Food is one of the basic necessities of life and is needed to survive. Calories from food provide energy for daily activities and body functions. The type of food consumed affects your overall physical and mental health, and not all food provides the same benefits. While all food contains calories for energy, some foods contain other additional essential nutrients such as:
- Macronutrients (fats, carbs, protein)
- Micronutrients (b vitamins, magnesium, vitamin c)
- Trace minerals (iron, manganese, copper)
- Phytochemicals (nutrients only found in plants such as resveratrol).
All of these are important for mood, energy, and overall health. Having a deficiency in any of these categories can lead to a variety of symptoms such as: low immunity, fatigue, weight gain, anxiety/depression, or even high blood pressure. Consuming a variety of nutrient dense foods will provide different types and amounts of nutrients necessary for both physical and mental health. Simply put, all of these foods are basic building blocks to create your hormones, to support cells in your body, and to help activate important physiological processes (such as metabolism). The way your body receives these nutrients is almost completely dependent on what you eat. So if your body is having trouble with certain hormones or functions, your diet must be evaluated.
Furthermore, the type of food consumed and the timing of food consumed can influence your blood sugar levels. Foods that are high in fiber can help slow down the body’s absorption of sugar, and fiber is not broken down and absorbed, meaning that it will not cause a spike in blood sugar levels. High fiber foods include leafy green vegetables, whole grains, fruits, and seeds. On the other hand, foods that are broken down quickly such as simple carbohydrates can cause a bigger change in blood sugar levels in a short amount of time. Simple carbohydrates include dessert foods, breakfast cereals, candy, juice, or soda. Skipping meals or going too long between meals can cause blood sugar levels to plummet, while overeating and being dehydrated can cause blood sugars to rise quickly. Having meals with a good balance of healthy fats, proteins, and carbohydrates at consistent times and supplementing with snacks as necessary can help protect against both high and low blood sugar. Recent studies suggest that highs and lows in blood sugar levels affect mood, behavior, and cognition. More specifically, low blood sugar may lead to nervousness, anxiety, confusion, distractibility, impulsivity, or irritability. High blood sugar may lead to anger, sadness, fatigue, brain fog, or depression.
Viewing your food as fuel is a helpful mindset when addressing food habits. Here are some helpful tips to get you started:
- Learn about your foods. What types of nutrients are in the foods you eat and what do they do for your body?
- Eat the rainbow. Eating a variety of colorful foods (that are naturally that color, not dyed) helps you get in nutrient variety…because nutrients are what cause the foods to have that color!
- Practice mindfulness to assess how you feel after you eat certain meals. Do any foods make you feel more tired, bloated, or hyper? Or do you feel more sustained and energized? Paying attention to how your food affects you can help you adjust your diet to better serve your body’s functions.
- Practice eating on a schedule. Learning mindful eating and hunger cues takes time. So in the meantime, sticking to a schedule is helpful for making sure you are fueling your body.
- Remember that your body tells you it is hungry in multiple ways. It’s not always feeling hunger pangs or outright urges to eat. Your body can tell you that it’s hungry through: dropping energy levels, decreased motivation, feeling easily distracted, feeling brain fog, feeling on edge/shaky or outright anxious, feeling irritable or angry. If food is fuel, then you can practice listening to these signs and learn how to best support your body when it’s running on empty.
- Take time each week to meal plan. This isn’t always enjoyable or preferable, but viewing food as fuel means it’s still important for your body to function properly. Keep it simple and doable. Start with 30-60 minutes on the weekend to plan and shop and go from there.