As we move towards winter our diets tend to change and the level of carbs that we will be eating almost certainly will increase. We call this comfort eating.
Food and mood is a fascinating subject. In current times the drive for our diet to become plant based or vegan seems to be everywhere. Many people, that I know, consume animal flesh without making to connection between what is on their plate and what is running a round in a field. For there is the need, often verging on agitation, to not damage another living soul in any way. It leaves me wondering why we each decide to each what we do?
It has been known throughout time that food and mood go together. Foods have been used to enhance energy, intelligence, healing and for aphrodisiac properties. The thing that is never clear is, when food is associated with mood, are the moods the result of the food eaten, or if it is the mood that leads us to be attracted to certain foods in the first place!
When I was a child my parents told me that “fat people were always happy and jolly”, and I could see the truth of that, Mrs Pye, a very large lady who ,live across the road, was indeed always laughing. Then at other times I was also told that people who were always happy were stupid because, according to my parents, life was supposed to be hard, and life was supposed to be earnest. As a good Christian, of Irish decent, my mother taught me that “every one has their cross to bear”, that everyone had their difficulties to face and overcome. I grew up with believing that, in life, we were not supposed to have a good time and that it was supposed to be difficult, and that in some strange way, living with difficulty was the sign of the pure life. So, in many ways the more miserable that you were then the better person you must be. Mad or what?
This created confusion in me. In my mind it followed that if big people were happy they must also be stupid. It also followed that they had no reason to be unhappy because they were not carrying any crosses in life. On the contrary, it seemed to me that big people had every reason to be happy, while skinny people had every reason to be unhappy because of all their crosses that were weighing them down.
To top it all I was very skinny, therefore, in my mind, I was supposed to be unhappy, and I was. I accepted it as the natural order of my life. My dilemma was, if I ate too much I would be fat and stupid or else I would be thin and miserable. As I was thin I accepted that I would always be miserable, and I was.
Obviously with age and experience I now know that this was all nonsense, though at the time it seemed all very real. I say nonsense but well, it is, but not quite. We now know that food and mood do go together. When we eat carbohydrates our brain secretes serotonin, the happy hormone. Comfort foods are exactly that. Eating carbohydrates for comfort is really self medication.
In psychotherapy we now identify the ‘carbohydrate cycle’. This means that as a response to feeling depressed and down, many people will go and eat lots of carbohydrates to get the feeling of comfort. The result of this is that they put on weight. They then go to the mirror and feel bad at the weight they have put on leading them to eat more carbohydrates to make them self feel better.
The self medication with carbohydrates is only one way to increase serotonin. The most obvious route is through medication is antidepressants. However the best way to increase serotonin and feel better is through exercise or by simply having fun. If your heart beats faster for twenty minutes your brain will secrete more serotonin that will make you feel so much better. It makes me realise how much our life-style works against us feeling good. Our, hunter gatherer, ancestors would jog a few mile everyday collecting food and going about their business, and in the process maintain good levels of endorphins, happy hormones. We, on the other hand, live sedentary life styles that create very little of the hormones that we really need.
The question remains, are we the result of what we eat or are we attracted to certain foods because of who we are? There’s certainly a relationship between what we eat and how we feel. If you eat light easy to digest foods you will a light and have an easy mind, the food reflects your mood. If you eat reheated meat pie and chips you will have a mind that reflects heavy stodgy fat food.
It strikes me that in a normal situation we would naturally east what our body needed. However, many people exact with their mind not their body. They are eating what they think they should eat and not what their body is asking for. When I was young I lived in many communities that we solid vegetarian. Well, they were until a visitor would coma and start cooking bacon. Suddenly people began to appear in the kitchen attracted by the smell.
Some people are naturally in touch with their body and eat what is appropriate for them. Some are more in touch with their mind and eat what they thing they should eat. While others have to eat whatever they can get and do not have a choice. I tend toward the Mediterranean diet and I love olives, tomatoes and pasta which is a powerful carb and certainly does make me feel good. A glass of red wine with the pasta goes down a treat.
So what are you having for tea? Does it make you feel happy? If not perhaps you might need to change your diet, or go for a run. Is your diet based around what you think you should eat or what you really enjoy eating?
Take care and enjoy your food.