We do some pretty awful things to our bodies in the modern workplace. Many of us stay stationary for hours on end, fail to drink enough water, over-caffeinate, under-nourish, and push our bodies to do more, more, and more.
How we treat our bodies has serious ramifications for the quality and quantity of work that we do. None of us can feel integrated and energized to do our best work when our bodies are exhausted and starved of the nutrients that they need. Tony Schwartz writes, “Taking care of yourself physically won’t turn you into a great performer - it’s just once piece of a more complex puzzle - but failing to do so assures that you can’t ever perform at your best (emphasis mine)."
In the past few months, I've gotten serious about working with my body instead of against it during the workday, and I've noticed a real shift in the quality of my work and the way that I feel at the end of the day. I've had the privilege of working with Amanda Helser, who is a certified Nutritional Therapy Practitioner (NTP) and a Western herbalist. I asked Amanda if she'd be open to sharing some of the tricks and knowledge she's given me in our work together, and she said yes!
In our conversation below, you'll find some seriously helpful insights into how you can support your body (which, of course, includes your mind!) during your workday.
Me: What are some of the harmful health habits that you see a lot of working people exhibit?
Amanda: It comes down to movement and meals. Our bodies are not meant to sit in front of a computer doing repetitive movements. Sitting for long periods of time with poor posture contributes to sluggish digestion. Going for a brisk walk every day to get your blood circulating will improve digestion, energy, and blood flow to your brain.
Another harmful habit is caffeination instead of balanced meals. We often mistake our low energy, typically mid-morning and mid-afternoon, for a need for caffeine. The 3 o'clock soy latte or sugar craving to get through the day is our body's way of saying, "Hey we're crashing from a lack of a balanced lunch." If your lunch consists of mainly protein and fat with vegetables, with low simple carbohydrates (grains), then your body has slow-burning fuel to keep your energy up and your appetite satiated well through the afternoon.
Me: One thing I've been hearing about among working professionals is something called "adrenal fatigue." Can you talk a little bit about that and how it might show up in the workplace?
Amanda: Adrenal Fatigue is a deficiency in the functioning of the adrenal glands. Normally, our adrenal glands secrete specific amounts of steroid hormone, cortisol, which is the hormone that shows up in our stress response. Too much physical, emotional, environmental and/or psychological stress can deplete your adrenals, making everything seem overwhelming and exhausting.
Typically, it begins with an over-reaction to stress. For example, traffic sending you into a rage or a deadline at work that puts you on an emotional roller coaster. Our adrenals become fatigued after constantly taxing them in an overly stressful lifestyle. Regular, balanced meals are extremely important for someone with depleted adrenals. Low or irregular blood sugar is in itself a stressful situation that taxes your adrenals.
Here are some signs of adrenal fatigue to look for: difficulty getting up and going in the morning, craving salty foods, everything feeling like a huge effort, taking a long time to recover from illness, constant snacking on sugar or caffeine, 3 or 4 o'clock afternoon drag, feeling less focused and difficulty staying on task.
Me: Unfortunately, I've seen all of those signs in every workplace I've visited. How do you think our workplaces would change if we took better care of our bodies and were more in tune with what they needed?
Amanda: I can think of quite a few ways:
- fewer sick days
- increased productivity (and maybe, as a result, shorter work days)
- reasonable expectations for work load
- more laughter and joy
- more focused time on work tasks and less time spent on distracting things like social media
- longer lunch breaks with time for exercise
- weight loss, especially around the mid section (this is where people with poor adrenal health tend to put on weight).
Me: What are a few easy, simple changes that working people can make to be healthier today?
Amanda: Changing how we react to stress starts with nourishing our bodies with a balanced diet. This is important because how and what we eat communicates to our body's nervous system what kind of response we want to create: one of “fight or flight” that halts digestion and gets you pumped to run from the threat, or one of “rest and digest” that promotes good digestion and optimal energy balance.
- Start with balanced meals. Combine healthy fats, proteins, vegetables, and a few whole grains at every meal to provide a steady source of energy. All of these macronutrients break down at different rates to sustain energy levels.
- Eat in a peaceful setting away from your desk. Sit down, take 3 deep breaths and smell your food. This ritual starts the process of good digestion. Chew your food well.
- Avoid sugar and caffeine as a general rule. Once in a while is fine, but an everyday habit will deplete your energy. Try a healthy snack high in protein before reaching for the coffee or cookie.
- Go to sleep before 10:30pm. This is before your second wind, which will keep you up until 1:00 or 2:00am. Try to turn off all electronics by 8:00pm. The light of electronic screens is especially stimulating.
- If it's ever possible, sleep until 9:00am. This is extremely restorative to the adrenals.
- Let exercise be something you enjoy-- not just another life stressor. Change up your exercise routine. It doesn't have to be painful or sweaty or long, but make sure you have at least a little fresh air and movement every day.
Me: You're awesome! How can people work with you?
Amanda: I work with local or distant clients to help them balance their energy through eating a delicious whole foods diet. It starts from the inside out! You can reach me at www.coevolutionnutrition.com, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit us on Facebook.
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