I’ve learned to eat according to my mood

Dr Nerina Ramlakhan, 56, is a physiologist, sleep and stress expert who lives in Kingston, Surrey with her daughter Maya, 16. She is the author of four books including Tired but Wired.

As a physiologist, I can see that fear and anxiety over the coronavirus has pushed us as a society into survival mode. That leads to getting angry with others. I have chosen not to watch the news as I am trying to stay in control of the effects of fear and stress on my body and also making choices each day to help me process what’s going on – taking regular breaks, getting out into nature and meditating.

My fitness week: breathing for health, dancing and mindful runs

In the past, I ran marathons but now at 56, I’m fitter in a more holistic way. Before, I would cycle 30 or 40 miles at once, but now I run outside, typically for 45 minutes. This involves stopping where I can to look at the river, the herons and cormorants and lean against a tree. The whole virus thing taught me to be more grateful for the tiny things. During lockdown, just going to my local park felt like a holiday – I appreciated it so much, knowing it could be taken away.

I also do 15 minutes stretching in the mornings – when I am working on a book, I have to be what I call ‘fit to sit’, so that means doing lots of stomach crunches and back extensions in the morning. I also do 25 minutes of meditation every day and 15 minutes of breathing exercises. The latter is based on the Wim Hof Method, created by an extreme athlete who believed breathing could help regulate the immune response. Oh, and I try and dance whenever I feel like it, whilst cooking mostly.

My diet principles

I eat according to how I feel. Every day I ask myself, ‘What demands am I facing?’ and then choose healthy foods to help me through that. For example, if I wake up feeling anxious or worried I have something small such as eight almonds or two dates, to stabilise my blood sugar before I start any exercise. Then if I am under pressure and taking a webinar, I will eat something substantial such as two eggs, half an avocado, four rashes of bacon and a piece of toast, prioritising protein and healthy fats. Running a webinar takes so much mental energy and these help with that. Otherwise, I run on adrenaline, deplete my resources and can’t sleep at night.

What I eat in a typical day

First thing pre-exercise: piece of fruit and handful of almonds or Brazil nuts

Post-exercise: scrambled eggs and spinach or avocado on toast, occasionally some bacon, or porridge with berries, ground almonds and protein powder, Darjeeliing tea

Lunch: gluten free pasta with tomatoes, peppers and other vegetables

Dinner: Dahl with spinach, a vegetable side dish, brown Basmati rice. Something sweet (see below).

The vital details

Wellbeing fix: After exercise I have a shower with the final minute being ice cold. I feel amazing afterwards and some say it helps the immune system.

Avoids: alcohol, if I am doing a webinar the next day. I don’t eat much red meat as my daughter is a pescatarian. Processed and junk foods. Gluten – it makes my joints more painful (one of the menopausal symptoms I’m getting).

Caffeine: I don’t drink coffee, it doesn’t agree with my nervous system. About two Darjeeling teas a day but never after 3pm.

Guilty pleasure: something sweet every night. Two Lindt chocolate balls, some dark chocolate or a cupcake (we’re doing a lot of baking in lockdown). I believe in rewarding yourself.

Alcohol: Tomorrow my reward will be a gin and tonic. I like wine and Champagne but G&T has less impact on my sleep.

Carbs: Basmati rice, occasionally gluten-fee pasta and bread. I don’t portion out anything, I prefer to be intuitive with my eating. I eat slowly and don’t put a lot on my plate so that takes care of portions.

Mask, yes or no? No. I prefer to do as much as I can to look after my immune system, such as getting regular exercise, eating good food, drinking the right liquids and not over-indulging and taking care of my stress levels.

Worst diet habit: White toast with lots of butter and marmalade and a big slab of cheese on the side!

How has the pandemic changed us? Everyone is meeting their shadow at the moment – any underlying negative patterns we had before are coming up for people and if we haven’t dealt with them, they’re hitting us now. For me, this was an anxiety about my self-worth and being good enough to be doing my job. I had to look inward, feel it and work on it to heal it.

— to www.telegraph.co.uk

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