Have you ever had the sudden urge to eat a huge slice of cake at three in the morning? Trust me, I am guilty of this too. A lot of the time, we just consume whatever is in front of us out of impulse. However, the types of food you eat and your mental health are more connected than you think. Putting the needs of your body first will take you a long way in the future.
While eating out of impulse is on one extreme, on the other many people have the tendency to skip meals. At the moment, you may think that you are helping yourself lose weight. Yet, if you look at the big picture, it is not a very effective way of doing so. Not eating will only cause your blood sugar to drop, resulting in feelings of mental and physical tiredness, as well as irritation. Eventually, you will be so deprived of food that you will begin to binge eat, leaving you feeling even worse than before. To avoid falling into the trap, try eating in small portions if you don’t think you can handle a lot at once. Your body will thank you later.:)
Now for some science behind food and mental health. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that helps regulate sleep, appetite, moods, and pain reactions. Most of that serotonin is produced in your gastrointestinal tract, which is why your digestive system also plays a huge role in guiding your emotions. The good bacteria that digest food are influenced by what it digests and absorbs, in return affecting the level of inflammation throughout the body as well as your mood and energy levels.
Your brain needs a constant supply of “fuel.” Not just any kind of fuel, but the very best kind of fuel. This means eating a good supply of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants to keep your brain at its highest energy level. Well, you may say, I drink caffeine to fuel myself every morning. Though caffeine is okay if consumed in healthy amounts, most people are easily addicted to it. Being addicted to practically anything will hurt you in the long run. It may cause insomnia, nervousness, and restlessness in many people. It over activates the central nervous system, giving that initial feeling of being on top of the world but then making you crash later on. I am not saying take caffeine out of your diet, but be mindful as to how it could be negatively altering your emotions.
Other types of things that may be affecting you in a similar way are sugary drinks, processed snacks, desserts, and fried food - the foods we know are obviously unhealthy but refuse to give up. There are so many healthy food options out there, you just have to do a little digging and find creative ways to put it together! I recommend looking up healthy recipes that make you excited to eat. This will not only be better for your body, but it will make your mood go up significantly. Sometimes we succumb to bad habits because the temptation just overtakes our mind when we see an unhealthy snack in front of us. However, we can go step by step to slowly replace bad dietary habits.
Fruits - There are so many different fruits out there that you are sure to find at least one you really like. Some fruits I really like are bananas, strawberries, mangoes, and oranges. One of my favorite ways of eating fruits is putting them together into an acai bowl. For an evening snack, I try to eat a lot of fruit so I don’t have the temptation to binge on chips later.
Vegetables - I personally think vegetables are a really fun way to experiment. From adding some broccoli to your pasta to making tomato soup, to making eggplant parmesan, to tofu scramble; you can basically add veggies to anything. Also, salads can be intimidating but if they are made the right way they taste amazing!
Nuts and Seeds - I never realized how many different options there were - walnuts, almonds, chia seeds, pumpkin seeds - you name it! They are loaded with many types of nutrients and don’t require any preparation to make. You can try keeping a jar near you to snack on every now and then.
Grains - Many people have started to stay away from certain grains, but some can be very healthy for you. You can play around with oats (make cookies out of them or eat oatmeal for breakfast!), try different styles of quinoa, or use brown rice instead of white. Another thing I have been liking recently is farro which is a really nutritious grain.
I recommend trying to pay attention to how different types of foods make you feel. Some people have certain reactions to specific foods, but everyone’s body is different. You can even try cutting out processed foods from your diet altogether to see how your mental health improves. For the most part, there is not a clear right or wrong, you just have to figure out what feels right for you. Overall, the food you consume truly affects your mental health and wellness - whether it be positively or negatively!