Do you comfort eat to ease stress, have you reached out for chocolate and junk food to cheer you up? Often, we are so self conscious and obsessed with our weight and physical imperfections that we place a higher importance on them than on how our hearts and minds feel. We forget that the foods and drinks we consume affect not only our bodies but also our emotional well being and continue to eat sugary and processed foods that do more harm than good, leaving us low on energy and feeling even more down an hour later.
Why this supply of superficial high is short lived
There is a feel good chemical in the brain that we need to maintain a balanced mood, it’s called serotonin. When we are stressed, the stress hormone cortisol triggers appetite stimulating neurotransmitters and decreases our serotonin levels and this can make us feel low. When serotonin is reduced it can increase appetite and cravings for sugary snacks and junk food. These unhealthy foods offer us a short-term fix by quickly boosting serotonin levels and creating a (false) sense of calm and instant relief.
But what comes up must come down! Shortly after indulging these cravings, we will likely experience an energy crash. This happens when our blood sugar drops again and we are left feeling even more stressed and miserable than we did in the first place. It takes a lot of work for our bodies to digest sugary fatty foods, so it makes sense that in the end we are left feeling tired and lacking in energy.
At this point, we are on an emotional roller coaster as our energy veers up and down, reaching out for more junk food to make us feel better. This is a vicious circle that can lead to the habit of overeating and longer-term mood swings and low moods.
Use healthy food energy as fuel to burn your stress. Instead of eating foods that leave you feeling stressed and low, maintain a balanced emotional state and keep your energy reserves high by eating complex carbohydrates like whole grain bread, oats and seeds; all of which have a positive impact on serotonin levels and moods. These foods are high fibre and release their energy more slowly which can help you to avoid energy dips caused by simple carbohydrates like sugar, breakfast cereals, pastries, pasta, chocolate and white bread.
It is important, however, to make sure you balance these good carbohydrates with protein which can be found in nuts, cheese, fish, lean meat, yogurt and avocados. Protein will ensure longer lasting energy and balance out any blood sugar dips as well as reducing junk food cravings.
If you don’t know where to start, here are five ways to boost your mood with food:
Skipping breakfast is a sure way to feeling tired and unable to focus during the day. To kick start your metabolism and improve your concentration, make time to eat breakfast every morning. Your body needs to recharge its batteries to improve mood, memory and energy, as much as your phone needs to recharge its battery to use its apps. So, what makes a good breakfast? Try to avoid sugary cereal and instead opt for yogurt, porridge and lean proteins like ham and eggs with whole-grain toast.
2. Eat regularly
As well as eating breakfast, make sure you eat regularly throughout the day. Aim for a healthy meal or snack like fruit or nuts, every four hours. Remember food is fuel, so missing a meal is embracing irritability! Going too long without eating, makes your blood sugar dip and leaves you unfocused and lacking in energy.
3. Cut down on caffeine
Some of us need that first cup of coffee in the morning but it’s wise to make it the last. Especially after 5pm, too much caffeine guarantees you to feel dizzy, anxious, restless and unable to sleep. Try to limit your intake of caffeine, which is contained in tea, carbonated drinks, coffee and chocolate.
4. Consume fresh food
Our energy is generated by the food we choose to eat. We want to create the best possible energy so we should choose wisely. Fresh, organic plants, meat and grains will make you feel clean and healthy, whereas eating ready meals full of dead, processed and chemicalized food is going to leave you feeling toxic and lacking in essential nutrients. For your mood and body to vibrate at a higher energy frequency, choose fresh food according to the season; fruits, lighter greens and fish in summer and heartier root vegetables and warming stews in winter.
5. Cut down on fat
That bag of fries with donuts for desserts isn’t good for your waistline or your mood. Unless feeling bloated, tired and craving more junk food appeals to you, replace greasy high fat and sugar laden foods with healthy fats like nuts and avocados and natural sugars found in fruit.
You are what you eat
“The best and most efficient pharmacy is within your own system.” Robert C. Peale
Of course, it’s natural to be tempted by the takeout, fast food and biscuits especially as we seem to be surrounded by them everywhere we go. But eating healthily, doesn’t mean that your tongue has to be tortured. You can allow yourself the occasional treat but do so with moderation. You might well find that after eating healthily for a number of weeks, you no longer crave unhealthy foods anyway!
Think about how your diet could be impacting your life. The next time you catch your fingers approaching your mouth, pause your hand and consider that food carries energy, its energy is passed onto your body and then onto your mood.
*Always consult a nutritionist or health-care professional when making changes to your diet.