Most of us are familiar with the saying (and feeling) “hangry”; you haven’t eaten properly in hours and your mood isn’t pleasant! The reason behind this hungry, cranky state is this – when you haven’t eaten in a few hours or you haven’t eaten enough, your blood sugar starts to drop. When this happens, your body needs to do something to bring blood sugar levels back up again so you can continue to function.
This triggers the body to release adrenaline, one of our “fight and flight” hormones to help the body and your brain to continue working, despite the very low blood sugar. Adrenaline can make you feel anxious and cranky and what’s more, if low blood sugar continues on after this release of adrenaline, the body releases a hit of another stress hormone – cue cortisol. Cortisol increases the release of stored glucose into the blood stream to counteract the ‘fasting’ state you’ve entered, as a protective mechanism. While this can help to stabilise the mood a little in the moment, when this cascade happens too frequently, we are drawing on our cortisol hormone unnecessarily. Cortisol isn’t a bad hormone; in fact, it helps to protect the body in times of need. However, it’s a different story when we abuse our cortisol and rely on its release far too often, as the consequences longer term can be “burn out”, physical and mental depletion, anxiety, depression as well as metabolic and hormonal changes.
In clinic, unintentionally skipping meals is a common theme amongst women, especially Mums. Due to the busyness of parenting, the juggle of running a family, working and trying to keep all balls in the air, I often hear from other mums that they don’t always eat breakfast and/or lunch, or if they do, they tend to be small meals without much substance. This can cause the hormonal cascade described above to happen almost daily, causing adrenaline and cortisol levels to go up throughout the day, over and over again. Most mums who do unintentionally neglect fuelling themselves will often report feelings of overwhelm, anxiety, stress, irritation, impatience and a very short fuse! It's really no wonder, as the body is trying to run off a very limited fuel supply, and therefore sending stress hormones out in replacement. Mums often already have enough stress-inducing situations to contend with in their day to day, let alone adding more biochemical stress into the mix from low blood sugar! So what can we do to change this? Time to focus on nourishing yourself, in a practical manner.
My top tips for mums regarding their daily nutrition are these:
Before going to bed at night, what can you do to set yourself up food-wise tomorrow? Even if it’s spending 5 minutes before heading to bed, can you make yourself a quick chia pudding? Or chop some mushrooms ready to cook with some eggs? Just spending a few minutes thinking about what protein you’re going to make for YOUR breakfast the next morning can take the edge off at 6:30am when everyone is telling you loudly that they’re SO hungry!!
Make a specific column on your grocery list for “Mum’s Food”. This is a regular habit of mine, and it has been my saving grace. I write down things that I like to eat for breakfast, lunch and snacks, and make sure I buy them. If they’re things my kids eat too, which most of them are, then I make sure I buy enough for ME as well as them!
Spend a bit of time on the weekend cooking up something in bulk that will serve you for lunches for 2-3 days, and store it in glass containers in the fridge, ready to re-heat and eat. Chicken soup with soba noodles, a simple spaghetti bolognese, or even salmon fish cakes are great options to last a few days.
Keep up the snacks! Snacking is important when you’re on the go a lot, and don’t always eat a big main meal at breakfast or lunch. Again, buy things that are specifically ‘your snacks’ when you grocery shop – hummus and seeded crackers, a good-quality sliced cheese to have with apple slices, chia puddings with frozen berries and coconut yoghurt – these are my favourite options for morning and afternoon snacks.
Prioritise you. It can help to remind yourself that your children are modelling your behaviour, so making sure you’re taking care of YOU too, shows your little ones how important self-care really is; just as you want them to care for themselves when they’re older!