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  • Leslie Mathews

Stay Calm. Eat On.

As I sit here preparing to write about anti-inflammatory and calming foods, I am only thinking of one thing. Chocolate. It is my second day craving it. My second day in isolation craving chocolate. So as I share this information with you, I do so with a realistic and sympathetic heart. We all love the foods that fog our brains and set our joints on fire. In stressful times, I want to lean on those foods more than I should. I am an emotional eater. Over the past year, I have found that a tiny bit is all I can handle without the comfort foods putting me in a state of discomfort!


I hate articles that have beautiful photos of decadent desserts and juicy burgers. Then they describe what those things do to my body and why I should never eat them. It is hard to hate those foods or keep them off my plate when they look so good. So I won't do that to you. No beautiful shots of processed foods in this blog!

What I will do is give a tiny glimpse into why those foods do not comfort us at all. The good feelings they bring are really SHORT and sweet. For example, the processed foods you love, brownies, cookies, cake, chips, etc give you that little sugar high when your blood sugar goes up, but if you are crashing coming off the sugar on a regular basis, you may also be experiencing increased stress, anxiety and depression.

Last year I had all three of those things just before I started on a new eating plan with the FASTer Way to Fat Loss in May. In early March the Girl Scout cookie sabotage started just before I celebrated my birthday for two straight weeks. All of the celebrating and Samoas, sent me into a brain fog-filled two-month downward slide. I eventually hit rock bottom, but only after getting shingles, letting my autoimmune disease get out of hand, missing countless workouts with swollen knees and work because I could not hold my camera, starting meds for reflux and losing a friend in my paranoid anxious state.

The other comfort foods we love don't get as much press, but they can also cause swelling and changes in our mental state. Red and processed meat, most processed foods, white food (bread, potatoes and rice), fried foods, corn oil, high fructose corn syrup, and margarine can all cause inflammation in the body, including the brain. That list includes some of my absolute favorite foods, but trust me when I say that there are alternatives that can also be loved. A great resource to get details on the effects of food on the brain is The Inflamed Mind by author Edward Bullmore. For now, you just have to trust me that the benefits of replacing those foods with nutrient rich anti-inflammatory options are life changing!


In times of extreme stress, many of us lean on easy processed foods that we love. I suspect we are all doing a little more of that these days as we are experiencing more time at home and more uncertainty than usual. After one week in isolation, I was swollen from head to toe and grumpy 24/7. I was eating all of those things above, which was also causing some major stomach issues since I stick to a pretty basic whole food diet most of the time. It did not take long to recognize that the "comfort" foods I was eating were actually making this pandemic situation even worse. So I channeled my fear of getting sick into a desire to stay healthy!


The main source of energy in my diet is produce. I can't go wrong with fruits and veggies! There are a few we cannot live without, but honestly all produce is good right now! Our fridge is always stocked with berries. Not only are they high in fiber and antioxidants that reduce inflammation, they are delicious! I have kept our orange basket stocked with mandarins and clementines this year as well. I don't think we can get too much Vitamin C right now! My other favorites for reducing inflammation are avocados, cauliflower, broccoli, Brussel sprouts, asparagus, mushrooms, grapes, peppers, tomatoes, and cherries! For pandemic purposes, I also have frozen produce on hand in case we can't get to the fresh fruit and vegetables.


My meat drawer is now filled with fish and lean meat. I love bacon, so I still get by with turkey bacon. The entree I lean toward the most when I feel my worst is salmon. I find the benefits of extra omega-3 fatty acids in fish to also have the biggest impact on my swollen joints. In general, I try to eat seafood at least three times a week. I am getting it more via the frozen section than I prefer right now, but I still feel the benefits. We do eat a little red meat, but we try to get the leanest cuts and have greatly reduced the frequency we eat it. For recipes that call for ground beef, I always use ground turkey or chicken instead.


Yes, you can have some of those carbs you love without the inflammation! My favorites include black beans, sweet potatoes, brown rice, quinoa, oats, and nuts! Look how many carbs I eat. Overnight oats is one go-to daytime meals since I realized carbs don't make me miserable! Guess what my absolute favorite carb that reduces inflammation is... dark chocolate!!! Yes, you can have chocolate and a clear head! A little red wine is good too!


Many people live with chronic inflammation, depression, anxiety and increased stress. We are all living with some of these things now that we are immersed in this new frontier of uncertainty! It was my first instinct to drown my sorrows in cookies and fruit snacks! Don't make the same mistake. If you have already started down this path, you can turn it around.

Maybe you need some of these foods to get you through next week. I get it. First try identifying things in your diet that may be triggering inflammation, anxiety or depression. Cut one thing out. Maybe you realize you are only eating highly processed foods. Can you replace some of them with fresh whole foods? If you do great all day but suffer with cravings later in the day or evening. I recommend trying some hot decaffeinated tea with some fruit of your choice when you feel like you need those processed foods.

I have found foods that make me feel good without making me feel miserable. When I focus on getting healthy, staying healthy and keeping my body prepared to fight off scary viruses, I find it easier to make really good choices at the store. Making lists, meal planning and prepping also help immensely. FASTer Way to Fat Loss helps, as they provide meal plans and guidance with food journaling via My FitnessPal. I realize that not everyone has access to that information, so I help this article helps!

Other things I use to keep my stress under control daily include meditation, exercise, board games with kids (lol, jk) and puzzles!

Stay calm. Eat well. Stay healthy!

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