All blog posts from Dr. Allott are provided for educational and informational purposes only. As Dr. Allott is also a licensed medical practitioner, we must make it clear that nothing on the blog is intended to constitute medical advice, consultation, recommendation, diagnosis, or treatment. If you are concerned about your health, please seek appropriate care in your area.


The Science of Hope Applied to Holiday Eating

As we move into the holidays and start planning the 60-day sprint, I am reflecting on what has helped me through crunch times and sprints this year. HOPE made a difference.

In October, I was blessed to speak at the Kitsap County Resilience Summit. The keynote speaker was Chan Hellman Ph.D. from the University of Oklahoma. For the last decade he has been researching hope with individuals with high ACES (Adverse Childhood Events Scores). His new book, Hope Rising: How the Science of HOPE Can Change Your Life, will be available on Amazon in late November. I highly recommend it!

Here is a summary. He distinguishes hope from wishes. “Hope is the belief that a thriving future is possible and that you have the power to make it so. A wish is something that has no steps towards making it real and that you don’t have any influence over.” (p31 Hope Rising).

So let’s set our goals and raise our HOPE to get through the holidays with a little more self-compassion and self-care, and enter the new year with renewed resilience.

According to Dr. Hellman we need two things to raise our hopes and move toward them. Willpower and Waypower. Willpower is a combination of personal motivation for the goal and fuel supply for the brain to have the energy and mental clarity to stay focused on the goal and hold onto the hope. Waypower is the pathway to get it done. It’s the small little steps of success that lead you down the path toward your goal. We often need support from others for both the willpower and the waypower. I love the definition of hope used at Camp HOPE, a camp for children surviving domestic violence, that is shared in this book. Hope is “believing in yourself, believing in others, and believing in your dreams.”

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So what are your holiday hopes? Do you have steps identified along a path to achieve them? Are they really goals that you, personally, want for you or your family? Which ones are you sure of? Which ones do you need to strengthen your Hope Plan around?

Here are some Hopes that I often hear people talking about for the Holidays:

  • Seeing family or having solitude

  • Going hiking, seeing a holiday show

  • Cooking traditional or non-traditional food

  • Seeing the holiday lights

  • Not over eating

  • Managing holiday winter depression

For those who want to learn more, here is a link to a presentation given by Chan Hellman on this topic, titled Pathways of Hope. He also has a number of videos on YouTube.

10 Tips For A More Enjoyable Holiday Season

It is never too early to create a plan to build willpower and practice waypower for your holiday eating, especially if your desire is to weather the season feeling your best and without unreasonable weight gain.

These 10 tips may serve as a thoughtful steps through the challenges that come during the most food-seductive time of year.

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1. For the months of November, December and January, mark the days on your calendar for “free eating” - a time to enjoy eating whatever you want.

2. When sugar cravings are especially high during the holidays, turn to protein: eat protein every 3 hours.

3. This is the time of year when exercise routines are often disrupted, so plan shorter workouts such as 10 minutes of walking, complete 20 squats, do a 20-count of plank, or 10 sit ups. I like calisthenics because I can break up the exercise routine throughout the day and still receive the benefits.

4. In early December make an appointment for after January 15th to meet with a friend for a walk, see a nutritionist or exercise person of choice and start a new routine. By mid-January you’ll know what your goals are for the New Year and will be open to assistance and ready for action.

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5. Include on your gift list a fitness band (a step-tracker, or other similar device) along with time from a tech savvy family member or friend to assist you in setting up the gadget. Fitbit and Jawbone are two programs that I have observed as really excellent, but there are others as well. Don’t forget: walking 10,000 steps a day changes health. This level of movement prevents diabetes, improves the quality of most sleeping and supports positive mental health. Increasing your daily movement will be far easier than you might imagine, when using one of these convenient programs.

6. Commit to eating a protein-rich breakfast daily.

7. Consider purchasing a full spectrum light for where you eat breakfast. It is a less expensive alternative is buying a full spectrum lightbulb for a lamp you already have.

8. Be outside at least 10 minutes a day, even on rainy or cloudy days.

9. Thoroughly enjoy food that you are eating, regardless of what it is. Stop to notice the taste, color, texture, and what you really like about it. Don’t feel guilty; guilt comes with no benefits. Have a plan to get your eating back on track the next day.

10. If you are tired, try a 20- to 40-minute nap.

For more Waypower ideas, check out our Holiday book, Surviving the Holidays, available on Amazon.

What diet types contribute to depression and anxiety?

I am reluctant to write this post. I’m sure I’m going to make a few people mad. In last month’s Connectors Meeting there were questions about how different diet types contribute to mental health concerns. When a person's diet choice restricts food categories, they can find over time that their diet is contributing to increased anxiety and depression. This is because a diet that limits food groups can lead to nutrient deficiencies if health metrics are not carefully monitored through diagnostic labs.

In this post I’ll review some things to watch out for when eating significant amounts of highly processed foods, following vegetarian or vegan diets, and keto/paleo/Atikins types of diets.

Highly Processed Food Diets

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Diets high in processed foods have been shown to increase depression and anxiety. These are diets with lots of white foods (bread, rice, potatoes, pasta, muffins, bagels, chips, sweets, fast food). With this diet, when I look at an individual's labs what I typically see are deficiencies in nutrients that help to synthesize dopamine and serotonin. Common deficiencies are protein, B vitamins, magnesium, zinc, omega 3, Vitamin D3, and fiber. Additionally, there is increased inflammation as indicated by elevated C-reactive protein (CRP) levels. Inflammation contributes to depression, fatigue, bipolar, cardiovascular disease, dementia, and diabetes, to name a few concerns. Dr. Felice Jacka provides a whole body of research about the impact of diet on mental health. Here is her seminal paper: Association of Western and traditional diets with depression and anxiety in women.

Vegetarian/Vegan

When I see vegetarians and vegans in my office, they tend to be very anxious individuals and the anxiety often leads to depression. I’m not saying that all vegetarians and vegans struggle with anxiety and depression. Rather, that individuals who are anxious and depressed and vegetarian tend to have higher levels of anxiety and depression due to nutrient deficiencies. Their anxiety is often caused by fluctuations in blood sugar levels because of the low carbohydrate to protein ratio in many of the foods they typically consume.

For example, let’s consider a bean burger. Beans have some protein and some carbohydrates. The bread is all carbohydrates. So this bean burgers contain a lot of carbs and not a lot of protein

Clinically, I have seen anxiety decrease significantly when we assure that they are getting enough protein throughout the day (8 grams per 20 pounds of body weight or at least 65 grams divided throughout the day for anyone over 140 lbs.)

There is a large body of research that suggests vegetarians have better physical health then omnivores. Vegetarians tend to have lower body mass index and cardiovascular disease. However, an Australian study with 9113 participants indicated that vegetarians and vegans have more anxiety and depression then omnivores.

Here are two more studies that may be of interest:

For vegetarians, the labs that I carefully look at are total protein, Omega 3, ferritin (iron stores), B vitamins, and Vitamin D3. In my client base, vegetarians and vegans tend to carry less muscle mass and more fat mass.

For vegans, I will also look to see what their primary sources of fats are. The addition of coconut milk and oil can help with fatigue caused by a lack of cholesterol in their diet; consuming enough cholesterol is important because it helps synthesize hormones.

Keto/Paleo/Atkins

I am going to make a “no duh” statement… But it’s one we often forget: Weight does not determine health.

High-fat mass can impact health, but it’s not everything. I’m far more concerned about an individual's ability to be self-compassionate, eat primarily health-sustaining foods, engage in some level of regular movement or exercise, sleep well, and have healthy labs.

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I have seen a number of individuals who started on a keto diet (low carbohydrate with high protein and high fat) to lose weight. However, after the initiation phase of just meat and fat, they did not add fruits or veggies back into their diets for years. They explain that primary reason for staying with this phase is because adding back fruits and veggies caused them to gain back the weight they had lost. This is true, because when we do quick weight loss programs it’s hard to not do quick weight gain as well. However, there are some serious health consequences not eating fruits and vegetables.

One of the consequences is that they became very low in B vitamins and Vitamin K. For women following this type of dietary restrictions, they started having heavy menses because their blood was not clotting well. This then also led to iron deficiency, which contributed to their story of depression/fatigue.

Check out these articles:

In conclusion

Diets that support physical health do not always support mental health. Diets that are low in nutrient dense foods can contribute to mental health concerns through presentation of depression/fatigue and hypoglycemia/anxiety. When someone is considering medications or has tried medicines without the expected positive impact, it’s worth suggesting that they ask their primary care providers for a laboratory workup for fatigue. Going to a naturopathic physician, nutritionist, or acupuncturist to have their diet evaluated for deficiencies that could be contributing to their mental health status is also a good option.

Here are some additional resources:

Not Hungry in the Morning?

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You or someone you know may not be eating breakfast. "I’m just not hungry." Or you have breakfast when you get to work – 2 hours later. Just to be clear, breakfast is the meal that breaks the sleep fast, and your body expects to receive food within one hour of waking. 

Why would someone not be hungry in the morning? It’s not because you ate a big meal in the evening. I know when I have my Thanksgiving meal at noon; I am hungry again before bed. 

So why don’t you feel hungry when you wake up? If your glucose (brain fuel) level dropped too low while you were sleeping, your liver would have already received the signal to deliver a cocktail of hormones that tells the body to make fuel for the brain – and part of the cocktail is adrenaline. When adrenaline is in the system, we tend not to feel hungry. Historically, adrenaline signaled that someone or something was trying to hurt us and we should run; running and eating are not tightly wired together. 

Clinically, the short-term consequences of skipping breakfast happen about 8 hours later. You might be fatigued, and your lizard brain takes charge. This increases the likelihood that you will overeat, have more alcohol before or at dinner than planned, and have passive evenings.

What are the long-term consequences of skipping breakfast?  When we skip breakfast, we set up a cascade of stress hormones that are working to maintain our fuel supply. The most recent studies suggest that not eating breakfast causes:

  • increased calorie intake during the day,
  • Increased stress/inflammatory hormones, such as cortisol and insulin,
  • increased weight gain and adipose tissue/body fat,
  • increased cholesterol and blood pressure, and 
  • increased cardiovascular disease.

What to do about the fact that you just don’t feel hungry? Typically, a quarter cup of fruit juice or some other quick-acting sugar, such as a teaspoon of honey, will get your body to send the hunger signal within 20 minutes. Then, you can have breakfast. For the people who are not eating because they are jumping out of bed to go to work, try putting a protein shake in the refrigerator the night before so you can grab it on your way out in the morning. If you do this for about a week, you might find that your hunger signal kicks in more easily in the mornings. 

Do you skip breakfast? Try the experiment of starting your day with food that has protein (14-20 grams) + carbs + fiber + fat. This Shortcuts post has some ideas for breakfast. Observe the following changes:

  • less anxiety, irritation, and agitation in the mornings
  • more energy and mental clarity in the day
  • less overdoing intake of sugar, alcohol, or snacking 8 hours after waking
  • better sleep 
  • increased ability to participate in after-work activities that are important to you. 

Tell us about your experience on the Dynamic Paths Facebook page or add a comment to our blog. 

Shortcuts to a Quick Breakfast

  • Ready-to-drink protein shake (Odwalla Protein Shake or Orgain protein shake) with an apple
  • Protein bar: Cliff, Zing, Stinger, or high-protein Kind bars
  • High protein Greek yogurt (Fage, Chobani) with walnuts, almonds or cashews and raisins, an apple or 1/2 a banana
  • Apple, carrot and/or celery with 4 Tbsp of nut or seed butter (almond, cashew, or tahini)
  • Whole eggs: 1-2 scrambled/boiled/fried with a handful of veggies and toast or sweet potato
  • Breakfast burrito with scrambled eggs, veggie sausage or refried beans, a handful of veggies, and cheese
  • Make own protein shake with whey or rice protein powder, dark berries, chocolate powder, coconut milk and water
  •  My favorite –  Dinner!

Share your favorite breakfast ideas by commenting below!

Eat to Support Sleep

This month we are discussing how to improve sleep. Eating protein before bed can help with nightmares, night terrors and night waking.

But what kind of protein and how much?

If we look at the Optimizing Brains Chart (page 2), we see that 3 ounces (about the size of a deck of cards) of any kind of meat or fish is about 20 grams of protein, which is roughly what a person can absorb and muscle can use in an hour.

For sleep we may not need that much. I suggest starting with 2 ounces (not quite a deck of cards), or 10-12 grams of meat or fish protein. I usually just have people have meat without anything else.  For vegetarian sources, 2 tablespoons of nut butter, or ½ cup of quinoa or cottage cheese often does the trick.

On-The-Go Protein Sources

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Sometimes, between meetings or when on the road, I need a protein snack to get me through until I can site down for a meal. If I know I'll be having that meal in an hour or two, something with 8-10 grams of protein is ideal. If it's going to be longer than that, I'll reach for something with closer to 20 grams of protein as a one-off meal replacement.

Protein bars that have between a 1:1 - 3:1 ratio of calculated carbs to protein, are made with real ingredients (meaning I can pronounce and recognize all the words), no artificial sweeteners (manitol, stevia, aspartame), and - for me - no gluten, are ideal. 

Remembering that calculated carbs are total carbs minus fiber, here are some of my favorite protein bars that meet the above criteria*. I have indicated which flavors I like, but note that there are some variations in nutritional values among the different flavors - so don't forget to read the label!

•  Stinger Protein Bars (Mint Almond) - 17 grams calculated carbs, 10 grams protein, less than 2:1 calculated carbs:protein ratio. Gluten free, but not hypoallergenic, Has chocolate! 

•  Zing Bars (Double Nut Brownie) - 14 grams calculated carbs, 10 grams protein, less than 2:1 calculated carbs:protein ratio. Gluten free, soy free. vegan. Has chocolate!

•  Square Bars (Toasted Coconut Crisp) - 21 grams calculated carbs, 10 grams protein, 2:1 calculated carbs:protein ratio. Gluten free, dairy free, soy free but not hypoallergenic.

•  Clif Bars (Chocolate Chip Peanut Crunch) - 34 grams calculated carbs, 10 grams protein, ~ 3:1 calculated carbs:protein ratio. Has chocolate!

•  Clif Builders (Vanilla Almond) - 26 grams calculated carbs, 20 grams protein, close to 1:1 calculated carbs:protein ratio. With 20 grams of protein, this is more of a meal replacement than snack - but you can always break it up into chunks.

•  Rise Protein Bars (Almond Honey) - 16 grams calculated carbs, 20 grams protein, less than 1:1 calculated carbs:protein ratio. With 3 ingredients (almonds, honey whey protein) - this is as simple as it gets! Gluten free, soy free.

•  Kind Protein Bars (Double Dark Chocolate Nut) - 12 grams calculated carbs, 12 grams protein, 1:1 calculated carbs:protein ratio. Has chocolate! 

Other great on-the-go snacks are:

•  Krave Jerky (beef or turkey, flavored or not) - 10-11 grams calculated carbs, 10-11 grams protein, 1:1 calculated carbs:protein ratio,. Some choices are gluten free. Chewable!

 • Trader Joe's Nut Packs- Protein to Carb ratio will vary. Getting the individual packs will limit the unchecked grazing and prevent eating a pound of nuts -- which can be done in a day. 

Post a comment below to share some of your favorite on-the-go protein snacks.

*Note: I am not affiliated with these brands in any way.

Food of the Month: Cashews

Throughout 2018 I am going to highlight a food or product that helps us fuel our brain and body. 

If you don’t know about The World’s Healthiest Foods website, I love it. George Meteljan has done a great job describing the benefits of individual foods and why they are healthy for us. He mostly focuses on physical health. I will add to this and describe why the food also promotes good mental health. 

Cashews 

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If you enjoy cashews, a handful of them as a midday snack is a great fuel to stabilize the brain before you go home to the kids. First, it's a good protein source with almost 8 grams of protein per 1/4 cup. It's also loaded with good (unsaturated) fats which not only help your heart but also help the myelin sheath of your brain. The big bonus to cashews is that they are high in copper and magnesium. I am often thinking about whether an individual is getting the right nutrients to synthesize dopamine and serotonin and both of these minerals are needed for the synthesis of neurotransmitters for our brain. 

Magnesium helps calm, and thus organizes nerve activity; it can help with depression, anxiety and sleep. Copper helps convert dopamine to norepinephrine and serotonin into melatonin. In my office, I check for copper deficiency. People with overt copper deficiency will be able organize chaos and complete tasks (dopamine characteristics), but they don’t get any pleasure out of doing it (low level of norepinephrine). Sometimes they also have problems sleeping.

Since high levels of copper can cause problems for both physical and mental health, if I am going to supplement I do it carefully. I would not recommend supplementing copper without lab work. However, increasing copper through food sources is a different story. When we eat whole foods and have a diversity of foods in our diets, it's challenging to overdose on nutrients. If you don’t like cashews, feel free to eat other nuts as a snack. All of them have a healthier profile than the sugar-carb treats that are so easily shared at work. 

Do you have favorite foods, or foods or products that you're curious about? Post a comment below to let me know what you're interested in learning more about.

Do you "sheet cake"?

I laughed pretty hard when I watched Tina Fey's sheet caking skit on SNL's Weekend Update. It perfectly captured the way many of us (at least from time to time) use sugar to calm our anxiety.

The physiology that explains why this works can be found here, but in short: the sugar in sheet cake gives us a readily available glucose source that tells our lizard brains that everything is going to be ok.

What's missing from the skit is the ensuing sugar crash, which can leave us feeling even worse than before.

For a longer-lasting fix to calm anxiety, eat your favorite source of protein first. Then go ahead and indulge in that sheet cake if you still want it. I'm guessing the speed at which you eat - and the quantity you eat - will be less than without the protein. By focusing on adding protein with carbs,  mostly complex carbs but sometimes sheet cakes, you can avoid the sugar hangover and not let the stress of the night before move with you into the next day. 

Addressing the Physical Causes of Anxiety

In February-March of this year I held a live online 3-part training Addressing the Physical Causes of Anxiety. We work with our anxiety and other people’s anxiety all the time. Anxiety can create challenges at work or within our family. We know what questions to ask about what makes us emotionally anxious; but what if part of the cause of our anxiety or the anxiety of the people around us is physical?

The recorded webinars and handouts from the three sessions is now available:

  1. Naming and Taming Anxiety
  2. Eating to Reduce Anxiety
  3. What to Ask Your Doctor

Everyone who purchases this program will receive updated materials and will be able to interact with me about this content, by email, through 2017.

Based on the key educational points that I review with my individual clients, this content represents a value over $700. Your cost for the full online training package: $150

Why eat protein?

In the fast pace of today's world, we all want to have more energy and mental clarity. Many of us get paid for our ability to think and make effective decisions within a tight timeline or schedule. Studies show that our ability to concentrate, have self control, assess a situation, and creatively problem solve for good decision making is determined in large part by the physical resources our brain.

Small frequent meals that contain protein help the brain synthesize dopamine and serotonin, and stabilize blood glucose to help you feel better. It is also important to eat vegetables, fruits, and whole grains.

Benefits of eating enough protein
• Less fatigue, particularly in the afternoons
• Better sleep
• More energy
• Hungry less often
• Better, more stable moods
• Higher metabolism from having a higher muscle mass

In this video, Dr. Allott talks about:

  • How food affects the brain, energy levels and mental clarity,
  • How to differentiate among trauma, anxiety and hypoglycemia, and
  • How to differentiate between depression and fatigue

Included in this is an overview of some key research, the physiology involved, and some tools that can be used to help people who need a little more bandwidth to lower anxiety and depression, decrease fatigue and end early morning waking insomnia.