Fighting burnout with food

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When you hit burnout, the ground falls from beneath your feet and it’s like you have to stop ‘doing’ completely and let your body die a small death before you can haul yourself up and start again. Last summer, against my grand plan and to my own frustration and horror, that’s more or less what I passed through. And good food, awareness and loving support helped me find my way back up and into pastures way greener and more fertile than I had ever known. They say you have to crack to let the light in, and that is what happened with my body.

I write this because I am pretty sure I am not the first or last of us to know this process.

Quitting the office to start Rainbo and go it alone together, Ben and I took a massive leap of faith and courage and I can’t imagine where we would be if we hadn’t done it. The journey has been insane in every way. But when you make such a bold, impulsive move and your exhausted body suddenly disagrees, it’s a really hard card to know how to play. Pride, fear, responsibility and other enormous and frightening forces all come into action and it’s a scary web you have to find your way out of.

Everyone has their own route. Mine, supported by an amazing partner and a series of kind people to help heal my angry back and tired skinny framework, was food. In street food, you work such random hours that you rarely find the time to plan or shop or think ahead about the next meal. You just eat what’s round you and carry on. For us, this meant burgers, brownies, coffee and carbs. Our own food is healthy and fresh but there are only so many dumplings and salads you can eat over eighteen months of trading. You basically grab the nearest source of fuel and shove it down your mouth to get you through the day and night.

When I hit the floor after the summer, my adrenals were completely exhausted and my body as a whole was finding every way possible to shout at me to stop. It’s amazing how we can not listen – selective hearing towards our own selves. Finally I did. And I knew immediately that alongside the basics like yoga and meditation, what we put in our mouths was the first place to start healing and making amends for what I had put my body through. Ben was stronger and not as wrecked, but probably not far off either.

We bought a Vitamix and blended kilos of green veggies for breakfast and days on the move. I stocked up on wholegrains, berries, oils, nuts and super food powders and stuffed the pantry full of all the things I used to love but had lost the time to source and use. We got a weekly organic delivery box and made sure at least half of every plate we ate was piled high with veggies. We ditched caffeine, alcohol, gluten and dairy for a month, and cut back on refined sugar. At events, we would bring comically huge bottles of smoothie and be so happy to say no to free cupcakes and hotdogs – from our bones and hearts and not just our words. We felt like new people, and it continues every day, and that is why I am here writing.

In the modern world, particularly in the city, where the demands of work, technology, transport and frenzied life in general are so huge, it can be so easy to lose your way in the wellness stakes, and so hard to stop, look up and find it again. Half of us barely have the time to do our laundry and buy bin bags, let alone skip along to Planet Organic and peruse raw cacao and spirulina brands. But whatever stage you are at there are a few things you can do to keep yourself on track, and since I have come so far in my own crazy journey with this I thought I would share what I consider to be core elements of any diet where time is scarce and energy requirements are super high.

1. Stock up your larder

Unlike with processed foods, healthy wholefood cooking starts from scratch. This is all good: you know what is in your food, you’re avoiding additives and preservatives that your body doesn’t know how to break down, and you’re almost certainly passing up on huge amounts of hidden sugar that does you no favours at all. But the problem so many people come to me with is not having the basics to get themselves going. I am working on a pantry crib list at the moment but the core things that keep us going, that you can find from your local health food store, are:

a good oil with a high smoke point (the temperature at which the oil becomes harmful) to cook with: hemp and coconut are my favourites and most readily available.

– three or four grains so that you’re not making the same old quinoa every day. I generally use brown, black and red rice, millet, quinoa and buckwheat.

nuts and seeds are a great way to snack. We all know this but it can be easy to think “jeez that’s expensive for some cashews, I’ll nail some biscuits instead.” Don’t! They are such a good source or protein and energy and you can put them on absolutely anything you cook, or grab a bag for your day at work.

– nut butters and seed butters, like almond, cashew or tahini, are great protein and really versatile. I use them on toast, in smoothies, on veggies like kale or broccoli, or even just shove some on a stick of celery when I’m hungry. You can buy them in most stores, just don’t go crazy – too many nuts can be overload for the body and digestive system.

sea salt and seasonings are vital. So many people tell me they hate cooking veggies because they’re boring, but if you have enough treats to go with in the pantry you will never find cabbage boring again. Good sea salt is key for all cooking, but it should only be pink of grey. Anything else has been refined and will be depleted in minerals our bodies want and need. Soy or gluten-free tamari are also really great to season things with as an alternaive (they have more flavour and kick); ume plum seasoning is delicious and has that yummy umame taste; dried seaweed is packed with nutrients and can be crushed as a sprinkle on top of salads and veggies; and a good collection of spices and herbs to play with can always lead to some happy new inventions.

2. Up the fibre

This seems so simple yet barely any of us eat as much plant based fibre as we need to stay fit and healthy. And it doesn’t mean heaps of All Bran and Finn Crisps, it means the whole, fresh, colourful veggies, grown organically, that our bodies were designed for. They say we should eat a rainbow: variety is the spice of life and there are so many amazing vegetables to help us on our way. Fibre is our friend not only for keeping our systems clean, but also because it slows the release of sugar into the blood, buffering those manic peaks and lows from coffee and sugar that leave you feeling totally depleted. And we all know giving up coffee is another thing entirely. great if you can; help the body out if you can’t.

If you’re overwhelmed by how to get veggies into your diet, start with a blender. Throw in all the greens you can find, add nuts, bananas and berries and you will be getting a super amount of fibre each day without even noticing. Then follow a ton of healthy cooking blogs and you will soon be eating all the plants you can find. Getting a veg box delivered weekly has been an amazing way to discover new ingredients and recipes and you don’t have to worry about going to the shops or make any decisions, which is always nice.

3. Get breakfast right

It sounds so super boring but breakfast is really important. And it is the easiest time and place to consume endless amounts of sugar. This is not what your body wants first thing. Instead, help your liver out by drinking warm water with lemon when you wake up, even if tea follows (often does), and eat low GI foods like chia, oats and buckwheat for breakfast that you can prepare the night before. If you can’t find the time to do that, go with a smoothie, just blend up all the fruit or veggies you can find and you can drink it on the move. Eggs and veggies are great and good dude food for our hungry morningish men.

4. Wholefoods, not processed foods

When we say processed foods, most people think of fake nacho cheese flavouring and cheap sausages and swear they don’t go near them. But these days so much of our food is processed that you really have to stay on your toes even if you actively avoid chemicals and obscure lab ingredients. Huge amounts of processed table salt is the big problem with anything premade – if it’s in a packet, it will contain salt and / or sugars that put a huge strain on the body.

Wholefoods are foods that have not been altered or processed and from my experience, once you eat only or pretty much mostly these, you will feel so much lighter and brighter that the random cravings for intense flavour or lazy premade meals will leave you once and for all.

5. Cut out refined sugar

Impossible! you cry. But it’s such an important thing to get rid of when the body is fighting with adrenaline and crazy blood glucose levels. The peaks and crashes are so huge with refined sugar, and they leave you in a vicious cycle. Honey, xylitol, coco palm and maple are all much better replacements, but still mess up blood sugar levels, and when you really hone in on this and cut down on sweetness altogether you will feel like a new person. It is the single most effective change any of us can make, but we are programmed to love the sweet stuff and it is an enormous challenge. Buy a good sugar alternative, go day by day and retain your tastebuds. I like to make loads of quick and healthy snacks like energy bars and raw macaroons to at least keep chocolate bars and other super sweet things at bay, and gradually sweetness becomes a treat not a habit.

It is all totally possible. You just need to make friends with that miraculous thing called your body.

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