Taking your nutrition to the next level with Clarissa Lenherr
We recently met with Clarissa Lenherr, a registered and qualified Nutritional Therapist to discuss nutrition and how important food is for our mind, body and soul. Clarissa practices from a clinic in Marylebone, London where she is passionate about educating people to discover and celebrate nutritious food, enabling her clients to utilise and benefit from food and lifestyle choices in order to reach their optimum state of wellbeing.
In part 2 of our Food for Mind, Body and Soul series, we build on the basics that we shared in part 1 – how what you eat impacts your mind, body and soul, and the way you think, feel and act. In this interview (about a 5-7 minutes read!) Clarissa shares a number of handy pointers to take your nutrition to the next level.
Food and its impact on our Mood
At POINT3 Wellbeing our mission is to help people “stress less and smile more”. Can you share your thinking on how important food is in terms of maintaining our mental health?
As you say, food is so important for maintaining our mental health and wellbeing, particularly in the world we now live in where stress has become so normalised. There are many things I could focus on here, but the three areas that I believe make the greatest impact on mental health are gut health, blood sugar levels and Vitamin D.
Number one – promoting good gut health. Numerous studies show how improving gut health can change people’s lives. I’ve seen people go from being depressed and anxious to coming off their antidepressants simply by working on their gut health. Probiotics are key here. Probiotics are live with good bacteria, which is really good if you’ve wiped your pre-existing bacteria because you’ve taken antibiotics or due to poor lifestyle or stress. Probiotics are found in kefir, kimchee, sauerkraut, live miso, greek or coconut yogurt and kombucha, which is talked about a lot these days. Ideally you should be getting your probiotics through your diet but if you want to take a supplement, then two I’d recommend are Symprove, which has to be kept in the fridge or Link Nutrition’s Symbiotic 7 which contains seven strains of probiotic with a food-based prebiotic base for extra gut health goodness. In each case you should take the probiotic for at least three months to feel the benefits.
The second most important advice I can give for maintaining mental health is managing your blood sugar levels by eating well balanced meals. These should include the three macronutrients of good quality fats, complex carbs, and protein. Also make sure you’re getting the RDI of 30g of fibre per day which can help slow down the digestion of your food for a more consistent energy release. Making sure you balance these food groups at each meal will help you to avoid blood sugar roller coasters, and consequently mood swings and irritability.
And finally, Vitamin D is crucial for mood. One study suggested that those deficient in Vitamin D are 11 x more likely to be diagnosed with depression! Get out in the sunlight for at least 20 minutes a day – Vitamin D is absorbed well through eyes so don’t wear sunglasses, and expose your hands and necks to absorb as much as you can naturally. Egg yolks and mushrooms are great sources of Vitamin D but it’s hard to get sufficient levels of Vitamin D just through diet and sunlight alone, particularly at this time of year. So, I recommend taking a supplement. The Better for You spray is a great option and as it is taken sublingually, it is absorbed quickly into your bloodstream.
Food as fuel for Physical Performance
We are huge advocates of movement at POINT3 Wellbeing and therefore particularly interested in nutrition from a physical performance perspective. What tips and tricks can you share, and myths can you dispel about nutrition for physical performance?
There are lots of myths when it comes to nutrition for physical performance. Each and everyone of us is biochemically, physically and mentally unique so this should be taken with a pinch of salt…
One of the things that you hear a lot about is fasted workouts and whether you should be working out fasted, i.e. not eating before working out. This is fine if you are doing a workout early in the morning but ideally no later than 8am or 9am, and only if you’ve eaten properly the night before, and your blood sugar levels and insulin levels are normal.
And you must fuel yourself within 45-60 minutes after exercise. The reason for this is you don’t want to let your blood sugar level drop so low that when you actually physically workout, firstly you’re not performing as well as you would if you had a bit of fuel, but secondly you’re letting your body go into hypoglycemia afterwards.
I have a lot of clients who come to me saying they don’t eat before they exercise, they exercise and then they don’t eat until lunch and they think they’ve done really well, as they are putting themselves into a caloric deficit. But this is the complete opposite of what a healthy person who is trying to lose weight should be doing.
Essentially, if you don’t fuel yourself within an hour after a fasted workout in the morning, you allow yourself to go into this hypoglycaemic state which is letting your blood sugar levels go below the optimal healthy range that we want it to be in. If we let our blood sugar levels go too low, our bodies are going to want a quick fix, which is when you’re more likely to crave and reach for sugar, or fast releasing carbs and quick converting fats, which are not healthy options.
To anyone exercising it’s crucial to fuel with fats and protein before (and after) – I say this across the board. Fat and protein keeps you fuller for longer, more than carbohydrates, or fruit and vegetables. Before exercise, opt for half a banana with some nut butter or a smoothie which is broken down and therefore easy to digest. Kefir is a great source of pre-exercise fuel, is naturally high in fats and as a liquid your digestion won’t have to work hard.
If you’re looking to rehydrate with electrolytes, I recommend making your own. The following recipe lasts for a week if kept in the fridge. Make with unsweetened coconut water, half a teaspoon of molasses per serving (high in iron – you lose iron especially when you do high intensity exercise), or raw honey, himalayan pink salt, fresh ginger and lemon. This mixture will give you more electrolytes than any of the drinks on the market – and it’s all natural.
And post exercise, definitely reach for something that’s high in protein and includes good quality fats – avocado, nuts, seeds, olive oil, coconut oil, good quality butter. I use my hands as a guide when it comes to portions. After a workout I suggest one and a half palms of protein – tofu/tempeh, fish, white meat, a little bit of red meat (I recommend one portion of red meat a week), shellfish, yogurt.
Food for feeding our Soul
For many of us eating is more than just about nourishment for our minds and bodies. We eat because we love food, it feeds our soul… what thinking can you share around how we can improve our approach to eating for the soul?
This is a real issue in our modern day diet – we’re being constantly told conflicting things on social media, which can be overwhelming. And it’s complicated as we’re all different in terms of our relationship with food and the way we’ve been brought up.
For me what’s important is to use the 80/20 rule when it comes to eating and enjoyment. If you eat well 80% of the time, you can afford to treat yourself 20% of the time. If you live to eat, rather than eat to live – for example, say you’re a foodie, and you spend your life trying to dampen that love of food by restricting yourself, you might feel “healthier” but you might not be happy…
I believe in something called intuitive eating. It involves stripping away diet myths and preconceptions about food and hunger – especially with women – I see it alot, with clients telling me how they have spent their life trying to dampen hunger pangs, as if they’re a bad thing that needs ignoring! What intuitive eating does is re-train you to listen to your body and eat, enjoy and savour the food your body craves. Listen to the craving, have the chocolate if you are craving it and really enjoy it. Don’t ignore it and don’t attach the stigma of guilt to it. Know that your body will innately bring you back to balance in the week. It’s when you give into your cravings every single day, that you get taste bud fatigue and you don’t actually enjoy it – that’s when it can become an issue. Food is one of the most pleasurable things on the planet, so enjoy it and don’t feel guilty. The practice of mindful eating, intuitive eating is eating for the soul.
And to finish, we like to ask the following three questions of our interviewees…
How do you keep mentally fit?
Reading, researching and studying! As a nutritional therapist it is key that I stay on top of the most up to date scientific research in the field, and continue my learning. As a member of the British Association for Nutritional Therapists we have to adhere to a minimum number of hours of extra learning, so I am always looking for new courses and lectures to attend.
Additionally, making sure I avoid the brain drain that is excess use of technology! I like to set a time every Sunday from 10-5pm where I turn off my phone, TV and laptop and instead focus on drawing, getting out into nature, spending time with family and friends. This helps me clear my brain for the week ahead, which I know will be largely spent on my computer and phone.
How do you keep physically fit?
I love to try out new classes and fitness trends, as it keeps things from becoming monotonous or routine. That being said I always like to make sure it is a balance of a few sessions of high intensity physical activity such as spinning (my favourite!), HIIT or running with less cortisol inducing workouts such as barre, Pilates and yoga.
When the weather is nice, I try to walk as much as possible, and not whilst on my phone! I listen to a podcast or audiobook and use my eyes to take in what’s around me.
And finally any tips & tricks on wellbeing?
Invest in YOU time. I try to put in 3 hours every week (not including weekends) where I have some me time. That means investing in myself and allowing myself to recuperate and relax. I think this is key for our own mental state and physical state! We sometimes need some down time, to let our brains and bodies relax. This can be anything from reading a good trashy novel, having a long bath, colouring in (one of my favourite ways to meditate) to investing in a massage or body treatment.
Thank you to Clarissa for sharing your thinking and wisdom on food for mind, body and soul with us. You can get in touch with Clarissa directly here.