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Coping: Using Nutrition to Ward Off Stress

Thu, 05/21/2020 - 09:38
Charlotte LaGuardia
Eric Striffler

It’s always sunny on the Thrive East website, where Charlotte LaGuardia, a certified nutrition specialist, offers her clients a host of services and a blog to address general concerns regarding food, health, stress, and activity.

In a bright kitchen, she’s photographed cutting avocados and massaging kale into a salad. Outside, she’s practicing yoga with a goat and striking a tree pose in a meadow. It’s aspirational and accessible at the same time. A blog offers healthy recipes, home-baked more virtuous substitutions for things like chocolate sandwich cookies, and ways to approach food that are healthier, both physically and psychologically.

This is because Ms. LaGuardia practices what is called integrative nutrition, a holistic approach to the causes of dysfunction in the body using both diet and lifestyle adjustments in an individualized plan.
The 20-something Southampton native started her business in Water Mill in 2018. It offers one-on-one nutrition counseling, group events, yoga classes, sessions devoted to cleaning out the pantry and navigating the grocery store, and more.

Ms. LaGuardia left the South Fork after high school and attended the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass., earning a degree in psychology. “My intention was to go into consulting or marketing, but when I got into the work force, my health just couldn’t sustain it.” With low energy and digestive problems, “I couldn’t find a doctor to give me a straight answer on what was going on with my body.”

She wasn’t enjoying what she was doing and decided to go back to school. She said she hoped studying nutrition would give her the understanding she needed to figure out how her body worked so she could “get to the bottom of what I was experiencing.”

Two years later, she received a master’s degree in clinical and integrative nutrition. “It’s a lot of science, but acupuncture is involved, and breathing techniques.” As a previously practicing yoga instructor, “it kind of brought everything together.”

She now feels “really great and ready to spread the word of eating well and taking care of your body.”
In her office on Scuttlehole Road, she works with individuals and groups. One of the programs she offers is a girls’ night out during which, instead of going out to a bar, the group comes to her office to talk about health and wellness topics. She also recently went completely virtual to keep up with her clients during the shutdown.

She understands the need for a quarantine, but worries that it promotes poor eating habits by leading people to stock up on foods filled with preservatives and keeping them from getting enough fresh foods. “Those processed foods won’t help you thrive.” Box pickups and deliveries from local farms, getting outside, or even exercising in the living room with a YouTube video will help break some of the unhealthy patterns of behavior that the shutdown can encourage. “We’re weeks into this and we have to be mindful that we are caring for our bodies.”

Although nutrition continues to be important, she said her clients talk more about stress these days. She has some ways to help them.

Having studied with Drew Ramsey, a nutritional psychiatrist in New York City, Ms. LaGuardia said she learned how what you eat can directly impact your mood and how you handle stress. “Where this comes from is our microbiome, our gut. When we feed it properly with fermented foods and fiber, we’re going to boost the ability of the good bacteria to grow. Those good bacteria produce about 90 percent of our serotonin, which is our feel-good neurotransmitter.” Good food in the body “sets up a better atmosphere in our brain for feeling good.”
She added that the composition of the microbiome can dictate how well you handle and perceive stressful situations. Indeed, a good deal of research has been conducted on the relationship between the gut and the brain in the past few years, with encouraging results and more studies coming.

“The focus now is mostly on that with my clients. They call up and say, ‘I’m so stressed out, I don’t know what to do.’ “ And she tells them, “Okay, we’re just going to eat really good foods, add in more fermented products, and then tap into things like breathing.”

Two of her favorite breathing techniques to activate the parasympathetic nervous system are humming (covered in the first “Coping” column on March 26) and box breathing. “They activate the calm side of your body. I personally use it and recommend it to all my clients. It’s incredibly helpful at any time of the day.”
She also recommends physical activity, starting with 20 minutes a day doing something that increases the heart rate, particularly outside in nature on a sunny day. Although we are fortunate to have the beach and trails to use, she noted that going to a crowded beach can be triggering for her and some of her clients. “So, a little disclaimer on getting outside: Do it in a place you can relax and feel comfortable.”

How to Do It
Box breathing involves breathing in, holding the breath, exhaling, and holding the breath out, each for a count of four. Setting a phone timer for a couple of minutes will allow for full concentration on the breathing.

When Ms. LaGuardia comes home after errands or work, to decompress she uses yoga and an easy shower meditation “where you feel like the water is washing your stress away.”

She also recommends a tablespoon of fermented foods daily. “Sauerkraut is great; kimchi is great. It fills the gut microbiome with really good bacteria to help with the production of your neurotransmitters, to help with your coping mechanisms.”

Provisions, which is offering pickup in Sag Harbor, stocks fermented foods. Ms. LaGuardia also likes a company on the North Fork, The Ferm, which makes its own versions and delivers to the South Fork for free. “They have great kimchi and homemade kombucha. . . . It’s a big part of my health routine.”­

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