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Monday, October 15, 2012

Eating for HSC Success

With the exam period upon us and hundreds of thousands of high school students completing their final exams, stress levels within the family home are likely to be at an all time high. Getting your teen to eat well during this intense period may be more challenging than usual, but is crucial to ensure they are at their best mentally and physical throughout the entire exam period.

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day for all of us but is of utmost importance on the day of a big exam. Unfortunately nerves and stress are both likely to impact on appetite the morning of exams. It is absolutely imperative that some sort of breakfast is eaten on exam days. Skipping breakfast has been proven to reduce the ability to concentrate and remain focused throughout the morning and hence must be seen as a priority. Ideally a breakfast option that combines both low GI carbohydrates and lean proteins will sustain your teen throughout the morning. Good choices include eggs on wholegrain toast or oats or muesli with yoghurt and fruit. If solid food is not an option, try a liquid meal breakfast drink or protein shake. For worst case scenarios, a couple of dry crackers with spread or a muesli bar will be better than skipping breakfast altogether.

A second dietary factor to consider for busy students is whether they, particularly the girls are getting enough iron. Many teenage girls will cut back on red meat in their later high school years, but lean red meat is the best source of readily absorbable iron and ideally needs to be consumed in small amounts 3-4 times each week. If your teen appears abnormally tired, it may be worth having a blood test to check their iron levels and try and get them to eat red meat regularly throughout the exam period.

Finally, pay particular attention to how much caffeine and other stimulants your teen is consuming. Energy drinks, coffee and caffeine tablets may provide a short term energy burst but they can also result in increased heart rate and anxiety, insomnia and fluctuating blood glucose levels – all less than ideal symptoms for already stressed teens. Encourage your teen to drink water and herbal tea, limit their coffee intake to just 1 to 2 cups each day and encourage them to get plenty of rest during this time. Remember that small regular protein rich snacks of nut bars, protein drinks or dairy food will help to keep them alert and better able to concentrate and a good night sleep is sometimes the best thing for a tired and stressed out brain.


Wednesday, October 10, 2012

When a drink becomes a problem

A disclaimer before I begin this piece, I enjoy a drink. A glass of wine with a friend or a few vodkas on a big night out is a part of my life, as enjoying a few drinks each week is a part of many people’s lives. This column is not about a drink or two enjoyed occasionally and socially. It is not even about enjoying a glass or two of wine each night over dinner. This column is about drinking habits that are negatively impacting on your relationships, your health and ultimately your life. And unfortunately this is the type of drinking that we see far too often in Australia – ½ a case or a bottle or more on a daily basis that is not helping you to relax and unwind like you are telling yourself it is, it is serving as a crutch and escape from the real issue.

From a health perspective, excessive alcohol consumption causes two main issues – the first is that alcohol is relatively high in calories and hence it is easy to gain weight when we drink too much. Individuals who drink too much alcohol over many years often develop an alcohol fat apron around the abdominal area – for women this can make them appear pregnant, while for men a hard packed solid mass which is exceptionally hard to budge. The other issue, which is perhaps the worse of the two, is that excessive alcohol consumption results in disinhibit ion and lethargy -  you do and say things you should not, far less gets done, mood is impeding and basically you function at a much lower level than you could be at any point in time. Occasionally this is no issue but on a daily basis, this pattern of behaviour starts to destroy lives.

You know the stories – couples fighting after one partner have drunk too much again, someone passed out in front of the television at 9pm, the aggressive  and non-personable behaviours that can almost be 100% attributed to drinking too much. And alcohol and the perception of escaping pain and stress that it offers becomes a habit very, very quickly. What started as a twice a week habit is now a nightly one, in double the amounts that you once consumed. As you are used to now drinking this much it seems normal to you, once it starts to affect your health, your daily performance and your relationships, it is a problem and a problem that needs to be looked at more closely.

Signs that alcohol may be an issue in your life are as follows – if you cannot go a night without a drink, if you regularly pass out after a few drinks or if you cannot remember the night before, it is time to take action. One option that works for many is a complete break from alcohol – sometimes all that we need is a period without the substance whether it be a particular food or in this case alcohol to remind us of how much we are actually consuming and have become reliant on. If though the issue is bigger than this it is time to get professional help, as our lives and relationships are far too precious to be lost over beers or a cheap bottle of wine.