Weekly Column_120 / August 16, 2012

Eating Right for Special Occasions

By Charles Platkin, PhD

These situations can be stressful simply because they’re so unpredictable. Being prepared is important, but you also want to make sure you “fuel” your body for peak performance. You have to strike the right balance — you want to be organized, but you also want to be flexible and responsive to unforeseen questions or situations. The last thing you need to worry about is feeling queasy, hungry, overstuffed or anything else that the wrong meal might provoke.

Objective: For a presentation you need to be self-possessed and confident, but also engaged, curious and involved with the audience. For the job interview, you should be calm, collected and sharp — ready to answer any question that gets thrown your way. Don’t show up for either with your stomach making all kinds of feed-me, feed-me noises.

Pick these foods: Take 3 to 4 ounces of lean protein such as fish, chicken, low-fat cottage cheese or an egg-white omelet and add one slice of whole-grain bread or brown rice and l cup of fruit or vegetables. If you normally drink coffee, tea or other caffeinated beverages with your meal, continue to do so. Make sure you have water as well, says Judith Wurtman, Ph.D., a research scientist at MIT and co-author of The Serotonin Power Diet: Use Your Brain’s Natural Chemistry to Cut Cravings, Curb Emotional Overeating, and Lose Weight (Rodale, 2007).

Why? You are eating protein to make sure that your brain is manufacturing two chemicals (norepinephrine and dopamine, made from tyrosine) that control mental alertness. “Ordinarily we eat enough protein so this is not a problem, but after an overnight fast, not eating any protein for many hours (until dinner, for example) could limit the synthesis of these neurotransmitters,” says Wurtman. “The carbohydrate, fruit or vegetables are included to nourish you and make sure your body is getting enough calories and nutrients. The caffeinated beverage is important if you normally depend on it to make you awake and keep you that way. You don’t want to fall asleep during your own presentation. The water should also be near you when you speak in case your mouth gets dry from anxiety,” she adds.

When should you eat it? Eat your meal at least an hour or an hour and a half before the presentation to make sure that it is at least partially digested and its effects on your brain are in process.

How much should you eat? Eat a moderate amount because you don’t want to feel bloated or stuffed. Stay away from bulky vegetables because you don’t want to feel uncomfortable.

Avoid these foods: High-fat foods like butter, mayonnaise, cheese and cream.

Why? Because they will make you feel muddleheaded and mentally fatigued. Avoid alcohol unless your presentation is at a bachelor party.

If you’re the bride, you probably spent the last six months starving yourself to fit into that expensive, one-time-only dress, so, ideally you need a diet that will not send you into a tailspin and will help you feel calm and collected on your Big Day. You’ll have plenty of time to hang out later with your husband and your good friends Ben and Jerry while sitting around watching American Idol. (Research shows that people gain an average of 6 to 8 pounds during the first two years of marriage.)

Objective: For the actual wedding day, you need to eat something that will be easy on your stomach. Lots of nervousness and emotion can build up when you’re about to make that lifelong commitment.

Pick these foods: Dr. Wurtman suggests eating a substantial breakfast, such as scrambled eggs, toast and juice, or yogurt and cereal, or fresh fruit, yogurt and a low-fat muffin. Then, while you’re getting ready, eat foods that are easily digested and bland: a banana or melon, plain crackers, cereal and milk, a nibble of some plain chicken and maybe a small roll. Drink water so you will not be dehydrated.

Why? Breakfast may be the only meal you get to sit down and eat, and your body will appreciate having those calories. Once you start getting ready for the wedding, eat small snacks because you do not want to upset your stomach or feel bloated. The water is good because you may not have time to drink much once the wedding celebration begins.

When should you eat it? “Try to fit in your snacks during the preparation time, when your hair and makeup are being done,” says Wurtman. Then have a member of your wedding party bring you something to eat after the ceremony while you are having your pictures taken. If you are too busy to eat, have some juice to get a few calories into yourself; you probably won’t eat anything during the reception.

How much should you eat? Only what feels comfortable, says Wurtman.

Avoid these foods: Alcohol before you eat.

Why? Alcohol on an empty stomach may make it even harder to control your emotions on this very emotional day.

If you’re looking at a 50-year anniversary dinner, you’re probably fine — but if the romantic night is more along the lines of a first date, you might be a little nervous beforehand. Also, this is a time to impress your date, so you want to eat right (and properly).

Objective: To be calm and feeling good, debonair, funny, sexy and not too hungry.

Pick these foods: Eat a light meal, such as a small chicken sandwich or scrambled eggs and toast before you get dressed for your date. For your dinner, order foods that are easy to eat and don’t require too much attention. Fish (so long as it doesn’t have bones) is a good choice because you don’t have to fuss with cutting tough meat or spending a lot of time chewing. You should be talking instead. Never order pasta; it’s too messy. Same with salads — you risk dropping the lettuce on your lap. Nibble on some crackers or a piece of bread before the meal is served. Be careful about your alcohol consumption; drink water if your mouth is dry.

Why? Eating ahead of time will allow you to focus on your dinner partner and not on your hunger. Eating carbohydrates before the meal is served will calm you down, says Wurtman.

When should you eat it? Eat your at-home meal about two hours before the date so you will be full. If you don’t get to finish your entire meal at the restaurant because you’re so busy talking, don’t worry about it. You can eat a big breakfast the next morning.

How much should you eat? At the restaurant, eat about half of what is served; the portions are usually twice as large as anyone should be eating.

Avoid these foods: Any high-fat foods like three-cheese pizza or nachos dipped in cheese sauce.

Why: They tend to make you feel sluggish.

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