Employee health: Nutrition for productivity and managing stress eating
What to eat during stressful times
Recently I was interviewed on The Small Business Mastermind podcast created by Olympia Benefits Inc. This podcast was created to help small businesses manage business, finance and health and wellness. The host Morgan Berna and I had the chance to dive into one of my favorite areas of discussion: how to eat well and still have a life that saves room for chocolate and other delicious foods chosen for taste and social enjoyment. We also dove into some of the biggest challenges busy people are experiencing right now during a particularly stressful time when it comes to our eating.
You can listen to the podcast here: MASTERMIND PODCAST
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Below you will find the full summary and transcript of the podcast episode on nutrition for productivity and stress relief:
What to Eat for Productivity and Stress Relief
Registered Dietitian, and self-proclaimed “chocoholic,” Andrea Holwegner talks nutrition and productivity. She explains what the 3 kinds of hunger are, the components every meal should have, the best foods to serve in the workplace for productivity, how to incorporate the foods you love into a healthy diet, and more.
Andrea Holwegner: You can eat anything, just not everything. It’s all going to come down to being intentional about your choices.
Morgan Berna: You’re listening to The Small Business Mastermind, a podcast created by Olympia Benefits Inc. to help small businesses juggle business, finance, health, and wellness. I’m your host Morgan Berna, and to subscribe to the podcast, visit olympiabenefits.com/podcast.
Morgan: Thank you so much for tuning in to this episode of The Small Business Mastermind. Today, we’re talking nutrition, productivity, and dealing with diet changes during stressful and busy times with registered dietitian and self-proclaimed “chocoholic” Andrea Holwegner. She walks us through creating healthy meals, how often we should be eating, and how to tell if we’re eating the right foods. She has some advice in here for businesses looking to provide snacks and food for employees and more. This is all framed under her mindset that there’s always room for the foods that we love. So, without further ado, let’s jump right into this episode. I hope you enjoy it, and I will be checking in with you again at the end of the episode.
Morgan: Thank you so much, Andrea, for being here with us today.
Andrea: Thanks for having me!
Morgan: Andrea Holwegner is the founder and CEO of Health Stand Nutrition Consulting Inc., established in 2000. She leads a team of experienced dietitians who offer in-person and virtual nutrition counseling to help empower you to create a healthy and joyous relationship with food and your body. She’s also known as the “chocoholic nutritionist,” believing anyone can achieve health without guilt or complexity and that the secret to success is having fun. She’s an online nutrition course creator, professional speaker, and a regular guest in the media. In her spare time, she enjoys skiing, mountain biking, and sipping wine with her husband over a delicious meal. Most of all, she loves being a mom and playing in the dirt in the vegetable garden she grows with her son.
Morgan: Could you tell us a little bit about what got you interested in nutrition and what you do now with Health Stand?
Andrea: Well, you know many years ago, of course, we all have personal experiences that lead us down our career paths. And so, my dad actually had very advanced cardiovascular disease, and I think at a younger age, I probably had to learn about the role of nutrition for chronic health sooner than a lot of people had to. And so, having a mom that was a fantastic home cook compared and then, you know, coupled with my dad’s health issues was sort of like a match made in a dietitian’s journey, I think. So, when I first started the practice 20 years ago, so back in 2000, at that time, dietitians really only worked in public health. There was really no nutrition as a consulting practice, not a lot going on in corporate wellness, and sort of dietitians working in more of a fee-for-service—and I always thought, you know what, what we do is life-changing, and I do think that there’s an ability to help people in a more of a private practice the way, the same way that psychologists practice, for example, or financial planners practice.
And so, began the journey, and starting off, what was Health Stand at that time, working with family physicians and seeing their patients, starting up some nutrition services at what was Lindsay Park Sports Center in Calgary here, which has, of course, changed names a few times now. And then, as your practice grows, you develop the need for a team and different areas of specialty, and you get asked to speak more and work with different organizations in the food, restaurants, and grocery industry to help them with their brands in health and nutrition as well. So, it’s been a cool journey, and I think some of the, you know, most exciting things what we’re working on now is really in the digital health area and making sure that we’re accessing people for remote workers no matter where they live/work, we’re able to offer them both virtual counseling and then online courses to be able to support them with their needs.
Morgan: You call yourself the “chocoholic nutritionist,” correct?
Andrea: Oh, yes! Occasionally, someone asked me, “Is that because dark chocolate is good for you?” and I was like, “Well, there is some health benefits to eating dark chocolate, but that is not why I call myself the Chocoholic Nutritionist. At the end of the day, my entire career and really the brand and the work that we do with our clients is really teaching people how to have both a healthful relationship with food and a soulful relationship with food. What I mean by that is, yes, as dietitians, we for sure want to teach you all of the nerdy nutritious things that you need to eat, like getting enough veggies and protein and balancing your meals. All of those things, you expect dietitians to teach, but we also really have become very skilled at and what we are very much known for in our practice is helping people to figure out how to balance those soulful aspect of eating, and these are the foods that spark joy, that we eat for social reasons, for cultural, kind of family connection, and purely because they taste good. So, for some of you that might be McDonald’s french fries; for other people, that might be, you know, potato chips or beer and wings after hockey on Friday night—I don’t know what it is. For me, that is a love of chocolate. And so, the Chocoholic Nutritionist will always teach you the nerdy, nutritious things but with a twist of indulgence to sustain real life and real balance over the long term.
Morgan: I love that. I always have a big snack cupboard full of those little snacks that I’ll have sometimes, not all the time, but I’ve always believed that not to deprive—just moderation, I suppose.
Andrea: Yeah, well, you know, I mean, so much of our work—I mean, we really specialize in a lot of challenges around weight concerns, emotional eating. We do a lot of work with eating disorders or people that may have, you know, diabetes or cardiovascular risk—variety of those things—and one of the common things that we see with so many of our clients is that deprivation always leads to over-consumption. And so, the more we can teach people how to have balanced living to make sure that they’ve, you know, built in enough tasty treat sweets and savory things around all of the healthy things that they’re eating, the more sustainable it will be. Otherwise, you mean, basic psychology principles would say we all want what we can’t have, and so, if you deprive the Chocoholic Dietitian of chocolate for too long, you can guess that when I do finally have it, I way over-consume it, and that’s for anybody. And so, it’s far better to really help people manage things in a more sustainable, reasonable way than do some extreme clean-eating type of regime that doesn’t fit into normal life.
Morgan: Absolutely. And what are some of the other common hurdles you see that stop us from keeping up with the healthy diet?
Andrea: Oh, goodness! You know, I think one of the things that people struggle with is the human brain is so wired to be very black-and-white or very all-or-none in a way it approaches so many things in life. And so, when we try to think about lifestyle and nutrition change in that same way that we’re either, you know eating well or we’re eating awful or were like, you know, on a cleanser, we’re like, you know, eating, you know, sugar till the cows come home—when we when we approach nutrition that way, it’s just destined to fail us. And so, progress-not-perfection, is always the way that we’re going to come at people’s healthy eating goals. What we know from a habit formation perspective is people often will say, you know, “I thought it only takes 21 days to change a habit,” and, you know, that is actually false when we look at the nutrition and lifestyle research. It actually takes, on average, 66 days to change a habit—and that’s an average. The range is actually somewhere between I think 18 and a couple hundred days to change a habit. And so, oftentimes, when people burn out with maybe their new habit to try and eat breakfast every morning, maybe they’ve skipped breakfast for 20 years of their life, and they’re working on that new habit, if they haven’t been able to sustain that for a good several months, they haven’t built it into habit yet. And I tell you, this not to be like, “Oh my gosh, there’s no way I’ll ever change,” but I tell you this so that for those of you listening, when you initiate a new change, cut yourself some slack. It’s going to take longer to anchor that into a habit than you think. And so, if you can just stay the course longer, then you naturally would want to—i.e., longer than a week or two or three, if you can keep practicing it over and over and troubleshooting when it doesn’t go well, get back on the horse, and continue on again—that’s where we start to see lifestyle shift. It’s just, it’s painfully slow compared to what people anticipate the journey is going to be.
Morgan: Mm-hm. A lot of patience required.
Andrea: So those that have good perseverance and have really progress-not-perfection type of mindset will definitely be the folks that get their lifestyle back on track. They’re forgiving, they’re compassionate in their ability to know that changes, and you know, we don’t make binge-change—we make, like, change over time—and if you can kind of hang on to that mindset, that tends to be, just like I said, where we see our clients really take us soar in their wellness. So, when we’re working with people—yes, we can help people over a few sessions get started, but it’s the clients that work with us over time or that have, you know, people in their lives, whether that’s a family member or a friend kind of going on the journey with them, that tend to have the best chances of success, whether that’s for concerns around their weight or some sort of medical issue that they might be recovering from.
Morgan: I really like that perspective. That’s good to start this off, that this is all going to take a little bit of time, but be so worth it. A lot of people right now, with all that’s going on in the world, are spending a lot more time at home—do our nutritional needs change when, you know, we moved to, perhaps, a more sedentary lifestyle for a short period of time, or is it best to just keep up with the diet you’ve had?
Andrea: Yeah, I mean, certainly, when activity, you know, goes down just over the course of a shorter period of time, you know, there’s no need to eat less today because you didn’t exercise today, that’s too short-term to make a difference. But, I mean, obviously, if we’re you know, more sedentary over the course of weeks and months, and, of course, our nutrition needs to shift with that. The good news, though, I mean, as people are working and schooling at home, I’m in that same boat as a working mom myself here, juggling it all, it’s certainly a challenging time for wellness, and a lot of challenges have shown up when it comes to nutrition. I’m hoping, though, as people are having a little bit more time less commuting and that, they’re using some of it to get outside, and I’m seeing that—I’m seeing their pathways are busier, walking is busier. So, I’m hoping that the activity front people are really trying to take advantage of this, you know, unique period of time with their family to maybe build in some more outdoor activity as a family. Then, with respect to the nutrition side, so some of the things that we’re seeing with our clients is, of course, way more stress eating, way more emotional eating, you know—and in some cases, it’s actually the opposite. With anxiety and depression, while some people overeat, we actually do have a large number of folks that also are actually reducing their intake and more restrictive in their eating behaviors right now. So, you hear so much about the COVID, you know, 15, the COVID 15, and the pandemic’s weight gain going on. I just wanted to sort of put a shout-out there, though, that, that is not the case for everybody. And, in fact, that kind of language and that sort of like a sort of fixation on so much around, “People are gaining weight, you should stop eating,” is actually very triggering to the folks in the world that struggle with eating disorder behavior—and there are thousands. So, just to be mindful, stress can impact us in a variety of ways. It’s not always over-consumption; it could be restrictive behaviors as well.
Morgan: It’s good distinction to make.
Andrea: Yeah, so, you know, the other thing that we’re seeing is, of course, an increase in alcohol consumption. I mean, now, all you need to do is take a peek at what’s happening in liquor stores as well as bottle depots—there’s a lot more consumption going on, and there’s just an increased craving for comfort foods. So, whether that’s, like, you know, macaroni and cheese at home or all the baking that’s going on during the COVID situation, or just more cravings for comfort foods like your chocolates and potato chips and those types of things. So, lots of challenges, and then, of course, we’ve got, you know, so many changes in the grocery store. So, it’s this weird place right now of scarcity and abundance at the same time. We’ve got, you know, sometimes, feeling like we don’t have enough food in our house, or at certain, you know, aisles of the grocery store, and then sometimes feeling like we have this huge abundance that’s now in our home because we’re trying to shop less often. So, that is creating a lot of kind of changes and everyone’s everyday eating habits, but I got a good couple of things that we can do to navigate that, if you want me to expand on that now?
Morgan: Absolutely, please.
Andrea: Yeah. So, one of the things that I’d encourage people to think about is adding a bit more structure into their everyday eating patterns—and it’s not to make this like a regiment or something that’s completely inflexible or that feels like you’re on some sort of, you know, crazy diet of some sort. What I mean by adding some structure is what we see in a lot of folks’ eating patterns right now is they’re working and schooling from home is just like a free-for-all, where suddenly, people aren’t packing lunches or taking a scheduled, you know, lunch break—or it’s just become sort of like people might be eating breakfast later or just not even eating it at all because, you know, there’s just so much happening in the home right now. And so, what I’d like you to do is take a piece of paper, and I was like paper and pen, rather than, you know, computerized thing for this sort of thing, but just really think about, like, okay, what time are we getting up, and use what I call the timing technique—and the timing technique is really putting down a map of when is the schedule that we’re going to aim for, for eating in our household, and I suspect for a lot of people, this has shifted a little bit later because we’re seeing a lot of people eat breakfast later and suppers later, and that’s fine. It’s kind of more European in some ways to have a way later dinner, and that’s totally fine—but what we want to do is put a little bit of a game plan together. Otherwise, what ends up happening is, maybe, people eat breakfast a little later, lunch becomes late, and then by, like, you know, four o’clock, people are ravenous—they start eating down the house and snacks—and then, of course, your family doesn’t want to come to the dinner table hungry for any of the, you know, healthy nerdy vegetable-like things that you might have on the dinner table.
So, again, if you really think about, okay, this is going to be our eating plan—the timing technique, what I mean by that is eat every three to five hours. So, ideally, if you eat your breakfast within about an hour of waking, that would be ideal, and then count out three to five hours later for your next meal or snack, then count out again three to five hours for your next meal or snack after that. What that means is that some people are going to eat six times a day, some people are going to eat only three times a day, and all of those are correct. I think the food marketers of the world have sold people this, you know, thought that they have to be grazing and snacking all day and they have to eat six meals a day or every two hours, which is actually false—for a lot of people, that would actually be overeating. So, really looking at what is my own unique timing technique. It is going to vary person-to-person. Some people like to have larger substantial meals; other people like to eat smaller amount more often, and both of those eating stalls are correct. We just need to define, you know, what’s your eating personality look like, map out that timing technique for your family, and put it up on the fridge or on the counter so that everyone knows. It’s like, when you’re saying, “No, I don’t want you to have a snack right now because we’re going to be eating dinner in a half an hour,” there’s some sort of, you know, reason why that’s a little bit more legitimate than something that’s changing day-to-day where nobody knows when food is coming and going.
Morgan: And that’s a great point, and a great point that there has been a lot of confusing messaging out there, as always—a new diet every year, every couple months, that becomes popular—so that sounds like a great way to schedule your day.
Andrea: Yeah. I mean, the other question that people will often say is like, “Well, what do I have?” And so, I always like to keep things super simple, especially when people are stressed right now. I know I’m wearing many more hats trying to get the same level of work done while also being a homeschooler here, both my husband and I are business owners, so it’s a busy time of year—and, you know keeping things super simple during times of stress is absolutely what we want to do. And so, one way to do that when it comes to meal planning. So, if we’re talking about your breakfast, your lunches, your suppers, I just want you to pick three things in it, and they don’t even have to go—they could be completely, like, a disastrous meal from like a food network, you know, vision of what you have this, you know, nutritional beacon of perfection looks like—but if it’s got the components of what a balanced meal looks like, then that’s all that counts from a nutrition perspective. So, the three things to include are, first of all, some sort of a grainier starch; second is some sort of veggies and/or a fruit; and third, some sort of source of protein. And when we get that balance together, what that means is that we’ve got enough carbohydrate for our brain coming from your grains and starchy foods, your veggies and fruit, or primarily carb-based foods—and those carbohydrates are essential for productivity, energy, brain performance, you know, obviously, physical activity—the more active you are, the more carbs you need for muscle fuel. It’s like the gasoline stores for your muscles. But when we don’t eat enough protein to go with those carbs, it tends to be sort of a fast burst of energy, and it’ll make you feel like your blood sugars are on like a roller coaster ride.
So, we always want to think about, you know, pairing up those carbs with a good source of protein. And when we do that, our blood sugars are less likely to be on a roller coaster ride and much more likely to be on a train ride—very level and solid and feeling sustaining throughout the day. So, of course, protein would be in your things like, you know, obviously, you know, meat, poultry, seafood—but lots of vegetarian options like your nuts and seeds and tofus and legumes and those types of things. Dairy foods would also be pretty high in protein as well. So, if you think about, “Okay if all I need to do in my three kind of core meals a day is pick three things, this might be okay,” whatever you’ve got left in the house, no matter when you’re grocery-shopping next, you know, pick a grain. So, for example for breakfast, maybe you’ve got package wraps that are laying around that you had quesadillas with or something—well, you can take one of those for breakfast as a protein. You could put some peanut butter or almond butter on the wrap. And then, as your fruit, you could roll a banana around it, or you could put dried raisins in there or slice up a pear or an apple, roll that around, and then, you know, eat that as a sandwich. So, to give you just an example, it doesn’t have to be gourmet—that could even be lunch! So, really just checking off, “Have I nailed those three things for balance?” is a really good way to make sure that your brain has energy, but you’re also going to be full and sustained because of that protein built in as well.
Morgan: I like that. And when we aren’t getting these correct nutritional requirements, what might we expect to experience physically or mentally?
Andrea: So, yeah. So, we were only planning a meal just with carbohydrates in them. So, if we just have, let’s say, toast and a glass of juice for breakfast, or we just had a banana for breakfast, again, we’ve got good carbs for the brain there, but it kicks in—carbs turn into sugar into the body, and then we get insulin produced, and insulin’s job is to pick sugar out of the blood, and it drops your blood sugars. And so, literally an hour or two later, we get sort of feelings of sleepiness, we get hungriness sometimes or what we call hang-xiety in our practice for those that struggle with anxiety issues. Just, again, when our blood sugar’s drop, then we’re going to crave sugar, we’re going to need to eat again very soon—and that’s not great when we’re trying to be productive at work and not great from just an overall health and wellness perspective and how we manage our weight and just overall wellness.
On the other hand, though, we’ve got lots of people that might be, like, fearful of carbohydrates. Maybe they’re following some sort of a dieting regime like a keto diet or something where they’ve stripped out all of the carbohydrates in their diet and are really only eating protein or fats for breakfast, or it’s lunch or supper like that. And, of course, protein-rich foods, fat-based foods tend to be very filling from a [inaudible] perspective for hunger management, but our brain does not run on protein or fats—it never has, and it never will. Our brain runs on carbohydrates, so giving it its major energy source is important from a productivity and brain fuel perspective through your workday.
Morgan: When we are in this mode where we’re having some more stress lately, what may be some things that we’re craving and maybe some options on how we could satiate that?
Andrea: Yeah. You know, what’s really interesting is there’s actually three kinds of hunger. Oftentimes, people think there’s one when people say, “I’m hungry.”
Morgan: Yeah, I didn’t know that!
Andrea: Yeah. Our first question is the dietitians in our practices, well, what kind of hunger are we talking about because different types of hunger have different types of needs. And so, this work actually comes from a colleague, two colleagues of mine, Dr. Colleen Cannon and Dietitian Wendy Shaw from Craving Change, and we teach their cognitive behavioral approach to eating in our practice because it’s very practical, people get it, and this, you know, aspect of the three types of hunger comes from that program. So, number one: first type of hunger is what we call stomach hunger, and stomach hunger is kind of predictably, you know, true, physical, biologic necessity to eat. So, this is like the stomach rumbles. This is like, “It’s been hours since I’ve eaten.” This is like, “Anything is appealing right now, you know, including, you know, carrot sticks. I’ll eat anything because I’m starving; I need food.
Morgan: Perfect time to grocery-shop.
Andrea: Might get some good stuff, but extra things come into the cart, too. Anyway, so physical stomach hunger—of course, the way we meet that kind of hunger is, of course, eating really helpful foods. This is the best time to think about planning our three components of the balanced meal. It’s like, yeah, you could eat junk foods and sweets and treats here, of course, but healthy foods will taste really delicious here, and this is where we want to start because that’s the best way to address stomach hunger.
Now, the second type of hunger is what we call mouth hunger, and mouth hunger is actually more related to sensory properties of food or more related to cravings for foods. So, this is, for example, for me, loving chocolate. This is like, “I love, like, the whole mouth feel of the creaminess of chocolate;” or if you’re an ice cream lover, it’s like, you like the cool-like creaminess. If you’re a potato chip lover, this is like the crunch and the saltiness that you’re after. Or, let’s say, you know, you just ate a meal and you weren’t even hungry at all from a stomach hunger perspective, but someone in your house decides to make popcorn an hour later—now, you smell it, so we’ve got a sensory for aroma going on now in the house. You’re like, “Whoo, I need to eat some of that popcorn!”
So, mouth hunger, again, the way we navigate mouth hungers are actually different than stomach hunger here because you don’t need like a, you know, necessarily a healthy balanced meal here. In fact, it’s probably not going to suffice if you were craving something savory like potato chips. All the amount of eating yogurt and blueberries in the world will never actually address that type of hunger. You could just keep eating it, but you’ll still be craving potato chips. So, the best way to manage mouth hunger is really looking at really getting, first of all, very clear about what specifically that I’m craving because you know that it’s like, “Well, I just ate, I’m not really stomach-hungry, so it must be something else.” So, if you spend a little bit of time in sort of a mindful eating exercise of really thinking about, “Is it sweet, or is it savory?” And if it’s sweet, are we talking like, “Is it, like, chocolate-y?” And if it’s chocolate-y, are we talking like, “Real chocolate, or could, like, hot chocolate do the job?” or we talk about chocolate ice cream or chocolate chip cookies. All of those are very different cravings.
Same thing, you know, once we get into the savory department. So, the more you can really distill down what specifically you’re craving, the less likely you will be to what I call chewing around the craving, people will sort of go through their pantry and start sampling a bunch of foods, and they’re like, “Now, that didn’t do it. Had an apple—that didn’t do it. All right, maybe it was crackers. No, that didn’t do it.” But if they just stopped and taking a few minutes to really drill down what type of mouth hunger they were experiencing, they could have just had a small amount of that food and moved on. So, rather than eating the, you know, 500 calories worth of all the different things in your cupboard, you might as well just had a couple hundred calories of ice cream, called it a day, and really been satisfied. So, that’s how we address mouth hunger most effectively—it’s getting really clear on what it is and then allowing yourself permission to enjoy that food soulfully, joyfully, blissfully, mindfully—all of the words. This is not like, you know, jamming it in as fast as you possibly can in front of a screen. Those will never be satisfying when we’re doing, you know, multitasking while eating. So, when we are eating our most favorite delicious foods, it’s like, I want you to, like, close your eyes and be one with the food. You should be, like, loving this like nobody’s business because when you do that, your brain calms down, you’ve been satisfied, and less of that food is going to feel like more–
Morgan: I think we’ve all had that exact experience—that image of going through the pantry. “What can I eat instead?”
Andrea: So, if you’re kind of going through the pantry, chances are it’s not stomach hunger because you probably, like, if it was, you’ve plated a meal and you’ve eaten it, you’re good to go. Just spending a little bit more time, like, flushing that through.
And then, of course, the third type of hunger is heart hunger, and heart hunger is predictably more of that emotional hunger. So, sometimes, we associate heart hunger with being all the negative emotions that can actually also be positive emotions to some people are total social leaders, celebratory eaters, more than they are, let’s say, negative stress or sadness or being angry, boredom types of eaters. So, all of those emotions can trigger a response to want to eat, and, you know, sometimes, it’s just because we just, we know we’re feeling down, we know we’re feeling anxious and stressed and more so now than ever before, and it’s easy to want to stuff down that uncomfortable emotion with food. And, of course, sometimes, it helps a little, but if we’re really honest with ourselves, we just, we can never, you know, manage those emotions effectively with food. That’s where we need to start thinking about, “Okay, how can I comfort myself without food in a different way that might be more effective because food will help me for the next 20 seconds while I’m eating it, and then it’s going to be left with feelings of, like, you know, “Well, that didn’t really help in this same, anxious, depressed feeling is still with me. And now, I feel even worse because I was eating too much.”
So, spending a little bit of time not in, like, your worst state of mind—I usually encourage people to do a little bit more of reflection early in the day, when they’re a little bit more positive, maybe feeling a little less burned out and beaten down by the day, but really reflecting on like, “How can I comfort myself without food?” and thinking about, you know, the easiest and, I would say, affordable ways that you could do that. So, some of the things that come to mind are things like, obviously, it could be taking the dog out for a walk. It could be making a new music playlist of positive music for cooking or for, I don’t know, for, you know, walking outside or whatever it might be. It could be listening to podcasts of some sort. Could be calling a friend. It could be doing a Sudoku. And none of these things, by the way, will seem appealing. You’re probably rolling your eyes—some of you listening right now, you’re like, “Yeah, that doesn’t work. None of it’s good.” I hear you; I get it.
What we’re trying to do, though—and we’re trying to deal with more heart hunger and emotional stress eating—is we’re trying to give our brain a little bit of time to slow down and react to that emotion in a different way. So, you can kind of look at it as almost like a bit of a delay and distract tactic, where it’s like, “Well, I feel like eating because it’s been a crappy day, and I just want to stuff this down with Oreo cookies.” What you want to do is think about, like, “Okay, but before I do that, I’m going to try one of these new things in an attempt to comfort myself in a different way.” It doesn’t mean it’s always going to be effective because remember, coming back to what we talked about earlier here, in habit formation, you’re going to have to practice it over and over and over again to help your brain latch onto a new way that we actually think about food. And so, it might be that, “Okay, only one in every ten times does calling a friend or taking a bath or, you know, taking the dog out actually help; the other nine times out of ten, I’m still you know, stuffing down chocolate chip cookies.” Most people would see that as failure; I would look at that as success. We’ve got one strategy that worked once, and we can build on that—and the more you repeat that, the more effective it will get. The more you keep practicing that, the more it will actually become almost like your automatic pilot way of dealing with how you think about eating with those uncomfortable emotions.
Morgan: That’s a great way to frame with those three hungers. I think almost everyone listening can relate to those, and it’s building more awareness with yourself, which is always great. If we’re looking to eat particularly for either helping ourselves concentrate a bit more, or even just helping ourselves relax a bit more so we can focus on what we need to get done, do you have any suggestions there?
Andrea: I think a lot of the things we’ve talked about here previously about executing a timing technique to put some structure into our day is really helpful. It’s the free-for-all kind of eating and multitasking and bringing food to our computers that can really zap energy, and it also doesn’t allow us to keep track as to sort of how much reading and what we’re eating. So, you know, I think we can all relate to a time we’ve either, like, had a bowl of popcorn or some snack in front of us watching Netflix or, let’s say, a giant bag of, you know, one kilogram of Costco Trail Mix beside our computer desk or something and then suddenly find yourself like munching on those but you don’t quite remember getting to the end of the bag, and some of you could look around and you wondered, “If someone eat this, I have no memory of eating this.” So, we’ve all had that experience, and so, the best way to remain productive is not to multitask eating while working or eating while doing something else as much as we can. I mean, not to get too extreme here. Of course, there’s going to be a time we’re watching a movie eating popcorn. But as much as we can, make eating the only thing that you were doing—a sole act in itself. That aspect of mindful eating will serve you well from just an ability to detect hunger and fullness, and it allows you a productivity break so that you’re not just sustaining work non-stop and homeschooling non-stop with no sort of break. So, I would really like to encourage people to clearly define when is eating, when is rest time, when is work time, and not try to multitask them all because you end up feeling burned out by all of them, right?
Morgan: Yeah, absolutely. I’ve been pretty guilty of eating at my computer recently. And yeah, you don’t really taste the food.
Andrea: No! And it doesn’t give us enough of a brain break. So, then again, when our brain is sleepy and overworked and overwhelmed because it hasn’t had any space away from work, then we’re looking for comfort in a different way—and if we’ve got food beside us, you can bet that our brains are going to be like, “Whoo, we should eat more of that.
Morgan: Absolutely. Do you recommend people doing meal prepping for their week?
Andrea: You know, meal prepping is always a good idea, without question, but there’s a few different ways you can think about meal prepping. So, we have some clients that are natural-born planners, and they’re like, “Oh, yeah, we meal-prep for the month,” or “We meal-prep for the week,” and they already get it. They love it. They’re doing it. They’re doing their thing. They’re super organized. So, we’ll high-five those folks. I’m talking now to the rest of you who are not natural-born planners, don’t particularly like cooking out much. This is the bulk of our clients, right? So, when they’ve seen these, like, meal prep sites where, like, all-day Sunday, you cook, like, 30 meals or something for the week and you get yourself organized, someone that hates planning and doesn’t enjoy cooking, if they tried that for, like, one day in their life, they would have the most miserable Sunday of their life and hate nutrition and never want to eat. Well, again, because it would be so mentally hard!
So, for those of you that aren’t natural-born planners, my number one suggestion for you is just don’t try to think about meal planning for the entire week. Maybe think about it in a one-day period or a three-day period at the most. That’s a little bit more manageable for most people, and what I like about thinking about meal planning, perhaps in like a three-day chunk, which is how I like to do it, is that it allows you to keep track of food waste in your house better than if you plan too far ahead. You don’t necessarily know, like, what produce item is kind of looking wilty that needs to be used up in your fridge drawer. But, if you’re working on kind of more of like a three-day plan, you could, like, shop for a week, but you could think about just planning the meals for three days at a time. This breaks things down so you don’t have to have everything all mapped out into this overwhelming schedule for people. So, for example, you might, let’s say, cucumbers are on sale this week, and you end up throwing those into your grocery chart—and so are peppers and so is, you know, you got some lettuce and some broccoli, whatever produce is in your refrigerator—you might not know exactly how you’re going to use the three cucumbers that you brought. But if you’re planning your meals three days at a time at most, you can incorporate that fresh food that needs to be used up in a timely way versus having to script out, “Okay, on Monday, we’re going to eat X; Tuesday, it’s this; all the way up to Sunday,” which is very overwhelming for people.
Morgan: I’m definitely in that second category as well, so that’s very helpful. But, even with, yeah, with the grocery stores right now and trying to make fewer trips, it’s very helpful to have that couple days planned at least. Getting up to the week, I find I’m just throwing random stuff in there. [laughs]
Andrea: And that’s okay! Remember, the very beginning, we talked about, like, get those three things for balance in there. So, it may be that in the earlier part of your week, you’ve got, you know, foods that have a shorter shelf life. Like, if you bring lettuce home, well, that should be early on in the first part of your week, whereas maybe you’re using more frozen vegetables towards the end of the week, or you’re making sure some, you know, long-lasting vegetables such as things like your cauliflower, your cabbage, your broccoli, your carrots—those last a long time in your fridge—so you’re saving those kind of , you know, harder vegetables for later on in the week. So, one of the things when it comes to meal prep from a food waste perspective oftentimes, if we ask people, like, what’s for dinner tonight, they almost always label a protein. They’ll say, “We’re having steak or veggie burgers or lentil curries or chicken tonight.”
And what I want you to think about is shifting that, especially now more than ever, is I want you to think about, like, the vegetable being the main event that you are thinking about using first because then you can wrap the protein option that’s likely in your freezer with that, and that allows you to use inventory better from what needs to be used first. So, if you look in the fridge, and it’s like, “Okay, in the next three days, these are the top three veggies that need to be used,” that dictates your meal plan more than saying, “Whatever frozen protein option is in my freezer is going to take the meal plan.” And then, you throw out a fridge full of nice vegetables.
Morgan: That’s great. I think the waste has been a little bit difficult with shopping less often, and a lot of people can relate to that. That’s a really good way to approach it. I wanted to ask you. So, a lot of workplaces are starting to offer more snacks for employee. Like, I see a lot of energy drinks in the fridge, chips, cookies—that kind of thing—do you work with workplaces and in helping them with meals or coming up with ideas for healthy snacks for employees, that type of thing?
Andrea: Yeah, definitely. We’ve done some consulting work for a wide range of clients in a wide variety of industry sectors to develop things like healthy catering menus for their EA teams on what they’re going to be bringing in for meetings so that we’re walking the talk when it comes to our wellness program. We’re also making sure what we’re supplying is healthy and nutritious, and usually, what we can come up with is so fun, and people are excited about—it’s not some, like, boring, healthy thing. It’s diverse in ways to build in wellness.
Second thing, of course—yes, we can look at if you are going to be stalking certain things in your lunchroom or, let’s say, bringing in Wellness Wednesday, ideas, you know, weekly or monthly—definitely, we’ve got a whole range of ideas for both, shelf-stable things that we can come up with, and then also just working with local caterers that can, you know, bring in the yogurt parfaits for Friday, you know, build your own yogurt parfait breakfast mornings as an initiative or etcetera. There’s a ton of different ways we can add on to healthy initiatives. So, I’d really love to see companies spend less money on stocking bottled water, bottled pop vending machines stuff. I’d like people to divert that entire budget into once in a while healthier snack options or once in a while lunch or breakfast [inaudible] that really speak to wellness because as far as I’m concerned, people can go out and buy a pop if they wanted to—no need for the company to be stashing those and paying for those in the fridge.
Morgan: Mm-hm. For anybody right now that’s feeling like they’ve kind of fallen off of their normal eating, maybe they’re schedules off, maybe they’re intakes off—what advice would you have for people to get back on track? I know you’ve talked that it takes a little bit of time and to have some leniency with yourself. Do you have anything else to comment on that?
Andrea: Yeah, I mean, there’s certainly a few different things you could do. If you’re looking for sort of something you can kind of do on your own, what I’d suggest you do and not to do this in an obsessive tracking way—I would not use an app for this—sometimes, people use so many nutrition apps, and they’re glued to their phone so much already. I would literally take a piece of paper and just write down what you ate for the next three days and just take a good look at it. Oftentimes, when people come into our office and we ask them about their eating habits, they have no memory of what they ate yesterday or the day before, or they don’t really know what they eat as a snack. It’s hard for them to even pull that information up to share with us. So, all change comes first by looking at awareness of what we are doing. So, what you think you need to work on might actually not be what you need to work on. Maybe you’re worried about how much water you’re drinking, and maybe you actually keep a record for three days, and you’re like actually, “I’m a pretty good water drinker. Why was I worried about that?” Maybe what you need to be worried about is the fact that it’s like, “Man, I thought I ate more vegetables. I only ate, like, one vegetable a day at supper. Okay, that’s actually not enough. So, how do I build in some more?” And that’s what you learn in keeping that three-day journal.
So, really starting with a journal is an awesome way to really look at, you know, a good way to think about overall change. The second thing is, take a look at your workplace benefits and see if you are covered to see a registered dietitian. So, registered dietitians are the nutrition experts when we talk about healthy eating. We take, of course, full university degrees and maintain college-level practice permits similar to physicians to certify our knowledge annually. So, work with the dietitian to help you personally. Rather than trying to read everything on in and figure everything out yourself, you can really short-track your progress by working with someone one-to-one and, of course, you know, whether you come and see us at our practice virtually or you find a local dietitian in your area, really finding a registered dietitian is your best expert when it comes to the food side of things.
Third thing: I mean, if you’re an employer and you’re really looking at, you know, “How do I build out more wellness initiatives for my company? I like this philosophy. I want to be, you know, modeling healthier eating habits for my team,” you know, I would say best thing is just to reach out to me directly. We can talk a little bit more about what’s going on in your organization and where different aspects of nutrition can fit. You know, obviously, we can do a virtual nutrition counseling, but we also offer corporate wellness nutrition newsletter that we co-brand with organizations that can live in internets or be email-blasted out for healthy tips. And then, there’s a lot of online nutrition courses and learnings that we’re developing this year to really help the workplace wellness market—be happy to chat with you a bit more about that.
Morgan: Absolutely. So, we’re going to have all your information linked in the description, but just for anyone who might not have a second to check that, can you just let us know where people can find you online?
Andrea: Yeah, you bet! So, our website is healthstandnutrition.com, so “stand” as in a fruit stand. And so, it’s healthstandnutrition.com, and we’ve got a section called Workplace Wellness there—and in there, we’ve also got a section called the Resource Mega Bank. And so, a lot of employers love this section. If you’re in charge of employee wellness in HR or in an executive leadership team, and you’re wondering how to build things out, this is a good place to begin in there. You’re going to find out a whole bunch of resources and articles. We’ve got a workplace nutrition score card in there, where you can kind of rank where your organization is at in the different ways that I would look at nutrition for employee health, and we’ve also got a quarterly newsletter called Enter Thrive that’s specifically for employers around employee nutrition. So, those are a few really good places to check out. So, again, it’s healthstandnutrition.com, and happy to shoot me an email. If you can’t find it, I’d be happy to be sure to get that information to you.
Morgan: I’ll make sure to have that in the description as well. This has been so helpful, Andrea. Thank you so much. Was there anything we haven’t covered that you wanted to touch on?
Andrea: Well, I think as a wrap up to everything we talked about today, I’ll give you my eating philosophy and mantra, which is, “You can eat anything—just not everything. It’s all going to come down to being intentional about your choices.” So, I’m going to say that one more time. So, “You can eat anything—just not everything. It’s all going to be about coming up with intention with your food choices.” And so, you know, “No food rules only, food love,” is what we always talk about in our practice—and that is my wish for you wherever you’re at in your health and nutrition journey is that instead of some extreme, clean eating, diet-y kind of approach, you look at sustainability and, you know, how you fit ice cream sundaes on Friday nights with your kids in or a holiday somewhere and enjoy some of those soulful foods we all love for taste. So, you’ve got to find a way to fit all of those in, and that’s where we teach!
Morgan: That’s great. Thank you so much. I really appreciate you sharing all this today.
Andrea: You are very welcome.
Morgan: Thank you so much for tuning in to this episode of The Small Business Mastermind. I hope you enjoyed this one, and I’d like to give an extra big shout-out to our guest today, Andrea, for sharing all that awesome advice. If you’d like to subscribe to the podcast, you can do so at olympiabenefits.com/podcast. And if you’d like to follow us on social media, you can find us on Instagram @sbmastermind. On there, we share lots of behind-the-scenes clips, as well as key takeaways from each episode. Alright, that’s all I’ve got for you today. I hope you enjoyed this one, and I’ll be chatting with you again very soon.
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About Andrea Holwegner
CEO, Registered Dietitian, Counseling Practice Director & Professional Speaker
Andrea the «Chocoholic Nutritionist» is founder and CEO of Health Stand Nutrition Consulting Inc. since 2000. She is an online nutrition course creator, professional speaker and regular guest in the media. Andrea is the recipient of an award by the Dietitians of Canada: The Speaking of Food & Healthy Living Award for Excellence in Consumer Education....Read more