It's that time of year again, when there is more on your to-do list than there are hours in the day. Maintaining healthy eating habits can be a challenge. It is especially difficult when there are frequent dinners rich in tradition - thick and creamy holiday beverages and those 'made from the heart' goodies are enough to send your spirits flying.

Planning is the key to enjoying your meals without expanding your waistline. Consider directing your thoughts around what, when, where and how much you are eating. A more common term is called mindful eating.

What is mindful eating? It is a form of mindfulness, being fully aware with the act of eating. It is a strategy for stopping inappropriate eating habits (stress or emotional eating) and it aids in awareness of mindless eating. Consider this, the benefits of mindful eating are that it eliminates unawareness of mindless eating where you just eat without savoring the taste or even being aware of what and how much you may be eating. Mindful eating helps you become more fully aware of the food you eat so you require less of it to feel satisfied thus consuming smaller portions of the food (eating less).

The recommended practice for adopting mindful eating habits is to stop eating while engaging in other activities such as watching TV or movies, playing computer gaming, etc. When distractions are present during meal times adults tend to eat more and enjoy the food less, children develop poor eating habits and are at higher risk for obesity.

Try focusing deeply on each sensation you experience, both inside and out. Pay attention to the taste and texture of the food. Pay attention to the thoughts experienced as the food is eaten and the physical sensations in your body (tension, rushed, relaxed, etc). Plan to remove the distractions (which often times create a stressful environment) and take the time to think about how it feels to eat your food.

Nutrition recommendations to consider for eliminating stress
• Make 50-75 percent of your nutritional intake from raw foods
o Fresh fruits and vegetables supply valuable vitamins and minerals, and are rich in compounds called flavonoids, many of which scavenge and neutralize dangerous free radicals.
o Avoid or limit processed foods and those that create stress on the system, such as artificial sweeteners, carbonated soft drinks, chocolate, eggs, fried foods, junk foods, processed meats, sugar, white flour products, foods containing preservatives or heavy spices, chips and similar snack foods.
o Limit your intake of caffeine. Caffeine contributes to nervousness and can disrupt sleep
• Avoid alcohol, tobacco and mood-altering drugs, they only provide temporary relief without addressing the problem and they can be harmful to your health.
• Exercise regularly
o 150-225 minutes/week = prevents weight gain if calorie intake is not excessive (American College of Sports Medicine, 2009)

Nutritional Implications of Stress
Stress causes the body to respond with a series of physiological changes that include increased secretion of adrenalin, elevation of blood pressure, acceleration of the heartbeat, and greater tension in muscles, according to the book "Prescription for Nutritional Healing."

• The pituitary gland increases its production of adreno-corticotropic hormone (ACTH), which in turn stimulates the release of the hormones cortisone and cortisol. These have the effect of inhibiting the functioning of disease-fighting white blood cells and suppressing the immune response.

• Cortisol regulates carbohydrate metabolism and blood pressure. It also reportedly ages brain cells and builds fat around the mid-section.

• Increases the level of an immune system protein called interleukin-6 (IL-6), which has direct effects on most of the cells in the body and is associated with many disorders, including diabetes, arthritis, cancer, osteoporosis, Alzheimer's disease, periodontal disease, and cardiovascular disease.

• A state of continual stress can "wear out" the body because of its effect on the immune response, stress increases susceptibility to illness and slow healing.

• May lead to nutritional deficiencies (B-Complex vitamins) secondary to the complex of physical reactions caused when under the body is under stress. Prolonged or recurrent stress can lead to inability to replace nutrients adequately which affects the nervous system and certain electrolytes.

• Symptoms of stress related digestive disorders may cause or flare-up an ulcer or irritable bowel syndrome. If stress is not managed properly, more serious illnesses may result.

Stress is often viewed as a psychological problem. However, we know that stress also has very real physical effects and is an unavoidable part of life.

Try adopting a plan for mindful eating to help manage stress and seek professional help if you feel your level of stress is unmanageable. Check out your garrison's website for more information on services available.