How do you view food? Most people do not see beyond calories when they look at their meals. However, we now know that food affects more than just our bodies. In fact, we are becoming increasingly aware of how the experience of eating impacts different aspects of our being, including how we feel.
For example, have you ever noticed how an itsy-bitsy square of dark chocolate can send you soaring with delightful feelings, almost resembling those of being in love? Or what about your morning “caffeine fix,” catapulting you forward mentally, putting you on the edge of competence? And have you ever taken an emotional nosedive into fatigue, depression, or even anxiety hours after a high-sugar snack?
There is no doubt that the type of food we eat, as well as how we eat, will translate into the body as health or disease, and when processed through the emotions, may be uplifting angels or sinking anchors.
The food-mood relationship also works the other way around; our feelings can be powerful enough to determine the foods we choose. If we feel fatigued, we may select highly processed, convenient foods that don’t require much preparation, and if we feel stressed, we may reach for a high-sugar, high-fat food to feel comfort from the outside.
There are many creative ways to break the food-mood cycle to help you feel in control, as well as happy and content with your eating: here are seven simple steps:
1. Ground with protein – If you are feeling spacey and fatigued, it may be worthwhile to have a high-protein snack to help ground you back into the present moment, keeping you “in your body.” Protein tends to be more satiating and heavy compared with foods high in simple sugars, causing the body to take its time to digest. For those of you who are iron-deficient, protein sources like lean, grass-fed beef or black beans will help you to get the iron you need to keep you energized and alert.
2. Flow with fats – Dietary fats have a bad rap, but certain ones are finally gaining some recognition. In particular, omega-3 fats from foods like fish (salmon is a good source), flaxseed, and leafy greens are especially important for the brain. With 60% of our brain matter composed of fats (yes, we really do have “fat heads!”), getting more of omega-3 oils into the brain makes our nerve cells transmit their messages better and be less susceptible to inflammation. In fact, omega-3s have been shown to play a role in reducing depression, aggression, attention-deficient hyperactivity disorder, and anxiety.
3. Power up with complex carbs – Sugar makes us feel good; it makes us feel low. You all know the rollercoaster ride, right? That all too familiar fatigue can creep in the afternoon after a heavy lunch, and you might grab a high-sugar pick-me-up to get you back on track, which, in the end, only takes you off track, keeping you enslaved to the never-ending cycle of sugar highs and lows. The way to escape the circuitous dizziness is to stick to carbs that give you sustained energy rather than the cheap, quick sugar high. Whole grains, legumes, berries, apples, and pears are great choices for staying power that will last rather than exhaust.
4. Love your spinach – Feel your heart open with love for leafy greens. These wonder foods are loaded with nutrients like folate and magnesium that feed a healthy heart in addition to nourishing the brain and emotions. Low levels of folate and other B vitamins in the diet have been shown to be associated with changes in mood such as depression and changes in mental activity like impaired cognition. Greens like spinach also supply good amounts of magnesium, helping to keep an anxious heart calm and serene. Follow your heart, go down the path to the greens when you are feeling blue.
5. Eat mindfully – What we eat is just as important as how we eat. With our busy lifestyles, many people do not take the time to eat slowly, and with care, making healthful decisions. Instead, we become victims of “dashboard dining” (eating while driving), or eating in front of the TV after a long day at work. As a result, we may eat faster, have poorer digestion, absorb less, and feel perpetually unfulfilled, only causing more cravings and overeating. Since your gut is your “second brain,” if you eat mindfully, you’ll be feeding calm attentiveness to your belly.
6. Boost your brain with blue-bliss – Colorful blue-purple fruits high in protective antioxidants such as grapes and blueberries are more than “cool” to eat; eating them is also associated with cooling down inflammation in the brain, and sharpening memory and cognition. These fun fruits contain compounds that “age-proof” the brain by protecting it from damage that comes with getting older. Don’t forget to keep your mind healthy with the bliss of blue foods.
7. Keep clean – Some food additives can change how you feel. As an example, there are numerous anecdotes that artificial sweeteners can have a variety of negative effects on health often related to the brain and behavior. Some recent studies have emerged showing that consumption of these sweeteners doesn’t even stop weight gain like we may have thought. Other studies suggest that additives like artificial colorings cause hyperactivity and/or attention deficit disorder (ADD) in susceptible children. Although much of the hype has not been thoroughly studied, there seems to be enough evidence that deciphering food labels is worth your mental health.
Foods and moods go hand-in-hand: as you become aware of your eating and how you feel, and how you feel and what foods you choose, you will be on the path to taking control of the food-mood cycle. These seven steps will get you on your way to feeling fine and empowering your emotion.