We need food to fuel our bodies, but more often than not food is much more than that. It acts as a reflection of our mood. Feeling stressed or down? We might crave carbohydrates. Feeling happy or in need of celebration? There’s cake and chocolate for that! But have you noticed that the food items we choose when rewarding ourselves, are not actually what we need to boost our bodies?
Much like any other stimulant, the food items we choose when emotional, only provide a fleeting feeling of wellbeing. Chocolate or carbs – though fine for the body in moderation – are actually just a short term rush. They may make us feel good at the time, but this is often followed by a slump – and sometimes accompanying feelings of guilt or frustration too.
The reason we choose these sugar, fatty foods is no secret. These foods contain opioids – the same active ingredients that you’ll find in cocaine, heroin and many other narcotics! Is it any wonder that these emotional eating habits are so hard to break? We’re addicted to the feel-good high and put off by the feelings we experience when we try to stop.
But rather than seeking the quick fix route to make us fleetingly happy, we should actually be focussing on what we need to include in our daily diet to maximise our feelings of contentment and wellbeing. Indeed, it is a consistent, balanced diet that makes us happier because it makes us healthier and healthy body = healthy mind.
There are certain food types that we absolutely need within our diet. To ease the irritability and dissatisfaction that comes with constipation, we need fibrous foods. To ease depression, foods that are rich in Vitamin B12 – such as green vegetables – are a must.
Our five golden rules for choosing food that will heighten your happiness are:
- Eat regularly – this helps us avoid peaks and troughs in blood sugar, which can significantly impact on our outlook and mood.
- Eat more carbohydrates – carbohydrates help your body produce serotonin which makes you feel ‘happy and healthy’. But make sure they are 'complex' carbohydrates from wholemeal foods rather than carbohydrates from refined foods, which will result in peaks and troughs in blood sugar (see point 1).
- Eat plenty of fish – this makes sure your levels of omega oils are topped up. A deficiency in these oils has been linked to low mood.
- Eat plenty of iron – this makes sure our energy levels are up, which makes us feel positive. A lack of iron leads to fatigue and a preoccupied mind, that’s unable to focus properly.
- Eat less fat – it quite literally weighs us down and leaves us feeling sluggish.
According to mental health charity Mind, improvements in diet can lead to greater positivity, more energy, clearer thinking and calmer moods. They outline eight tips on how to improve your mood through food – including drinking more water and making healthy choices
Their suggestion to keep a food diary is a really useful tool for tracking particular food items and assessing the impact they have on your body – and your happiness levels.
They also advocate the practice of planning ahead and preparing foods in advance to freeze. This helps us make healthy food choices – it's easier to eat emotionally when you’re short on time and feeling under stress.
For more information about food and mood, you can access their information poster, here: https://www.mind.org.uk/media/2106853/foodandmood_web.pdf
Remember, there is no one rule fits all when it comes to ‘happy’ eating. We’re all different and as such, we will each react differently when we consume certain food and beverages. Get to know your own body, so you can make the right choices, for you and your happiness.