How our mood affects our food

When we feel stressed, anxious and low in mood this has a direct affect on how we behave towards food and drink. This change in behaviour towards food and drink may further compound low mood and anxiety levels alongside having a negative effect on our weight, waistline, immunity and physical health.

Do you stop eating or loose your appetite when under times of stress or low mood? If the answer is yes the act of not eating has an affect on our blood sugar (glucose levels). Lack of food causes them to drop and we may quickly feel irritable, more angry, snappy, lower in mood and more anxious. Eating little and often every three to four hours helps stabilise our blood sugar levels and has a balancing effect on our mood and anxiety levels.

Have you noticed you are eating more food during the lockdown. Feeling stressed, anxious and poor sleep all affect the hormones which regulate what we want to eat and how full we feel. Are you comfort eating with sugary foods, high fat foods, refined carbohydrates like bread, pasta and chips? All of these foods affect our digestive system and gut health. They change the gut bacteria. Our gut bacteria have a big impact on our mood and how we feel physically. High sugar foods affect our blood glucose levels causing spikes and big dips. This rollercoaster of blood glucose levels affects how we feel through the day and how we behave at our next meal or snack. We all know high sugar, high fat foods contain calories and in the long term excess consumption leads to weight gain that further affects how we feel about ourselves, our self – confidence and self – esteem.

Do you reach for more coffee when under stress or feeling anxious? Caffeine is seen internally by the body as a stressor and increases our internal fight or flight response. At present we may all be in a heightened state of alert with our fight or flight response already over active. Adding caffeine throughout the day and especially more so after lunch keeps stress hormone levels high. When the stress hormone Cortisol stays high in the afternoon and evening we have poor sleep which then affects how we feel the next day and how we behave to food. Keeping caffeine intake low and avoiding after-mid day may help sleep, mood and anxiety levels.

Did you know being dehydrated is a contributing factor to anxiety? When we are dehydrated we feel light headed and dizzy which then make us feel more anxious. The weather has been kind to us, so on these hot days drinking 2 litres of water is really important for our physical and mental wellbeing. Caffeine is a diuretic meaning it causes your body to excrete water and can lead to dehydration.

Have you noticed you have been drinking more alcohol during the lockdown? Many people cope with stress, low mood and anxiety through alcohol. Excess alcohol (more than a glass a night) affects our sleep and hydration levels which then affect our mood and anxiety levels. Poor sleep due to alcohol affects our bodies ability to rest, repair and digest. When we have a good nights sleep and eat regularly are bodies ability to rest, repair and digest is optimised helping to lower internal stress responses, lower blood pressure, lower circulating fats and help release the immune boosting hormone DHEA.

Being mindful of what we are eating and drinking is an important part of managing both physical and mental wellbeing. Following a balanced diet low in sugar, high in fibre such as the Mediterranean diet has been found to help lower depression alongside lowering the risk for type 2 diabetes, heart disease and some cancers. The Mediterranean diet includes a rainbow of brightly coloured fruit and vegetables, whole grains, pulses, red wine, olive oil, fish, nuts and seeds.

Written by Sharon Elizabeth Best : MSc Nutrition, Physical Activity & Public Health

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