Exercise and Mental Wellbeing – it’s not just about endorphins #mentalhealthweek

I’m sure you’ve heard that one of the fantastic benefits of exercise, especially when it comes to your mental wellbeing, is that it boosts endorphins – right?

But it can do SO much more than that, because of one simple mechanism, and I am going to make it really easy for you to understand. Hopefully, the more you understand about how exercise can help you, the more likely you will be to include it into your life.

Stress is something that we all deal with every single day. Not only is stress considered to be mentally stressful events in our lives, but sleep deprivation, injury, too much exercise (or new exercise), food deprivation, excesses of food, alcohol, tobacco and drugs, and more, all cause stress to our bodies. Too much stress has a damaging effect, which not only impacts your nervous system, but can put you at risk of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and autoimmune disorders, to name a few. This is because when we are stressed, we produce high levels of our stress hormone, cortisol (I’ll tell you more about that in a moment).

But of course, we can’t just make stress disappear – in fact, we need our natural stress response to protect us if and when we are in danger; that’s why it exists. Our stress response  prepares our body to ‘fight or flight’ (take action or flee) in the moment – this is when you are “running on adrenaline”. It’s meant to be a short-term response, where systems that aren’t required in that moment (such as your digestive system) are shut down in favour of the systems that will help you in the presence of danger (eg. your heart and your muscles).

But when this stress is prolonged, as it often is in the modern world, our bodies pump out cortisol in response.

Cortisol, as I said, is our stress hormone. Normally, it’s the hormone that wakes us up in the morning in response to the sun, has anti-stress and anti-inflammatory functions, forms glucose  to be used for energy from non-carbohydrate sources, and helps the formation of short-term memory,  but, especially in excess, in times of ongoing stress, it has incredibly damaging effects. These include; insomnia, fat deposition around the belly (which is both a sign of excess fat around the organs and is difficult to burn off), a weakened immune system, muscle wasting and reduced bone formation, and impaired learning.

The damaging effects of cortisol can be reversed if we take steps to improve our response to stress, prioritise self-care and make a conscious effect to relax and breath. This is where exercise can provide a huge benefit.

You know how some days, when you’re feeling really stressed, and after a walk or a workout where you’ve got your blood pumping and taking your mind away from whatever is causing you stress, you feel clearer, calmer, better?

This isn’t just the endorphins you’ve released; your exercise has broken down a big chunk of your excess cortisol, essentially breaking down your stress.

Over time, regular exercise can have a huge impact on your stress, which can provide relief for anxiety, depression and the stresses of every day life. 30 minutes of mild exercise (walking, yoga, swimming, etc) is recommended every day to achieve this benefit.

I find that on the days that exercise feels like the last thing that I want to do, or the stress of the day has convinced me that I don’t have the time to practice my self-care, reminding myself of this function of exercise can really help to motivate me.

Some other benefits of exercise include:

  • Strengthening my bones when the muscles I use pull on them. This signals to my bones that I still need their strength to keep me standing and keep  me upright, which helps to reduce my risk of osteoporosis
  • Signalling my cells to take up the glucose (sugar) in my blood for energy without the use of insulin. These transporters are known as GLUT-4, and stimulating their use reduces my reliance on insulin, reducing my risk of insulin resistance and Type-2 Diabetes
  • Promotes the movement of blood through my body. This helps the transport of nutrients to and the removal of waste products from, all of the cells in my body. This also stimulates the smooth muscles in my digestive system, which means I’m better digesting and absorbing my nutrients

I find it so much more fascinating and empowering to think about exercise in these ways than to simply think about it from an aesthetic perspective and what it can do for the way that I look. It’s a much more mindful way to exercise and keeps you in touch with how your body works, encouraging you to be grateful for all of the fascinating ways your body helps you get around.

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For more information like this, in a LIVE setting, check out my next Nutrition for REAL People workshop in Brisbane, ‘Nutrition for Anxiety’ on 24th October

Rather shoot yourself in the foot than eat another handful of almonds? :: 17 Super Snack Ideas that give you Bang for your Buck!

Often when healthy snacks are suggested, the go-to is a handful of almonds, or some veggie sticks – how friggin boring right? If you still want healthy options for your snacks but want to enjoy them too, I’ve got your back, Jack! There’s a whole world of tasty snacks for you to explore, and they’re incredibly easy to fit into your way of life.


Pumpernickel toast. Hummus, zucchini, tomato and nut cheese (or ricotta/fetta goes good too)

Why snacks?

Well, for starters, they’re easy. Most of the time they’re cheap and if done right, they’re little bursts of healthiness spattered into your day. If you’re not into eating big salads, at the very least, they can act as a great unassuming springboard into having a nourishing diet in the long term. Snacks are also pretty fun to eat, so are a great excuse to get creative with your food. Perfect for anyone who feels a little time poor but still wants to look after themselves.

So many of us skip meals in favour for getting a job done and being busy, but at the very least you ensure your snacks are loaded with the good stuff, you can get some nutrition in and help yourself get those tasks completed from a much more focused and well-fueled mindset.

Creating a healthy snack

These are a few important things to consider when creating a healthy snack:

Energy content

Probably the most important aspect of a healthy snack is that its going to provide your body with enough energy to sustain your performance and concentration throughout the day. It needs to be high protein with some carbohydrates and fats to give the body the fuel it needs to keep going. Protein can be found in eggs, legumes (lentils, chickpeas, beans), meats, fish, poultry, dairy, nuts, seeds and whole grains.

Sugar content

Foods high in sugar may give you an instant energy hit in the moment, but that sugar rush is followed by a huge dip in your energy, decreasing your energy, your concentration, and putting a lot of pressure on the organ in charge of regulating your blood sugar; your pancreas. Meaning you are more susceptible to Type 2 Diabetes.

So. Not. Worth. It.

This is why steering clear of the high sugar options (muffins, chocolate bars, muesli bars, etc) is so important.

Nutrient dense

When a food is described as ‘nutrient dense’, it means that it has a high vitamin a mineral content, basically. Each process in the body requires various vitamins and minerals in order to occur, and most of us don’t even reach our minimum requirements on a daily basis. Whole foods are the way to go here, as is having a wide variety of foods. The best way to think of it is that if you are eating a wide variety whole foods, you provide your body with a wide variety of nutrients.


While there are those few people who love nothing more than getting in the kitchen, not everyone has the passion to spend hours creating a raw vegan “cheesecake” from scratch every week. That doesn’t mean you should miss out on eating healthy food, and I’m definitely not about to let you start now!

Easy snacks are essential for the time poor, and some of these options are even easier than going to your local cafe to grab a muffin (while being much better for you instead).


Let’s be honest, if it doesn’t taste good, there is no way you’re going to keep eating it – plain and simple. But taste is so much more than sugar and salt. The more you experiment with these sorts of foods, your tastebuds change and eventually you will enjoy a different flavour palate, more suited to that created by whole, natural foods.

Variety is, after all, the spice of life!

The Snacks

  • Boiled eggs (either on their own or chopped up and mixed with butter, avo, salsa or homemade mayo and eaten with a spoon). My Mum used to boil an egg and chop it up with real butter in a mug as my “special” scrambled eggs. You better believe I felt super-special when she made it for me! (How rad is my Mum?)
  • Top pumpernickel toast with yummy toppings – my favourite is ricotta/nut cheese with fig, walnut and a drizzle of rice malt syrup, but go nuts! The world is your oyster!


  • Leftover chicken drumstick or chicken wing from last night’s roast
  • Chia pudding – 2 tablespoons of chia mixed with a milk or yoghurt of choice, left to sit for 30 minutes and topped with fruit (I have two recipes here and here)
  • Tinned red salmon with crackers
  • Vegetable sticks with homemade avocado/guacamole, hummus, sardine tapenade, mushroom tapenade, pesto
  • Corn/bean chips with fresh salsa, guacamole, Mexican bean dip, hummus
  • Brown rice/quinoa/buckwheat sushi rolls with fresh salmon and avocado
  • Seedy crackers with avocado, nut spread or pate
  • IMG_0517Thick sliced leg ham/corned beef/roasted meat of your choice, with mayo/mustard and pickled cucumbers (wrap a chunk of pickle in the ham with a dollop of mayo/mustard)
  • Peanut butter/nut spread/tahini and celery sticks – simply wash, cut and spread. And if that is too much effort for you, you can just dip the celery straight into the nut butter instead. Just make sure you get natural nut/peanut butter, which should have no more ingredients than the nuts (and sometimes the salt). You can top these with sprouts of your choice for extra veg/protein content and flavour.
  • Hummus with fresh veggie sticks – make your own hummus in bulk and store it in snack sized containers to grab and go with fresh vegetable sticks (carrot, celery, zucchini, cucumber, capsicum, green beans, snow peas, broccoli, cauliflower)
  • Apple slices with tahini/peanut butter/nut spread – I like to take a knife and a little pot of spread along with me so the slices are extra fresh, but if this isn’t an option, just make sure you squeeze a little lemon juice on the slices to keep them from browning. You may like to mix through cinnamon or raw cacao in the spread if you want a different flavour
  • Homemade popcorn with your choice of spices – Grab some corn kernels in a paper bag (roll the end up) and put them in the microwave for 3-4 minutes. You can then add melted butter, coconut oil, salt and herbs and spices (including cacao for a sweet option, or chilli for a spicy/savoury option). Garlic powder is a favourite option to add to the mix for me.
  • Activated salt & vinegar almonds – soak a bag of almonds overnight in water and a pinch of salt. Drain and toss in 50mL apple cider vinegar and 1tb salt and spread in one even layer on an oven tray. Dry in the oven for 12-24 hours on the lowest oven setting and store in a glass jar in the freezer
  • Coconut or Natural yoghurt with fruit and mixed nuts/seeds – for a sweet treat that isn’t too rich, simply top your yoghurt with fruit (banana, kiwi, berries, pomegranate, apple, pear) and raw nuts and seeds (almonds, walnuts, pistachio, cashew, macadamia, pecan, brazil, chia, pepitas, sesame, sunflower) 20140814_025617000_iOS
  • Veggie Chips – either thinly slice vegetables of your choice with a mandolin or chop into long sticks. In a bowl, drizzle with olive oil and sea salt, mixing until completely covered. Lay evenly spread onto a baking tray and bake at 200°C until golden brown. You may like to use zucchini, heirloom carrots, beetroot, kale, sweet potato, potato, daikon, parsnip, or pumpkin, just make sure you keep the skin on – that’s where all the nutrients are!

Basic Hummus:: Miranda Makes

Hummus, how I love thee. Let me count the ways….


Let’s be honest, for me, my love for hummus is up there in the millions. It’s just such a tasty thing to eat, and if you need to bring something to parties, you know it’s vegan and gluten-free, so most of your dietary bases are covered with a super tasty treat. It’s got protein, fibre, carbohydrates, good fats, folate, calcium and a whole lot of other wonderful stuff you body will love you for – you can’t go wrong! Continue reading

Chocolate Chia Pudding:: Miranda Makes

Who doesn’t love a chocolaty treat that’s easy to put together?

For a sweet treat without the sugar, but with a nice whack of protein, fibre and good fats, like omega3, you can’t go past my chia pudding.

It can be adapted to suit any flavour palate, just like my Coyo Chia Pudding. Try it with cacao powder or even fresh passionfruit instead of the cacao nibs, if you want, and top with any fruit you like.

Continue reading

The biggest nutrition mistake you can make (and how to fix it)

The most common thing that I see affecting the health of those that ask my nutrition advice is simply that they aren’t eating enough.

Either they are too busy to eat enough, have been taught – like we all were – to eat less to lose weight, so eat rye biscuits for their lunch, or they are eating the processed stuff that has no nutritional value (therefore, for the purpose of today’s blog and healthy eating in general, I am not going to describe it as food).

The most common reasons for this are as follows: Continue reading

Skincare, the liver, and reducing our toxic load.

The only thing I ever want is for people to do the best that they can, no matter what it is. Try and fail? It’s better than not trying at all, right? We plod along, we dip and we weave, we rise and fall, and most of all, we learn what works for us along the way. It’s something that wasn’t always fostered in me when I was growing up and I’m still figuring out how to move through my fears to give something a go rather than let it hinder me trying. It’s incredibly important to me, so, I’m going to just do my best anyway.

Recently, I’ve had something on my mind that I didn’t quite know how to talk to you about, because, for starters, I’m not about to get all preachy about anything – yuck! – but also, when I apply this to my own life, I do the best that I can. I take the information that I have with a grain of salt, weigh up the risks with the benefits and figure out the best way it can fit in best with my life.

What am I talking about exactly? Continue reading