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HEALTH

You Docs: Tips on coping with stress, learning to like new foods

Monday, October 29, 2012 - 12:01 am

Q: Overload alert! I got fired (downsized), my mom's moving into assisted living and now I've developed irritable bowel syndrome. Can you throw me a lifeline here? — Molly P., Lexington, Ky.

A: If contending with daily life feels like you're doing squats with a 300-pound weight on your shoulders, we're here to lighten the load and help you tone your coping muscles.

Then, when stuff happens (and it surely will), it won't weigh so heavily on you. And remember that dealing with occasional adversity is what gives you the skills to keep your life on track and avoid stress-related health problems. So don't let a bad patch throw you.

Here's our two-step guide to regaining resilience and lessening stress.

Soothing your gut: Easing the pain, constipation and/or diarrhea of irritable bowel syndrome overlaps with de-stressing your life. While this syndrome may be triggered by brain-gut miscommunication, bacteria or even food sensitivities, emotions can play a big part. To ease your IBS, try:

•Practicing 10 minutes of meditation a day. ( www.ClevelandClinicWellness.com has instructions.)

•Getting 7-8 hours of sleep a night.

•Taking probiotics to balance good/bad bacteria in your intestines. We like ones that come in a stomach-acid-resisting hard shell.

•Starting a walking program (aim for 10,000 steps a day). It regulates body chemistry and emotions.

•Eliminating from your diet any grain that's not 100 percent whole, as well as added sugars or sugar syrups and trans fats. Go for minimal saturated fats. Clearing out cruddy food builds strength in body and spirit.

Building resilience: Bounce back from stressful situations by upgrading the foods you eat, supplements you take and physical exercise you get. (See why we said getting IBS under control also helps you cope with emotional challenges?)

Add in support from friends and family (make sure to ask how they are, too!) and consciously stating things positively (it changes how you feel), and you're ready to handle whatever life dishes up!

Q: My 6-year-old nephew eats only beige food, like plain pasta with butter, French fries and fried chicken. At least that's what I hear from my (never met a vegetable she liked) sister. But when I take him out for lunch, he'll eat a salad or a big fruit cup with yogurt for dessert. How can I help her get the kid to eat right at home? — Michael M., Boston

A: Sounds like your nephew is imitating what he sees around him. Not surprising, since kids follow their parents' behavior about everything from physical activity to food preferences. I bet your sister is a bit food-phobic about some flavors — and your nephew learns from watching what she eats, not from listening to what she preaches.

So, you may be able to help her expand her flavor favorites at the same time she works to expand his. Success will depend on the two of them taking this journey together. Half of adults who have a bad childhood food memory never try that food again! If she tries to force your nephew to eat “but they're good for you!” foods, it can backfire.

What will work? For her: You may be able to help her understand that improving her own food habits can change her health profile — and her son's — for the rest of their lives. And you can help her discover how tasty veggies can be. Maybe you can whip up a few samples for her to try: slow-roasted root veggies; a spinach souffle; or a vegetable pizza.

For her son? She should first try adding more healthy choices to his (and her) plate, not eliminating what's been standard fare. It might take a dozen times for him to try the new food. She shouldn't get mad about it.

Food confrontations can make kids equate food with conflict and contribute to avoiding healthy foods. The road to a healthier life starts with one big bite for Mom, one small bite for her son.

Dr. Mehmet Oz is host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” and Dr. Mike Roizen is Chief Medical Officer at the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute. Submit your health questions at www.doctoroz.com.