It all starts with food. What we put in our bodies, is what comes out. If you eat food that causes inflammation and toxicity, your behaviors will reflect that. If you eat food that calms and nourishes your body, that is what your behaviors toward yourself and others will reflect.
I wrote this on a meme and posted it on social media. Since then, it has been floating around in my brain wanting to be expanded on so I thought I would do that here. I am not a science-y person so what I am going to write about comes from my own personal experience. It may or may not pertain to you and I will let you decide that for yourself.
Back in 2005, when I was in graduate school and studying the holistic nutrition part of my program, I read a lot about the connection between food and mood. Being someone who had struggled with anxiety my whole life, this really interested me. There was a lot of information and studies that spoke to the connection between eating sugar and processed food and the impact it has on mood. It didn’t take any time at all for me to look at my own experience and know this was absolutely true. My anxiety and even short term bouts of mild depression could be linked to the food and drink I was ingesting at any given period in my life. I won’t say the food was actually causing my anxiety or depression but it did, without a doubt, make it worse.
Since then, I have come to learn this lesson over and over. There is this destructive cycle that plays out in my life and maybe yours too and it goes like this: Get stressed, eat sugar, drink wine, feel momentarily (and I mean less than an hour) better, then feel awful. The rest of the cycle includes guilt and shame for eating the food and drinking the wine and then feeling more stressed, which leads to less energy, less patience, crankiness, anxiety and if I’m really going for it, some depressive feelings. I mean, if I’m going to do it, I may as well do it right. And let’s be clear, stress doesn’t always start the cycle. Sometimes I start on this path as a reward (I realize setting myself up for anxiety, guilt and shame isn’t a reward but when I am drinking the wine to congratulate myself, that never seems to enter my mind). So one day I find myself hiking in a beautiful place but all I am thinking about is how angry I’ve been feeling and how none of my clothes fit quite right. Actually, I went and bought some new hiking duds because mine were getting a little snug. I was trying to connect with that peace that comes from being in nature but it just was not happening and then it hit; I had been stress eating and I don’t mean binge eating on carrots. I mean I had been eating all the candy and junk food around the office. Pizza had been a frequent comfort food and the burger and fries with a wine chaser, had become a pretty good friend. It all started with feelings of anger about something else, but I realized I was actually feeding that anger and it was like squirting a can of kerosene on a fire. The inflammatory food was feeding my inflamed emotions.
I am sure there are people who NEVER experience this cycle but I am going to take a wild guess that there are a lot more of us that do than don’t. In some cases we do this because we have a lack of knowledge about the fact that food really does have an effect on every other aspect of our lives, but in my case, I did know this and was still doing it. That’s because, sometimes instant gratification and self-numbing wins out over my rational and intelligent thinking. Be that as it may, it doesn’t change the fact that this is a destructive pattern that has taken a toll on my mind, body and spirit. Three words that are so common, that we may overlook the importance of them. Food impacts our mind, body and spirit. It can lift us up and it can throw us violently down. It makes us glow or it dulls everything about us. We can use it as a tool to empower ourselves or as an avoidance tactic. I don’t know about you, but once I come home and eat pizza or have a glass of wine, yoga is NOT happening.
My partner has made multiple comments about how in tune I am with my body. Maybe that’s the case now but it certainly wasn’t always the case. There were many years of my life that I had no idea the candy bar caused me to have more anxiety or that eating protein and vegetables would help stabilize my energy and my moods. Now though, I really do know this. I still don’t make the healthy choices ALL the time, but it is not lost on me that the outcome of how I feel is directly related to what I put in my body. If I fill my body with nutrient dense food and water, I handle EVERYTHING better. I treat people better. I’m more patient and kind with myself and others. I don’t worry as much or feel on edge all the time. I have more energy and better focus. I am just a happier, kinder and more compassionate person when I eat whole and healthy food. There is no denying it.
So often we talk about eating healthy as a way to look better. Yes, feel better, but mostly look better. I think this can be a motivation to change the way we eat at the beginning but I think it lacks sustainability. I feel the same way about exercise. If our primary motivation for exercise is to look good, I feel like we lose our momentum if our bodies don’t respond quickly enough. On the other hand, if my motivation to eat healthy and exercise is to FEEL GOOD emotionally, mentally and physically, I can see some of those results pretty immediately. That way, if my body doesn’t respond as quickly as I would like it to, my motivation remains intact. My love handles may not be gone yet, but man, it was so nice to have energy to play with my kiddo when I got home from work. For me, this benefit beats the pants off the sleek body Every. Single. Time. And honestly, your body will respond too, but tuning into my energy and emotions has been a far more sustainable motivating factor.
I think I may have more to say on this topic but I am just going to leave this here for now. Let me know what you think in the comments. How have you experienced the food and mood connection in your life? Any questions, advice or experiences you would like to share? I’d love to hear from you (unless you’re cranky from eating too many candy bars:-)