How Does Food Affect Your Mood?
I’m sure we can all agree we have certain days or weeks where we’re feeling less than positive.
You might put this down to getting your period or not getting enough sleep, but sometimes there doesn’t seem to be any explanation. Well, it may have something to do with what you’re eating! What we put into our bodies can affect the balance of some neurotransmitters (brain chemicals) and other hormones that can play a role in your mood and appetite.
So, next time you’re feeling one of these emotions, it could be your food that is affecting your mood.
You’re feeling grumpy and irritable
Have you ever had one of those days where everything is irritating you, but you can’t explain why? No one likes being in these moods, and I’m sure the people around us would agree!
If you’re someone that likes to munch on highly processed foods, such as lollies and chips, then this could be a reason why. Without going into too much detail, the preferred source of energy for your brain and muscles is carbohydrates (glucose). Your body works super hard to ensure that the amount of glucose in the blood, also known as blood sugar, remains consistent. This is so your brain, muscles and other cells can function at their best all day, every day.
Because refined carbohydrates are quickly broken down by the body, they can cause our blood sugar levels to temporarily skyrocket. This causes the body to release a hormone called insulin, which tells your body’s cells to start absorbing this glucose and return blood sugar levels back to normal. As this process of breaking down and absorbing glucose can be quite fast, most people tend to feel hungry just a few hours later and the cycle continues. It’s these dramatic ups and downs in blood sugar levels that can explain why we might be our usual happy selves one minute and then transition into the Hulk the next!
Fortunately, there are a number of ways that you can avoid this blood sugar ‘roller-coaster’. The most obvious one is to eat less refined carbohydrates and more complex ones (such as oats, wholemeal bread, pasta etc) in combination with protein at each of your main meals. Not only can these foods provide your body with more nutrients, but they also release energy more slowly. Also, rather than leaving big gaps between your meals, I recommend eating smaller, more regular ones. This might mean packing a couple of extra healthy midmorning snacks for you to eat between each of your main meals.
These small changes can help your blood sugar levels to remain more stable throughout the day, which can help the whole “I feel like Oscar the Grouch” thing.
You’re jittery and anxious
Do you sometimes feel really anxious and you can’t figure out why? If you are a coffee lover, this may be your answer! As most of you know, coffee contains caffeine, a type of stimulant. When we are tired and in need of sleep, our brain can release neurotransmitters (brain chemicals) that tell our body that it’s time to rest. Stimulants such as coffee often work by getting in the way of this process. That cup of coffee can be more than just a quick pick-me-up — it can make you feel more alert and focused.
The one thing that many people don’t know is that caffeine isn’t just found in coffee, it can also be found in other drinks (such as energy drinks) and chocolate. So if you drink multiple cups of coffee, eat lots of chocolate or drink several energy drinks a day, this can be why you feel jittery and anxious.
Now I know saying ‘cut coffee out’ is definitely easier said than done, so before you raise your hands in protest, hear me out. If you’re constantly relying on coffee to keep you going, then you might need to take a step back and assess what it is that’s causing you to feel tired in the first place. Are you not getting enough sleep? Are you not eating foods that provide you with enough energy to get through the day?
If you genuinely like the taste of coffee, then you could try switching to decaf and see if this help you to feel less jittery! If you want a good substitute, I like drinking green tea as it still gives me energy, but also contains plenty of beneficial antioxidants.
You constantly crave comfort foods
As well as giving you a quick burst of energy, have you ever noticed that ‘comfort foods’, such as burgers, pizza, chocolate or ice-cream sometimes help soothe your mood? This is because they can cause your body to release endorphins, which are so-called ‘feel good’ brain chemicals that can help you to feel happy.
The problem with this is that happy feeling can be quite addictive. If you are feeling upset and eat some chocolate, then you feel better (for any reason), it can be hard not to associate one with the other. That can cause you to crave chocolate next time you’re feeling upset. Many people don’t see the correlation between feelings and what they’re eating, but falling into patterns like this can lead to unwanted weight gain, often without you even realising it.
Furthermore, eating comfort foods may make you feel better temporarily, but in a few hours, you may experience a blood sugar crash. That can lead to grumpiness and irritability, which may cause you to reach for comfort foods again. It can easily become a pattern that is quite difficult to break.
My biggest tip for combating emotional eating is to take note of your eating patterns. Next time you feel stressed, upset or angry, take note of what you eat. Once you have recognised emotional eating behaviour, you can take steps to channel that emotion into more positive activities. You might like to go for a walk, read a book or call a friend instead.
There are lots of ways that food can affect your mood. While these tips can be really helpful, it’s important to remember that everybody is different, so our bodies can react differently to certain foods. I’m sure we can all agree that we generally feel better when we eat well, so treat your body kindly! Don’t ever deprive yourself, but also be aware that some foods can have some not-so-pleasant side effects. If you have been struggling with any of the moods above, checking your diet could be a good place to start!
* Results may vary. Strict adherence to the nutrition and exercise guide are required for best results.