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What We Eat Can Help Or Hinder Us

Stress Less

 StressLess is a brilliant new book by illustrator Matthew Johnstone and clinical psychologist Dr. Michael Player. Using their own experience, they help you recognise stress in your day-to-day life and manage symptoms. Here is a book extract focusing on reducing stress by better managing your weight.

Because our weight is killing us like nothing else, we’re going to start our better health journey with tips on weight loss. This might be the last thing you want to read about right now – I promise I’ll be gentle.

Let’s begin with a quick healthy-weight summary direct from WHO:

➊ Eat fewer kilojoules/calories*

➋ Limit your intake of foods high in unhealthy fats and sugars.

➌ Eat more fruit, vegetables, legumes,whole grains and nuts.

➍ Engage in at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise each week.

*Kilojoules and calories are units for the energy in food and drinks that powers all our essential ‘being alive’ needs.

But here’s some things we’d like you to add to your diet: good fats such as avocados, ethically raised- and-caught sources of proteins, and a variety of seeds like chia and linseeds.

My favourite saying is, ‘Change is the brother of acceptance, but it’s the younger brother,’ meaning we have to accept where we are before we can make meaningful change. Acceptance doesn’t mean liking or wanting the thing to stay, just that we’re aware of, and accept, the now. This will stop the shame, denial and bingeing behaviours that keep us stuck.

Stress can make us overweight

Healthy food for healthy skin

We’ve all probably overeaten or overindulged in comfort foods high in sugar, fat and kilojoules/calories when stressed. Researchers believe there’s
a link between stress and weight gain due to the role cortisol plays in metabolism and fat storage. A recent British study following a large group of people aged 50 and over found that those with higher cortisol levels tended to have a higher weight, waist circumference and body mass index (BMI). This means that the more stress hormone we’re exposed to, the higher are all our measurements and the higher is our risk of premature death.

Weight can affect sleep and vice versa

Research shows that people who sleep less than five hours a night are 55 per cent more likely to be obese. In fact, a very large worldwide study involving over 600,000 participants calculated that for every hour of sleep lost, the average 178-centimetre tall person was 1.4 kilograms heavier. It’s thought that hormones linked to increased hunger and calorie intake might be activated in short-sleepers. This could mean they reach for a sugary fix more often, or they might find themselves too bloody tired to do any exercise! Getting both our nutrition and sleep right is a key focus in WeightLess.

Battling the bulge at work

One of the many outstanding illustrations by StressLess co-author and award-winning illustrator Matthew Johnstone
One of the many outstanding illustrations by StressLess co-author and award-winning illustrator Matthew Johnstone

Fact: we spend at least 60 per cent of our awake time at work (probably more for our StressLessers!). This makes it a great place to improve your diet and physical activity, so:

■■ Prepare your own meals and snacks to avoid those tempting vending machines in or out of the office.

■■ Eat real food! Processed foods don’t keep us full and are packed with empty kilojoules, strange numbers and additives. Fill your fridge with non-packaged foods.

■■ Don’t eat your lunch at your desk, take it out for a good walk.

■■ Eat half your lunch and save the rest to get you through the 2 pm slump and 3 pm sugar craving.

■■ Try to ride out your 3 pm cravings. They’ll only last for about 10 minutes, so distract yourself.

Weightless for good

As they say in the classics, ‘It all begins with scales and a tape measure.’ Well, the classics don’t really say this but weight-loss studies do! Taking the following measurements regularly is essential to weight loss.

Measurements that count

Record these in your NOTEBOOK to help you keep track and maintain your motivation.


Do a weekly weigh-in. We recommend doing this in the buff in full view of the neighbours for extra motivation.

Waist circumference

Measurements over 94 centimetres for men and over 80 centimetres for women are a concern. This abdominal or belly fat is a problem because it’s linked to heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Measure once a month.

Number of steps

Use a pedometer or smart fitness tracker daily.
The conventional recommendation for good health is at least 10,000 steps (8 kilometres) a day.

Energy in (food/drink) and energy out (physical activity)

Do this daily for at least a few weeks until you get into the swing of things. Research shows that self- monitoring food and activity is the most powerful predictor of long-term success for weight control. Those who keep monitoring lose twice as much weight (and keep it off).

Energy In Versus Energy Out

A quick example: if you want to lose 0.5 to 1 kilogram per week, you need a daily energy deficit of 2000– 4000 kilojoules (500–1000 calories), depending on a number of factors: gender – it’s harder for women, unfortunately; resting metabolic rate (the energy your body burns just to keep you alive); and, activity level. For optimal results, focus on both what you’re putting in your mouth and how you’re moving your body. If this isn’t working, contact a health professional (page 128) as there could be a number of factors at play. Learn to listen to what your body is telling you. The healthier you are, the better you can manage stress. The basics are easy: eat regularly; eat a variety of simple, fresh, whole foods and fewer packaged foods; don’t skip breakfast; drink plenty of water; and add some omega-3 oils to your diet. Include some fermented foods (e.g. sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha) in your diet to build a healthy microbiota and improve your inner health.

Energy In

Quit the All-Or-Nothing Approach and Start Eating Moderately

These tips will improve your energy in:


Don’t worry about all the information listed – concentrate on:

Sugar : If this is the first ingredient, the food is energy- dense and you might want to think twice about it.

Energy: To lose weight, choose foods with fewer kilojoules.

Saturated fat (usuallylistedunder‘Totalfats’) : Try not to exceed 24 grams a day, and stick to items with less than 2 grams per 100 grams.

Sodium (salt): Aim for less than 120 milligrams per 100 grams.

Number of servings: Most packages contain more than one serving – you could be eating two or three.



If you’re a bit of a tight-arse like me, going to a restaurant is a treat, so you want to get your money’s worth. But most restaurants serve more than you need, so split an entrée or a main, or eat half your meal and get a doggie bag for the rest. Use the same principle for home delivery.

Sneaky food upsizes 

Just 20 years ago a US cheeseburger and fries had about 1380 and 880 kilojoules (330 and 210 calories) respectively. They’re both now more than double that.

Home meals

When cooking for yourself, try to stick to these ingredient amounts:

■■ a palm-sized piece of red meat, fish or poultry

■■ a handful of nuts and/or dried fruit

■■ a thumb-sized serve of peanut butter, hard cheese or (preferably dark) chocolate

■■ a thumb-tip-sized amount of cooking oil (try extra virgin olive oil), mayonnaise, butter or sugar.

■■ a fist-sized portion of rice, pasta, fruit or starchy vegetables

To be doubly sure you’re not overdoing it at home, put half as much food as usual on your plate. Eat slowly, then wait 20 minutes after you finish before considering any more. You might find you’re no longer hungry. Keep the extra food out of reach so you’re not tempted to scoff down more. Drinking a glass of water can make you feel fuller too.

Snacking It’s important not to feel hungry between meals because you’ll pick the wrong type of snacks and/or overeat at mealtimes. Choose nutrient-dense rather than energy-dense snacks (e.g. a piece of fruit). Try not to eat while watching TV, because you eat faster, and your brain won’t realise when you’re full. Don’t eat a snack straight out of the pack – put a small amount in a bowl to limit how much you eat.


Alcohol is very energy-dense, and we all know that drinking leads to all things bad, not least, poor food choices. Stick to just two drinks per sitting, and don’t drink every day.


Fast food feels like a good idea before you eat it, but once you do, its concentrated fats and sugars leave you bloated, lethargic and full of regret. Keep driving past those fast food outlets, or avoid streets they’re on. Try these tips:

■■ If you feel like fast food, have a glass of water and wait 10 minutes. You’ll find it was just a craving. Picture these cravings as ocean waves that you can ride out. Give them a chance to pass, and you might find you don’t want that fatty food any more.

■■  Limit fast food to once a fortnight. If that’s not toohard, consider cutting down to once a month. Make it a challenge, and reward yourself with all the money you’ve saved.

■■  Consider sharing fast food items with others.

Energy Out

energy out

These tips will improve your energy out:


If you can’t manage 10,000 steps a day, start with what’s comfortable and work your way up – every step is doing you good. The average person burns 4 kilojoules (1 calorie) per 20 steps, so 10,000 steps will burn about 2000 kilojoules (500 calories).

Start thinking about exercise differently – it’s actuallyjust moving more. You don’t have to go for a jog or do an exercise class. Think about any incidental opportunity to move around as a form of exercise.AT HOME

■■  Get off the couch and walk around the house during ad breaks.

■■  Do household chores while watching TV.

■■  Stand to read the morning newspaperor your tablet.

■■  Wash your car by hand.

■■  Do some gardening.

■■  Run around with your kids and/or dog.


■■ Use the stairs.

■■ If it won’t disturb your colleagues, move around the office when taking calls or checking emails on your mobile phone.

■■ Park your car further from work, or walk there from a different bus, tram or train stop.

■■ Hold walking meetings.


Earth Hour

If you want to lose even more weight, set a SMARTgoal to increase your physical activity. Whatever lifestyle changes you choose must be something you’ll be prepared to do in the longer term. Here are some sample SMART goals to get you started:

■■ Complete three 30-minute walks (at moderate speed) each week for one month.

■■ Play one game of golf or tennis each week for one month.

■■ Join a sports team that plays weekly. Studies have shown that people who join competitive teams are more likely to meet their physical activity goals.


Weight loss is generally 80 per cent diet, 20 per cent exercise, so make sure you look after your diet. If you’re allergic to exercise, aim for at least 10,000 steps a day for good general health. If this works well for you, consider upping your daily step goal. Taking 15,000 steps would burn around 3000 kilojoules
(750 calories) – resulting in about 0.7 kilograms of weight loss per week.

StressLess by Matthew Johnstone and Dr Michael Player, Published by Macmillan Australia, RRP $ 29.99, Illustrations by Matthew Johnstone

Written by The Carousel

The Carousel is a health and wellness site.

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