The link between how you eat and how you feel is undeniable, but it may not be always obvious to you.
If you want to learn more about the link between food and mood, here is what you can gain from this blog:
Where do we start?
Take a pint of ice cream out of the freezer and you can already feel the flood of “feel-good” hormones rush your body in anticipation of slipping into the sublime reverie of good old sugar therapy. The sugar in that first, best bite triggers the release of serotonin; you take a deep breath and you relax into the warm embrace of a “guilty pleasure”. Yummy!
Listen, I’m not here to tell you how to cope with stress, I’m not here to judge what you eat and how much of it in one setting. I am here for one reason, to help you live a healthier life, so my one question is: how does it feel when that sugar high comes crashing down?
Quite awful right? So what do you do next? You get more ice cream or some other goodie, just to avoid the emotional misery.
And loosing yourself in sugary food to relieve stress, anxiety, or what have you is a legitimate way to cope with your emotions, but it’s not one that serves you in the long run my friend.
Let’s see, dysregulated blood sugar ー the hallmark of diabetes and pre-diabetes, which affects 1 in 3 U.S. adults ー can land you in some serious trouble.
Collagen protein, one of the essential building blocks underneath your skin, which keeps you strong and flexible, becomes stiff by “advanced glycation end products.”
Blood that can’t flow in microcirculation, a nervous system that can’t fire off signals in your toes and fingers, a brain that doesn't get adequate oxygenation, these are just some of the key consequences of chronic indulgent eating.
Is sugar and unhealthy fat worth the prize?
The price you pay for an unhelpful coping strategy comes into full perspective when you look at the link between too much sugar, fat, and salt and a host of chronic conditions like heart disease, cancer, high blood pressure, and stroke, just to name a few.
It’s obvious that people use food to cope. I know it’s been harder for some of us to consistently get a steady stream of healthy foods since the 2019-Coronavirus pandemic. But this situation also helped some of us to realize how our food choices affect our mood.
It is so important now more than ever to grasp the difference between choices that make you feel unstable and choices that support your strong foundation. A sugary treat may temporarily boost your serotonin, but with all those long-term side effects, does it really make you more stable?
It’s likely that the current times are not bringing many of us financial stability. You probably have been struggling with a rollercoaster of emotions, from fear to anger to confusion to frustration and everything in-between. It’s true, this pandemic has brought unprecedented hardship to our civilization.
But that doesn’t imply that your mind must necessarily be in a reactive state all the time. Only through great suffering can great strength be realized. These times may be hard, but they’re going to keep getting harder until you realize that this is an opportunity to build resilience.
When you fuel your body with the right nutrients, you’re able to move and think freely, and be emotionally active, yet stable. Seems simple enough, but putting it to practice is no easy feat with today’s food landscape full of convenience stores and fast food.
And here’s how to build emotional, nutritional resilience.
I’m not talking about calorie counting here ー that may be helpful for some people, but it's not necessary. Start with simply, yet specific recording what you eat and drink and how you feel day to day for a week or so. You’ll start to notice correlations: you might not have noticed before that that afternoon slump only happens when you eat pizza or hot dog for lunch, or that alcohol in the evening sets you up for a restless night and awful headache the next morning.
Carbohydrates are essential for recovering from a long day or a workout, they’re essential for those “feel-good” hormones in your brain, they’re essential for providing the energy you use to move throughout the day. But not all carbs are created equal: a tablespoon of pure sugar has almost nothing in common with an apple, a cup of arugula, beans, or a bowl of whole grain quinoa.
These whole foods still provide your body the sugar it needs, but they carry with them very beneficial micronutrients for better metabolism, a slower and lower blood sugar response, phytochemicals that can act as systemic antioxidant anti-inflammatories, and more.
Making the switch to whole foods strengthens the gut brain axis, resulting in better immunity, better heart health, and better steady brain function, especially since 90% of your serotonin and 80% of your immune system are located in your gut.
You tell me, is it worth trying?
Yoga, stretching, meditation, prayer, even mindful eating ー it doesn’t matter what you like to do, but connecting your mind with your body gives your sympathetic nervous system (that’s the fight-flight-freeze response) a moment to relax. Mindful eating can stimulate saliva production, allowing you to digest your food more effectively. Within two weeks of daily practice, you might see the benefit in your blood pressure, your inflammatory markers, your reactivity.
This tool, more than any other, has been the meta-skill that facilitates everything else I want to accomplish in life. Even 5 minutes of a full-body stretch in the morning can set you up for a successful day. You may like the steady flow of energy.
One immediate suggestion that comes to my mind is, please go shopping after eating a balanced meal. There is nothing worse than shopping with a hungry, irrational brain.
When you shop with your rational brain not your reactive brain, you end up getting more veggies, more whole foods, and fewer of the processed foods known to be a set up for disaster and bad for your health.
Then when it’s time to eat, you’ve set yourself up for success by filling your fridge with real foods instead of quick fast carbs and bad fats.
Listen, I understand it may take you a few extra hours one evening to prep your food for the next few days, but your brain health is worth that time. Don’t you agree?
Even during a pandemic, we can still enjoy our meals with others. If it’s just a phone call or a video chat, that extra connection can help you wind down and destress during mealtimes. In other cultures the positive effects of eating together are undeniable. Even if the feast isn’t a platter of trendy health foods, activating your “rest-and-digest” parasympathetic nervous system helps you maintain your health and act, not react, to the next situation you face. U.S. culture is so go go go that our stress responses are always activated, and a meal a day with your (socially-distant) closest friends may be just what the doctor ordered.
Regular physical activity plays an essential role in getting your blood flowing better. Better blood flow to the brain leads to better cognitive function. In fact, aerobic exercise (ie cardio) is linked to better brain function and more brain gray matter in research.
Besides moving more, there are chemicals in your foods known as vasodilators. Tyrosine (high in red meat) is a protein amino acid known for this function. Niacin, a B-vitamin, and omega-3 fatty acids can also improve your blood’s ability to flow freely. Anthocyanins, especially in wild blueberries, have been studied for their potential role in directly oxygenating the brain.
If you want the most impactful way to eat for oxygenation though, you’ll want to turn to natural inorganic nitrates. One very well done study in humans showed that a high nitrate diet was able to increase brain oxygenation in the part of your brain responsible for critical thinking and executive functioning. Mouse studies confirm that nitrates can increase the growth of neurons, suggesting a role in delaying neurodegenerative disease via a vascular mechanism.
Resync Recovery contains not only the most potent nitrates known to humans: red spinach extract, beetroot, and aronia berry extract (which has its own brain-beneficial polyphenols), but also a number of other ingredients for maximal blood flow support like curcumin, ginger, and mango fruit. Polyphenols in aronia berry have been shown to promote healthy gut bacteria as well. After all, just like effective emotional health, effective recovery relies on your blood delivering nutrients and clearing out waste products.
Using food to cope in a healthy way, rather than a harmful way, translates into stability across your life. Overcoming stress and anxiety is key, so you have to know what tools work for you to get the job done consistently. When you’ve dropped the negativity and have sought clarity, you’ll feel it in your energy levels, in how your brain works, and hey, it might even affect your waistline too.
The decisions you make at home ー what you cook and put on your plate, what you buy at the grocery storeー has a direct correlation to how to act sensibly, and whether you can tolerate distress or not.
For example, when you’re acting out of a rash, emotional mind, you tend to make irrational decisions you might later regret. Something mildly stressful becomes unmanageably distressing. See what happens in your day to day interactions when you’re sleep deprived, or when you’ve eaten nothing but convenience foods for a day or more, you’ll see exactly what I mean.
No internal and external joy!
What makes this situation worse is that we humans seem to be hard-wired for pessimism. From an evolutionary perspective it makes sense: faced with the harsh reality of pre-civilization, you had to look at the negative side of things to see where your tribe could improve. Your very survival depended on it.
Fast forward to today, and you see that even though we use positive adjectives more often than negative ones, it’s the negative ones that we place more meaning in. With widespread quarantines, lockdowns, and other restrictions on travel or leaving the house, we are now more than ever being forced to reckon with our innately negative selves.
Receding inward, focusing on the negative, and an inherently stressful world-wide shared experience of a pandemic all push us towards irrational responses.
The moment our brain goes negative, it starts a domino effect of dysregulated hormones, disturbed heart health, worse gut function, and a damaged immune system. Each of those lead to not feeling good in your own skin, feeling fatigued and irritable.
These responses in your hormones and your organs serve a purpose, yes, but adaptive responses become maladaptive when they become chronic. The cycle is truly terrifying.
Remember, you always have an option to fuel your emotional stability with healthy nutritional choices or just temporarily satisfy the next sugar craving. And in the age of being “stressed and busy” - do more, get more, be more, it takes consistent clarity of mind to stay on top of your health.
Happy and healthy, or reactive and deeply miserable. What’s your choice?
If you liked this blog you might also enjoy some of our other articles:
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Wishing you the best in your health,
The Resync Team
Garcia, David, et al. “Positive Words Carry Less Information than Negative Words.” EPJ Data Science, vol. 1, no. 1, May 2012, p. 3. Springer Link, doi:10.1140/epjds3.
Istas, Geoffrey, et al. “Effects of Aronia Berry (Poly)Phenols on Vascular Function and Gut Microbiota: A Double-Blind Randomized Controlled Trial in Adult Men.” The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, vol. 110, no. 2, 01 2019, pp. 316–29. PubMed, doi:10.1093/ajcn/nqz075.
Kalt, Wilhelmina, et al. “Recent Research on the Health Benefits of Blueberries and Their Anthocyanins.” Advances in Nutrition, vol. 11, no. 2, Oxford Academic, Mar. 2020, pp. 224–36. academic.oup.com, doi:10.1093/advances/nmz065.
Presley, Tennille D., et al. “Acute Effect of a High Nitrate Diet on Brain Perfusion in Older Adults.” Nitric Oxide : Biology and Chemistry / Official Journal of the Nitric Oxide Society, vol. 24, no. 1, Jan. 2011, pp. 34–42. PubMed Central, doi:10.1016/j.niox.2010.10.002.
Wilkins, Lippincott Williams &. “Effect of Aerobic Exercise on Cognition in Younger Adults: A Randomized Clinical Trial.” Neurology, vol. 93, no. 4, Wolters Kluwer Health, Inc. on behalf of the American Academy of Neurology, July 2019, pp. 185–185. n.neurology.org, doi:10.1212/WNL.0000000000007292.
Fact checked by registered dietitian, Detrick Snyder, MPH, RDN. Updated 08/28/2020.
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