Food & Mood: Is It Really That Simple?
Is it really that “simple”?
As a psychology undergrad I remember thinking, “mental health has to be more complex than sleeping, eating, relaxing, and moving.” Yes, while our mental health is more than those factors, I’ve come to believe these elements are absolutely foundational aspects of caring for our complex mind-body system.
This blog is all about eating.
I LOVE TO EAT, as I’m sure most of you do too.
What I love even more than eating is feeling energized, fueled, nourished and satisfied while also physically comfortable after I eat, which wasn’t the case for a LONG time. I thought for the longest time that I just had a “sensitive” stomach, that for whatever reason, I was prone to stomach upset, nausea, bloating, cramping.
Turns out I just wasn’t properly caring for my engine.
I’m a really visual person. Therefore, I often think about my mind-body like an engine. When we care for our engine with attention and awareness to sleep, diet, movement and play, we empower the engine to stay healthy and balanced. Which does have a HUGE impact on our mental health. Our engine is built to care for us and run reliably. We just have to fuel our engine to support it in caring for us. When we do that, we have the energy and focus to process, explore and restructure the other aspects of our situation and experiences that may affect our mental health and moods.
What exactly does food have to do with mood?
“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” you might say, “I know I’m not supposed to eat chips, candy, fast food, and soda, I got it.” Well, good for you! I’m still an occasional eater of chips and a pretty regular eater of candy (chocolate especially). I’ll rarely pass an opportunity to eat chocolate cake! But there is much more to food and mood than eating junk food mindfully.
I’m specifically talking about the theory of bio individuality and why that matters in relation to the food we eat.
Bio individuality says that we aren’t a one size fits all, and that we need to bring curiosity and awareness to what our body needs and how it functions best.
This is because our mind-body LOVES us and wants to help us live a full, rewarding life. Our moods often provide us the data we need to begin to understand our unique engine and how to fuel it. This theory is something I’m passionate about, because I’ve seen the miracles applying it has produced in my life, and the lives of countless clients.
When I started applying the theory to my “sensitive” stomach, healing began, and frankly the healing snowballed pretty rapidly, in part I think because I was sick and tired of being sick and tired, so I put a lot of energy into figuring out my engine accurately. If you are eating foods that aren’t necessarily on the “horrible and bad” junk food list and still feeling edgy, lethargic, foggy, moody, depressed, etc., then there is likely another food habit that is creating a negative physiological cascade in your system and that habit may display itself as a mood issue.
For example, functional hypoglycemia is a condition like that; one that can mirror depression and anxiety. Changing the foods a person eats and when a person eats can correct hypoglycemia, decreasing, if not eliminating the depression and anxiety symptoms.
An equally compelling reason to begin getting more curious about your engine is the ever increasing data describing our gut as our second brain. Our gut actually has neurotransmitters, just like our brains AND current thinking is that as much as 90% of serotonin (primary mood management neurotransmitter) is in our gut.
Yes… 90%, so there is science behind why our relationship with food directly impacts our mood.
How can I find my way through all of the information and figure out the foods that might be affecting my mental health?
At this point, you may be thinking, “What the hell? This is overwhelming. I’m not sure I even want to think about it.”
I’ve been there! I had a health crisis about 10 years ago that forced me to pay attention and I felt the same way. I wish an integrative mental health practice had been available to help me figure out what I needed to eat and just how and when to eat it in a methodical, doable way.
It just didn’t exist, so I became that practitioner.
The internet can help anyone begin to understand bio individuality and how to begin to track mood symptoms. I love when clients get involved in their own mental health in this way. However, at some point consistent support really, really helps. An integrative mental health provider is someone who is going to look at all aspects of your life and experiences when assessing and treating any mood issues you are experiencing, a person’s relationship with food is a big piece of the puzzle,that an integrative provider can support you with. Alison Sullivan and Associates is here for you or happy to help you find a practitioner in your area.
From personal experience, it’s worth it.
What about that cake?
Back to the chocolate cake: there was a time when I loved eating it, but afterward I felt bloated, edgy, and slightly paranoid — which is no fun for anyone! Today, I still eat it, and LOVE it. I just make sure it’s gluten free, with high quality chocolate and no processed stuff. To me, it’s tastier that way. I get to enjoy it while I’m eating it and I no longer have to pay a physical, mental or emotional price.
If you want to improve and heal your relationship with food, check out my Food & Mood workshop!