaws that keep me from recommending it wholeheartedly without reservations.

    Because I am a foodie, I like reading all this stuff and I've been able to synthesize the knowledge I've gained and arrive at a balanced perspective. But I know that most people are NOT interested in plowing through that many books on food! I've resisted giving out any scientific advice or suggesting any books about nutrition here for that reason, and because I don't believe I'm qualified enough to do it in a public setting.

    Still, the information on serotonin has helped me a lot over the last year, and I thought it might help some other people during the cold winter weeks.

    My suggestion, for those who are interested, is to try the "carbohydrate cure" for cravings. Pay attention to how you feel before and after. If it's helping, you'll definitely be able to tell!

  3. I can understand the caution. No problem. I will continue to look for the healthy treat ideas and other recipes you share. Thanks!


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