There are hundreds of studies that show the effects of stress on our bodies and our brains. Humans are innately capable of handling a single stressful incident without much residual effect on long-term health – but what about the chronic stress that comes as part of the lead-up to and aftermath of a divorce?
A Yale University research team has proven that stressful life events can change the shape and size of critical regions in the brain that help us navigate emotional situations, make decisions, and retain important information. You can see how that could be a problem when you’re in the midst of maneuvering through a breakup.
But the good news is that the brain is elastic, and even a stressed-out brain can re-form and re-shape itself if given the right raw materials – meaning nutrient-dense foods that feed these critical brain cells.
That’s why taking
First, a little brain anatomy: your brain, which weighs about three pounds, is nearly 60% fat. Your brain can actually continue to grow neurons throughout your life in response to the right stimulation – including what you feed it.
Your brain is a sugar-hog and demands a steady stream of carbohydrates (which metabolize into glucose) in order to keep it running smoothly. But that doesn’t mean that gobbling candy bars on the run between meetings or while chauffeuring kids to soccer practice will give you what you need to stay sharp. When levels of sugar in the blood fluctuate, the brain doesn’t get its steady fuel supply, and behavior and decision-making
To ensure sustained release, never skip a meal. Eating something small every three hours is critical. Choose carbs from whole foods: vegetables, fruits, nuts, beans and legumes, or fiber-rich grains found in oats or quinoa. Whole-wheat products can be a good
Tip: An apple dipped in some nut butter is a portable on-the-go snack that will help level your blood sugar. So is a handful of almonds, a cup of yogurt, or some raw veggies with hummus.
Mom was right: eating fish can make you smarter! Feeding your brain with the right fats can strengthen the synapses related to memory as well as nourish the membranes of the brain cells, keeping them supple and strong so they can keep out toxins. This is crucial during the divorce
Fatty cold-water fish such as salmon, mackerel, herring, cod, or halibut are excellent sources of omega-3 fatty acids. Studies have shown that people with high levels of omega-3s reduce their risk of dementia and slow mental decline, so plan to eat fish at least three times a week for optimal brain health.
You can also find omega-3s in walnuts and flax seeds; use the oils as salad dressing or stir-ins to yogurt or smoothies, or grind the flax seeds and include them in baked goods, meatloaf, or oatmeal. Both cauliflower and Brussels sprouts also contain very good levels of omega-3s.
Tip: Just a quarter-cup of raw walnuts a day will give you your daily requirement of omega-3s.
Staying calm through the process of working out divorce details can be a challenge. Proteins in your diet can greatly affect your ability to stay even-keeled because they’re made up of amino acids from which neurotransmitters are made. These neurotransmitters are biochemical messengers that carry signals from one part of the brain to another – for cognition, reasoning, creativity, problem solving, etc. The more you nourish these neurotransmitters, the better your judgment will be when it comes to
One particular amino acid – tryptophan – is especially critical. Tryptophan is a precursor to serotonin, the hormone that helps keep us calm, balanced, and happy. Given the emotionally-charged scenario of most divorce negotiations, staying calm under pressure is imperative if you want to make the best decisions for your future.
Turkey, chicken, salmon, yogurt, eggs, and cacao are all good sources of tryptophan. For those who prefer to eat a plant-strong diet, dark leafy greens – such as kale, spinach, and chard – as well as mushrooms, pumpkin or sunflower seeds will also feed your neurotransmitters.
Tip: Chocolate can indeed help to calm a stressed-out brain. It contains a compound called theobromine, which increases blood flow – exactly what a hard-working brain needs. So enjoy your daily bite of dark chocolate as long as it’s made from raw cacao and is at least 70-85% cacao.
Don't let stressful times drive you to the chips and chocolate cupboard and derail your health. If you're searching for a snack, this one is fast, easy and will satisfy you whether you have a sweet tooth, or a salty or crispy craving.
Makes 2 cups, 4 servings
Trish Krause (CNP, NNCP) is a certified holistic nutritionist. She specializes in teaching busy, stressed-out people how to navigate their nutrition journey while juggling the demands of families, work, and life. At Bite Out of Life Nutrition & Lifestyle Coaching, Trish works both face-to-face and remotely with her clients. Compassionate and approachable, she offers expert lifestyle guidance and fact-based holistic nutrition expertise to help her clients make healthy, long-lasting choices.