January 25, 2023

How Does What We Eat Affect Our Mental Health?

The food you eat can have a big impact on not just our bodies, but also our minds. As someone once said to me, you cannot run a sports car on rubbish and expect it to still perform to its best.

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The food you eat can have a big impact on not just our bodies, but also our minds. As someone once said to me, you cannot run a sports car on rubbish and expect it to still perform to its best.

You therefore need to:

– Avoid big meals.

– Do not use food to manage or express your emotions.

– Only eat when you are hungry and stop eating when you are full.

– Reduce your intake of saturated fats and sugar.

– Eat less processed food, and eat more fresh foods.

– Eat more fibre, this can help to lower the cholesterol in your body.

– Drink alcohol and caffeine in moderation.

We have all experienced that bloated feeling after eating a large meal, and some of us may even feel the need for a snooze. Therefore, eating a big meal may have the effect of making you sleepy and sluggish. This is deliberate, our bodies need us to slow down in order to concentrate on the work of digesting the food. Being sleepy and sluggish does of course have an impact on our mental health, as it can zap our motivation and disrupt our sleep routine.

In the UK food is also intricately linked to our moods. In our society we celebrate our achievements and holidays with food. Christmas Day is traditionally the day when we eat the most, however Easter with all of those chocolate eggs is a close second. We go out for meals or drinks to celebrate our birthdays, anniversaries, and promotions. Our social life often involves eating and drinking; be it a meal in a restaurant, a night on the town with our friends, or a pub lunch after a walk in the countryside. 

Food is intricately linked to our leisure and pleasure time. We are also often rewarded with food. When we have done well as children, we are given sweets. We also talk about ‘treating’ ourselves to a cream bun, or a bottle of that fancy gin. Therefore, we associate food with happiness, praise, leisure, and celebration.

We also associate food with comfort. We go for a night out with the girls or boys to commiserate being dumped or missing a promotion. When we were feeling bad as children, adults often gave us sweets or biscuits; be this bribery to go to the dentist, or to distract us from our scraped knees. Society therefore tells us that food will make us feel better. These two messages are of course interlinked and lead to people ‘comfort eating’. 

Despite what we are told though, eating food very rarely actually makes us feel better. In fact, it is more likely to lead to feelings of guilt and disgust as each food item makes us feel good for a short time and then we realise what we have done. This can then lead to a vicious circle of self-disgust, as you eat more and feel worse about yourself, which then makes you eat more. This has a devastating effect on our self-esteem. 

Boredom and habit can also make us eat. Food is seen as a real ‘feel good’ thing in our society. A magic cure to make us feel better. This is drilled into us from a very young age, and it only when you stop and think that you can often see the connection. Therefore, always ask yourself before you eat something when you are not hungry ‘Am I eating this to feel different?’ If you are, then chances are that you are comfort eating.

We are surrounded by food that is high in saturated fat and sugar. Processed foods are more likely to contain high levels of saturated fat and sugar. Due to our busy lives, we increasingly rely on this quick food. Whether it is takeaway on a Friday, to a jar of bolognaise sauce, or a microwave meal, our consumption of processed food has rocketed over the last 40 years. 

Eating sugar triggers the release of dopamine in our brains, a feel-good hormone which provides us with motivation, enjoyment and reward. We therefore feel good when we eat sugar. However, this is only a short term high, and soon we crave more sugar for the dopamine high. As the sugar high is short term, our behaviour can change making us more irritable and prone to mood swings. This is why sugar addicts find it so difficult to eat just half a bar of chocolate. It has been shown that the dopamine response to sugar is essentially the same response that is present in alcoholics or cocaine addicts.

Therefore, a healthy diet can help us to manage our emotions, increase our performance, and help us to cope better with stress. 

For more information, or just a chat, please contact me on 07742 209312 or nicole@greenoaktherapies.co.uk

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