We all know that there is a connection between the foods we eat and the way we feel physically. But, did you know that there is just as much, and possibly even more, of a connection between what we eat and how feel mentally and emotionally?
Think about it. When you eat a doughnut, how do you feel? Probably pretty darn cheery… at least at that moment. Fast forward 30 minutes… and tell me how you feel now. Irritable, mood swingy (yes I made that a term), hungry, and craving more doughnuts… not to mention a bit guilty for having given in to that sprinkle-covered temptation in the first place.
See what I mean? When you think about the fact that we are literally made up of what we eat, it makes sense that it would affect everything. Now, while there could be many reasons behind this, we’re going to focus on four biggies here.
Blood Sugar Swings
When we eat refined, processed foods (think white bread; white rice; pasta; chocolate bars; chips; candy; crackers; as well as many frozen, packaged, and restaurant foods), our blood sugar level rises dramatically. And what happens when a rollercoaster goes up? She must come down. And fast. Our body sees this rapid rise in blood sugar as a danger, so it quickly works to lower it. Unfortunately, the result is often a too-low blood sugar level, causing those mood swings, hunger pangs, and sugar cravings. And that, friends, doesn’t equal happiness.
Picture this: you’re at the dining room table. You’ve just finished Thanksgiving dinner, and you’re staring off into space. How’s that energy level? Non-existent, I’m pretty sure. How do I feel when I’m forced to stay up when all I want to do is sleep? Not so great, thank you very much. The reason we feel so gosh-darn tired is that, first off, we’ve eaten a whole lot more than we normally do. And, we likely ate lots of different foods at once (meat, potatoes, vegetables, bread, dessert…). This so often leads to poor digestion. Considering the fact that our digestive system uses up to 75% of our body’s energy (wowzers), you can understand why all we want to do is curl up on the couch after we eat. Now, we certainly don’t have Thanksgiving meals every day, but even regular meals quite often cause this fatigue and low energy.
If you were to eat some chocolate right now, how would you feel? Let me take a guess: happy, energized, and pretty darn satisfied. Am I right? And how about if you were to have a cup of your favourite coffee? You’d probably be happy, energized, and, well, pretty darn satisfied. But wait! Those sound like good things, right? They sure do. So good, in fact, that our brain begins to crave those feelings and wants to feel that way all the time. This is how addictive behaviours begin in the body. Hmm… not such a good thing after all. Substances that tend to become addictive in this way (besides chocolate and caffeine) include refined carbohydrates and good ol’ sugar in general. Another downside to these stimulants and sweet nothings is that once those happy feelings are gone, we can be left feeling depressed, unsatisfied, and exhausted. How rude.
Our body can react in all kinds of not-fun ways when we eat foods to which we’re sensitive or intolerant. We can get bloating, gas, other digestive upsets, headaches, brain fog, skin rashes… the list goes on. Yuck. Needless to say, these can make us feel crabby and uncomfortable. Which foods are we sensitive to, you ask? Well, that depends, as each of our bodies is unique, and not everyone reacts the same way. However, the most common foods in this category are wheat, dairy, corn, and soy. And guess what? These are found in So. Many. Packaged. Foods. Our bodies are bombarded with them so frequently that the sensitivities often continue to get worse over time.
Taking all of the above into account, the connection between what we eat and how we feel becomes crystal clear. Now that we’re aware of those habits and foods that put our mood into a tailspin, let’s focus on the ones that make us feel great, and keep us feeling that way all day long.
Our goal here is to keep the above factors in check and work to achieve balance. Here are some tips for accomplishing this:
1. Include protein, fat, and fibre in each of your meals, as this helps ensure a steady blood sugar level. Try to avoid refined, processed foods as much as possible.
2. Only eat until you feel satisfied, not stuffed. Also, try not to mix animal proteins with starches together in one meal, as this combo is hard for our body to break down. Digestive enzymestaken with meals can help tremendously in the breakdown of food.
3. Start to eliminate stimulants and try not to rely on them for an energy boost (chocolate, caffeine, refined carbs, sugar).
4. Avoid wheat, dairy, corn, and soy where possible. Eating homemade meals instead of store-bought as often as you can is a great place to start.
5. Consume plenty of vegetables and some fruits, and make the majority of your food intake healthy, antioxidant-rich, and energizing. Some great choices include nuts and seeds; eggs; fish; meat; brown rice; quinoa; and superfoods like goji berries, cacao nibs, and sea vegetables. Also include healthy oils such as flax, coconut, and olive.
6. Focus on activities that stimulate the brain, but in a more positive way and that are longer lasting. Think exercise, yoga, meditation, being in nature, and getting a massage. Yes, please! These tips will help to keep your mind (and body) feeling happy and steady all day long. Plus, you simply feel better knowing that you’re feeding your body in the best way possible. And that, my friends, will evoke a good mood any day.
Written by Laura Stokoe, RHN. Laura Stokoe works as a Lifewatchers instructor at the Goodness Me! Locke Street location. She also has her own Nutritional Consulting business called Go to Health. You can find Laura at www.blog.gotohealth.ca/blog.