A nutritionist’s guide to surviving a heartbreak

The high and the low

Some of us have had the luck of falling in love, experiencing that incredible high, the feeling of being about to burst with too much happiness. Walking around town with a constant smile on your face whilst listening to a special song on repeat, going over every detail of the last time you saw each other and counting the minutes till you’ll get to spend time together again.

Having said that, some of us have unfortunately followed that rollercoaster high with a pretty steep fall. The fall that maybe you did not see coming, or maybe you did but you still hung on for dear life, hoping it would keep you from getting hurt.

Lockdown season unfortunately marked the end of numerous relationships (yours truly included), so a few of us found themselves suddenly alone in the house with only memories of what once was, and literally nowhere to go.

Now don’t get me wrong, going through a heartbreak is always hard no matter where you are and whoever you live with. But going through it alone and during a lockdown, it’s a whole new ball game.

Because yes you can video call family and friends and you should be grateful if you have had the chance to do that, but not being able to have a comforting hug or touch when you feel like the ground beneath your feet is falling, well it can make things really challenging.

So, to anyone who has done that and is still standing, I applaud you.

Road to Recovery

This article was born to use this intense situation I am still working daily to move on from, to help anyone else who may be in the same boat right now, or who may find themselves in it in the future.

Here are my simple nutrition and lifestyle tips that I hope help you, at least in part, to support both your physical and mental health as you navigate your way out of this emotional storm.

It is important to try and get some nutrients in you

Quick meals to keep you going

Soon after a breakup, you may not feel very hungry (I certainly wasn’t), but it’s still important to try and get some nutrients in you. The last thing you want is to be heartbroken and sick, when no one is going to bring you chicken soup in bed. So, time to buckle up and have your own back.

Soups

Soups are the easiest choice, quick to make, few ingredients needed and easier to digest (especially if blended). I lived for a few days off lentil soup with some carrots and celery thrown in. Carrot, red lentil and ginger is another good one, red lentils and chestnut is great for the cold season too. Always add a swirl of olive oil before eating, so you can throw some healthy fats in there too.

Smoothies

Smoothies can also work well. Again, you just need to throw a bunch of stuff in a blender and you’re done. Make sure to pack protein, healthy fats and fibre into your smoothie – you can search for options for each of these on the Superfied platform.

For example, you could include avocado or a couple of tablespoons of chia seeds or some nut butter for top-up on protein and healthy fat, and maybe a handful of oats for B vitamins (think energy) and extra fibre too.

Feed your adrenal glands

Emotional and physical stress in the form of sadness, anxiety and oh so many tears, can deplete your adrenal glands (the two little pyramids on top of your kidneys that push cortisol, your stress hormone, into your bloodstream to deal with emergencies) of the nutrients they feed on.

Make sure to use foods that can provide you with minerals and vitamins to support them, namely: B vitamins, selenium, magnesium, Vitamin C:

B Vitamins

Include food rich in B vitamins including B12, B1 (thiamine), B5 (pantothenic acid), B3 (niacin): think whole grains (e.g. oats, brown rice, buckwheat, quinoa), beans, dark green leafy vegetables (e.g. spinach, broccoli, turnip greens, asparagus), fish and shellfish, eggs, liver, poultry and red meat, salmon, tuna, chickpeas, milk, cheese, yogurt, fortified nutritional yeast…

Selenium

Top-up on selenium-rich foods such as brazil nuts, tuna, halibut, sardines, shrimp, turkey and chicken

Magnesium

Add foods like pumpkin, chia seeds, almonds, spinach, cashews, peanuts, black beans and edamame

Vitamin C

Think about foods like red pepper, orange, kiwi, green pepper, broccoli, strawberries, brussel sprouts, cabbage and cauliflower

If the above is confusing you, just focus on mixing different coloured vegetables, plant or animal protein of your choice and some wholegrains in the same plate. Dress with healthy fats (eg olive oil) or have some avocado or olives, a handful of seeds or nuts with it and you are good to go.

Give your gut a hug

Stress can have an adverse effect on the balance in your gut bacteria, promoting the growth of opportunistic over beneficial ones. This can lead to bloating, cramps, constipation, diarrhoea and more. Trust me, it’s better to cry on a comfortable bed or couch, rather than bent over in pain on the toilet.

To try and avoid all these symptoms, you could think about adding some pro and prebiotic foods to your meals or snack (whatever you feel like eating).

If you’re wondering about prebiotics, they feed your beneficial bacteria and can be found in foods such as asparagus, green bananas, garlic, onions, apples, Jerusalem artichokes to name a few. Probiotic foods contain live bacteria, think yogurt, kefir, kimchi, sauerkraut, kombucha. You can find a full list at Superfied.

One suggestion: if you are not used to eating prebiotic foods, start low and go slow, letting your body adjust. This should avoid potential bloating and gas.

Hydrate! Hydrate! Hydrate!

When we are stressed or anxious, we can lose water from our bodies. How?

Some people can have more bowel movements than usual, especially if they suffer from IBS where stress can easily be a trigger for flair ups. More bowel movements or looser bowel movements = water loss

When we are anxious, we can sweat more = water loss

Unfortunately, whilst we are too busy crying, staring at the walls, punching pillows or just trying to distract ourselves watching Netflix, we can forget to do the basic stuff: drink some water.

So set a reminder if you need to, make the water bottle or water filter your shadow and keep it next to you for a visual reminder but try to drink at least 4 pints in a day. Herbal teas count too.

Easier said than done, but try to decrease foods that can make your blood sugar spike and crash, creating endogenous stress (inside your body), or that could worsen any inflammation that stress may already have triggered: alcohol, coffee, sugary foods like ice cream, pastries and cookies.

Having said that, if one day you really cannot stay away from that pint of ice cream, just do it. You are human after all and this is pretty crap time so give yourself a break.

You may not feel fabulous after that much sugar anyway, so just choose healthier options the following day to get your body back to balance again.

 

Connect with nature and breathe it in

Take a walk on the wild side

Or at least at the local park! Since my break up in March, I have walked the perimeter of the park near my house religiously at least twice a day (once when we only had one hour of air in lockdown). Every single time I came back feeling better, sometimes a little better, sometimes much more.

I felt like I could breathe again and felt lighter, and watching lots and lots of dogs playing around really helped to switch my thoughts from crappy to happy at least for a short time.

This is my own experience, but it’s also backed up by science, in fact, a 2018 study showed that “locations with highest levels of nature had the greatest effect on reducing levels of stress” and 2019 research in the publication Nature, suggested that 120 or more minutes of contact with nature per week, was associated with good health or high wellbeing consistently across different groups including older adults and those with long term health issues.

Move your body, let the energy out

Something else that really helped me, especially at the beginning, was trying to be disciplined and moving my body each single day.

Sometimes I had lots of sadness or angry energy to let out, so resistance work really helped or kickboxing workouts (my sessions varied from 20 to 40 minutes, based on how much sleep I got the night before, hence how much energy I had left). If the previous night had been a really rough one, then just a simple stretching session would do the trick.

I know, when you are heartbroken the last think you want to do is put your leggings on and work out, but I never regretted it. Sometimes I cried all the way through, which would have been fantastic in a comedy, other times I really enjoyed letting all those heavy feelings out through movement and weight lifting.

Weight, cardio or stretching, I moved my body each day and never regretted it. I needed the endorphins; I needed the good stuff. So, choose whatever exercise you may feel like doing, be it running, yoga, Pilates, dancing or just stretching. It does not matter as long as you move.

I enjoyed letting all those heavy feelings out through movement 

Take time to focus on your breath

As time went on, I managed to cry less and attempted some short breathing/guided meditations sessions.

The ones I found most useful were on a free app called FitOn (which I still use for both workouts and meditations), or if I needed something deeper and a little more intense, I would try some breathwork sessions on an app called Flourish. Just Breathe is another great and simple app that I like with sessions as short as two minutes.

Biohack your stress response

If you are someone interested in biohacking, you can also have a look at Sensate. It’s a small gadget that looks like a river stone that you place on your chest and connects to an app that plays music.

Based on the rhythm of the music, the stone vibrates and stimulates your vagus nerve (connecting your gut to your brain and branching to many other organs in your body), stimulating your parasympathetic nervous system (the one that calms you down), and supporting better sleep too. It’s not free but it can be a useful investment to try if you run out of options.

 

Simply petting a dog can lower cortisol levels 

Borrow my doggy

I am sharing the one thing that probably helped me the most, especially whilst I still had two months of lockdown to go.

Being a dog lover since I was a child, I joined an app called BorrowMyDoggy, which lets you borrow other people’s dogs so they can learn to socialise and you can get the happy factor without the commitment of having your own dog (or maybe just because your landlord does not allow you to have one in the house).

Research has actually shown that simply petting a dog can lower cortisol levels and the interaction between you and the dog can increase the hormone oxytocin (the so-called ‘love hormone’).

Thanks to BorrowMyDoggy I met Lucy, and she has been my fluffy guardian angel ever since. We meet once to twice a week for a few hours, chill on the couch or play at the park and every time I see her or simply pet her, I feel instantly calm and so much happier.

So if you are a dog lover, this can be another option for you.

It’s good to talk

If you can, talk to someone. Don’t keep all these emotions and thoughts inside. Friends, family, or if that’s not a possibility even calling support phone lines such as The Samaritans can really help. They are happy to listen and talk to you 24/7.

Sending you my love

I hope you found these suggestions useful and no matter what you think, please know the journey out of your heartbreak won’t be linear but it will slowly get better.

Sometimes you will feel like you are taking two steps back and that’s ok, you will take one more forward tomorrow. And remember, considering what you are going through, you are doing a great job.

References:

Nutrients and Botanicals for Treatment of Stress: Adrenal Fatigue, Neurotransmitter Imbalance, Anxiety, and Restless Sleep (2009). Kathleen A. Head, ND, and Gregory S. Kelly, ND https://altmedrev.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/v14-2-114.pdf

Levels of Nature and Stress Response (2018). Alan Ewert and Yun Chang https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5981243/

Spending at least 120minutes a week in nature is associated with good health and wellbeing (2019). Mathew P.White, IanAlcock, JamesGrellier, BenedictW.Wheeler, Terry Hartig, Sara L.Warber, Angie Bone, Michael H. Depledge & Lora E. Fleming. https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-019-44097-3.pdf

The efficacy of aerobic exercise and resistance training as transdiagnostic interventions for anxiety-related disorders and constructs: A randomized controlled trial (2017). Daniel M LeBouthillier, Gordon J G Asmundson. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29049901/

Moving to Beat Anxiety: Epidemiology and Therapeutic Issues with Physical Activity for Anxiety (2018). Aaron Kandola, Davy Vancampfort, Matthew Herring, Amanda Rebar, Mats Hallgren, Joseph Firth and Brendon Stubbs. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6061211/

Meditation for posttraumatic stress: Systematic review and meta-analysis (2018). Lara Hilton,  Alicia Ruelaz Maher, Benjamin Colaiaco, Eric Apaydin, Melony E Sorbero, Marika Booth, Roberta M Shanman, Susanne Hempel. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27537781/

A comparison of mindfulness-based stress reduction and an active control in modulation of neurogenic inflammation (2013). Melissa A.Rosenkranz, Richard J.Davidson, Donal G.MacCoon, John F.Sheridan, Ned H.Kalin, Antoine Lutza. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0889159112004758

This self-care health hack is from Superfied nutritional therapy expert, Valentina Cartago

Find your foods with Superfied

Manage acid reflux and GERD

A burning issue…

Do you remember when you were young and could eat anything you wanted without any digestive issues? Aaaahhhh, those were the days….

Digestive symptoms are one of the main health concerns I come across and the most common issue related to that is acid reflux. That’s probably not surprising because in the UK it affects around 40% of the adult population.

What is the difference between acid reflux and GERD?

Let’s start from the basics: acid reflux happens because when the food you eat arrives in your stomach, a little valve that separates your oesophagus from your stomach (called lower oesophageal sphincter) does not close properly. This allows your stomach acid to head back up in your oesophagus, making you experience symptoms such as burning in your chest (heartburn) or a sour taste in your mouth.

Experiencing acid reflux every now and then is ok (we have all overeaten at times like Christmas right?), but if you start suffering from it more than twice a week over several weeks without any improvements, you may have developed another condition called GERD (Gastro-Oesophageal Reflux Disease). This should be looked at by your doctor in order to avoid more serious issues in the future.

What are the common symptoms for GERD?

Symptoms can vary from one person to another but include:

  • Heartburn
  • Acid Regurgitation
  • Difficulty Swallowing
  • Feeling a tightness in the throat
  • Dry Cough, worse at night
  • Bad Breath
What risk factors increase the chance of GERD?

You are more likely to experience GERD if any of these scenarios relate to you:

  • Pregnancy
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Having Hiatal Hernia
  • Smoking
  • Long-term use of NSAID’s (Nonsteroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs)

Antacids are probably the most common over the counter (OTC) medications you may reach for, to provide relief from GERD, however I would always suggest talking to your GP first.

It is always a good idea to keep a food diary, tracking how certain foods make you feel, as this will help you to pinpoint potential culprits. A Registered Nutritional Therapist can be helpful in guiding and supporting you on this journey, including looking at your lifestyle to see if you could incorporate simple changes to improve the situation.

Should you choose to, your nutritional therapist can also liaise with your GP for a more comprehensive type of support as it is always useful to have your healthcare practitioners communicate with each other.

If you’re regularly experiencing acid reflux you may have ‘GERD’

Diet changes to manage GERD

Let’s look at some examples of dietary and lifestyle suggestions you may want to think about to manage GERD.

Foods to decrease/avoid:

High-fat foods

Things like fried foods, processed meats and salad dressings can relax the sphincter in your stomach which won’t help your cause

Coffee and Tea 

Due to their caffeine content, these everyday drinks can aggravate reflux symptoms. Instead try herbal teas such as liquorice, camomile, tulsi, slippery elm or marshmallow which all have a soothing effect instead

Chocolate

I’m sorry, but don’t shoot the messenger! Chocolate can cause an increase in acidity in the first hour after ingestion, therefore potentially making symptoms worse

Tomatoes (including sauces, ketchup and soup)

They are a naturally acidic food and so should be avoided while you have symptoms

Alcohol

Unfortunately, alcohol can relax the sphincter valve whilst also stimulating acid production in your stomach

Food to have more of:

High fibre foods

These types of foods can make you feel fuller for longer which can help you avoid overeating – a major cause of acid reflux. Examples of high fibre foods are:

  • Wholegrains – couscous, brown rice, oatmeal
  • Root vegetables – sweet potatoes, parsnips, carrots
  • Green vegetables – think asparagus, broccoli, green beans
Alkaline foods

These types of food have a higher PH than acidic foods and can help offset strong stomach acid. Some examples of alkaline foods are:

  • Fennel
  • Celery
  • Cucumber
  • Broccoli
  • Kale
  • Artichokes
  • Spinach
Restoring a healthy microbiome 

The environment in your gut contains a mix of harmful and beneficial bacteria. Having more beneficial bacteria than harmful creates a better environment for efficient digestion, thus avoiding any issues.

Probiotic and prebiotic foods in your diet will help create a healthier gut microbiome by leading to more beneficial bacteria so this is a great place to start:

Probiotic foods

These food contain natural probiotic properties:

  • Kefir
  • Yoghurt
  • Kombucha
  • Raw Sauerkraut
  • Raw Kimchi
  • Raw fermented pickles and vegetables
Prebiotic foods

These foods feed the beneficial bacteria in your gut:

  • Apples
  • Leeks
  • Garlic
  • Greener Bananas
  • Jerusalem artichokes
  • Asparagus

For a full list of high fibre foods, probiotics and prebiotics personalised to your body type and wellbeing status, log into your Superfied Space.

Lifestyle changes to manage GERD

How you eat your food, how much you eat, when you eat it and what your lifestyle habits are like will all have a bearing on how easily you can manage acid reflux and GERD. Here are some practical self-care tips: 

  • Sit upright whilst eating and keep the upright position, instead of slouching on a couch for example, for 45-60 minutes
  • Leave 3 hours between your last meal and bedtime
  • Try raising the head in bed by between 6 to 8 inches
  • Avoid smoking
  • Optimise your weight (ie find your natural body weight)
  • If you are used to large meal portions, think about portion control (as much as you can fit into two cupped hands for each meal)
  • Address any sources of stress (managing stress always sets you up for better wellbeing)

In summary, acid reflux symptoms can be managed but should you notice these symptoms are happening regularly for several weeks even after applying diet and lifestyle changes, please have a chat with your GP to get professional support and find out what your options are.

References:

  • Management of GERD, The Primary Care Strategy. Yale Journal Biol & Med.
  • 1999; 72: 203-9
  • A Argyrou, E Legaki, C Koutserimpas, M Gazouli, I Papaconstantinou, G Gkiokas, and G Karamanolis. Risk Factors for Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease and Analysis of Genetic Contributors. World J Clin Cases. 2018 Aug 16; 6 (8): 176-182
  • EM Song, H-K Jung, and JM Jung. The Association Between Reflux Esophagitis and Psychological Stress. Dig Dis Sci. 2013 Feb; 58 (2): 471-477.
  • American College of Gastroenterology. Acid Reflux. Accessed 11/20/2019
  • Boeckxstaens GE. Review article: the pathophysiology of gastro-oesophageal reflux disease. Aliment Pharmacol Ther 2007;26:149-160

This self-care health hack is from Superfied nutritional therapy expert, Valentina Cartago

Find out more about the Superfied Way

Tackle stress by eating better

The stress connection

I think we can safely say 2020 has raised our stress levels! But did you know that chronic stress can adversely affect many of our body’s normal functions, including:

Now more than ever it is key to take care of ourselves, our bodies and our minds.

And sure, everyone will have their own way to cope and relax, from running in nature to watching Netflix, to taking a bath, calling family and friends or cooking and much more.  You should do whatever works for you. We are all different, aren’t we? There is no right or wrong.

Though, there is one thing that we all have to do at some point during these days – eat!

So how about starting to put on our table some foods that can help us support our stress response?

Eating for stress management

If you are wondering how making healthier choices when preparing your meals could help you deal with stress, just remember that 70% of your immune system is in your gut and that your gut is connected to your brain via the vagus nerve (sort of a bi-directional highway).

The gut barrier also ensures (amongst other functions) that toxins, undigested food particles and harmful bacteria may trespass into the bloodstream.

So you can see why starting from what you put in your gut may be a pretty sensible place to start. So what should we eat?

Well, I could start talking about expensive superfoods with weird exotic names but actually there is no need for that at all. Simple, affordable foods that you can find in your supermarket are what we will focus on.

The key concept when eating to support your gut function is that we want as many diverse foods and colours as possible, as these will provide us with different vitamins, minerals and fibre; nutrients that can help us increase the type and amount of bacteria within our gut microbiome.

Different bacteria will have different functions from vitamin production to binding and excreting toxins and more…The main thing is to have a higher number of beneficial bacteria in our gut than harmful ones.

Simple, affordable foods will help you manage stress

Six tips for eating to beat stress

  1. Dial-up your fruit and veg intake
    Aim for 10 fruit and vegetables per day (8 vegetables and 2 fruits), but should you find that too overwhelming start with 5-7 fruit and vegetables per day (2 fruits and 5 veggies).

    If you find that’s also too much for you don’t worry, just start where you can. And make sure to start low and go slow, especially as we want your body to adjust to the increasing amount of fibre which otherwise may cause bloating in some individuals.

  2. The more colourful your plate the better!
    Do not always eat the same veggies and fruits, experiment!

  3. Make half of your plate non-starchy veggies
    Eat foods such as peppers, cucumbers, salad leaves, broccoli, cauliflower, tomatoes…

  4. Try some prebiotic foods
    These are foods that when broken down in your body, will feed beneficial bacteria. Think bananas, leeks, asparagus, artichokes, chicory. Please, once again, if you have never eaten much of these START LOW AND GO SLOW, let your body adjust slowly.

  5. Increase your fibre intake
    Fibre is not absorbed but can help motility and also provides short-chain fatty acids, compounds which provide energy fuel for your gut wall. Good sources of fibre include brown rice, lentils, chickpea, beans, oats, barley, rye, nuts, seeds, potatoes with the skin on, vegetables, fruits.

  6. Hydrate!
    Ensuring you drink a good amount of water daily can support bowel movements, softening your stools. Good motility is key, as it helps our body excrete toxins and unwanted waste. Everyone needs a different amount of water daily based on age, activity levels etc.

    Your best bet is to keep checking the colour of your urine and making sure it is always pale yellow. If you see it starts getting darker, make sure to drink up! Keep a bottle on your desk or set reminders on your phone to drink every hour. And remember that herbal teas count too!
Certain nutrients get used up quickly by your body when you’re stressed
Replenish lost nutrients

In addition to your gut, please remember that your hormone cortisol (your stress hormone) is produced by the adrenal glands and when you are under chronic stress, nutrients that support adrenal function can become depleted, so it can be a good idea to ensure the food you eat is rich in them. Which nutrients am I talking about?

Stress-supporting minerals:
  • Magnesium: swiss chard, spinach, kelp, beetroot, pumpkin seeds, broccoli, halibut, nuts and seeds.
  • Zinc: Venison, pork, beef, lamb, poultry, crab, seeds, sea vegetables, whole grains
  • Selenium: brazil nuts, meat, poultry, fish and whole grains
Adrenal supporting vitamins:
  • Vitamin C: bell peppers, broccoli, salad greens, fresh fruits especially strawberries and citrus fruits.
  • B Vitamins: beef, poultry, lamb, fish, nuts, seeds, whole grains      
Essential fatty acids:

Increase your intake of these because they are not produced by your body and need to be taken in from the diet. They are a critical part of cells membranes in your body and in these membranes sit the receptors for adrenal hormones amongst others.

Foods rich in these nutrients: SMASH

Oily fish, think of the acronym SMASH (salmon, mackerel, anchovies, sardines and herring) just as a rough guide. Nuts, seeds and their oils can also be used.

Keep an eye on your blood sugar level

Lastly, think about endogenous stress (stress created within your body).

Upset blood sugar levels can promote cortisol production from the adrenals so you want to make sure that your meals and snack support blood sugar balance instead of making it peak and the crash and burn.

The easiest tip is to make sure that all meals and snacks include a source of protein such as meat, fish, nuts, seeds, legumes. You see, protein is broken down slower in the body, which will help blood sugar levels last longer supporting energy, mood, cognition and stress response.

And adding cinnamon to your meals is also a great idea, as this spice can also support your blood sugar balance.

Examples of blood sugar supporting meals:
  • Morning: omelette with spinach spring onions and parsley, or porridge with cinnamon and nut butter
  • Snack: veggies sticks with hummus or babaganush
  • Lunch: salmon with steamed spring greens and roasted asparagus
  • Snack: a handful of nuts
  • Dinner: lentils, aubergine and butternut squash stew
Food for thought

Hopefully, this blog will inspire a few ideas for your next shopping trip.

And please do remember that nutrition is a key part of optimising your health and supporting your stress response but exercise, sleep and spending time talking with your loved ones are just as important. Everything works in synergy, there is no magic pill.

You just need to find the right combination that works for you.

For a deep, deep dive, an expert’s reference for cooking to beat stress (and other ailments) is The Functional Nutrition Cookbook, by Lorraine Nicolle and Christine Bailey, 2013

If you are suffering from chronic stress and want help with dealing with it through diet, contact a qualified nutritional therapist.

This self-care health hack is from Superfied nutritional therapy expert, Valentina Cartago

Search the Superfied food database for a full list of different nutrients in everyday food here

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