Episode 181. Bec Milligan: What You Eat Affects You And Your Business
Bec Milligan is a nutritional therapist with a functional medicine approach. Bec has a special interest in stress resilience, energy and self-care strategies - and we’ll be chatting about banishing burnouts and the effect that nutrition and stress have on burnouts, as well as micro self-care small practices you can do to fit into your busy day.
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You can't out supplement stress. And I think that applies to food as well. You can't eat your way out of stress, but what you can do is support the body's processes while dealing with the root cause.
How did you end up as a nutritional therapist and an entrepreneur?
I've had a different and unusual journey here, I guess. For 30 years of my life, I was a television producer, a television executive making some of the biggest shows on British TV. And then I ended up working as a channel commissioner in one of the big major broadcasters in the UK.
I was thriving on busy and I had to be busy, busy, busy. This was quite a badge of honor, and I knew that this was taking its toll on my body, but you're kind of young and it's exciting and so you're going with it.
So I had this love hate journey where every time I would finish a big job and you get that high, I'd be totally wiped out. I would either have to take a week off or I'd get ill or I'd go on a yoga retreat.
So I discovered things that helped me manage it, but rather than having that as a regular daily life, I just did it in chunks. I was like, oh my God, I need a yoga retreat to recover. So I was never actually living a life where I was managing to sustain.
I eventually burned out and I really did big style because I got pregnant with my first child. This is about seven years ago, which was brilliant obviously, but I didn't know when to put the brakes on. So I actually remember a midwife in the early days saying, "now you have to go in the slow lane".
And I was like, whoa, what even is the slow lane? I'd never done that. And I tried, I thought I was putting the brakes on and I just wasn't. I kept going and going and kept working from a place of, I need to be the best. There was a competition not with anyone else, but just with myself.
So there was some internal work there that I needed to address, and eventually I actually ended up having my son very prematurely. I had preeclampsia and I nearly had a stroke. So it was a really, really serious situation.
Fortunately he is safe and well and amazing. I am safe and well, but that kind of prompted me in another journey to go hang on all of these things that I know I should be doing, I need to actually do now. That led me to retrain as a nutritional therapist initially. I'd already qualified as a yoga teacher, but I wasn't putting it into practice.
So I reignited all of that with adding skills like breathwork, restorative yoga, and eventually I came to a path of embracing something called EFT Tapping. Many people have heard of it, some people haven't. That was where the magical came together because what I found when I added that tool, I was free from the practices that were creating this drive that led me to burn out.
So it was a combination of the whole thing. That's probably not the shortest introduction, but that's kind of my story as to how I got into doing all of this. It has been over the last year, I guess, changing from a nutritional therapist with an interest in stress and I worked with companies, particularly TV companies, I support a lot of creative companies and one-to-one clinics to becoming a bit of an online entrepreneur.
This has happened since the lockdown and I have digital content courses, online memberships, and this wasn't part of my initial plan, but I now feel I'm in that space, and I'm just kind of going with it.
How do you use tools like EFT Tapping, yoga and breathwork with your nutrition therapy clients?
I work in the functional medicine model and we take into account the environment and other factors. And we look at the holistic balance of what's going to make the most impact in the most significant way. But when I started seeing this differently, I started specializing in stress because I just got to a point with, hang on, this is where I was and I get these people, I get what's happening. And I get the addiction.
That's something I'll talk about is addiction to that feeling of adrenaline, and the problem is when you tell people to do and don't do things, you'll never addressing the root cause. Nutrition, functional medicine should always be about the root cause, primarily when you look at the research.
There was a great a quote from one of my mentors. She said, "you can't out supplement stress". And I think that applies to food as well. You can't eat your way out of stress, but what you can do is support the body's processes while dealing with the root cause.
That's why I started to add all of these tools in. The research shows using the breath to reduce cortisol, to become present, to deactivate that fight or flight trigger that we are so often living in - that is where the magic happens. And doing that every day alongside supporting ourselves through the body makes the big differences.
Then EFT came into the picture. For me, it was just kind of mind-blowing because of what we start to release with the EFT. Not only the daily stress, but the patterns that had got us into that cycle of daily stress. So we can go back with the EFT.
There's lots of ways I use it and there's lots of different techniques. Actually I use another technique or matrix, but we can go to the root root cause and figure out when your programming started to set in. When was it that you learned the stress response as being something that worked for you? It doesn't work anymore.
It's this whole approach that works with tuning in to how are we going to reduce cortisol through the breath, through mindfulness, through EFT. I was so frustrated with trying to help people with nutrition and they weren't doing it because it was too hard, because they were too stressed and too busy. So we have to start back to front and get to a place where you're able to do that.
What is it about nutrition that scares people from taking action?
What I've found is it's not necessarily the nutrition, but taking a choice to make an action that is consistent. That is changing a habit takes effort and it takes time and it takes mental space.
So even if actually choosing a different breakfast takes no more physical time, it takes mental space to change that habit. When you give people lists of things, now don't do all these things you've already been doing that are easy and habit forming, and we can do it, do all these other things. People's heads are like, oh my God, I am too busy for that. I am too stressed for that. I cannot fit that into my day.
And that is probably true because we have to start little and achievable to get that dopamine reward that we're already getting from the stress. We have to replace the habit.
So we can just start very simply. I'm not saying that nutrition doesn't help because some people are just at the right point. They can make those changes and that is fine with the right coach. They can bring those incremental things in and they can work through it. And that is totally valid.
But what I was finding with my clients is they were busy. They have their habits and routines. And so just to come in and say, change all this stuff, it's too big a jump. But when we start breathing every day for a week, they feel a little bit more space. They feel a little bit better.
We just change one thing about the things that they're eating, they feel better, and that encourages it lets the doors open to make more changes. And before they know it, these habits are not the habits that we're feeling the stress, that our habits that were supporting their resilience. That's where I'm coming from.
I saw this firsthand and then when I added the EFT and we removed the conditioning for the patterns, or we remove that response particularly around learned cravings or links to things that give us stress relief, such as glass of wine, at night chocolate... these things are really prominent for so many people.
It might not be even those things, but it's like, I need to have my coffee or whatever it is. If we work with EFT to release that emotional bond, it is so much easier. You're not asking so much of people and they feel good about themselves being able to do it.
Does our nutrition actually affect our stress level and burnout level?
Yes and no. So yes, it does. A poor diet and a diet that is encouraging disregulated blood sugar and a diet lacking in the nutrients that your adrenal system and your HPA access - the triangle of of hormonal control that affects all of these things, needs to have the right nutrients, the right co-factors, needs to have the available products are made available to make those hormones.
So massively you can impact your feeling experience of stress by eating well, but you can also favorite by giving your body the nutrients it needs to burn through stress. So yes, it does.
The main thing I see, and it's also not the simplest fix, but it doesn't require a super foods and super nutrients and all of those things, it's just balancing our blood sugar levels, and just changing the ratios of how we need so we're not fueled on carbs and caffeine.
I'm not anti carbs and I'm not anti caffeine. I have a coffee right here and I love it. I would never cut out food group. But if that is your main fuel source, you're going to spike and crash. And when you're crushing, your body goes into a state of stress and it's an inflammatory state, which inflammation is a stress on the body as well.
So yeah, it absolutely has a link. I prefer that people try and get both sides of it, but you out supplement stress, but you can't be totally resilient with a really poor diet.
Biggest advice around our nutrition? What should we eat when it comes to managing burnouts and stress?
I would say starting with balancing blood sugar, particularly if this is an issue for you. That's a nutrition speak. What I'm talking about is energy slums. I'm talking about hangry.
If you get a point of the day where I need to eat, I feel really angry. Like a lot of people seem to resonate with that. I'm talking about waking up at the start of the day and either not having an appetite or being absolutely starving. These are signs that your body, your blood sugar regulation is not inline.
We call it a blood sugar rollercoaster. We feel low in energy, we take in sugar or carbohydrates which become sugar, and we spike up to the top of this rollercoaster and then a hormone called insulin rep comes out and it allows it to go into the cells and it causes a very quick drop, which is when we get these hypo moments of feeling very low feeling, very angry, very grumpy.
That's a clue that you've got that. The way that we combat that is by looking at the ratios of what we're eating. A decent amount of protein at every meal or snack, so that that's a buffer for the carbohydrates so that when we're not going up that rollercoaster, we're just kind of going very gently up in energy.
We have really good fats. We make sure that there's good quality fats in the diet, things like nuts, seeds, avocado, oily fish, good quality olive oil. We make sure we are eating lots of good fiber. So again, we're slowing the release and the breakdown of those carbohydrates.
And we look at having colorful foods, particularly dark green, leafy veggies for magnesium. We make sure that all foods are having great sources of vitamin C, so all of the things we think of like strawberries, oranges, spinach is great for vitamin C, blackberries.
And we also make sure that we've got B vitamins in the form of whole foods, grains, lentils, legumes. If you eat meat - quality, organic red meat. Organ meat even is very good. So it's just a whole food diet.
But very often I see the proportions really out of whack. People are very, you know, they'll have a massive plate of rice, which might be great, but they'll have two tiny bits of protein on it, and that is going to spike the blood sugar.
It's looking at those ratios. So that's the biggest thing we work with and that can have a massive impact.
Any tips on micro self-care practices?
Time is a factor, and when there's no time we make easy choices. And they're not always bad choices, but it's about stacking up the good choices so that you make the absolute most of the time.
So I've used this technique for a little while and I've actually created an online hub where we have micro-practices so that people can tune in. It's called the self care sanctuary, but we have a bank of practices that are either two minutes, five minutes or 10 minutes.
What you can do in those two minutes is amazing. Two minutes of breathing in a conscious and specific way, so there's breath practices, such as 478 breath practice, balloon breathing, alternate nostril breathing just two minutes in the morning. And I've got an app that you can use, or you can go one of the apps that are available with all these practices on.
It can bring down the levels of cortisol. It brings you out of your fight or flight state. It puts you in a different frame of mind. And what I love about these micro-practices is little and often is key. The more we tell our nervous system that we're safe by coming into, out of fight or flight, the more the signal is that the world is less dangerous.
If we do two minutes in the morning, and as a bonus two minutes before bed, then our brain is getting that signal twice again, you're safe. There is no danger. So the really important thing to think about is fight or flight tendency, is it's not like a dial where it can be a little bit in fight or flight.
You're either fully in, or you're fully out. It's a switch. We go one way or the other. So if you switch yourself into a state of calm and the breath does this, without question. If you breathe slowly on the exhale in particular, you activate rest and digest because you can't be running from a tiger when you're breathing slowly.
It's like a hack you're like telling the nervous system, it's fine, it's safe. So it's a little trick. So two minutes of breathing. The same goes for mindfulness and meditation. But what I find is that when people are busy and they don't have that practice already, that is a challenge because that busy mind is going on. I've got to do this, I've got to do that. And so it takes a while to drop into that.
So I like to add to the practice to give them a little tool to hook the mind onto. So the breath is also a brilliant thing for that. Or EFT tapping, I do a lot of tapping meditations and EFT meditations, which are just five minutes.
As we tap through the tapping points, we're actually moving to the energy, particularly if we're focused on intention. And it reduces cortisol as well. It deactivates that part of the brain that is in fear.
So you can spend just that five minutes a day, putting that into your day and you'll feel better the same with food choices. Maybe just making one switch for one meal and knowing that okay, for breakfast, I'm going to cook myself some eggs and some really beautiful rice bread. I'm going to have a smoothie that I can finish later on in the day. Make it make an easy, simple choice.
Don't try and do it all at once. Because when you fail, you get that disappointment. But when you succeed on the small things, you get that dopamine hit that tells you this is good, do more of it.
And we want to replace the dopamine hit from adrenaline and stress with these kinds of little rewards. So yeah, micro rewards, micro self-care, and it's personal to you. So what makes you feel good? What are the things that give you joy?
Put more of those in just little and often don't set the bar too high.
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Links & Resources Mentioned in this Episode:
Learn more about Bec at becmilligan.com
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