How many of you reading this have been on or are currently ‘on a diet’? I would make a stab in the dark and guess upwards of 80%. I know people who spend most of their life on a diet. It’s a strange approach to food when you step back and think about that. Food is our fuel, we need it to survive. However, we can source energy in lots of other ways too. After a big meal, take Christmas Day as an example, would you be energised to go for a run in the evening? I know I would be more likely to be found snoozing on the sofa in a food coma! The relationship that we have with food can often be difficult yet so rarely is it the relationship with food itself but the emotional eating cycle, our associations and how we have been conditioned to think about food.
So many positive and negative emotional connotations and experiences are associated with food.I am going to hand over to my more qualified big sister, Claire McGee, who is a registered Dietitian. In the information below she is talking about three key categories: Healthy Eating, Mindful Eating and Food & Mood.
A good diet is important for good health. Eating a variety of foods can improve general wellbeing, reduce the risk of conditions including heart disease, stroke, some cancers, diabetes and osteoporosis (thin bones) and help you manage your weight. Eating sensibly, choosing a varied diet from a range of foods, not smoking and keeping active are all great ways to boost your health.
Different types of food
The Eatwell Guide can help you to understand the different types of food that make up a healthy diet. It also shows how much of these foods you should eat to have a well-balanced and healthy diet. It’s a good idea to try to get this balance right throughout the week.
The Eatwell Guide is made up of five food groups – fruit and vegetables; potatoes, bread, rice, pasta and other starchy carbohydrates; beans, pulses, fish, eggs, meat and other proteins; dairy and alternatives; and oil and spreads. If you choose a variety of foods from the groups you can easily achieve this healthy balance.
Foods high in fat, salt and sugars are not needed in the diet, so if you do choose to include them then try to have them less often and in smaller amounts. Read on for some useful tips.
A portion is:
Try to choose reduced fat versions where you can, for example semi-skimmed milk or low fat yoghurt.
|Saturated fat (avoid)||Unsaturated fat (alternative)|
|butter ghee lard coconut oil palm oils and foods made from these. pastries cakes biscuits and other foods made from hydrogenated fats.||Polyunsaturated fat Polyunsaturated fat, oils, soft spreads and margarines including: sunflower soya corn linseed (flaxseed) safflower seed oil. Monounsaturated fat olive oil rapeseed oil|
Choosing mono-unsaturated spreads (such as those made from olive or rapeseed oils) help to lower blood levels of harmful LDL cholesterol, and boost levels of ‘good’ high density lipoproteins (HDL) cholesterol.
It is important to remember that all types of fat are high in energy and should be limited in the diet.
7. Sugar and fat – are high in calories, so try to cut down on foods and drinks with lots of sugar/fat in such as sweets, cakes, crisps and sugary soft drinks. Choose low-fat or reduced sugar foods where possible.
Eat a range of foods from the main food groups to make sure you have a balanced diet. Eat the right amount of food for how active you are.
Most of all – enjoy your food!
What is mindful eating?
Mindful eating is an approach to food that focuses on being fully present while you’re eating. It also increases awareness of your thoughts, senses and feelings during and after you eat. It means:
Why be more mindful when eating?
Mindful eating opens up an opportunity to appreciate food more and make a better connection with it. Some studies suggest that mindful eating can help support emotional eating and binge eating, promoting a healthier relationship with food.
Eating mindfully may also help regulate appetite, aid digestion and make eating an enjoyable and pleasurable experience. Mindful eating isn’t about restricting yourself, it is about enjoying and appreciating food. Although some people may find that eating more mindfully leads to weight-loss, doing so with the expectation or intention to lose weight can be self-defeating.
How can I eat more mindfully?
Practicing eating more mindfully is something that many of us can benefit from. Whether to create better eating behaviours or a better appreciation for food. Here are some useful tips on how you can practice eating more mindfully:
Slow down when eating – Chew your food well and take time to pause while you’re eating by putting your cutlery down between each mouthful. It may help you feel more relaxed and help you enjoy your eating experience. Slowing eating can allow your body to recognise when it is full. This is because when your stomach has taken enough food, a hormone called leptin is released from fat tissues which sends signals the brain of fullness. It is thought, however, that it takes around 20 minutes for this process to occur.
Avoid distractions – Try not to eat while you’re on your laptop, phone, reading or watching TV so that you can relax and enjoy your food in the moment.
Listen to your body – Practice recognising when you feel hungry by thinking about what it feels like in your body to feel hungry. When you eat, start with the amount of food you expect to make you feel comfortably full. Try to avoid periods of extreme hunger or extreme fullness. Remember you can always eat more if you still feel hungry.
Reflect on your thoughts and feelings – Recognise when you are eating for reasons other than physical hunger. Sometimes emotions can trigger hunger; therefore, it is important to identify what drives your eating. Some things that may help you recognise emotional hunger from physical hunger are: Emotional hunger is likely to come on suddenly whereas physical hunger will build over time. Emotional hunger will usually create a craving for a particular food whilst physical hunger is more likely to be satiated by any food. It is entirely normal to eat in response to thoughts and feelings from time to time. Recognising this without judgement, and satisfying your emotions by enjoying the food slowly with all four senses, this can support you with emotional eating behaviours.
Plan ahead and stick to regular meal times – Make a plan of your meals and snacks for the week. Also, consider eating at regular times throughout the day. This helps to regulate your levels of hunger which could impact positively on your eating behaviours and food choices.
Enjoy each mouthful – Take time to recognise the aroma, flavour, taste and texture of your meals. This will help you enjoy your eating experience.
Eat food for fuel and nourishment – Choose nutritious foods that are satisfying to you, give you energy and are nourishing to your body.
Avoid labelling foods – All types of food can play a part in a healthy and varied diet. Instead of focusing on what foods are “good” or “bad”, focus on achieving a variety of different foods that provide satisfaction, enjoyment, and nourishment.
Eating mindfully is a way to enjoy what you’re eating whilst being attuned with your body and acknowledging your thoughts and feelings. It can help encourage positive eating behaviours and healthy eating choices as you choose foods that are nourishing as well as satisfying to your body.
Food and Mood
We all have good days and bad days; we all have foods we like more, or like less. But is there a connection between feeling fine and the foods we have eaten? Do some foods make us feel grumpy? Is it possible to plan a diet for a good mood?
Vitamins and Minerals
When you don’t eat enough nutrient-rich foods, your body may lack vital vitamins and minerals, often affecting your energy, mood and brain function. The table over the page shows how missing some vitamins/ minerals can affect your mood, and what you can eat to replenish your body. You should aim to get your vitamins and minerals from eating a healthy, balanced diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables but in certain circumstances or for certain people, supplements may be beneficial e.g. folic acid for all women planning pregnancy; iron supplements for people diagnosed with anaemia; vitamin D for everyone in winter months, and all pregnant and breast-feeding women, older adults, and people with dark skins.
Carbohydrate = Glucose = Brain Power
The ability to concentrate and focus comes from the adequate supply of energy – from blood glucose – to the brain. In fact, the brain uses 20% of all energy needed by the body. Glucose is also vital to fuel muscles and maintain body temperature. The glucose in our blood comes from all the carbohydrates we eat – foods including fruit, vegetables, cereals, bread, rice, potatoes, sugars and lactose in milk.
Eating breakfast and regular meals containing some carbohydrate ensures you will have enough glucose in your blood. Healthier sources of carbohydrates include wholegrains, vegetables, fruits, legumes and lower fat dairy. These are an important source of nutrients as well, such as calcium and B vitamins. Not having enough glucose in the blood (hypoglycaemia) makes us feel weak, tired and ‘fuzzy minded’. This may happen when we don’t eat enough carbohydrate containing food, and is a particular risk for people with diabetes and people doing extreme exercise. It can also happen with people following very restrictive diets or with erratic eating patterns.
However, although glucose ensures good concentration and focus, once your blood glucose is within the normal range, you cannot further boost your brain power or concentration by increasing your glucose levels! And if you consume some carbohydrate foods, additional sugary ‘energy’ drinks are not needed and not helpful.
There is a messenger chemical in the brain called serotonin, which improves mood and how we feel. Serotonin is made with a part of protein from the diet (tryptophan), and more of this may get into the brain when carbohydrate-rich foods are eaten.
This suggestion has been used to explain ‘carbohydrate craving’ – eating sweet, comfort foods to boost mood. There is not enough research to show that eating lots of tryptophan or eating a lot of carbohydrates can really support mood improvement in humans. But it may be that not consuming adequate amounts of carbohydrate (for example through a high protein/high fat diet) leads to low moods.
You also may have heard the idea that eating chocolate can make you feel happier, and there are observations that people feeling depressed are more likely to eat chocolate. This is probably because of the cultural status of chocolate as a well-known reward and comfort food, rather than due to any potent physiological effects particular to cocoa.
Caffeine and the ‘drug-effect’
Caffeine, found in coffee, cola and energy drinks, is often called a ‘drug’: it acts as a stimulant and can improve the feelings of alertness, and counter the effects of fatigue. However there is also a suggestion that some of the effects of caffeine are more to ‘normalise’ the lower levels of alertness felt by regular users who have not consumed enough caffeine that day.
Vitamins and Minerals – effect on mood and what foods can help
When you don’t eat enough nutrient-rich foods, your body may lack vital vitamins and minerals, often affecting your energy, mood and brain function. The table below shows how missing some vitamins/minerals can affect your mood, and what you can eat to replenish your body.
|Missing vitamin/mineral||Effect on mood||Foods which can help|
|Iron This results in low levels of oxygen carrying haemoglobin in the blood, resulting in the condition anaemia.||Feeling weak, tired and lethargic all the time.||The risk of anaemia is reduced with adequate intakes of iron, particularly from red meat, poultry and fish, beans and pulses, fortified cereals. Avoiding drinking tea with meals may also be helpful.|
|Thiamin B1, Niacin B3 or Cobalamin B12 (all B vitamins)||Tiredness and feeling depressed or irritable.||Fortified foods including wholegrain cereals, animal protein foods such as meat/fish, eggs and dairy.|
|Folate||Increased chance of feeling depressed, particularly important in older people.||Folate is found in liver, green vegetables, oranges and other citrus fruits, beans and fortified foods such as yeast extract (marmite) and fortified breakfast cereals.|
|Selenium||May increase the incidence of feeling depressed and other negative mood states.||Brazil nuts, meat, fish, seeds and wholemeal bread.|
Too much caffeine, particularly in people who are not used it, may cause the adverse effects of irritability and headache. Such symptoms also occur with caffeine withdrawal in people used to lots of caffeine.
So does food affect mood?
There are many ways that foods can affect how we feel, just as how we feel has an influence on what foods we choose. Some of the mood/food effects are due to nutrient content, but a lot of effects are due to existing associations of foods with pleasure and reward (chocolate) or diet and deprivation (plain foods).
Some foods also have religious, economic and cultural significance, which will influence how we feel when eating them.
Feeling good comes from a diet that provides adequate amounts of healthy choice carbohydrate at regular times to keep blood glucose levels stable, and eating breakfast is a sensible habit.
Diets should also contain a wide variety of protein and vitamin and mineral containing foods to support the body’s functions.
As a rule, plenty of fruits and vegetables and wholegrain cereal foods, with some protein foods, including oily fish, will support a good supply of nutrients for both good health and good mood.