Millions upon millions of us use comfort food to cope with everyday stress. Then we pack on pounds, put ourselves on strict weight-loss plans, and before we know it, we’re on edge and back to comfort food again. “This cycle is real and has nothing do with willpower,” insists Harvard-trained women’s health expert Sara Gottfried, MD, author of the new Brain Body Diet ($17.39, Amazon). “Stress triggers weight gain and blocks weight loss. What I’ve found is that when you take simple steps to help your body and brain handle stress better, everything gets better — cravings, energy, mood, memory, and sleep. You feel calmer, more resilient. And you lose weight naturally.” In fact, women report using Dr. Gottfried’s strategies to soothe away up to 15 pounds every 20 days!
Turns out, the foods we often reach for when life gets crazy — sugar, processed carbs, unhealthy fats — set off reactions that inflame our brain and overstimulate our stress glands (also known as our adrenals). “This leads to heightened stress and anxiety,” cautions Dr. Gottfried. That’s because inflamed brains cause a general unease, and as our adrenals begin to pump out extra cortisol (a hormone that readies the body for crisis), it becomes hard to relax. Cortisol also ratchets up carb cravings and triggers the stockpiling of “emergency fuel” in the form of fat. We end up overweight, tired, and wired. Dr. Gottfried’s fix: Give yourself a break from overstimulating foods and emphasize true comfort food. To do this, she suggests making these foods staples in your diet:
1. Berries and Avocados
As you detox your stress glands from overstimulating foods, you also want to nourish them. “B and C vitamins help adrenals function optimally,” the doc says. She’s a fan of B-rich avocado, greens, and flax as well as vitamin C-rich berries, tomato, and broccoli.
Slimming Bonus: Research shows that vitamin C helps increase fat burning by 25 percent. And a European study found dieters getting lots of B vitamins lose 750 percent more weight!
2. Chicken and Eggs
All healthy protein contains amino acids that keep metabolism up and hunger down. And options rich in omega-3s — including fish as well as eggs and meat from pasture-raised animals (which eat more omega-3–boosting grass) — “help build calming compounds in the brain,” says Dr. Gottfried.
Another Advantage: Omega-3s have been shown to help older women speed metabolism by 14 percent!
3. Nuts and Olives
Think of good fats as nature’s antidote to constant blood-sugar surges that send our stress response into overdrive. “Healthy fats stabilize blood sugar and have anti-inflammatory properties, so they deliver relief quickly,” Dr. Gottfried says.
There’s also evidence they trigger metabolic changes that burn 400 extra calories a day!
4. Sweet Potatoes and Cassava Chips
Other big culprits in inflammation are gluten from grains and lectins from beans, “yet the body does need carbs for healthy thyroid function so your metabolism and energy stay up,” cautions Dr. Gottfried. That’s why she suggests anti-inflammatory carbs — low-sugar fruit, non-starchy veggies, and moderate amounts of nutrient-dense sweet potatoes, purple potatoes, and even tasty chips and flatbread made from cassava.
Bonus: These options deliver nice doses of antioxidants proven to speed metabolism!
While caring for a child born with special needs, Katie Green’s stress eating quickly packed on pounds. Eventually, she managed to start eating better and exercising again, “but the weight wasn’t coming off.” Searching the internet, she found advice about cutting out sugar and gluten and loading up on the healthiest protein, veggies, and fat. “I felt less stressed and anxious, not deprived at all.” Down up to 10 pounds a month and now 60 pounds slimmer, the New York mom, 43, posts about her experiences as @KampFit on Instagram. “This way of eating,” she says, “makes you feel incredibly good!”
Heather Meador used to rely on sugar and carbs for comfort. “I couldn’t seem to stop,” admits the Texas nurse practitioner, 45. Then a co-worker turned her on to Dr. Gottfried’s approach. As a jump-start, Heather signed up to have sugar-and-gluten-free meals delivered. She felt relieved as her cravings disappeared and she shed 10, 30, 51 pounds. “My exhaustion and stress lifted, and I could handle learning to make healthy meals. Now I feel good in the skin I’m in!” For more inspiration, follow @change_for_the_heather on Instagram.
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I am taking a leap of faith and posting this out there for everyone to see. Many people in the past two years have asked me what I have done. I am sharing it for all, my eating plan for healthy change is called a 21 Day Hormone Reset by @saragottfriedmd Today is #transformationtuesday It is time for my second #hormonereset of the year. I needed a little #motivation- to remember how far I have come since the Spring of 2015. The picture on the left was a month before my first reset. It took a whole year, until Summer of 2016 for the changes to stick. I would yo-yo. Then in July 2016 I began to lose weight slowly but continuously until the summer of 2017. Since then it is all about learning to live it, maintain it. I still have more than a little adipose in the belly. It is definitely not a washboard. But here I am world! There are definitely ups and downs in this process. Why do I post? I am here to be a cheerleader or support to anyone who is interested in joining me next Monday April 16th for 21 days of reset. I am not a personal trainer. It’s not my program to sell. I am just a woman looking to support other women on their road to health. DM me if you need a cheerleader or confidant in your own journey. #changeforthebetter #fitstagram #weightlosstransformation #healthylifestyle #healthyhabits #cleaneating
Dr. Gottfried recommends you replace ingredients that stress the brain and adrenals (sugar, most starch, processed food, unhealthy fat, caffeine, and alcohol) with foods that soothe them. Most sittings should include a serving of omega-3–rich protein, one to two servings of healthy fat, lots of non-starchy veggies, and an optional serving of low-sugar fruit or root veggies like sweet potato or cassava chips/flatbread. After 40 days, experiment with eliminated foods to see how your body responds. As always, be sure to get a doctor’s okay before trying a new plan.
Breakfast: 1 cup coconut yogurt with 5 Tbsp. seeds (such as sunflower, sesame, hemp, flax and/or chia), 1 oz. chopped nuts and 1 Tbs. coconut; top with a serving of berries or any fruit.
Lunch: 4 oz. canned chunk light tuna with tomato, olives, roasted green beans, cubed roasted sweet potato (optional), butter lettuce, olive oil, vinegar, Dijon mustard, and seasoning.
Snack: 2 oz. cassava tortilla chips, such as Siete brand, with guacamole. To make your own, mash avocado with lime juice, minced garlic and salt; stir in tomato and cilantro.
Dinner: 4 oz. chicken tenders (dredge in beaten egg and a mix of almond flour, sesame, and ground flax, then bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit until done, 35 to 40 minutes); steamed broccoli
Brain Body Diet Recipe: Coconut Almond Macaroons
Coconut-Almond Macaroon Joy! Dr. Gottfried’s treat eases stress and stimulates fat burning all while satisfying your sweet tooth.
- 2 cups unsweetened shredded coconut
- 1 cup almond flour
- 2 pastured eggs
- 1⁄2 tsp. vanilla extract
- 1⁄2 tsp. salt
- 1⁄2 tsp. cinnamon
- Mix coconut and almond flour.
- In separate bowl, beat eggs; add eggs to coconut mixture.
- Add vanilla, salt and cinnamon. (Prefer a sweeter treat? Add an optional 2 to 4 Tbs. xylitol to batter.)
- With wet hands, form 12 balls. Bake on a lined sheet at 350 degrees Fahrenheit until golden, 15 to 20 minutes.
This article originally appeared in our print magazine.
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