Most children become obviously irritable whenever they’re hungry or hit a sugar crash. They get grouchy and sleepy. They whine and cry. They may even throw themselves on the ground in the middle of a grocery aisle with a temper tantrum because mom won’t buy them Lucky Charms. Most parents know what and when they’re kids eat has a direct effect on what kind of kid they’ll be dealing with just hours later.
We are very cautious with how, what and when we feed children but once we hit a certain age as adults we feel entitled to throw caution to the wind where what and when we is concerned. Often the only thing separating children and adults, in food-inflicted mood swings, is that as adults we’re just a bit more selective with where and who we throw temper tantrums with.
What if you thought about what you choose to eat as directly effecting your mood? Because it turns out that’s exactly what it does.
As adults we aren’t always all that different in our food choices than most children and more neither is our brain in how it is effected by these foods. In fact, as adults we seem to take less consideration to how foods effect our moods, clarity and level of productivity. We find ways to reason poor choices and tend to blame our crazy, hectic lives for bad moods, whether it be a lousy day at work, hectic schedules or rationalizing a dinner of M&M’s and popcorn due to PMS. (However, when a women is PMS-ing it’s probably best not to try rationalizing with her how irrational any of her choices are.)
Often what we think we want and what our body wants are two very different things. Not to say that pleasure and healthy eating don’t go hand in hand, it is just rarely portrayed as such in our society. Even when eating for the sake of weight loss, it’s unlikely we give our mental well being a second thought. Generally we are driven to eat out of two motives: What do I want or what do I need. There is little wrong with eating what you want, as long as you keep in tune with what your body is craving and not just what you think you’re craving. The 16 year old me craved little but Stromboli, Frappacinos, and Ben & Jerry’s Fish Food. It’s seems like a no-brainer, “If I’m craving it, I’ll eat it.”
What you fill your stomach with can effect your brain just as much as what’s in your brain can effect your gut. Ever wonder why you get so nervous on a date you feel nauseous and can’t eat? Your brain and gut are more connected than you might think. Turns out “the gut has its own nervous system, which sends information to the brain via the vagus nerve,” a little nerve that stems from your brain all the way to your gut, explaining how certain foreign foods (not meaning that dinosaur kale you think looks crazy, but as in foods that are processed, refined or “enhanced”) might have something to do with our clouded, crappy moods.
In the latest New York magazine, an article on kale in fact, it was noted “Your brain makes up 2 percent of your body weight, but it consumes 20 percent of everything you eat. By changing your food, you change genetic expression and actually change the way your brain functions. (That’s t-w-e-n-t-y percent, in case you didn’t get it the first time.) Just like certain foods can put you in a bad mood, certain foods can put you in a very good mood. Salmon and sardines have been said to fight depression. Oatmeal can be a steady source of energy. Chicken and eggs can improve cognitive functions. Spinach and kale fight insomnia. Yogurt and kimchi can alleviate anxiety and help us chill out. In some ways, maybe you are what you eat.
While much of our mental state is clearly effected by how we think and act (and eating junk is never an excuse to throw your adult-self on the floor and make a scene with a lousy attitude) it may make you reconsider the next time your Chick-Fil-a drive-thru for chicken and waffles.