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Get Fit for Stress
How to navigate stress without ignoring yourself
by Pamela Peeke, MD, MPH

What does it take to get a healthy and fit body and keep it for life? The answer lies in your ability to navigate the stresses in your life without ignoring yourself. How do you do that? If you're a man or woman up to your ears in family and work obligations, do you ever get the feeling that you're in a constant state of siege? It seems as though your best laid plans fall to the wayside as you battle learning how to cope with daily life events—sick kids, work deadlines, micro-managing bosses, traffic jams and stressed out spouses. In addition to exercise time, good healthy eating is one of the first casualties of this daily war.

The good news is that you can work it out so that you can learn to hold onto your fitness achievements despite what life tosses your way. How? It's a 4 letter word—PLAN. One of my favorite sayings is:

If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.

You must realize that one of your goals in life is to learn stress resilience, which is the ability to adapt, adjust and cope with whatever hand you are dealt. To do that well, you need to have a plan (Plan A) in mind for maintaining your healthy living, with backup plans (Plan B, C, D etc.) you can activate should something occur. Running late and no time to get to the grocery store for dinner items? How about going to Plan B and using the frozen and canned foods you already bought in case that happened?

Remember, too, that your success in learning stress resilience is also dependent upon an ability to always draw from your own wonderful innate abilities to be creative and flexible when you need to. Try not to feel so defeated when your plans have to change. Accept the Plan B or C and go with it. Have that canned soup and frozen vegetables when there is no recourse other than to succumb to meal skipping or fast food.

Here are some situations and solutions to help you along the way.

What if: "I woke up late and have to be at work for a meeting."
Then you: Slide into Plan B. Grab your canister of protein powder and scoop it into your blender with water or skim milk and some fruit and blend it quickly. Pour it into your coffee mug or a thermos, and drink it on your way to work. Grab an apple or pear as you tear out the front door and have that as well.

What if: "My child is sick in the morning, my kids miss the bus, or the baby-sitter doesn't show?"
Then you: Have your breakfast at home, pack a lunch since you won't have time to go out since you're so late to work and in your car, eat baby carrots and/or fruit on the way to work in the mid-morning.

What if: "I'll be getting home late from work and have to take the kids to soccer practice?"
Then you: Don't panic. Pack a sandwich and put it in a little cooler in your car for your dinner. Round out your dinner with other goodies you had already placed in your cooler—non fat yogurt, baby carrots, fruit.

What if: "I'm starved. The midafternoon munchies have hit and I succumb to a handful of cookies?"
Then you: Still eat dinner, but cut the portions by 1/3 and take a walk before or after you eat.

What if: "It's after dinner and my appetite is kicking in!"
Then you: Check to see if you're anxious and feeling stressed. If stress hormones are elevated above normal, they can stimulate appetite for carbs and fat. If you're not stressed out and truly feeling some hunger, then have a snack which includes protein, such as one or two pieces of low fat string cheese, a yogurt, a small fruit smoothie, or even a small cup of cereal with skim milk.

With practice, you can learn to shift from one plan to the next by realizing it's not the end of the world and your creativity and ingenuity will save the day. Stress resilience is achieved with these daily refinements and adjustments. The reward is the ability to sustain what you have attained—for a lifetime.

About Pamela Peeke

Pamela M. Peeke MD, MPH, is an internationally recognized expert on nutrition and stress. Dr. Peeke is Assistant Clinical Professor of Medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and a Pew Foundation Scholar in Nutrition and Metabolism. Dr. Peeke has done research on nutrition, stress and longevity at the National Institutes of Health. She is also a practicing internist and author of Fight Fat After Forty, Viking April 2000, all about the link between chronic stress and toxic weight—the fat that deposits in your waist and abdomen as you age. Dr. Peeke explains how to break this stress-fat cycle and become fit and stress resilient. Visit her Website.

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