By Dr. Tyler Fortman
As a psychologist in Chicago, I’m always interested in how our daily routines, like eating, impact our overall mood and feelings, without our even noticing.
Take, for instance, how we start our day. It’s quite set-in-stone for most of us. Many of my clients wake up at the same time, stumble into the shower, grab a snack on the way out of the door, stop in at a coffee shop on the way into work, then settle into their desk for the day.
And, often times, just a simple adjustment to their morning (such as setting the alarm just a few minutes earlier in order to ease into waking up or listening to peaceful music on the way into work) can have a drastic impact on their general mood throughout the rest of their day.
Well, what and how we eat is no different.
For centuries, humans have been looking for the easiest (and yummiest) answer to the healthy body equation. The assumption is that the right combination and quantity of foods will (for the most part) keep our bodies healthy and strong. But, we often fail to incorporate something else into these considerations: our mental health.
However, researchers have begun to explore and demonstrate a deeper connection between what we eat and how we feel.
While what we’re learning is fairly new, I believe it’s worth consideration. Here are three highlights:
Ingesting probiotics (supplements and fermented foods with ‘good’ bacteria such as kombucha, kimchi, and sauerkraut) positively impacts the production of serotonin in your gut. This neurotransmitter, when in the brain, heavily impacts sleep, appetite, and mood. Researchers are linking how all the neurons lining your GI tract are connecting the serotonin in your gut to the serotonin in your brain. As a result, they’re finding improved anxiety levels, perceptions of stress, and mental outlook for folks ingesting probiotics regularly.
It’s found in everything – just start taking a closer look at those food labels. And it’s not helping us feel better in the long run. Sugar triggers the same parts of your brain as addictive drugs. So when we’re hungry or feeling drowsy, we tend to crave sugary treats – giving us a rush of energy. In the end, however, these spikes and crashes of blood sugar levels can lead to binging and food addiction on all those unhealthy foods, resulting in higher risks of depression and stress.
It turns out that savoring every bite doesn’t actually go hand-in-hand with cookies, cakes, and ice cream. Several recent studies have shown that a vast majority of people who eat mindfully – that is, eating slowly, without distraction and with attention given to enjoying the food – are experiencing less emotional eating and binging. By eating mindfully, they’ve found themselves craving and consuming a healthier diet which, in turn, keeps our feeling pretty good.
There is a reason that more and more clinicians (both mental health and medical) are taking a holistic approach to their work. It turns out that your brain is part of your body. Try giving a little more attention to what you’re eating. It could really change your day!