Food and Mood
From the moment we are born our relationship with food, and therefore, mood begins. As soon as a new-born baby cries, milk is given to pacify the tears and accompanying hunger.
Early influences come from our parents, community and cultural settings. Learning about food and eating, about hunger and treats, ‘good’ food and ‘bad’ food, and what it means within our families is a fascinating field of research. We can look back and reflect on our childhoods and themes such as:
Answering these questions will provide clues and reveal interesting findings. This will differ from family to family, and culture to culture, but there will be similarities too. Religion plays a big part in the foods we eat, the foods we enjoy and the foods that are prohibited. Celebrations and religious festivals revolve around families and friends gathering for special feasts and rejoicing.
We may not realise how powerful these influences are and the impact of messages we receive as we are growing up, especially from our mothers, both covert and overt. All of this shapes our relationship with food as we grow into adolescence and adulthood. We also make choices according to our values and beliefs and how passionately we feel about the world, our planet and the environment. Then, there is the pressure from the media and advertising industries, which evolves into pressure we put on ourselves regarding our body image and dieting! That one word opens a giant pandora’s box of fads, fails and often not much fulfilment.
We all have an emotional relationship with food. We eat when we are happy, we eat when we are sad, we eat when we are lonely, we eat for comfort and we eat when we are stressed. Most of all, we eat when we are hungry. Hunger is a powerful motivator to eat and we are subject to a myriad of hormones and enzymes, neurotransmitters and sensors and opioid systems that monitor, generate and regulate hunger.
There are foods that release energy over a long period of time, such as legumes, nuts, quinoa, wholegrains, fruits and vegetables, and foods that give us instant gratification like chocolate, sweets, cakes. Our blood sugar levels rocket after we eat those, but also crash quickly, leaving us feeling hungry again in no time at all. In this category, we also find coffee, tea, alcohol and other stimulants and this is at the core of how what we eat affects our mood.
If you are working from home, and have family, including children, and the usual stresses of everyday life and head for a ‘pick me up’ which is typically sugary, the effects are short lived. The type of food that you crave (trust me, no one craves a celery stick) rather than the food you need, after the initial gratification, can cause health issues and rebound hunger, making us irritable, leading to a lack of concentration and even addictions to sugar and salt over time. We may also feel guilty for eating cakes, chips or chocolate and this can create a vicious cycle.
We all have our habits and rituals when it comes to eating, so to bring about change can seem daunting. Starting with something small, one little change, like switching one cup of coffee for a green tea, snacking on a handful of nuts, especially walnuts, instead of biscuits, is enough.
If that seems dull or too large of a step, then try both the nuts and the biscuits, then maybe one less biscuit. Try and maintain a small change before adding another, and acknowledge that gradual progress is worthy of praise.
Make time to enjoy your meals, and relish what you eat; try to slowly and mindfully savour every bite, with a new awareness. There is something to be said for the pleasure of eating luxuriously. Try slowing down during your next meal and see if it makes a difference during your day.
A food record or diary can also help by identifying patterns of eating. A record of food intake is a good start, but a more detailed diary, which includes your location, the time, who was with you, what you were feeling before you ate and the situation after, will be tremendously revealing after even a couple of weeks. You will be surprised at what emerges and the links that can be made to your mood.
I hope you have enjoyed reading my introduction to food and mood. Please feel free to get in touch with your thoughts, comments and questions, and remember that emotional attachment and challenges relating to food are universal.
Footnote: Some content from above came from my attending a course with NCFED (The National Centre for Eating Disorders)